Shooting in Afternoon Sun
Shooting in natural light is far and away my favorite method of photographing wildlife. While fill flash is sometimes necessary, I’m often turned off by the washed out results. Having ample light is something of a necessity for my style, but you can have too much of a good thing. This is where quality most certainly trumps quantity. I’ll take all the low-angle warm light I can get at dusk, but the high noon sun can be harsh on a subject. Dark shadows and blown out highlights are the usual suspects when shooting in these conditions.
Shooting in manual mode can be a bit labor intensive when I’m out on the water in midday light. Fast shutter speeds at apertures of f5.6 and above make for sharp shots, but the light can change in a hurry. I’ve often found myself dialed in for a bird on the water, and panned my shot right into the shady bank. The settings were just right for the blazing sun, but turned my subjects into black silhouettes as they flew into the shadows. While I like to control as much of the shot as possible, sometimes you just have to give in and switch over to shutter priority.
While paddling yesterday afternoon I opted to take a more creative approach. Instead of surrendering the controls, I decided to stay in full manual and expose for a single shaft of light on a shady bank. The hope was to black out everything that didn’t pass through the spotlight. I was following a spotted sandpiper working his way up the river and banked on it continuing upstream. The hard part here was keeping my kayak in position on the moving water while I waited for my passing chance.
Pressing the shutter button never felt better as this guy walked across the “set” just before the river sent me out of range. Sometimes my photos are the result of a lucky capture in the midst of a stream of shots in burst mode. This one and only frame was far more satisfying to achieve.
The lesson here is that you don’t always have to accept your perceived working conditions. When the sun just isn’t flattering your subjects, try and think outside the box. The obvious answer may be to seek out some shade. I captured this young buck in velvet at one o’clock in the afternoon. The light was harsh on the water that day, but quite nice filtered through the forest canopy.