Before the rush

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by evan-pak

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Yes, that's right. A friend has asked me to go "spot-lighting" with him, to photography some of the fauna in a local stream. Not too hard during the day, but most of them don't come out until night.

I'll be shooting with my D90, 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 and SB800 flash. I'll also throw my polarizer on to try and cut down on the surface reflections. I do have a 50mm f/1.8 too, but no polarizer.

The current plan is pre-light as much as possible; probably a hand full of torches, as we're a long way from mains power (though I may have access to some 300w tv lights which have battery packs). I expect I'm going to have to find the right angle relative to the light, not so far off center that I lose light, and not too close so I get reflections.

Any other suggestions?

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The zoom may be too slow in reality. You probably need a fixed f/2.8 for a zoom at night. f/5.6 is very difficult to use unless you have a LOT of light. – Nick Bedford Jan 22 '11 at 23:43
This will (was?) be hard. – Andrei Rinea Oct 18 '11 at 12:01
up vote 7 down vote accepted

Some random thoughts:

  1. Keep in mind that illumination declines as the square of the distance from the source. For example, a fish twice as far away from the light source will have 1/4 the illumination (2 stops). So, be prepared for a lot of contrast and inaccurate metering (if fish move between metering and exposure). This may also make it tricky to properly place the flashes, unless the have modeling lights.

  2. Torches (flashlights) don't put out too much light. Bring the TV lights if you can.

  3. You can probably arrange the lights such that there's no reflections striking the camera, eliminating the need for a polarizer.

  4. Take a tripod.

  5. Can you borrow or rent a long, fast lens? I suspect the 50mm may be too short and the 18-200 too slow.

  6. Flashing lights may antagonize the creatures. Be humane.

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+1 - Definitely want to eliminate the polarizer if you can (lose light there too otherwise). – rfusca Jan 23 '11 at 0:02

I haven't tried photographing fish at night, but I have been fishing in a stream with a hand net at night.

It's possible to see the fish using a torch, but just barely. I can't imagine that you could get any good pictures that way. We used a kerosene lantern, which puts out a lot more light. Also, it doesn't need electricity (which was crucial as there was none at the fishing cabin).

(It should of course be a proper lantern, not just a lamp with a flame... Example: Primus 991.)

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You may want to try totally submerging a flash in the water, encased in plastic - either triggered as a slave flash or by radio. Nothing too heavy-duty, as a really strong flash could easily put out enough heat to melt plastic.

If you use the in-camera flash try shooting at a 45 degree angle to the water with a polarizer (taking test shots to adjust the polarization correctly), although if the water surface is at all rough you'll probably get some reflections from the flash.

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