Nature Photography = Natural Light by Ray Barlow

  • 56

Well, there is a lot of discussion these days about flash usage and nature imaging. Certainly, there could never be an absolutely right or wrong here, we all can only share opinions.

Green Kingfisher (Chloroceryle americanab)

Although using a fill flash, with various attachments may be fun, or considered the “better” technique, I personally do not agree.

In the past, I did try flash during one shoot with hummingbirds, of course the results were junk. Photographing nature is an on-going education, learning how to work with our subjects and equipment is a process that can be enjoyed by all ages., and world wide. The use of fake light on any shot is nothing more then a shortcut fix, to help a bad shot look better.

Green Heron (Butorides virescens)

With every image opportunity, we need to look at a large array of settings and angles. Creativity is the key to the merge of technical issues, light, and view. Naturally, our end use of the image will be different for each photographer, and if you are happy with your images, nothing else really matters.

Many people are out for record shots, a strictly academic venture, certainly a worth while plan, and flash may help you accomplish your goals. But more and more, I am learning about the ill-effects of flashing light into the eyes of birds and wildlife. The common opinion amongst photographers that share my opinions is that flashed images look “fake”. I think that even the public will recognize how flashed images are manufactured.

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

For me, this whole camera deal is an art. Thought, planning, creativity, knowledge of nature, understanding light, along with extensive technical knowledge will help you become an artist with your camera in true natural situations. If you are a studio photographer, this of course is a completely different situation, where creative studio light can be a fascinating venture.

Working with my guests during local and international programs has been a superb learning experience. So many awesome suggestions and the sharing of ideas amongst all participants makes doing this business very rewarding.

Palm Tanager (Thraupis palmarum)

Each time I run a workshop, the ideas develop, the new angle, different light, working with backgrounds, real environment, and purely natural images. The thought of flash would truly destroy all of these creative thought patterns. A flash would be considered a band aid to a poor situation in my opinion.

So, please consider this concept, be your own artist, do not disturb nature with these bolts of plastic light, and enjoy the real world of nature photography.

Raymond Barlow

Crocodile Portrait

Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea)

Green Kingfisher (Chloroceryle americanab)

Golden-hooded Tanager (Tangara larvata)

Green Violetear (Colibri thalassinus)

Glass Frog

Brown Violetear Hummingbird (Colibri delphinae)


Red-legged Honeycreeper (Cyanerpes cyaneus)

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird (Amazilia tzacatl)


Mountain Gem hummingbird

Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea)

Raymond Barlow

Raymond Barlow

Ray Barlow's passion for capturing birds and wildlife began at the Manila Zoo in 2004. Since then he has established himself as a professional bird and wildlife photographer. Ray is based near to Toronto Canada and hosts photography travel tours and workshops around the world. He goes to places like Yellowstone, Tanzania, Costa Rica, India, and British Columbia. Action photography including animals in chase or birds such as hummingbirds in flight is Ray's specialty. Now being sponsored by Jobu Design gimbal Heads.

Leave a Reply

Please Login to comment
Maxis Gamez

I understand Raymond. When you say “fix a bad situation” do you mean like the Blue Heron image you posted where the light is coming from the other side of your shooting angle? I’m not sure what you mean by that.

Can you elaborate further?

Thank you once again!

Raymond Barlow

As photographers, with thousands of different options for each shot, we all deal with our choices. I think fill flash can be a bad habit, with many (not all) photographers thinking the flash is an easy fix for a bad situation. Personally, I think there is plenty of beauty in nature with natural light without adding fake light, and possibly disorienting the subjects.

Using natural light take creativity and thought.

Again, this is nothing more then a suggestion.

Maxis Gamez

Raymond – I’m a big fan of flash and fill flash photography. I can assure you that perhaps your fill flash technique has not allowing you to truly appreciate the power of fill flash.
I respect your opinion deeply and you are obviously entitled to your own opinion. However, once you learn how to master the power of fill flash photography, you will change your mind.
I hope you are doing well.

Steve kendall
Steve kendall

Raymond – Nice article and I respect your opinion. I do use a flash with a better beamer and must admit when used properly it does give the image a little pop. I have seen many flash photos where you tell tell that a flash was used and the images do look fake. When used properly, it is very difficult to tell that the photographer used fill flash. Many times a bird is in a position where the light is not hitting them and is just flat. The fill flash just gives their feathers and eyes a little extra pop.

Kay Franklin
Kay Franklin

Based on my own experience, I think that its true that its better to make use of Natural light as what Ray Barlow says. I know that many photographer make use of this method. I also like to make use of natural light when taking pictures.

Douglas Trent

Great photos, great tips and ideas from the great nature photographer Ray Barlow! Thank you Ray!


The lighting is part of the animal’s chosen habitat. Change the lighting and you’ve altered the habitat. A photo with flash might be a better illustration of what the animal looks like and at the same time a poorer description of how it lives.

Nguyen Huu Hoc

I use the intelligent preview to make corrections if needed.


Using flash in nature photography is really something difficult if you want to have results and not disturbing your subject, it can only be HSS and have to come from a different axis as your camera. I’m using two flashes on a Manfrotto tripod with a cable command put at about 2 meters from me and used especially to lighten the background more than the subject, near always used at 1 third power, on my Sony A900, I use the intelligent preview to make corrections if needed. I’ve only observed a reaction with flash only by some butterflies which don’t… Read more »