The Direction of Light

Filed in Articles, Photography Tips on Nov.26, 2018

Dawn and Dusk are truly the best times for light that often yield the most pleasing conditions in which to photograph in. With the Winter season now upon us this will offer you a softer, more angled light which can offer the photographer endless opportunities for dramatic images of wildlife.

Photography is the art of taking or making photographs, it is the creation of images by exposing film or a computer chip to light inside a camera.  The word photography comes from Greek words meaning to write or draw with light. Sit in the same position for an hour in the morning or evening and you’ll see just how quickly light changes. The direction of light will dramatically affect the way shadows fall in a scene within nature or on a subject.

Craig Jones Wildlife Photography

Craig Jones Wildlife Photography

Craig Jones Wildlife Photography

Craig Jones Wildlife Photography

Craig Jones Wildlife Photography

Lighting can transform an image, adding a beautiful atmosphere within the photograph with lots of impact to the main subject. Great care must always be shown not to point the lens directly at the setting or rising sun as it will damage your eyes. The lens must be clean and free from smears and dust, and sometimes the effects of flare can add a lot to the image so don’t throw the images away until you get them home and reviewed them on your computer.

Craig Jones Wildlife Photography

Craig Jones Wildlife Photography

Craig Jones Wildlife Photography

Back lighting can give your subject a strong outline and add a great atmosphere to your image with a great deal of impact at the same time. Allow where possible you’re subject to be the main feature of your photograph with the use of simple composition with the sun directly behind it. The best times for back lighting to be at its best is dawn and dusk when the sun is low in the sky, creating the warm colours and glow from this wonderful time of the day.

If the shape of the subject is easily recognizable through its strong outline it will make for a beautiful photo. This form of lighting provides the most atmospheric illumination and the greatest sense of depth; it can give your images an air of mystery when used well with a great deal of impact.

Craig Jones Wildlife Photography

The correct exposure for backlit shots can be tricky so you will have to experiment with darker and lighter exposures in order to get the desired effect and overall feel and mood of the image you want. Use single selected focus point and spot metering where you can take a reading from the subject’s body and set the exposure in camera.

Dealing with the ever unpredictable subject of wildlife though the subject may not allow you the time to take a reading for the perfect exposure. Always try to keep the affect of lens flare down by keeping out of direct sunshine as much as possible when taking the photo.

Craig Jones Wildlife Photography

Back-Lighting  gives your subject a strong outline and adds a great atmosphere, with a great deal of impact to your image also, it’s counterpart ‘Side Lighting’ emphasizes a great deal of texture from the use of light highlighting your subject from the side, and when put to use in your image carefully it can produce a wonderful and dramatic image again with bags of atmosphere, giving the image a three-dimensional feel. A word of warning though from my own personal experiences ‘Side Lighting’ gives you the best results when the sun is low in the sky eg. Sunset, Sunrise.

Craig Jones Wildlife Photography

Side Lighting does not work very well if the background is really cluttered or messy with lots of detail and other things going on so keep it as clean as possible, the idea is to isolate the light against your subject with a clear background illuminating your subject from the side bringing out all the texture in the feathers or fur at the same time creating a great deal of depth to the image. Always expose for the sunlit side of your subject, even at the cost of losing some shadow detail.

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Craig Jones Wildlife Photography

Use Side Lighting’ alongside Back lighting as a part of your everyday Wildlife Photography, creating two very different images through the use of natural light which is at its very best during sunrise and sunset, illuminating your chosen subject from the side or the back in the case of Back Lighting.

Craig Jones Wildlife Photography

Always remember when working with wild animals they come first and at dawn and dusk the last thing you want to do is to impose yourself too quickly or scare the animal you’re wishing to photograph in these lighting conditions. I never use flash in any conditions with wildlife on welfare grounds, using natural light will make you more creative and make you look and think more where your light source comes from.

It’s also very important to know that calories are burned off more quickly during the colder seasons. So fieldcraft and respect have to be the first priories of any photographer when taking your images because if the subject has to move to avoid you and this carries on there’s no telling the animal will be able to recoup those spent calories and energy avoiding you which in terms means your action may result in the premature death of your subject should it struggle to find enough food.

Craig Jones Wildlife Photography

How we view, share time with and think of all wildlife is so important. Those that take images are often the very first to have that contact with the natural world at first light and animals will learn about us from our actions. In a time when all wildlife is under such pressures we can all do our bit to help them.When we point our cameras at a subject it comes with such a great responsibility that we all must abide by otherwise it all breaks down.

Wildlife photographers are afforded the most trust by nature because often we are first into their world how we manage that first contact is so important I truly believe this.Respect – ethics – integrity and a transparency to our work has never been so important. Inform and inspire the public , show them the beauty of the natural world and lead by example by looking after what is around us and is entrusted into our care.

I hope this blog post has helped, I have tried to simplify the art of side and back lighting during the winters months and I hope it’s inspired you to just get out there and put into practice what I have told you. I offer a variety of one to ones, workshops throughout the year where I go through these tips and many more to help you improve in all aspects of your wildlife photography. Click on this link to see my workshops and photo tours, and for my one to ones click here, many thanks.


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