Sep 112012

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 exposure compensation 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

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

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


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.

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