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.

32 responses

  1. Mind-boggling photos and great advice. Thanks!

    June 8, 2012 at 5:58 am

  2. The sandpiper is my favorite shot – so dramatic and fragile, it also have a touch of loneliness and quietness in it – the deer photo is magic … he/she is stirring right at me. You’re so talent and you have such a respect in your photos. Thanks for sharing with me.

    June 8, 2012 at 7:22 am

    • Thanks a million Viveka. I always appreciate your kind comments. :)

      June 10, 2012 at 9:06 pm

  3. Beautiful, I love the deer! Great advice for me as a beginner, when I first started photography I always ran outside at high noon because I thought the bright sun was so pretty, I quickly learned my lesson! Loved this post :)

    June 8, 2012 at 7:46 am

    • Thanks Lynda, I appreciate your kind words and am glad the advice is helpful. I’m still learning every day how to deal with different types of light. :)

      June 10, 2012 at 9:05 pm

  4. Hi,
    Stunning photos. :)

    June 8, 2012 at 9:00 am

  5. Pat

    Marvelous shots!

    June 8, 2012 at 10:14 am

  6. Great shots! May I ask what settings you used for the sandpiper photo? I really like the results. I have a lot to learn, so thanks for the tips!

    June 8, 2012 at 10:58 am

    • Thanks Fergiemoto! The key to the sandpiper shot was the high contrast conditions. The river bank was in the shade so my shutter speed of 800 fps was too fast to pick up any details except where the shaft of light was coming through. My aperture was set to f4 to get enough depth to guarantee a sharp shot. You can do the same thing anywhere you’ve got a dark scene with an isolated spot that’s lit. You can use your histogram to expose for the bright spot – the hard part is getting your subject in it. :)

      June 10, 2012 at 9:02 pm

  7. Wow! That second shot of the sandpiper is AMAZING!!!

    June 8, 2012 at 11:29 am

  8. I like that you are sharing your thinking process with us. I usually don’t really think like a photographer. I’m more focused on storytelling. As a result, I miss some very fine opportunities for making good shots great. I am appreciating seeing the wirld through your eyes and thoughts, and having my percetion and cognition stretched!

    June 8, 2012 at 11:41 am

    • Thank you Michael, I’m having fun sharing my thoughts and experiences. It’s great to have positive feedback like this to keep me encouraged. :)

      June 10, 2012 at 8:51 pm

  9. Wow, reading your blog is like going to photography school. Wonderful shots!

    June 8, 2012 at 1:42 pm

    • That’s great to hear Shelley. Thanks for checking it out, and for commenting. :)

      June 10, 2012 at 8:49 pm

  10. narhvalur

    Reblogged this on Ann Novek–With the Sky as the Ceiling and the Heart Outdoors.

    June 8, 2012 at 1:45 pm

  11. The buck shot is really cool, however you really hit a GRAND SLAM with the sandpiper… just world class.
    And I love how honest you were about your luck :)

    June 8, 2012 at 6:12 pm

    • Thanks Bashar, I’m glad you liked it. I was excited about this shot when I saw the results.

      June 10, 2012 at 8:48 pm

  12. Hey, I just nominated you for the “One Lovely Blog Award” – http://spencerangel.com/2012/06/08/one-lovely-blog-nomination/

    I also nominated you for the “Versatile Blogger Award” – http://spencerangel.com/2012/06/08/versatile-blogger-nomination/ you deserve them! :)

    June 9, 2012 at 12:03 am

  13. wonderful shots in broad daylight and in a kayak, I have trouble with a tripod. Oh dear. All of the shots are beautiful so crisp with great composition and contrast. You must also have a great camera and lens.

    June 15, 2012 at 11:03 pm

  14. Your pictures are incredible. That last shot is amazing!

    June 18, 2012 at 11:20 pm

    • That’s kind of you to say Ntebogeng. Thanks very much for visiting my blog, and for your kind words. :)

      June 19, 2012 at 7:47 am

  15. Pingback: Summer Sunlight « Mazzarella Photo

  16. That sandpiper shot is a winner. Beautiful!

    September 7, 2012 at 10:52 pm

  17. Pingback: Shooting in Afternoon Sun | sueshan123

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