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Astrobirder

A good "Fill" light?

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What's the best fill light (the ones that light up the shadows on an object) for Canon? It would be very useful for the spring migration when I'm constantly seeing the shadowed underside of Passerines

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Fill light is achieved by introducing flash to a shot that is exposed according to the ambient light. Fill light, when done properly, will add just enough light to brighten the darker areas but not enough light to over power the ambient light. All of canon's external flashes can be used to provide fill light under the right circumstances. A flash extender such as the Better Beamer will help get that light to the birds that are usually out of reach of most flashes. 

As far as the best "fill light" goes, it all depends on how much money you want to spend on an external flash unit. The best flashes/speedlights will have a high speed sync feature, faster recycle times, and provide the power necessary to carry the light as far as you need it. Generally speaking, the better flashes are the more expensive ones but they won't provide any better fill light than the cheap ones if you don't know how to properly expose for fill light. Fill light is not an easy thing to master, when done right you won't even know the flash fired, when done wrong your image will look like crap. I have Canon's Speedlight 430EXii with the better beamer but seldom use it for bird photography anymore for the simple fact that I get it wrong more often than I get it right. 

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Shoot, was hoping you'd have some sage advice for mastering fill light!

Using a flash is certainly a skill, and one that I most definitely have not mastered. 

I also use the Canon 430 EXii with a better beamer.  Was tempted to go with a third party brand since they can be a huge cost savings.  At least when I was looking, these third party brands did not do high speed sync.  This means that your camera will be limited to an exposure time of 1/200 to 1/250 sec.  If you want to do fill flash, this relatively long exposure time probably won't be enough to stop motion blur.  If you are using your flash as the principal source of light (owls at night), the camera's shutter speed is relatively irrelevant, since all the light you are gathering originates from that quick flash. 

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