Flash in the Forest – Using a Ring Flash

After my previous visit to the woods, where it was a real struggle to get sufficient light to illuminate the subject, so this time I decided to conduct some tests, employing a ring flash mounted onto a macro lens. Using the Canon 100mm f2.8 IS Macro on a 5DMkII body would allow me a reasonable working distance between lens and subject so as to enable any natural light to both supplement and balance the flash. However using flash close to, and in particular a ring flash actually  mounted on the lens, can cause issues with shiny or wet objects such as fungi, generating annoying specular highlights, so selecting an appropriate subject would be key.

In general, ground dwelling fungi have a short life of only a few days, and being often found in very damp areas are prone to having a glistening surface, by contrast bracket fungi, most often located growing on tree stumps or fallen trees generally have a textured matt surface to them. An added bonus with bracket fungi is that they tend to be slow growing, with some species surviving all year, and as luck would have it I had located some, on a fallen birch tree, a few weeks earlier. Being well hidden there was a good chance that they had survived the ravages of human intervention over the preceding weeks, which proved to be the case.

In an ideal world I would have preferred to image stack the shots, as the fungi were in large groups, so achieving sufficient depth of field would be a problem, even with an aperture of f16, but certainly good enough for my tests. I have resisted the temptation to adjust the colours of the images, so other that a slight crop they are all as they came out of the camera. This should better reflect the results of ambient light and flash, both in the illumination of the subject, and its overall colour, as well as the effect of sunlight which once or twice broke through the overhanging canopy at the most inappropriate moment.

I did take a lot of shots, widely bracketing exposures especially when using the flash, from full down to 1/16 power, as well as adjusting the camera exposure for the ambient light. However I will only show a small cross section of both, to give an idea of what it is possible to achieve, after all with a digital camera you get instant feedback on your display screen, allowing you the opportunity for moment by moment exposure adjustments.

The key point to remember, is to try a broad range of camera exposures settings, then also use the flash at various outputs settings, after all each light source will effect the other. The goal is to achieve a pleasing balance between them both, but only by seeing a range of combinations will you know what is ultimately possible.

All were taken at ISO 100, f16, White balance set to ‘Daylight’, RAW format.

(below) The only colour adjusted image, taken in overcast daylight with flash used.

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(below) Overcast daylight in shadow

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(below) Overcast daylight in shadow and flash

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(below) Overcast daylight

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(below) Overcast daylight and flash

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(below) Overcast daylight in shadow

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(below) Overcast daylight in shadow and flash

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(below) Overcast daylight in very deep shadow

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(below) Overcast daylight in very deep shadow and flash

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(below) Overcast daylight in shadow

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(below) Overcast daylight in shadow and flash

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(below) Bright daylight

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(below) Bright daylight and flash

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(below) Overcast daylight

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(below) Sunlight

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(below) Sunlight and flash

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As is evident from the daylight images, the deeper the shadows the stronger the green colour cast, however having all been taken in RAW and using the identical camera white balance it will be a simple matter to remove the cast in Lightroom or Photoshop.

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