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Washington Oaks Owlet

Wow, what a week it has been for me. From the Outer Banks to Wilmington, St. Augustine, Orlando, back to St. Augustine, St. Marys, and back to the Banks. Its Spring time and love is in the air for the birds. That means I had to make my annual pilgrimage down south to Florida. Most of my time was spent at the Alligator Farm and Gatorland photographing the egret rookeries there – for which I will be doing a detailed analysis and comparison of the two locations in the next issue of the Journal of Wildlife Photography (JWP).

While in St. Augustine I found out through some local friends about a great horned owl nest at Washington Oaks State Park. Having by this point spent the last 4 days working the rookery there I decided I would make my way down to the park about 30 minutes south of the St. Augustine. I had been to this park before and knew I wouldn’t come away empty handed no matter what. However, when it comes to reports on nests, unfortunately they are often times of little good for photography. This happened to be one of the exceptions however.

Located about 25 feet up on the branch of a 200 year old live oak tree overlooking the water, this little owlet had it made. Only problem was, the lighting which had been overcast all morning in town, was now down at the state park, bright, harsh, and midday. AKA, not conducive for photographing an owl up in a tree. Well situations like this is why its so critically important to understand flash in regards to wildlife photography. A typical speed light (flash) will not cut it when it comes to reaching out far enough to illuminate animals like this however. Thus the creation of the Better Beamer flash extender.

The Better Beamer is essentially a Fresnel lens, which was what the old lighthouses used in order to cast the lights far out to sea. Well just like a lighthouse, the Better Beamer does the same thing with your flash when photographing wildlife. With the flash extender in place, it was then simply a matter of positioning myself so as to take advantage of the densest background of leaves that I could find. A patchy background would have detracted considerably from the photograph due to the bright hot spots that would have mottled the background. Situations in wildlife photography are rarely perfect however and therefore not only did I still have a couple hot spots to contend with, but the best location was facing into the sun. No sweat though. I simply cranked up the output of the flash and fired away.

One thing you need to keep in mind when using these things on wildlife and especially birds is that if used directly on camera, than you will quite often have to contend with eye shine. Now this eye shine is not simply the sparkle of light we all seed out in the eyes of our subjects. Eye shine is like the deers eyes in the headlights, or when you shine a flashlight by your dog. Glowing eyes. Owls in particular have a really cool red shine to their eyes, though when it comes to photographing them, you want to avoid this at all costs.  To overcome this you can easily attach your flash to a cord and hand hold, or much more effective, you can attach a flash bracket which will hold the flash above the lens. This both takes the flash off the same plane as your lens thereby eliminating eye shine but it also keeps the flash in the same place while you have the freedom to rotate your lens from horizontal to vertical compositions.

If your interested in buying one of these Better Beamers, they are pretty darn cheap and you can find them for sale here. For flash brackets on the other hand I recommend the use of Wimberly’s brackets which can be found here.

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