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Shooting Owls with the ELC Pro HD by Alex Ray

Shooting Owls with the ELC Pro HD by Alex Ray

I recently had the opportunity to follow Les Wilson on a shoot at the Hawk Conservancy Trust. It would be his first shoot with the Elinchrom ELC Pro HD and I would be the technical assistant...

The Idea:

To capture an owl in flight using a stroboscopic flash to show multiple images in one frame.

The Execution:

The trust has a small wooded area they use for owl flight demonstrations. A semi-circle of bench seating encloses an area of open woodland with wooden posts and log piles added so the birds can be flown point-to-point. This would be our studio for the day.

So we could both get an idea of the speed the birds fly at, we sat and watched one of the daily live flying demonstrations. Persistent drizzle during the day meant the trust was quiet, our gain as we all got to handle an owl!

Watching the demo proved very useful and gave us some info on how the different birds fly. Smaller birds flap much faster and tend to swoop down in the middle of the flight and then back up to land. Based on this, and the keeper's recommendation of testing on an older, calmer, bigger, bird, our first test was with a Great Grey Owl.

After the demonstration we were able to walk around the area and choose the best position for the shot, giving an interesting landing area and a simple background.

One of our first realisations should have been obvious to us; With multiple exposures, you can only ever ADD to the brightness. If your subject is dark against a light background, it just won't show up. Once the background has been exposed, you can't take that away by putting a dark bird there for 1/5000s!

That is, of course, why every multiple exposure image you've ever seen is against a dark, or black, background.

Lighting setup:

The bird would fly in from the right and land on a woodpile slightly left of the centre of the frame.

An ELC Pro HD 1000 in a Rotalux 50x130cm Stripbox (mounted horizontally) was set up around 1.5 meters from the final approach to the landing spot on camera right. Another was set up on camera left pointing along the light of flight. The heads was were both set to strobe mode, giving 8 flashes over a 1.2 second period. The camera was set for a 1.5 second exposure at f/16 for plenty of depth of field. By using a power setting of 3.6 we were able to get a flash duration of 1/5260s, the fastest available on the ELC ProHD.

After a few test runs we soon realised that the real difficulty lay in timing the exposure so the last flash happened when the bird was landed.

To help give us some extra leeway in the timing I set the head nearest the landing spot to delay mode, rather than strobe. I set a delay of 1.4 seconds. This head would now fire right at the end of the sequence, giving a nice final portrait image. The 0.2 second delay between the strobe and the final flash gave us room for error.

With some further testing we got the sequence down to 8 flashes over 0.8 seconds, a 0.15 second delay, then the final flash. All captured in a 1 second exposure.


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