Understanding Light to Create Super Wildlife Images in Harsh Lighting Conditions.


This is Loraine’s Cub, the Leopard of the Massai Mara Reserve in Kenya. How beautiful she looks in this B&W image. This image is special coz its shot at 12.30 pm middle of the afternoon in harsh lighting conditions. Most would refrain from trying to create an image in such harsh lighting conditions. I never give up any chance of creating a super image, irrespective of the lighting conditions (unless it pitch dark ofcourse). 

From Wildlife photography point of view, Massai Mara during August is the richest park in wildlife density but is most challenging in terms of light. The tall dry grasslands acts as a giant 360 degree reflector of the natural light and the Highlights and Midtones compete to fill your frame with equal intensity. The soft morning and evening light duration is very short. Lack of clouds and clear skies enable harsh lighting conditions for photography throughout the day. However, you can make such images if you are willing to experiment and shoot in monochrome mode in Manual camera settings of your DSLR.

Light is everything in Photography and here is a brief description of what effect light creates in capture of any image – especially for your camera’s sensor. Each frame comprises of Highlights, Midtones and Shadows. How you read the frame with naked eyes and assess it manually and then use your camera settings (depending on the features in your camera) will define how good a image you create. Next blog post on the art of exposure compensation for getting all the thre tones right to create that perfect image.

Hightlights: These are the whitest or brightest areas of the surface and often cause over exposure, it’s where a given surface on the subject is reflecting the actual light source most efficiently. The highlight is a reflection of the actual light source on the subject. In some cases you can see the light source itself in the highlight, For example catchlight in the eyes of your subject.

Midtones: As the name implies, this tone is midway in between the highlight and the shadow. It would show the “true” color and consistency of the object. The highlights are brighter than the “true” color, and the shadows are darker than the “true” color. The midtone is usually going to be the majority tone that is visible, the highlights and shadows are usually a smaller part of the tonal range. But the area covered by any of the tones will ultimately be determined by the shape, constancy and size of the subject and also the quality of the lights on the subject.

Shadows: Shadows are the darkest area of the surface and often cause underexposure. Shadows can have really sharp edges between it and the midtone or it can just sort of gradually blend into the midtone. How the shadow looks depends entirely on the surface of the object and also the quality of the light.

Get out there, shoot and experiment and you will master all of this. Understanding light for creating awesome wildlife images is the most difficult part of wildlife photography. If wildlife photography was any easy, I wouldnt be up for it. Take up the challenge and test yourself!!

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