Better Beamer

For some time now I’ve looked at flash extenders as something I might want to add to my photo kit. They magnify the beam of light your flash puts out, giving it more “reach.” So before leaving for the Galapagos, I bought one.

I knew that on this trip I’d be shooting some small critters (birds, bugs, crabs) from a distance, and might have times where I’d want to add fill flash. Of course, the brighter your surroundings (like daytime), the less distance your flash is useful. For many years photographers have bought or built devices to add to the front of flash units to help push the light out further. The most popular ones today are called Better Beamers. They’re really very simple devices. A small frame that straps to the side of a flash

Finch photographed available light, Nikon D700, 200-400 f/4 lens, no flash.

head, with a plastic magnifier that is attached to the front. When the flash fires it hits that magnifier, which then focuses the light into a tighter beam, helping it reach distant subjects. As a bonus, it’s very lightweight and easy to pack and carry. And it’s not expensive. Mine was about $40.

I had a few opportunities to use it on this trip, and was mostly pleased with the results. As with any use of fill flash, how much power you feel is appropriate is based on the look you want to get. My goal was mainly to fill in deep shadows and add a catchlight to eyes, so I tended to power it down, from -1 to -2 stops (adjusting the power level of the flash). Mike Kan, one of the members of our group (in photo) likes his shots with more power. As I said, it’s a subjective thing, which is true of much of photography.

Same finch, same gear, but now using the Better Beamer to push light into it so you can see its plumage better and get a catchlight in the eye.

It’s not the sort of tool I’ll always carry or use, but it will come in handy. Next time I go to the zoo, or out to shoot birds, or when I lead trips to Africa and back to the Galapagos next year, it will go with me. I’m always hapy to carry something small and light that can help me make better pictures.