Studio Werkz: Melded Light

Beauty Dishes are all the rage at the portrait studios.  Not a fav light of mine as I’ve never been a photographer of young 20-30yr hopefuls who want to not only look like Kim Kardashian, but BE her. The tight parabolic driven light helps put some enriching shadows for depth and yet keeps the boldness of the well-lit facial planes.  And although I don’t use one, it’s a simple light to set up as the light doesn’t ‘go everywhere’. Sort of like a little theatre in an ‘itty-bitty space’—(Genie- Aladdin).

Yet it has to be said, my favourite beauty light is a soft-melding light that pours itself over the subjects features and just stops short of creating deep dark shadows.  Depending on the size of the light source, (think great big grey sky, or perhaps early sunrise/late sunset reflecting from clouds), a melded light will also provide sufficient modelling to keep the 3D feel for a subject. Smaller light sources, full window light, or light coming in under tree-tops also will help with the modelling of the features.

Gone are the day of bulky tungsten lighting stands and burnt fingers changing bulbs, and gone are the those impossible ‘umbrella’ stands with their coloured foil linings. Yeshh!

The very early studio portraitists worked with an amazing medium. Available light.  The studio was always on the top floor of a building and was glass-roofed, and glass-sided. With wonderful arrangements of light and dark curtaining to control and direct light.

Here tis.


Now it is true to say, that I don’t wear such a suit to photograph birds, and I’ve significantly less hair than our studio operator, but look at the way the shadows go on for ever.
Even in this simple take.

EE and I feel to a bit of luck, good luck, instead of that other unmentionable kind. We located at Woodlands, on a bright sunny day, a feeding flock of Flame Robins. Accompanying them, at least in the areas I suspect was her ‘territory’ was a single, lone, female Red-capped Robin.
We were in no hurry, and she had her whole territory to work through.  A bit like going to a relative’s house and sitting in the kitchen talking while food preparation was going on.

At one point she flew behind a nearby tree, and then pounced on a snack, and popped back onto a close branch, and at the same time the sun came out and soft melded light cascaded under the trees and neatly framed her.

Enough of the sunshine hit the grasses behind to give her a pleasing backdrop and all I had to do was press the shutter.

Photography, that it could always be that simple.




10 thoughts on “Studio Werkz: Melded Light

  1. Beautiful capture in soft beautiful shaddowless light David. Thanks for taking us back to the early photography studio, it is interesting how they made use of the natural light. When I picked up my camera the repair person was so thrilled they had fixed my flash, as it had broken in the fall also but I did not know, she was surprised hen I told her I don’t use it anyway especially with birds. Her husband understood why when I explained. Yes, natural melded light is perfect for your bird photos. I just love your captures they are so inspiring, especially how you capture the classic Robin curiosity in the face.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Ashley, glad to hear you’ve got the camera back. The open bushland at Woodlands does make working with the small birds on the move, a little easier. It’s not a matter of sitting and waiting, but at least its possible to see where they are going through the scrub.
      Good luck with the camera.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Isn’t it wonderful when the available, natural light is better than the artificial! Such a beautiful portrait of the lovely lady.
    And next time I see you in the middle of a muddy paddock I hope you have a suit on with your gumboots! The forecast for Thursday and Friday is looking pretty good, at this stage, for some great light. Hopefully the mound at Sneydes will have dried out a bit too! I gained an inch in height today, that clay really sticks to the boots!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks David. A glance through any of Eric Hosking’s works will show that he did in fact go to the field in a jacket and tie! How times have changed. Mind he was also a serious pioneer in the use of electronic flash for his work with owls and bitterns.
      The young must be getting very close to being able to move about the trees, its such an exciting time.


  3. Adorable image of this lady. The soft light really suits her. Now I really feel compelled to cross the bridge.
    Thinking about all the light-modifying gadgets I’ve used so far (never for bird photography though) I wonder what you think about flashlight in bird photography. I can’t remember if I have ever used it (and now with D500 I am even less likely to do so) but I’ve seen some fine work, mainly from tropical, dark forests or of owls but I also happen to know a person who uses it quite often in our bush by day. I would appreciate your opinion.
    Thanks for this post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Adam, The subject of Flash is quite interesting to me. It has been a source of light that I’ve used most of my working life. From weddings outside shot on filum, (think Metz 502, that’ll give you something to google) through to Nikon’s Flash system for Digital, used to use for classic car photography for magazines. Own a few SBxxx units. In fact when we turned to digital we bought into the system because of (at the time) Nikon’s superior incamera flash control. (Canon did catchup)
      So you’d have to think when I came to bird photography, that I easily transitioned to using flash.
      Most of the Kestrel seasons back in 2011-12 were shot with flash. The trick is getting the daylight exposure to match the flash output. At that point it gets ‘tricky’.
      Too much flash, and the subject loses form. Too little and the background goes to black, or the subject is underexposed.
      Flash also has a limited range. My biggun SB has a useable range of about 15m. Lucky you to get that close to a bird. So I tended to use a light modifier by a company called Better Beamer. It is a fresnel lens mounted on a couple of lightweight brackets that attach to the flashhead. Might get the light out to 30m (?) But also means can work with much lower power on closer shots.

      So here’s your photographer out to capture flash pics of birds.You’ll pick them straightaway.
      1. Camera,
      2 Long Lens,
      3 Tripod,
      4 Wimberley style head to hold camera/lens and flash,
      5 Flash unit(s)
      6 Big L bracket to get flash off centreline of lens, (else you get the bird equivalent of red-eye.(and really hard to correct in post).
      7 Lots of cables to attach it all together.
      8 Better Beamer.
      9 If a standing setup, perhaps a white card or two on clamps to balance out the directional light.

      In the end, it became for me, a matter of diminishing returns, and I no longer use it on a day to day basis.
      Current style is to use available light. And if its too dark, I go home!
      However, not always, I am happy today to work with significant higher ISO values. 3200/6400 for the shots under extreme shadows in forest.
      But. I am also committed to using Dxo Photolab 3 and its superb PRIME Noise Reduction. It’s not cheap, but cheaper than a flash unit, brackets, cables and Better Beamer 🙂
      I don’t do product demos, reviews or comparisons, so its a bit hard to give examples, and I always find they are limited to the makers own preferences anyway.
      DxO have done some great work on making PRIME and their Lens Modules work in harmony, and I originally purchased for the lens module for the 500mm PF. Now I have no hesitation in working in higher ISO levels should the need arise.

      Some shots, like the owls at night, or really deep rainforest, would make flash mandatory. But I’d be working with it as modelling and try to keep the blackbackground to a minimum.
      Last thought.
      Flash plays by a very simple physics principle: The Inverse Square Law. A law as unbreakable as gravity.
      Here’s a good link.
      Perhaps I should have sent all this to your mailbox 🙂

      I am not anti-flash, but it has to be balanced for me, I cringe everytime I see an ‘overflashed subject against a poorly handled backdrop.
      Drop me a note if you need clarification.

      Good luck


      1. Many thanks David for this comprehensive and easy to understand lecture on flash photography of nature. On top of all the benefits it gave me, by clarifying some doubts, it has been delivered so promptly and for free!
        I’ve been using DxO for quite a while but I’ve never ventured beyond ISO 2000. I’ll be more adventurous now. I can still employ my SB and other gear in my garden for occasional possum photography but otherwise I also go home when there is no usable natural light.
        Thanks again!
        Yours sincerely and eternally indebted,

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Adam,
    My pleasure, charge up the flash batteries and be ready for the the next challenging light.
    I meant to add that Eric Hosking, was the acknowledged doyen of flash for birds. His early work in the field, is still to be bettered by those of us with so much better equipment.
    BTW, I used to use the SBxxx for birds mostly with the BL TTL setting Backlighting. There is some very clever little elves inside the Nikon Flash system


G'day, Please feel free to Leave a Reply. Now auto approved

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s