To flash or not to flash?

on 29th August 2007

Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating flashing as this may involve breaking the law. What I mean is flashing from the photographer’s point of view, especially when birds are the subjects.


Birders and photographers have always argued about the use of flash in bird photography. On the one hand flash photography results in a better image (it is a matter of one’s point of view), especially when the lighting is low. It also removes shadows that may be deemed undesirable. Again, far shot with a long lens will result in a blurred images unless flash is used. Anyway there are many reasons why flash is used.

On the other hand many birders are against using flash, especially on nesting birds and at night, when photographing nocturnal birds. With digital photography, it is not unusual for one photographer to release a dozen or more flashes per session. Imagine the stress on the birds, especially when the distance is near. And with nocturnal birds, not used to bright light in the darkness of the night, the constant flashing can result in injury to the eyes, or so birders claim.

A recent article from the internet titled “Flash Photography and the Visual System of Birds and Animals” by Dennis K. Olivero, DVM and Donald L. Cohen, MD may, in a way, put to rest the fierce controversy that is raging in the interne.

According to the authors the flash gives a very short burst of light that is much diffused when it reaches the subject. This may or may not bother the subjects. However, under dim light conditions, flash “can produce a temporary reduction in vision but not permanent damage.”

The authors are not in favour of repeated flashing in total darkness, however, “The judicious use of flash in completely dark situations causing a brief vision alteration must be offset by the educational value of the photograph made… In select situations, the use of flash may be justified.”

Thus flashing is not a problem during daylight, if not used incessantly and very near nestlings that are not able to fly off. Controlled use of flash at night is not too much of a problem. However, use of powerful lights eg searchlights, to photograph nocturnal birds should be discouraged

DAISY O’NEILL on 29 Aug 2007 at 7:33 am # edit this

Yes, my personal opinion is that flashing should be the last option to be used on birds especially on nesting birds be they day time birds or nocturnal birds.
I believe, eye cells of nesting chicks are not fully developed to be subjected to closed-up shots.

If flashing has to be done as a subject for important educational or scientific use, then the act of flashing justifys a good cause for that moment only and should be restricted to one photographer.The photographer is expected to post or publish those photos to substantiate a report or paper.

Having the excuse,’ I am taking those shots for study purpose ‘ and then hide them in their collection of nesting bird gallery or whatever, or do a private cirulation amongst their buddies just for a little show off serves no purpose at all.

Such action I believe, is that of ordinary photographers of passion turned obsession who knows no boundaries of sense and sensivity. And that is waste of good talents turned bird predators.

Daisy O’Neill

Pamela Lim on 29 Aug 2007 at 3:22 pm # edit this

Dazy, Dazy,

What’s it to you that you have to turn such a beautiful activity of birding & bird photography into a personal vendetta against bird photographers who use flash?? Weren’t your previous birding partners bird photographers too??? Don’t they also use state of the art equipment to capture the pictures that tell the world a thousand words about birds in our region? Weren’t you the one who told me that you have to complement your partner in spotting the bird & allowing him to take his shots first above all else???

Whatever methods bird photographers have to justify their personal collection in a gallery or otherwise, are of no consequence to you nor do they cause any harm or detriment in the birds’ environment so why is it that you are so hell bent on persecuting photographers to the point of causing enmity between them & birders??? Do you have a point to make? Or are you just sore that your ways have earned you an infamous reputation among the birders? It’s not like you haven’t been in other forums, most notably, to make your presence felt & exercise your tyranny in trying to get newbies like me banned for nothing & when the administrators ignore you, the best you could do is to champion your cause in several other bird-related groups & curse people along the way with bird poop??? Come on, is this what birding is all about? That wasn’t what you said when you hung out with the rest of us who used flash & flash extenders!!! Why didn’t you make a mention then? Why didn’t you talk to us before you talk to the world? Or are you just having a great time going behind the backs of those photographers who have access & knowledge of the nesting sites that you tapped upon, then stab them in the back when they are not looking? My my, I wonder how many birding partners you would have to lose before you come to your senses that birding is a social activity where people of all ages congregate & marvel at God’s wonderful creation!!! If you want to be a nature police, go prosecute those people who collect birds’ nest or those who poach birds for trade!

What makes you think that these photos taken serves no purpose at all? What gives you the liberty to judge what is purposeful or not? How would you know how the photos are being used? Be it to show to old folks to give them a glimpse into the jungles or to show little children & teach them about the appreciation of nature, who are you to determine what can or cannot be done, should & should not be done? I feel that person with no sense & sensitivity is you.

So many people are so sick & tired of your ill-feelings & hate-propaganda towards bird photographers with your high & mighty ethics that you impose upon anybody who proclaim to be a birder. Your holier-than-thou attitude towards bird photographers on the field will only bring forth hostility upon yourself not to mention, the country as countries become borderless through the internet. By calling your own countrymen whom you once fondly ‘birded’ with, ‘BIRD PREDATORS,’ put you in the same class of those who bite the hand that feeds them. After all, you wouldn’t know where to bird in the first place if they hadn’t taken you to those pitta & trogon sites, would you?

I would want to see you on the field tell the bunch of us in our face about how you feel if you really felt so strongly about flash photography instead of hiding behind the safe confines of your computer & pound away your frustrations causing so many birders to hide their findings for fear of retribution from the hostility of ignorant birders caused by your sickening propaganda!!!

DAISY O’NEILL on 29 Aug 2007 at 7:20 pm # edit this

Dear Pam,
This is a Bird ecology forum and one is entitled to speak up generally for the benefit of birds and the environment.
It is a pity that birds cannot speak for themselves. That is one of the reasonswhy forums like this are created for humans to learn from birds, about birds, and ways to try and make our hobby interesting and in a more sustainable and kind way to the birds.

Your reply is sadly more of a personal one which you seemed to get too edgy about it and quick to assasinate those who speak up and write about what YOU don’t want to read or accept.
You did the same to me in another forum. I kept quiet.
Not this time.

I am not interested in personal envious bitching of sorts with you using this forum as a platform. You can do better else where with other woman whose husband and -birding pal you are protecting and speaking up for.

If I am not mistaken, you are more of a person of the sea. It would be best you invest your time more productively in those scuba diving forums. Your niche is there and leave me to coo in this birding forum.

Thank you.
YOu need not reply to his note as personal vendetta is not applicable in this forum and I won’t be replying either period.

Prof Wee, kindly deal with this please.

admin on 29 Aug 2007 at 7:39 pm # edit this

Yes, let’s not be personal. Both have lodge their views and so let us let things be. We will end this aspect of the discussion.

Hi YC,
Thanks for bringing those comments to a close.

‘Pamela Lim”s name is likely beng used by a strong suspect-Tse Chien .
He came out with the same kind of uncouth remarks under Pamela’s name at Avianwatch.
He is one of the ‘tua tow’ propagating the idea of birding in military styled uniforns for his buddies. (A failed commando applicant who try to play it out with birding in the forest!)

He was such a promising birder-photog.
The introduction of learning bird calls to him was from Nature’s NItche DVD tape was from me. He disappointed me by overstepping the enducational tool to have the calls taped on MP3 and started making copies for Pamela (girlfriend) and eventually the idea took off in Sg. and it went out of control.
How I regreted it YC.

Yes, Tse Chien was the one who started his early birding with me for nearly 9 months and I was his spotter and he got to know more birds better and learnt well.

It’s a pity, people would choose to play it out this way
Those are not nice comments- pretty overkill..
I propose they all be deleted.
Also, two articles sent last year- Stalking the Elusive Pitta and Breeding Masters of Decoy.
Can you please take those articles off including all the pictures in the blog?.

I will rewrite them at some other stage when I am in Pitta mood and to replace them with my own pictures..

Daisy 290807

New comment on your post #1558 “To flash or not to flash?
Author : Ding Li (IP: ,
E-mail : [email protected]
Whois :
So far there is no solid proof, at least to my knowledge, that flash photography causes direct harm to bird behavior and ecology (maybe it might hurt the eyes). No one has been able to conduct such forms of empirical study, but it would be good to know what it really does, as it would give us some objective data to base current opinions, or perhaps effect changes with our photography habits (if it indeed causes harm). The latest issue of Ibis, the British bird journal has a series of papers on recreation disturbance on birds, including suggested study techniques, and i guess that is a good starting point for studying anthropogenic disturbances, in this case, use of flash photography and sound playbacks. Until the day an objective and significant study has been done on this form of disturbance, we can only continue to ‘imagine’ what happen to the birds…by applying the same scenarios to our own eyes when we are to face hundreds of bright flashes every day

New comment on your post #1558 “To flash or not to flash?
Author : Ding Li (IP: ,
E-mail : [email protected]
Whois :
However, it is not too difficult to hypothesize what over-usage of bright light flashes can do to birds, though it is often a matter of how significant it would alter a bird’s behaviour or ecology. For example, let say a frogmouth or an scops owl has been located, photographers might gather and take many flash-enhanced shots/while birders shine mighty bright torches at it. That sudden exposure to strong light, we all know, affects the retina and disrupts the photoreceptors, causing a temporary period of “blindness”. If this period is prolonged, logically, the bird is blinded for an extended moment and is vulnerable to danger as it cannot see well enough to respond to its environment. Many strigids and other noctural birds are highly dependant on sight, so a temporary lost of sight might be costly, or even life-threatening (due to predation). Likewise, a nightbird blinded by the flashes, whether by birder’s torches or photographers flashes, are essentially “wasting” time for f
oraging and other natural behaviour. This might have some ecological implication that we don’t know exist, that directly affects the birds negatively, perhaps in lowered prey capture success, leading to nest failure?, or got killed by arboreal predators.. etc etc. Just my two cents worth.

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

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