Painting With Light

I think we’d all agree that it’s hard to take a good animal photograph without adequate light. But what about taking a GREAT animal photograph outside where there are so many changes in the light throughout the day?

First we need to understand the quality and quantity of  the light coming from the sky. So take your camera and wander around at different times of the day, taking a lot of photos. Do this exercise early in the morning, at midday and late in the afternoon.

Then study the proofs. What changes do you see in the way the light slants across the fields? When is it most intense? Where do the shadows fall as the day progresses, especially on the animals you want to photograph?

Once you can answer the above questions, you are ready to start painting with light. You will begin to develop an eye for the light on your location and you can use that knowledge to help you shoot when the light is right.

Here are a few hints.

The best time of day for good natural light is early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the sun’s rays are long and soft. Avoid the glare of noon day sun when the shadows are harsh and unflattering for both animals and people.

Some of the best lighting occurs on bright cloudy days when the sun is behind the clouds. The clouds become a giant light box, softening the sun’s rays before it falls on your subject so you don’t have to deal with the difficult exposure problems caused by bright sunlight.

As always, it is easier to understand with a photograph, so to fine tune your understanding of light and then shoot a series of test files duplicating the lighting in these photographs.

#1. Front Lighting. You are shooting with the sun behind you so the sunlight is shinning directly on the front of your subject(s).

#2. Back lighting. You are shooting with the sun shining behind the animal.

#3. Side lighting. The sun is slanting across the subject matter at an angle so there are some shadows and some highlights.

#4. Diffuse lighting. There is no direction to the light.

Next time, we’ll break down each “kind” of light in more detail.

Good shooting!