Shooting against the light

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We’ve all been there…you are sitting at an awesome sighting, watching some beautiful animal or bird…but the light is just W-R-O-N-G…

Now you’ve got 2 options. Either you pack away the camera and just enjoy the sighting…or you try to work with the light you have and create some images that might come out better than you thought, or better yet, might come out a litte ‘out-of-the-box’. In this post I will elaborate on some of these situations you might encounter, and also show some of the images I have been able to capture in similar cases which I thought came out okay.

The classic case is the “back-lit” image, where the light comes from directly opposite your viewing position and you have to use it to enhance the contours and outlines of your subject. The key here is to ensure you under-expose significantly to ensure you capture the mood and don’t blow the highlights. You can either do this by manually adjusting exposure or bias and checking the histogram, or if you like to use your metering function apart from your focusing function you can meter off the brightest highlights.

Another angle of light we encounter in the field is a case of strong ‘side-light’. In this case the light hitting the subject creates a stark contrast between one part of the subject and another.

Obviously this is only possible in the early morning and late afternoon…no noon-time shots available here! The ideal exposure for me in cases like this is to obtain enough detail in the shaded parts without making it look unnatural and without blowing out the highlighted areas.

The key to facing a situation where the light is challenging, is to know your equipment well, know how to use your exposure bias setting to achieve an over- or underexposed shot, and think creatively…in the end the best images are formed in your mind’s eye before you even trip the shutter.

We all want those moments of “perfect” light, but they seldom are perfect…my advice would be to make the most out of the situations you do find yourself in when you are out in the field. Most of us have so precious little time to spend in the field to begin with!

Here are some more images I have been able to capture in these kinds of light.

Till next time!

Morkel Erasmus

Morkel Erasmus

Morkel Erasmus

I used to relish writing these kinds of “bio” pieces and would flaunt the odd impressive word and use dashing grammar to make it sound like I am a boundary-shifting photographer. These days I prefer stating it in much simpler ways, much more relatable ways, much more believable ways… The fact of the matter is this: I love Africa. I love its people, its wild places and its wildlife. I love being immersed in these places, observing and photographing the fall of light on the land and the daily lives of the creatures that call it home, and presenting the results to whoever will take a look. To me, nature is all about being in the moment, and capturing that moment in a way that can relate to someone who didn’t have the privilege of being there with me. Sometimes I am able to capture a unique vision of the scene before me, and sometimes I just capture it the way most folks would according to classical photographic guidelines. Yet I always enjoy sharing the images and experiences and imparting the knowledge I have, both in-the-field and later online or in presentations, workshops and courses. I also just simply enjoy capturing and sharing the beauty of God's creation! The greatest thing I’ve found about wildlife and nature in Southern Africa is the unity and familiarity of the community of people that share this passion. We come from all walks of life and all cultures and backgrounds, yet our passion for our natural heritage and our dream to see it preserved for future generations binds strangers together and fuels conversations around campfires long after other people have run out of conversation and energy. Join me on a WildEye adventure to experience this sharing community spirit and learn to anticipate that fleeting moment and be ready for it, learn to immerse yourself in the experience without losing focus of your photographic goals…and above all, learn to see Africa anew… because there are none as blind as those who look but do not see!

Morkel Erasmus

Morkel Erasmus

Since picking up a DSLR camera for the first time, a little over 3 years ago, Morkel has been invigorated with an unbridled passion for the photographic art form. He has grown at a tremendous pace and put immense energy into the creation of his images. He absolutely loves spending time in the wild places of his native Southern Africa. From a young age he has been visiting legendary wildlife and outdoor locations, including the Kruger Park National Park and the Drakensberg Mountains, with his family. Now that he has found a way to share the natural beauty of his homeland with the rest of the world he is regularly out on photography trips. An Industrial Engineer by profession, and an accomplished artist in genres like music and poetry, Morkel has always enjoyed whatever allows him to express his creativity to the fullest. Photography turned out to be the perfect "marriage" between his engineering brain and artistic soul. "I hope that in some way I can raise awareness through my imagery of the plight of not only our wildlife but also the fragility of the last remaining wilderness areas that they call home.” Morkel was recently honoured for his commitment to his craft by receiving a "Highly Commended" for one of his images in the 2010 BBC Veolia Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. He is based in Mpumalanga, South Africa and even though he prefers going on safari with his family and friends, Morkel also leads the odd photographic safari and has recently begun presenting workshops in post-processing techniques.

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Morkel Erasmus
Morkel Erasmus

Thanks Atdahi – glad you found it useful. I often forget these things myself in the heat of the action.

atdahl
atdahl

Very nice post Morkel. All too often I shift positions or fail to take a picture at all in these lighting conditions. Your post reminds me that I need to branch out a bit and experiment more. Love the back lit meerkats by the way.