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Filters/Gel for flash - Wildlife photography

Alvin Yap , Aug 11, 2009; 06:07 a.m.

Hello photogs!
I have been toying with the idea of light modifiers on my flash. I'm doubt my ideas on working studio strobes solo will work in the field chasing deer but what about gels/filters on a flash? Something like an amber or light yellow filter, to make the flash output warmer? I was thinking a warmer fill flash light source, even though it has very minimal effect (I dial in -2.7 to -3 flash ev) would make the shadow areas slightly warmer, not sure if that would be of any practical effect in post. Has anyone tried this?
My main setup is D200, 300/4 AF-S, SB600, Flash Extender. Lately I've been using this setup with a 1.4x teleconverter. Monopod.


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Edward Woods , Aug 11, 2009; 07:02 a.m.

Alvin, I used to use amber/straw colored ROSCO gels taped to the head of my strobe with gaffers tape and depending on the situation a better beamer or diffuser over that. My newer sb800 came with a set of gels. Warming gels seem to have a nice impact on film but one I can selectively and easily add in photo shop CSII - CS IV versions that have adjustment>photo filters. As far as exposure for out door ambient lighting I seldom go below -2 on my fill flash dialed in either manually or with TTL compensation. With film and out door ambient light at -3 I could not see much of a change. On my d200 and D2X at -3 on the flash I also see a little practical effect. Galen Rowel was a proponent of using gels with fill flash for landscape to make subtle improvements and he used settings around -1.7 as I remember. Good hunting. Andy

Curt Wiler , Aug 11, 2009; 10:52 a.m.

For warm light (sunrise, sunset) I use a 1/2 CTO ROSCO gel cut to fit. The SB800 and SB900 both come with gels, but the SB800 gels aren't supported well enough to stay in place in a wind. The SB900 gel holder is much better and also lets you more easily cut your own (if you are warming the fill light you don't always want the gel to change the white balance on the camera, which the Nikon gels would do automatically). As above, I don't dial the compensation down as much as you are describing; I normally use -1.7 for wildlife.

Kent Staubus , Aug 11, 2009; 12:31 p.m.

I have a couple of sheets of 1/4 and 1/2 CTO and cut a strip to fit over the SB-800 head. I tape it in place. Be sure to put a slight bow in the gel so it's not right next to the head. They do melt. As for monolights, I see no reason they couldn't be used for nature photography. I've been trying them on nocturnal landscapes. I generally don't gel them though.
Kent in SD

Craig Meddaugh , Aug 11, 2009; 12:56 p.m.

I tape on various gels for subtle effects when using a higher ratio of fill to ambient. For simply filling the shadows the difference probably isn't worth it, but when you start using more flash having an even white balance across the frame is quite useful. However, this is something you can easily fix in post in about a minute so I don't use my gels much at all.

Dave Wilson , Aug 11, 2009; 09:06 p.m.

In the 1970s, Vivitar used to sell a holder and filter kit for the 283s, it was very nice, the yellow and red would kick up the black and white and there was a warming 81c type and a yellowish UV and clear. I used to use the warming one often for macro stuff in open shade and it was very good. I would imagine on the D200, like you and I have, you need to set the K color temp manually so it doesn't shift on A whitebalance. Happy trails.

Alvin Yap , Aug 12, 2009; 04:13 p.m.

Hey guys, thanks for the tips! I've just visited strobist and got a link to a retailer selling gels cut for slr flash sizes, so hopefully I can try that out next week :)
@Edward, Curt: Seems like I'm getting different results with my flash extender. If I let the flash exposure be even at -2ev, I find that it lights up the subject too much for my tastes, -2.7 is my general purpose setting. Hmmm.....
@Kent - good tip on the slight bow, I'll keep that in mind. Hopefully I can find a way to fit the gel onto my flash together with my extender.
@Craig - something to think about if I need to have the flash stronger than ambient :) Cool tip!
@Dave - I'll try out setting the white balance manually and see how it goes. I shoot raw though, but perhaps it might make a difference since the subject would be a different color balance from the non-flashed subjects. Hmm... tests are in order.
Thanks all!

Alvin Yap , Aug 17, 2009; 04:47 a.m.

So to update this thread. I got my gels on Friday, and spent both days of the weekend shooting furiously. I have only used the 1/4 CTO gel on my SB600 - the half and full CTO _seemed_ a little too strong so I'll leave that for experimentation later.

On Saturday I was shooting portraiture on the street - no pics to post - but I liked the slightly warmer tone in gives to the subject, and as hoped the shadows were warmer. This was just the gel on a sb600, -1 EV on the flash

Sunday I spent a day out shooting big cats at the World Heritage Foundation in Kent, UK. The gel was on the sb600, in addition to the flash extender. -2.7 EV to -1EV flash comp, depending on my mood/situation. I think for outdoor pictures, the gel works wonders, it allows this warmth that I don't usually get with flash in broad daylight. However, in the shade, where there is a background that is of a cooler color temperature, I think the cool background/warm front doesn't sit that well with me. Still, it's only my first time with it, so maybe there is something to be done in post to make the look work. The new warmness also throws a wrench into my look development, but it's a good thing. Just need to spend more time to get the look I want, should I decide to use the gel as a main part of my kit.

The shot above I think the gel works wonders. Shots without the flash obviously had the mouth in shadow, and areas under the neck were in deep shadow.

This portrait shot I am not so sure, the warm of the fur seems overpowered, and it's probably the way I processed my photo. But the warm/cool disparity between the back ground and foreground... hmm... not so certain about it.

Curt Wiler , Aug 17, 2009; 11:28 a.m.

For wildlife/nature shots, you would generally use a gel on the flash to (approximately) match the color of the ambient light. For instance, a warming filter on the flash to balance a warm sunset. If you want to warm up the entire photo under normal daylight conditions where the flash already matches the ambient color temperature, a filter on the lens or simply changing the white balance in post-processing would be more natural. Again this is a generality; there may be reasons to warm up (or cool down) the main subject.

Alvin Yap , Aug 17, 2009; 04:22 p.m.

Curt, that is absolutely great advice. I've never thought about using flash and its relation to color temperature, it gives me more to think about - conversely, if I'm shooting in say, snowy conditions, the flash may be too warm and I could actually use a CTB?
Thanks for sharing your experience :)


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