If you’re like me you probably seldom, if ever, use the small pop-up flash that is on your camera. I’ve had my Nikon 1 V3 for a couple of months now and it has become my dedicated birding and nature camera. My wife and I were recently on a very short vacation in British Columbia and I had an unexpected opportunity to photograph some hummingbirds. Unfortunately the feeders that the birds were frequenting were under permanent canopies that created very dark lighting conditions. After trying to shoot some very high ISO images without any success I decided to put the pop-up flash on my Nikon 1 V3 to the test. Since I had never used this pop-up flash before I shrugged and thought, “Well…either it will work or it won’t.”
My first concern was whether the tiny flash on my V3 would be strong enough to provide sufficient light under these dark conditions. I discovered that as long as I stayed within 8-10 feet (about 3 metres) of the hummingbirds the pop-up flash on my V3 was sufficient.
The other concern was whether the light from the flash would cast a shadow caused by my 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm zoom lens on the subject hummingbirds thus rendering the resulting images unusable. I was pleasantly surprised when no such shadowing occurred. I began by photographing perched hummingbirds as they afforded me a bit more time with which to acquire focus on them. There is a very slight lag between the time that I press the shutter on my Nikon 1 V3 to when the flash actually fires.
After capturing a reasonable selection of usable images of perched hummingbirds I then moved on to attempt to photograph them while in flight. This meant choosing subject hummingbirds that were maintaining a stable mid-air position while they were hovering, otherwise with a shutter speed of 1/250 I knew I would get some body blur in my photographs. Another challenge was that some of the hummingbirds were so fast that they would almost leave the frame during the split second lag between the shutter release and the flash firing.
I usually shoot hummingbirds in flight using very fast shutter speeds such as 1/5000 in order to ‘freeze’ the wing position of the birds. Using the V3’s pop-up flash meant that my shutter speed would be set to 1/250 so I needed to accept the fact that all of my photographs would have wing blur.
After working with my images in post I discovered that the wing blur did not bother me at all, although I still do prefer ‘frozen’ wing positions. I shot my Nikon 1 V3 using AF-C with subject tracking. After a bit of experimenting I decided that spot metering yielded the best results.
While the images in this article certainly are not of professional quality, they would likely be acceptable to many people who photograph birds on a more casual basis as I do. This little experiment was both challenging and a ton of fun!
A lesson was also reinforced for me through this experiment…that being the importance of me thinking about the gear that I have with me at any given time to determine if I can use it in a new or different way than I have in the past. If I wouldn’t have thought about using the pop-up flash on my Nikon 1 V3 I would have missed out on a lot of fun and the opportunity to create these images.
All photographs in this article were captured hand-held using a Nikon 1 V3 with pop-up flash engaged, and a 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 zoom lens. All images in the article were produced from RAW files using my standard process of OpticsPro 11, CS6 and the Nik Suite.
Article and all images Copyright 2017 Thomas Stirr. All rights reserved. No use, adaptation or reproduction of any kind including electronic or digital is allowed without written consent. Photography Life is the only approved user of this article. If you see it reproduced anywhere else it is an unauthorized and illegal use. Readers who call out offending websites that steal intellectual property by posting comments on those offending websites are always appreciated!