I visited my parents over the July 4th holiday. As evening approached my father asked me to take down the suet feeder so the flying squirrels wouldn’t eat it all. I thought… “hmmm, what if I don’t take down the suet and try to make some photographs instead.” Once it was dark the flying squirrels came swarming in. The flying squirrels basically ignored us and flew right by your heads and scampered around on the nearby trees. They moved fast and it was impossible to compose a photograph in the dark. I mounted a small flashlight to the bottom of my camera (enough light to compose by) and used the autofocus assist light on my flash to help the autofocus track them. The light was too harsh coming directly from a flash mounted on the camera so I asked my father to give me a hand. I had him hold the flash about 5 feet to the left of the camera shot through a diffusion screen to soften the light. The diffusion screen was a 3 foot diameter disc made of thin white fabric. When the light from the flash is sent through this diffusion screen the subject is lit by a 3 foot diameter light rather than the tiny flash head. This produced much softer and more pleasing light and helped the flying squirrel fur look much softer.
My father and I quickly developed a procedure to help us get through all the steps required to make a photograph with this lighting setup. First, I would say “focus”, and he would point the flash autofocus assist light at the squirrel. Once I achieved focus I would say “diffusion” and he would raise the diffusion screen about three feet in front of the flash. Then I would say “eyes” and we would both close our eyes as I tripped the shutter and fired the flash. Closing our eyes was very important because most of the light from the flash was reflected off the diffusion screen right back into our faces. The procedure worked great except for one time when I was a little fast on the shutter button and fired before we could close our eyes. I just caught a piece of it in my peripheral vision but my father caught the whole thing with his eyes wide open. Oops, sorry dad! Our night vision was ruined for quite a while after that. This procedure only really worked when the squirrels held still for a few seconds which they didn’t do very often. Although I suspect they were doing it more often than usual as they tried to figure out what those silly humans were doing by the suet feeder.