The bottom line is – “A flash will improve your wildlife photos”
Because of this a speed light is an essential bit of wildlife photography equipment you should have in your bag. The idea of the speed light isn’t to be the primary lighting source, and overpower the sun, but to add a bit of fill light to lift the shadows, reduce the contrast and result in a more even exposure.
When buying a flash for wildlife photography there are specific features you need to look for, and these include:-
High guide number
A wildlife photography flash needs to be powerful and have a high guide number, and you should always buy the most powerful you can afford. The higher the guide number/more powerful the flash the more versatile and useful it is. If a flash is ‘too’ powerful you can always restrict the power and dial it down. If a flash isn’t powerful enough you’re basically stuck.
Fully automatic TTL mode
No matter what anyone else says fully automatic TTL mode is essential for wildlife photography, trust me. When taking photos of wildlife you have no control over the location of the subject (i.e. how far away it is or how close it will come to you) or how long the subject will remain in place. When taking photos of wildlife you need to be quick, and manually setting the flash power is going to take valuable time, especially when you don’t know the subject to flash distance, during which the subject could run off. Using manual flash for wildlife photography will end up in many missed opportunities, and whilst you may strike it lucky and bag a shot or two your keeper rate will be low.
Using fully automatic mode and letting your flash decide how much power is needed to get a correct exposure is far quicker. Modern day flashes are very good, and if you tweak the power using flash exposure compensation you can control the flash enough to get awesome wildlife photos.
High Speed sync (HSS) mode
The flash sync speed of cameras is generally 1/180 – 1/250 depending on what camera you shoot. These shutter speeds are fine for general photography but are not fast enough for wildlife photography.
Wildlife photography requires long focal length tele lenses and shooting at shutter speed of 1/180 – 1/250 or less is likely to be affected by camera shake. It doesn’t matter if your tele lens has image stabilisation/optical stabilisation/vibration reduction, nor how steady you think your hands are, you will not get sharp shots using these shutter speeds. I agree this will not be an issue if you are using a tripod, but no one wants to be tied to a tripod all the time.
The other issue with shooting at slower shutter speeds is blurry photos as a result of subject movement. Shutter speeds of 1/180 – 1/250 are unlikely to be fast enough to freeze the subject and your photos will be soft/blurry as a result. To use a flash with shutter speeds in excess of the camera’s flash sync speed requires HSS. Consequently, HSS is an essential feature.
There was a time when a powerful speed light with fully automatic and high speed sync modes cost a lot of money but times have changed and you can now pick up a speed light with all the features you need for wildlife photography for little money. The days of the mainstream companies charging the earth for a speed light are now gone and there are a few third party companies selling awesome speed lights for a fraction of the price of the top end speed lights, and these budget flashes are exceptionally good. If you think you need to spend loads of money on a flash for wildlife photography you don’t although you can if you really want to.
Below are some top rated flashes and speed lights that are ideal for wildlife photography and will improve your wildlife shots:
CLASS – MID-RANGE/ GUIDE NUMBER (200MM @ ISO 100 IN METRES) – 60M / RECYCLE TIME (FULL POWER IN SECONDS) – < 1.5 SECONDS/ MANUAL POWER SETTINGS - /1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/16, 1/32,1/64 AND 1/128 TTL MODE - YES/ STROBOSCOPIC MODE - YES/ HSS MODE - YES/ FLASH EXPOSURE COMPENSATION - -3EV - +1EV/ OPTICAL SLAVE – YES/ OTHER TRIGGER – WIRELESS TTL SLAVE MODE/ SWIVEL FLASH HEAD – 0 DEGREES TO 360 DEGREES/ FLASH HEAD TILT - -7 DEGREES TO +90 DEGREES/ MANUAL ZOOM HEAD – (14) 20 - 200/ AUTO ZOOM HEAD – (14) 20 - 200/ BOUNCE CARD - YES/ LCD DISPAY - YES/ BATTERIES REQUIRED – SINGLE CELL BATTERY/APPROX PRICE ($USD/£GBP) - $199 / £161
CLASS – Mid-range/ GUIDE NUMBER (35mm @ ISO 100 in metres) – 39m / RECYCLE TIME (FULL POWER IN SECONDS) – 3 seconds/ MANUAL POWER SETTINGS - /1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/16, 1/32,1/64 and 1/128 /TTL MODE - Yes/ STROBOSCOPIC MODE - Yes/ HSS MODE - No/ FLASH EXPOSURE COMPENSATION - -5EV - +5EV/ OPTICAL SLAVE – Yes. 2 modes. / OTHER TRIGGER – Wireless TTL slave mode/ SWIVEL FLASH HEAD - -180 degrees to +90 degrees/ FLASH HEAD TILT - -7 degrees to +90 degrees/ MANUAL ZOOM HEAD - (18) 24 - 105/ AUTO ZOOM HEAD - (18) 24 - 105/ BOUNCE CARD - Yes/ LCD DISPAY - Yes/ BATTERIES REQUIRED – 4AA/ APPROX PRICE ($USD/£GBP) - $80 / £70
SIGMA 610 EF
CLASS – Mid-range/ GUIDE NUMBER (35mm @ ISO 100 in metres) – 36m / RECYCLE TIME (FULL POWER IN SECONDS) – 7 seconds/ MANUAL POWER SETTINGS - /1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/16, 1/32,1/64 and 1/128 TTL MODE - Yes/ STROBOSCOPIC MODE - Yes/ HSS MODE - Yes/ FLASH EXPOSURE COMPENSATION - -3EV - +1EV/ OPTICAL SLAVE – Yes/ OTHER TRIGGER – Wireless TTL slave mode/ SWIVEL FLASH HEAD - -180 degrees to +90 degrees/ FLASH HEAD TILT - -7 degrees to +90 degrees/ MANUAL ZOOM HEAD – (17) 24 - 105/ AUTO ZOOM HEAD – (17) 24 - 105/ BOUNCE CARD - Yes/ LCD DISPAY - Yes/ BATTERIES REQUIRED – 4AA/APPROX PRICE ($USD/£GBP) - $255 / £140
METZ 52 AF
CLASS - Professional/ GUIDE NUMBER (35mm @ ISO 100 in metres) – 35m/ RECYCLE TIME (FULL POWER IN SECONDS) – 5 seconds/ MANUAL POWER SETTINGS - 1/1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/16, 1/32,1/64, 1/128 and 1/256/ TTL MODE - Yes/ STROBOSCOPIC MODE - Yes/ HSS MODE – Yes/ FLASH EXPOSURE COMPENSATION - -3EV to + 3EV/ OPTICAL SLAVE - Yes/ OTHER TRIGGER – Wireless TTL slave/ SWIVEL FLASH HEAD - -180 degrees to + 120 degrees/ FLASH HEAD TILT - -7 degrees to +120 degrees/ MANUAL ZOOM HEAD - (12) 24 - 105/ AUTO ZOOM HEAD - (12) 24 - 105/ BOUNCE CARD - Yes/ LCD DISPAY - Yes/ BATTERIES REQUIRED – 4AA/ APPROX PRICE ($USD/£GBP) - $390 / £250
Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.