Wildlife Photography Secrets: Angle of Light

posted on 18th of january, 2011

In the old days, you would purchase a package of film and inside the film box was an instruction sheet that described the concept of sunny 16, shooting your images with the sun at your back and other such general information. The makers of the film knew that shooting your images with the sun behind your back would be the easiest technique for those with little photographic experience. In this edition of my blog articles, let’s discuss lighting.

During full sun, there are three basic types of lighting for wildlife photos. These are direct frontal lighting, some type of angled lighting and silhouettes. Of course, there are variations and combinations of these three; but these are the three basic types.

There is a famous bird photographer that teaches his students; “Point your shadow at the bird”; basically saying to use direct frontal lighting. He teaches that this increases his percentage of keepers because he does not need to worry if the light is on the wrong side of the bird or that the bird may have turned his head out of the light. With direct frontal lighting, if the bird turns his head to the left, the sun strikes the left side of its face; if the bird turns its head to the right, the sun strikes the rights side of the face. The same type of lighting can also be used on mammals, reptiles and other crawling things. Many times, this is a good lighting technique; other times it is: ah, shall we say BORING! Direct frontal lighting means no shadows; no shadows mean no definition to feathers or fur. Take a look at your passport photo or your driver’s license photo; this is direct frontal lighting.

My mentor and teacher, Charles Glatzer, instructs that “light illuminates, shadows define”. Basically, by moving the light a bit off angle, the light now defines the feathers, fur or texture of the animal better and gives it more depth and rounding. With the light now coming at an angle, it does make the imaging process a bit more challenging because you must wait till the animal moves its head or body into the most pleasing light angle. Few things look worse than having a shadow on the wrong side of the body or have a shadow hide important details.

Wait till the light is directly behind the animal; expose for the light and you have silhouette lighting. Basically, the subject will be black and the background will be bright; if it happens to be a sunset or sunrise; it will be bright and colorful.

So when you setup your camera to photograph wildlife (or you Aunt Minnie), carefully consider the angle of the light. Many times, you can move a few feet to the left or right and completely change the mood and emotion of an image.

Comments (19)

Posted by Mcjanice on February 04, 2011
Thanks for the tips, I always get stuck with something good in really harsh sunlight.
Posted by Annemario on January 26, 2011
Last year in South Africa I noticed how hard it really is to get a great shot on a safari, not to mention the whale watching! Thank you for sharing, good tips!
Posted by Dgphotographic on January 22, 2011
Some stunning images ! Thanks for the tips :o)
Posted by Kimson1972 on January 22, 2011
..thanks for the lesson..!
Posted by Joezachs on January 22, 2011
Some usefull tips on lighting.
Actually if one masters the lighting, then 70% of his/her work is done.
Posted by Anhong on January 21, 2011
Valuable article, thanks for sharing!
Posted by Beatg on January 20, 2011
Thank you for posting this very helpful blog
Posted by Rangpl on January 19, 2011
This is the = You always remember and You always forget;)
Posted by Robseguin on January 19, 2011
Thank you for taking the time to share your knowledge. Your work is amazing and very inspirational.

Rob & Maiu
Posted by Martinisaac on January 19, 2011
Great blog article, some v.useful tips!
Posted by Infotrontof on January 19, 2011
These animal shots you have are absolutely brilliant.
As for the light .. looks like you definitely have the ability to capture it very well :)
Posted by Scottysally2 on January 18, 2011
Thank you for sharing these tips. :)
Posted by Mani33 on January 18, 2011
Good tips! Thank you!
Posted by Ncn18 on January 18, 2011
thx for sharing...great blog...its always an inspiration to shoot animals in free nature...
Posted by Mstycoon on January 18, 2011
Excellent information. Thank you for sharing.
Posted by Mariaam on January 18, 2011
Great blog article! Thanks John!
Posted by Egomezta on January 18, 2011
A great blog... Thanks for sharing...
Posted by Cmarshall717 on January 18, 2011
I do a lot of animal photography, so these are good tips for me. I had never heard about pointing your shadow at the subject. Thanks.
Posted by Bradcalkins on January 18, 2011
Nice tips! 25 years ago I had a passport photo done by a professional photographer and it was actually a good photo, too. Why do they want such boring light, these days?

Comments (19)

This article has been read 2315 times. 6 readers have found this article useful.
Photo credits: Moose Henderson.

About me

Professional Wildlife Photographer working in Russia and North America.

Jackson, US

February (3)
January (14)

Stock Photography that BLOGS!

Interact, make friends, share tips and techniques, have fun. Dreamstime wants your ideas and thoughts whether you are a photographer, designer or regular user. Create a blog to tell your story, promote favorite images and photographers, post tutorials or simply exchange opinions with your with fellow dreamstimers.

Don't forget words and pictures go great together so make sure you choose some Dreamstime favorite pics to brighten your article. For inspiration, check out the hottest or the most useful blogs on the left.

Create a blog to tell your story, promote favorite stock images and photographers

Create your blog

My favorite articles


More favorite articles

Related image searches

wildlife photography light angle shadow

Wildlife related stock images