Technique Flash Photography: Backlit Birds in Snow

I wanted to write this post for a while now but I was always a little bit scared and couldn't find the motivation to do it. So here it is, my first blog post. This blog post is about wildlife photography using a flesh. Specifically backlit birds in snow. What did I use? Where? Why? How?

Blåmes Backlit Bluetit Flash Photography Wildlife Sweden Bird Winter Snow Maximilian Koch Tutorial How-To Canon 5d Mark iii 400mm Hjästaviken Yongnuo RF603CII 560 Mark III
Backlit bluetit surrounded by snow
Blåmes Backlit Bluetit Flash Photography Wildlife Sweden Bird Winter Snow Maximilian Koch Tutorial How-To Canon 5d Mark iii 400mm Hjästaviken Yongnuo RF603CII 560 Mark III
Bluetit with less snowflakes
Blåmes Backlit Bluetit Flash Photography Wildlife Sweden Bird Winter Snow Maximilian Koch Tutorial How-To Canon 5d Mark iii 400mm Hjästaviken Yongnuo RF603CII 560 Mark III
Bluetit in front of "fireworks"

The gear I used: 

Canon 5d Mark III*

Canon 400mm USM f5.6*

Yongnuo 560 Mark III*

Youngnuo RF-603 II*



First you need to find a place where chances are high that a bird will be in your framing. This could be your bird feeder in the backyard, or as in my case, a nature reserve with a lot of birds as well as bird feeders. It also comes in really handy when the birds are used to people. I set up my equipment around that spot of interest. My spot was a branch next to the feeders. The birds always used to sit down on that branch before flying on to the feeder.

Blåmes Backlit Bluetit Flash Photography Wildlife Sweden Bird Winter Snow Maximilian Koch Tutorial How-To Canon 5d Mark iii 400mm Hjästaviken Yongnuo RF603CII 560 Mark III

I was triggering my camera* with a wireless trigger*. It was not necessary because the birds didn't care about me at all if I din't walk around too much but it was just more convenient for me. The lens* was set to manual focus, focusing on the branch. Since I knew where the birds would be, there was no need for autofocus. I chose quiet a high aperture of f / 20 because my initial intention was to shoot birds in flight and for that a higher f-stop comes in handy. Unfortunately that didn't work out as planed but more about that later. I kind of underexposed my shot so that the background would disappear and the snowflakes as well as the bird's silhouette would pop out.


Why my shots of birds in flight didn't work out as planed? All of the shots where not as sharp as I've wished. I guess the problem might have been that there was too much ambient light in the shot. I will try that again next time and will let you know :)


I would love to hear your opinion about this blog post. Was it helpful? Any more questions etc? Also constructive critique. But don't be too harsh please, this was my first blog post ever and I'm also still learning a lot ;)

So if you made it this far, thanks a lot and maybe see you next time. Stay up to date via my Instagram.




*All amazon-links are affiliate. That means that if you buy any product via the links, you won't pay a single cent more but I will earn a little amount. Helping me doing what I do. Thank you :)


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Comments: 7
  • #1

    Gustav der Graue (Monday, 22 January 2018 22:12)

    Dear Max,

    thank you very much for the BTS and the explanation, I bet the Problem of capturing the Birds while flying away isnt the abient Light, I'dont know which Shutterspeed you've used, but this should be unnecessary at a Aperture of f20 you'll just get the Flashlight in your shot, but there comes the Problem, if your using these small flashes with a higher Speed the Flashduration is extremely long, with causes motionblur as a side effect.
    Hope I could help a bit, if this doesnt helped you out feel free to ask;)


  • #2

    Max (Tuesday, 23 January 2018 13:55)

    Dear Gustav,

    first of all, thanks a lot for your comment. You are the first one EVER :D
    Thank you for the information. I've also thought about that but wasn't sure if it really could make a difference. Maybe I'll bump up the ISO next time and shoot with a lower speed on the flesh.

    Best regards,

  • #3

    Gustav der Graußzelige (Tuesday, 23 January 2018 21:03)

    Dear Max,

    Yeahhh got the first Place:D!

    I would suggest you to play with the Aperture rather then with the ISO, deppending on the Aperture the Shutterspeed doesn't matter anyway.. I would try to set the Flash some Stops down and play with the Aperture and the Flashenergy, these Compact Flashes (no matter if we talk about the cheaper Yongnuo's or the "original" from Canon and Co.) doesn't act straight, this can mean it really depends on 1/3 of the Flashenergy, while using Studio Flashes makes it really easy, low Energy, short Flash full Energy, long Flash (between 1/12.000sec vs. 1/260sec).

    I recomend you to fire the the Cam without the flash before you go any further with the Lightning so you'll see if the available Light affects your shot. f11 and 1/200sec. ISO100 should be the best choice, so you get the best optical Quality out of your Lens and it should elimante barely every Light if there is a bit don't care about, the image doesnt needs to be black or, just very dark, the Flash will overblend this easyliy!


  • #4

    Max (Tuesday, 23 January 2018 21:35)

    Thanks for your input. I'll try it next time.
    Actually I shot with the same exact settings (also always checking my exposure without the flash beforehand). Just smaller aperture and therefore probably a higher flash-speed than necessary. But I have to say that my chosen aperture value was absolutely on purpose. I shot in absolut closest focal range of this lens and thus the depth of field became super narrow. Another factor was, that it's super hard to anticipate when a flying bird will be in that range to be sharp. So I just wanted to maximize my chances of getting the shot.
    But none the less, it didn't work out :D I'll take your settings as a guideline next time and try my luck ;)

    Best regards,

  • #5

    Gustavo der Grauzellige (Wednesday, 24 January 2018 17:48)

    Oh.. I understand your trouble with that.. Fighting against Physics:D

    So then it's easyier (if you have one) to pack two Flashes together, so you can run them at 1/2 of the Power and get the power Back by using 2 of them.. they are pretty cheap currently, when I've started Photography you needed to buy Cactus Flashes which were something like a Tractor compared to the Yongnuo's..

    ah by the Way, by doing some research about this I've found an Article which declares the Flashduration of your Flash with 1/200s - metered with an average result of 1/325 and also a Table which shows you how it gets better, if you Set it on 1/2 it easly will be 4 times Faster which is definatley Noticeable!


    If you want to try how this affect your Photo the easyiest way is too shoot your Flash in a consistently moving Object like a cooler Fan. I haven't tried this before but it should be cleary visible in the Shot!

    So I wish you good luck and good Light, I'm looking forward to see a Picture with a Bird captured while Flying:)


  • #6

    Gustavo der grzsiduha (Thursday, 25 January 2018 16:47)

    Ok, I've tried it today with my Flashes, there for I used a Tablefan moving on the highest speed possible. If you run the Flash at maximum Power you'll get a completely blured Image caused by motion (flash duration ca. 1/164), saddly I can't post any pictures here.. it looked like a Longer Exposure of a moving Subject, the 3 Blades were slightly 'touching' and the color in the middle was bright and not transparent, the outer part of the Fan-Wings were blured and slightly transparent. I changed the Flashduration to 1/7000 which was the shortest possible and there was no moving at all! Honestly, this "flashed" me, I haven't thought this would be so extremly visible.


  • #7

    Max (Thursday, 25 January 2018 19:43)

    Your efforts are amazing. That's so good to know. Amazing!
    I will try that out when my camera will be back from Canon.
    I will try if it might be possible to post pictures in this section. But if you like to, you could send it via the E-mail button on the bottom of the page. I would love to see that.

    By the way, your name gets better and better :D