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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Lighting For Wildlife

Think about the way you illuminate your subjects to tell their story

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Bad Weather Light. In the Yellowstone wilderness with snow softly falling, a red fox curls up under the open skies. The gray, flat light helps to tell the story of this fox's struggle for survival. Nikon D3X, AF-S Nikkor 600mm ƒ/4G ED VR, TC-17E teleconverter

The light is just blazing away as we head down the highway. We round the corner where we know mountain goats hang out sometimes, so I slow down to look. Up the narrow canyon, I see a nanny and kid, working their way down. It's that time of day when they visit the salt lick. I pull over, get out the 600mm and head over to the edge. You might be thinking that I must be nuts to stop in bad light to photograph a white subject. I am nuts, but in this case, I knew that the salt lick was under the bridge, and that while the goats would be in shade, the light blasting around the walls would be somewhat directional, yet soft. And so for the next hour until the sun moved, we had a great time shooting in great light at high noon.

FAR RIGHT: Front/Sidelighting. Deep in the Canadian prairie, a Swainson's hawk watches its mate to see if it's coming back to the nest with food for the young. The light is a combination of front and side. The hawk's dramatic pose carries the shot without more dramatic, directional light. Nikon D2XS, AF-S VR Zoom-NIKKOR 200-400mm ƒ/4G IF-ED

1 Sidelighting is a pattern of light I like to work with a lot, and it's also the most challenging because you have shadows to think about. There's a plus and minus to shadows. The plus is the texture and detail that shadows can bring out in a subject. The owl in the tree is a prime example. Although the owl is facing into the light, to the lens axis, it's sidelighting. The sidelighting is particularly strong in this shot because of the way the tree falls into shadow. The illuminated owl pops out of the dark, shadowed bark to create a magical scene.


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