Artificial Light

Artificial Light 2020-11-10T07:54:15+00:00

Artificial light can be broadly defined as any light source that is not naturally occurring, such as light bulbs and flash strobes. Artificial light may be an uncontrolled part of the scene or location being photographed, such as street lights, or it may be purposely added and controlled for technical and creative purposes, such as a flash unit. The color temperature of artificial light can vary greatly depending on the source, from very cool from a fluorescent bulb, to very warm from an incandescent one.

Artificial light, such as flash, should be used judiciously when it comes to wildlife, to avoid stressing the animal or causing it harm. Flash is very useful in macro and close-up photography, where smaller apertures and lens extension require more light than may be available naturally. One of the most important factors in the effective use of artificial light is to ensure that it is soft, natural-looking, and of the proper color temperature in relation to the ambient light. This can be done with light modifiers, such as diffusers and gel filters.


An electronic strobe, a common source of artificial light for photography. This is the Canon Speedlite 430 EX II.

Common Accessories for Artificial Light in Nature Photography

Better Beamer Flash Extender. Used to focus a flash strobe’s output into a tighter beam, thereby allowing more intensity over a longer distance than a bare flash. Typically used for wildlife photography, especially birds. The flash power should be turned to a very low setting. It should only be used as a fill light and source of highlights and micro-contrast. You usually do not want to use the flash as the primary source of light, due to the fact that the light will look harsh and artificial, and it may cause too much stress on the animal.

Off-shoe cord for Speedlite flash. Used to keep the E-TTL connection between the flash and the camera, but allow the flash to be positioned off the center axis of the lens. This reduces the artificial and flat look of a flash by changing the angle of the light hitting the subject. This cord is often used with a Better Beamer setup or a macro diffuser setup.

Radio transceivers for Speedlites, which allow you to trigger flash units wirelessly. Helpful for multiple flash setups and advanced lighting scenarios, such as hummingbird photography. The pictured transceivers are Cactus brand.

Fine Art Nature Images Created With Artificial Light

Annas Hummingbird at fuschia - Copyright Matthew Schwartz

Anna’s Hummingbird in flight at fuchsia flower. Image taken with a multiple Speedlite (flash) setup. The extremely short flash duration allowed me to freeze the motion of the hummingbird’s rapid wing movements.

Image © Matthew Schwartz

Skipper Butterfly on Knapweed flower. Image taken with a single Speedlite (flash) diffused through a plastic panel. I set up my artificial lighting on this flower, pre-focused, and then waited for insects to land on the flower. I triggered the camera shutter via a wireless remote.

Image © Matthew Schwartz

Focus-stacked Dendrobium orchid flower, grown in a terrarium. Image taken with a two Speedlite (flash) setup, diffused through plastic panels. I set this up at home, creating a “mini studio” to give me full control over the focus-stacking process. My camera was tethered to my PC and controlled via Helicon Remote software.

Image © Matthew Schwartz