In those cases where flash causes temporary visual impairment, it's not only the case that the bird is disturbed (as it would be by a range of other activities in the park); the bird's ability to act with its typical effectiveness in response to the disturbance is diminished.   This suggests to me that some restrictions on the use of flash in the bird garden would be appropriate, such as a time-of-day restriction that would take into account natural light levels.

An additional comment:  I do wish Olivero and Cohen had included citations, as I would like to know how they reached their conclusions.

Sherry McCowan
Saint Louis, Missouri

On May 21, 2010, at 9:19 PM, David Becher wrote:

I think that this somewhat misses the point.  No one is suggesting, that I am aware, that flash photography permanently injures the birds.  If it did, it would presumably also be dangerous to humans and this whole discussion would be moot.  
It can disturb them and make them vulnerable.  I have no strong objection to the proper use of flash in photographing birds.  However, in a limited area like the Gaddy bubbler with four or five photographers shooting as fast as they can, the effect is rather like a bad disco.  I know I found it disconcerting and I was standing behind the photographers.  I can only imagine what it was like for the birds.
I am not asking that photographers give up using flash, I am asking that they show reasonable restraint in this as in other things such as stalking and flushing birds, damaging habitat, interfering with nests etc.  The same restraint that I would ask of birders.  
All that said, I have to say that as an person who takes and appreciates pictures of birds, I find that in my opinion most pictures taken with flash are inferior.  They tend to look washed out and bland to me.  Also any view of eye color is lost.  This is an important feature in many birds.
Yes flash can fill in the dark areas, and that is exactly the problem.  The pictures look like they were shot in an aviary.  In natural light when looking at a bird there are shaded areas and the plumage of birds is adapted to that fact.  That is why the vast majority of species are dark above and light below.  The use of fill flash distorts the natural light and makes the birds look as if they were photographed under artificial conditions.  I realize that this a personal esthetic view nevertheless I think that you will find that most really good bird photographers are very sparing in their use of artificial light.
David Becher
Saint Louis

> Date: Fri, 21 May 2010 20:13:49 -0500
> From: [log in to unmask]
> Subject: Re: Scientific article on the use of flash for bird photography
> To: [log in to unmask]
> I was also sent this link privately. The quote says it all, but you left out the 
> part that carries more merit to this discussion...and makes the point clear. 
> Flash used as THE MAIN source of light can produce problems with vision. For 
> those familiar with photography and the basic principles of how to use their 
> is almost a sure bet that the photographers that begain this debate 
> at Gaddy Bird Garden were not using Flash as their main source of light.
> There is a HUGE difference in using flash for the main light vs. what 99.99% of 
> all photographers do with flash, and that is FILL FLASH. The very in-depth 
> article goes on to state the following, which is more accurate in that, only 
> rare instances or night shooting would require using flash as the main source 
> of light. That part of the article, which contains the entire quote, not just 
> that part about possible vision damage, is as follows:
> In summary, to produce phototoxic retinopathy, or permanent damage, a 
> focused intense light must be held in one location on the retina for a time 
> several magnitudes greater than the duration of a camera flash. Fill-flash is 
> not likely to have any effect on visual systems; flash as main light in dim light 
> conditions may produce a temporary reduction in vision but not permanent 
> damage. Flash on nocturnal subjects during nighttime should be used sparingly 
> due to brief impairment of vision.
> Flash does not cause permanent damage to the eyes of animals or people, 
> even at close range. The eye is developed to handle bright light, such as the 
> sun. This is the reason the rod cells "turn off" in bright light. Flash is diffused 
> light when it reaches the subject. Only very highly focused light, like looking 
> at the sun through your telephoto, or laser application, would be expected to 
> cause permanent retinal damage.
> Hypothetically, if scientific information indicated that flash photography, under 
> normal use, produced permanent retinal damage, it would trigger additional 
> rules and regulations. Flash would not be allowed in making human portraits, 
> strobe units would be banned from theatres and dance halls, children would 
> not be allowed to handle cameras and flash units and their instruction manuals 
> would carry warning labels.
> Cell phone and radio towers, feral animals, air and water pollution, 
> automobiles, and habitat reduction may be issues of much greater importance 
> confronting bird and animal subjects than any temporary vision changes 
> associated with the use of flash in dim or dark light. By limiting our nighttime 
> use of flash and using fill-flash primarily to enhance ambient light photography, 
> we hope to produce images of animal and bird subjects that will increase 
> public awareness and appreciation of nature subjects. By calling attention to 
> the importance of maintaining a diverse population of birds and animals on this 
> planet, we may ultimately be able to improve the survival and quality of life of 
> the subjects photographed."
> Due note the emphasis on fill flash for wildlife photography. Huge difference. 
> I would also add to this last paragraph items that have been mentioned before 
> on disturbances at the bubbler: Constant foot traffic, joggers, pets, BIKE 
> riders (yes, seen it myself), following of birds around the garden area. Those 
> items occur in far greater numbers than when photographers are there with 
> flash. 
> To end my thoughts on this matter it boils down to this simple thought. I 
> believe it would not serve anyones interests (birds/humans) to ban the use of 
> Flash in the bubbler if these other items are allowed to continue. They present 
> a far greater disruption to the birds due to their constant occurance, where 
> as the flash photographry there is very limited. Nothing wrong with open 
> discussion and we can all agree to disagree. 
> Jason G. Harrison
> Troy, Lincoln County, Mo.
The Audubon Society of Missouri's Wild Bird Discussion Forum
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