Bird and Wildlife Photography
Lighting & Technique
Nature has the ability to adapt to an ever changing environment, driven by a need to reproduce, feed, or survive. Photographers try to capture a small portion in an image and we are happy when we do.. We nature photographers enjoy the time we spend outdoors and I for one place it high on my priority list - get out and shoot.
What should you consider in your outdoor endeavors? This depends on your budget, location and time of year but for me I live in the lower 48 with moderate temperatures. My clothing attire is simple, I use layered Camo, with water proof /resistant boots. Once you have the necessary clothing - your confidence out in the environment increases - lessening your concern thus freeing your mind to focus on the task at hand - having fun.
- If you fail to address your weather protection then you have a hugh challenge with your outdoor environment.
This is about lighting - so lets get to it.
What is "GOOD" LIGHT: Good Light can mean a number of things - for photography it boils down to flattering your subjects attributes in a pleasing way to highlight features and the attributes of your subject.. So, good lighting can mean different things to different photographers for different situations.Keep in mind we are talking about wildlife here but many of the same rules apply as do for people. In my outdoor lighting my ultimate goal is producing portraiture type lighting for the animal, and why not? The closer you come to the concept and mood the closer you get to producing a great photos. So, good light is light that accentuates your subject - I like softer diffused light in most situations while a more direct sun could be better for others.
This Wren photo was taken in bright filtered lighting conditions producing some shadows through the cloud coverage. The sun was able to penetrate clouds to produce a soft catch light to the eye.
Time of Day Theory: I read somewhere time of day is important - while I think this plays a big part in pleasing images, the most important aspect is the relationship of light between you the camera-lens and subject. I find having the light coming from over my shoulder within 20 degrees right or left of the subject and at about 30~50 degrees off the horizon - I get better results. Don't get caught up in a particular time of day - your location, and season dictates when the sun is producing optimal lighting. I like light about 1 hour after sunrise for my wildlife or about 2 hours before sunset - this light soft enough and bright enough for what I like to do.
Catch Light: We heard this phrase before? Catch light is the area of the eye where the lighting in the eye is reflected back to the camera - providing a soul to the subject - like icing on the cake. Catch light can be difficult to obtain in some situations but worth taking the time to obtain. If you have optimal lighting conditions (time of day) then you may only need to wait until the subject turns a certain way, if not and the subject is in shadow flash might be your only saving grace. Sometimes, I simply wait until the sun catches the eye and take the photo.
Fill Flash in the Field: Should you even bother with a flash? Yes! I recommend you at least carry it to your landing zone as they say, then make the determination if you need to carry it along once you arrive (lighting can change). I keep at least one flash in my vehicle at all times when I am out shooting, so when I get to my shooting area, if I determine the need I have it. Lighting sometimes change, or your access to wildlife areas dictate the main light (sun) direction, sometime not not optimal, a flash goes a long way in providing a catch or fill (if your within range), also consider a "flash extenders" as well. Really Right Stuff Flash Bracket Review
If you never have tried a flash in daylight - I highly recommend you do. When I do Macro work you almost always see me with mine. For bird in bush / trail I consider the cloud coverage and will take it along on those overcast days.
Birds in-Flight: What a rush, once you start you will be hooked.. So, don't try this at home. Most of the same rules apply: technique, patience and more importantly - Lighting.. I try to find locations that have a light source from my back to the bird, this ensures the underside and eyes are well lighted. I enjoy one of my shooting areas where I have access to an area that overlooks a bay with the sun behind me, this provides excellent results. Good lighting = high shutter speeds= sharper images. The one thing I press is shutter speed over aperture, but more importantly - GOOD LIGHT and as level to the bird as you can get.
Lighting is highly important in photography - Here are two photos that I consider optimal in the lighting condition for their perspective time of day.
| Early Light - With Flash Fill
This fine Cardinal photo was taken in early morning light - You can sense the light source was just slightly above the horizon - making for a warm photo.
Near Mid Day
I found this happy fellow right before the sun's transition to mid day. The sun was bright but not yet overhead, providing added feather detail and catch lighting to the eye.
Wrap Up: IF you have the opportunity to plan the time of day (your light) when you shoot take advantage of it, but always above anything else get up go out and shoot.