Digital Photography Bureau is pleased to bring you this article "Capturing Natures Light" courtesy of Dade Dudgeon of www.inside-nature-photography.com
Dade’s passion for photography has endured for almost 40 years, and encompasses all types, formats and genres. In that time he has accumulated a wealth of photography knowledge and skill which he now shares via his own website and by teaching photography in Canada within his local community.
Dade firmly believes that every photographer should find their own “niche”- a particular area of photography which inspires them. In his case it is nature photography and in particular, the creative use of natural light in his compositions.
The best time of day for nature photography is during the so called “golden hours” these being – the half hour before sunrise to two hours after and the two hours before sunset to half an hour after.
At these times the low angle of the sun provides the most interesting light and depth to the shadows.
If you shoot during the middle of the day when the light at it's strongest, the light is too harsh and generally produces the least appealing photographs.
Wide angle landscape shots with large expanses of open sky often lack drama and can uninteresting.
By shooting early morning or evening under cloudy skies especially just before or after storms, the clouds will be full of depth and contrast and add significant punch to your images.
Making the most of overcast days
Bright sunny days can result in harsh shadows and washed out colors. In addition the high dynamic range between the brightest and darkest areas of the image may result in “blown” highlights and/or loss of detail in the shadows.
Overcast days give a “filtered”, even light, with a lower dynamic range that your camera is better able to capture in a single exposure. Thus detail is retained in both shadow and highlight areas adding depth to the image.
Colors will also be rendered with more intensity and reflections from shiny surfaces such as leaves or rocks reduced.
Overcast days therefore provide the perfect opportunity for naturally lit shots under a forest canopy or close ups of flowers and fungi.
Modern cameras are remarkably sophisticated and designed to assist the photographer achieve a perfect exposure.
However even the best cameras' exposure sensors can be fooled by tricky lighting conditions and of course the camera doesn’t “know” exactly what creative effect that you, the photographer require.
It is therefore important to understand the fundamentals of exposure control AND how to manipulate your camera’s settings to affect them.
Two of the main benefits with modern digital photography is that there is no real consumable cost (i.e. film and development cost) for each photo you take AND it is possible to immediately review your results on the cameras l.c.d. screen. (See digital versus film photography)
It is therefore suggested that you:
Another good tip is to make notes about the final settings you used – in order that you may refer to them in future similar situations as a good starting point.
Capturing natures light often requires exposure settings with longer exposures.
This may be the result using the small apertures necessary to achieve the deep depth of field required to bring both near and far subjects to sharp focus in landscape photography.
Or it may be simply necessary due to a low level of ambient light, which is typical around the aforementioned “golden hours” and also on overcast days.
Or it may be because of the desire to achieve a particular creative effect, for example, the blurring of flowing water.
In all these cases it will be essential to keep the camera absolutely steady during the exposure.
Without out doubt the best advice is to invest in a sturdy, well-made tripod. (see this link for more advice).
If you are serious about "capturing natures light" style photography, investing in a decent tripod is as relevant as the investments you make in camera and lenses.
However, if you either don’t have a tripod or it is inconvenient (or in some cases forbidden) to use one, then attempt to stabilize your camera by setting it on a sturdy object such as a stationary vehicle, a tree, wall or rock. A small bean bag may also be used to good effect.(some proprietary ones designed for photography are commercially available)
If you really have no choice but to hand hold the camera, then ensure the image stabilization system (if your camera or lens has it) is ON, brace yourself against a wall or adopt a posture where you are most stable and select a shutter speed that is as fast as possible whilst still maintaining the depth of field you need via aperture size. If necessary DON’T BE AFRAID to select higher ISO sensitivity than you would normally use – a little extra digital noise is generally MUCH easier to fix than a blurry photograph!
Finally, if using a DSLR avoid the small vibrations from the mirror flip up by either selecting the mirror lock up function (normally found under “custom settings”) or simply use the “liveview” function (as the mirror is already up when using this shooting mode.)
Finally avoid movement of the camera as you depress the shutter button, by using a cable or wireless shutter release – if you don’t have one, use the self-timer set to the 10 second option.
Letting in more light
If your exposure is too dark and it isn’t viable to let in more light by reducing the shutter speed, you have the following options to allow in more light.
Increase the aperture.
This means selecting a SMALLER F-number for example moving from F11 to F8 will let in twice as much light.
Increase the ISO
If you either do not wish to reduce the depth of field (the result of a larger aperture) or you reach the largest aperture setting of your lens and the picture is still too dark – this is the time to increase your ISO setting until the exposure brightness is acceptable.
Neutral colors (i.e. those without hue or saturation) such as black, white and grey will take on the “color cast" of ambient light.
As the light from the Sun passes through greater or lesser amounts of atmosphere depending on its angle due to time of day or season, it’s color will shift from the blue to the red end of the spectrum.
This is called the “color temperature” with the bluer tones occurring in bright overhead light referred to as “cool” and the redder tones of cloudy, shaded or “golden hour” light referred to as “warm”.
The way the camera records as scene may either appear different to how it appears to the human eye (which is remarkably sophisticated in automatically compensating for color shifts) or may be accurate but not convey the creative effect you desire.
Your camera allows you to select different white balance settings and these will adjust how the captured image is INTERPRETED.
If you shoot in JPEG format this interpretation will be permanently rendered into the final image.
It is therefore advantageous to shoot in RAW format (in addition to many other reasons – see RAW versus JPEG) as this allows complete control over white balance to be determined at a later stage – or even different renderings of white balance to be saved, compared or blended.
It IS still worth adjusting the camera's white balance to an appropriate setting for the light in which you are shooting as the interpretation will affect how the image is displayed on the l.c.d screen. So you can more accurately compare which white balance setting most closely represents the scene as you are witnessing it with the naked eye.
When one aspect of your exposure is sacrosanct, whether it be Aperture, Shutter speed or ISO, then exposure compensation is an easy way to shift the exposure by one stop up or down to brighten or darken the image whilst ensuring the most important aspect of your exposure remains unaffected.
Consult your camera manual for details of how to access this important function.
Sometimes the direction of the natural light may cast a shadow over an important part of your subject.
In this case you can still use natural light to brighten those shadow areas by using a reflector.
There are many purpose designed photographic reflectors commercially available in all shapes, sizes and prices.
But here is a great tip, for making your own inexpensive and convenient reflector.
Buy the large size of heavy duty tinfoil and tear off a 3 foot strip. Then crumple it up so that the nice shinny side is no longer flat but is now crinkled, lay it out flat, fold it up and carry it in your camera bag. It is the easiest, lightest and cheapest light reflector you can find.
Make sure the tinfoil is just out of the camera’s lens range so that it does not appear in the final image. If you do not have someone to hold the tinfoil for you then it means you will need to use the self-timer function of your camera to release the shutter while you hold the tinfoil near the subject.
Ever tried to take pictures of flowers when there is a slight breeze and you stand there waiting for the breeze to die down, even if just for a couple of seconds?
This is where you can put that same tinfoil to good use by holding it up to block that breeze so that you can take that important picture.
The other alternative is to set your camera on S or TV (Shutter Priority) and adjust the shutter speed to a faster value in order to “stop” the movement of the flower but sometimes this is not always a practical alternative.
Visit the author Dade Dudeon's site www.inside-nature-photography.com
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