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How do you capture the magical light?


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#1 kittykat23uk

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Posted 15 September 2011 - 12:31 PM

I see a lot of lovely images of wildlife in really amazing light, like at sunrise or sunset but I never seem to be able to capture this magical feel myself. Does anyone have any tips? :D

Edited by kittykat23uk, 15 September 2011 - 12:33 PM.

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If an experience is amazing enough to be "once in a lifetime," I want to do it every year.
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#2 russell

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Posted 19 September 2011 - 03:19 PM

I see a lot of lovely images of wildlife in really amazing light, like at sunrise or sunset but I never seem to be able to capture this magical feel myself. Does anyone have any tips? :D


Have only just seen this.....

If you could give a couple of examples, that would be great.

Manipulating light is easier with a DSLR, and there is also the post processing, which can have a significant impact.

Photographers often talk about the golden hours, and in most cases it is simply a case of waiting it out. Most people don't have this level of patience or access to a private vehicle, which is a must.

For most destinations, the quality of the light will change throughout the year. (my example is based on Botswana)

In the dry season, the dust in the atmosphere will block out more of the suns rays, and it becomes even worse during September when the fires start. It gives you the advantage of shooting for longer with less harsh light, though you will struggle to get those golden hues.

As the rain settles the dust, the intensity of the light can be incredible. The light though gets harsh more quickly in the morning and lasts until later in the afternoon. For that magical light, you probably have a 15-30 minute window in my experience, at sunrise and sunset.

I personally leave camp at least 45 minutes before sunrise so I with my subject as the sum peeks above the horizon. In the afternoon, I can spend 2-3 hours sitting and waiting for that small window of opportunity......

Edited by russell, 19 September 2011 - 03:20 PM.

Au revior ST - its been a pleasure, see you in 2015!


#3 kittykat23uk

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Posted 20 September 2011 - 08:03 PM

Well Thank you for responding Russell, It's really images like this gorgeous set of yours:

http://russelljohnso...000Ow5w4gqbJpc/

That I would love to capture, but I don't have the funds for a private safari!It's those amazing atmospheric shots that I'm misssing.. :(

Thanks,

Jo
If an experience is amazing enough to be "once in a lifetime," I want to do it every year.
Alex: "Whoa! Hold up there a second, fuzzbucket. You mean like, uh, the live in a mud hut wipe yourself with a leaf type wild?"
King Julian: “Who wipes?”

#4 Sangeeta

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Posted 20 September 2011 - 09:50 PM

Wow, Russell - these silhouettes look like oil paintings! Thanks for posting, Jo. These are a real treat to look at.

Zindagi na milegi dobara... Chalo Africa
You only live once...Go To Africa

www.chaloafrica.com


#5 russell

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Posted 21 September 2011 - 12:27 PM

KK

A private safari is not necessary, though it certainly helps. I am in the process of writing a series of ebooks, and have partly covered the topic of back lighting.

There are a number of variables that will affect the type of image you can achieve, and I have mentioned some of those above. The technique you use will then depend upon what style of of image you want to achieve.

Silhouette or Rim Lighting

Back lighting falls into one of these two categories, and both require different approaches.

An example of rim lighting would be this image of the wildebeest and egret. The light illuminates the hair/feathers, giving a glow to the subjects outline, whilst retaining detail and some colour in the subject.

Posted Image

You then have your straight forward silhouette, where no detail is retained in the subject.

Posted Image

My Camera Settings

We all have our own working style, and my own is to use evaluative (matrix) metering, which takes an average exposure across the entire scene. I then use exposure compensation to create my desired image. I find this method quicker, turning a dial, as I know what adjustment is required for most scenes.

Different techniques include the option to use spot metering or manual mode.

Rim Lighting

In my experience, rim lighting is easier to achieve in the green season, when the light is more intense. During Botswana's dry season for example, the sun will be but an orange glow in the sky most mornings and afternoons. This is due to the combination of dust and smoke.

The angle of the back lighting becomes important in an image like the Wildebeest above. The easiest way of thinking about the direction of light is to draw a circle around your subject, and assume that back lighting and front lighting are split 180 degrees either side. In theory, with body angles and side lighting, this is not always true.

Rim lighting is least effective when the sun is directly behind your subject (in relation to your camera). You want the light to be hitting your subject at a angle, as this will accentuate and illuminate the detail in the hair/feathers, increasing the contrast in the image.

If you apply a similar technique to a front lit subject, the slight angle will reveal more subtle details and contours.

In terms of exposure, you may want to underexpose by 1/3 - 2/3 of a stop. This also depends how much detail you want to retain in your subject. It easy to lower the exposure (make your image slightly darker) in PS, so I would not push it too far and risk losing detail. Through underexposing you will also bring out more saturation in the reds.

Below is an example from Botswana last September. It demonstrates the impact of dust etc on the sunlight, and how having the light directly behind your subject do does not illuminate the hairs/outline of the the elephant.

Posted Image

Silhouettes

I have found that my strongest silhouettes are created in dusty environments or against a sky. For my personal taste, silhouettes are more effective against a clean background, as it allows the shape to stand out to the viewer. It is not uncommon to find images where the subject blends into a dark background when first attempt this, leaving you with only part of a head, or a trunk for example.

The flat landscape of Northern Botswana makes it one of the more difficult places to capture a silhouette against the sky. To eliminate the risk of your subject blending into the dark background, the trick is to get low and shot up, or to find a subject standing on a rolling hill with only sky behind it.

With the highest peak in Northern Bots being a termite mound, your opportunities are limited in comparison to the to the Masai Mara for example.

As cheetah on a termite mound in the Kwando concession.

Posted Image

In the dry season it is possible to use dust to create a silhouette, as with my images from Hwange.

As the herds move across the dry and desolate Kalahari sands, they send a huge amount of dust into the atmosphere. Some of Hwange's waterholes will attract a couple of hundred elephants at a time.

When the dust is this thick, it will block out any background distractions, isolating your subject. As with rim lighting, it is most effective having the light at an angle to your subject, as it illuminates more of the dust.

Posted Image

In terms of exposure compensation, I normally underexpose these scenes by at least 1 stop (-1 EV).

Edited by russell, 21 September 2011 - 12:31 PM.

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Au revior ST - its been a pleasure, see you in 2015!


#6 Jan

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Posted 21 September 2011 - 01:21 PM

Russell, there's no way I can compete! Fabulous!


Jan

#7 kittykat23uk

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Posted 21 September 2011 - 04:09 PM

Thanks ever so much for the tips! :D
If an experience is amazing enough to be "once in a lifetime," I want to do it every year.
Alex: "Whoa! Hold up there a second, fuzzbucket. You mean like, uh, the live in a mud hut wipe yourself with a leaf type wild?"
King Julian: “Who wipes?”

#8 Kavey

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Posted 21 September 2011 - 05:47 PM

Wonderful tips, thank you!
"Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not."
Ralph Waldo Emerson
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"I cannot rest from travel; I will drink
Life to the lees."
Alfred Tennyson

#9 Wild Dogger

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Posted 21 September 2011 - 06:19 PM

I usually use spot metering for sunset shots.
I measure a mid bright point and if I have time I take several shots of the same object using different metering points. Itīs a bit hit and miss, but after a time you get a feeling, which point to measure. At least PS also helps :P

Posted Image


I think a good place for shooting elephants at dawn may also be staying on a houseboat on the Chobe River, like the Ichtobezi, which is allowed to stay on the river at night (barking on the Namibian side).
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#10 twaffle

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Posted 21 September 2011 - 11:15 PM

Some stunning photos.

Russell, you have the makings of a good teacher … essential when hosting photographic tours … well done.

… clarity in thought comes after challenge …


#11 pault

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Posted 22 September 2011 - 08:30 AM

The dust tip is a new one to me, Russell - very useful. And I agree it's a really well presented little tutorial all round.

Waiting again... for the next time again


#12 pault

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Posted 22 September 2011 - 08:46 AM

That I would love to capture, but I don't have the funds for a private safari!It's those amazing atmospheric shots that I'm misssing.. :(Thanks,Jo


You could try for the same in the dry season in Amboseli or Tsavo with the old minibus and driver/guide - a private safari that is affordable. I've noticed a lot of wonderful photography has come from people who were staying in less expensive places and traveling by minibus or closed Landcruiser (which from a photography standpoint is not really better or worse than a minibus). You might need to give more instruction to your driver/guide than Russell needs to give to his guide in Botswana, but it would work. Also, really off-season in a lot of the fly-in places in East Africa you will end up with your own vehicle half of the time - don't know if it is the same in Southern Afica?

Waiting again... for the next time again


#13 africapurohit

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Posted 24 April 2013 - 12:05 PM

@russell any more news on the ebooks?



#14 russell

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Posted 24 April 2013 - 12:52 PM

@africapurohit

 

Sadly things have changed since I first published this. A house move, child on the way and a busy project at work. More than happy to help with tips etc, though struggling to find the time for an ebook.... 


Au revior ST - its been a pleasure, see you in 2015!


#15 russell

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Posted 24 April 2013 - 12:52 PM

@gamewarden - will find time to update the image links this weekend too.


Edited by russell, 24 April 2013 - 12:53 PM.

Au revior ST - its been a pleasure, see you in 2015!


#16 africapurohit

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Posted 24 April 2013 - 04:26 PM

Thanks @russell - although I've posted lots of photos on ST, the vast majority were taken using a Canon 30D with a 100-400mm L lens, handheld. The camera was set to "Auto" and I pressed the shutter button. Nice and simple  :) .

 

For my trip this August, I will be trying to make more of an effort in understanding photography. I'm booked on some courses with Experience Seminars (the official Canon UK endorsed instructors) and booked a wildlife workshop with David Lloyd in July (at Whipsnade Zoo).

 

My main telephoto combination will be a Canon 7D with the 100-400L lens - a combination you are familiar with, so any tips will be much appreciated.

 

My 100-400mm lens is around 7 years old, so I'll probably drop it off to Canon's UK Centre for a service (they charge £60) - it's only a 15-minute drive from where I live.



#17 AKR1

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Posted 24 April 2013 - 05:05 PM

@africapurohit
While skill is always more important than equipment, I would recommend upgrading your equipment for your forthcoming trip. Rent a full frame camera and a fast zoom. Specifically, the Canon 6D and the 70-200 2.8II lens is a killer combination with the combo you already have. The IQ on the full frame is a definite step up as is the remarkable performance in low light. The 7D while a great body is not very good in challenging conditions. With the slower but still amazingly versatile 100-400 on the 6D and the far superior optically speaking 70-200 on the 7D and vica-versa you would have an excellent kit. With the 6D 70-200 you could shoot in near darkness.

Something to consider.

#18 Jochen

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Posted 24 April 2013 - 05:28 PM

I don't have the money to go for the top lenses (500mm or 600mm F4 etc), or for the top bodies (1DX, 5D MkIII etc).

 

So if you're in the same boat as me, my tip would be; buy as much 2nd hand stuff as you can. 

 

You can't believe the number of people who put the newest model under their Christmas tree, and kick out the previous model for almost nothing, while it has only been used to take 500 pcs of the kids and the dog.

 

My kit right now;

 

50D with 400mm F5.6 for tele

5D MkII with 70-200 F2.8 IS L for most shots and for low light shots

5D MkI with 17-40mm F4 for pics of ourselvs and landscapes.

 

The only item bought new is the 70-200.



#19 africapurohit

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Posted 25 April 2013 - 12:45 AM

Thanks @AKR1 and @Jochen.

On this safari, my main area of interest will be landscapes and scenes - so "wider" angle photography. I'm currently studying this area in detail and taking on as much information as possible. My kit will include a 5D Mark III with 16-35 L 2.8 II and a 5D Mark III with 70-200 L 2.8 II. I've only been able to invest in this gear because I haven't been on safari for 5 years, so I've actually saved lots of money :)

Long telephoto will my lowest priority, but I do like to take the odd bird photo. But I'm still learning how to get the best out of the 7D + 100-400 L combination.

#20 Jochen

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Posted 25 April 2013 - 09:42 AM

>> My kit will include a 5D Mark III with 16-35 L 2.8 II and a 5D Mark III with 70-200 L 2.8 II

 

Can you put me in your will?

 

:D


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