28 June, 2007

The Early Bird

.Iguassu Falls National Park (Brazil)
The heavy clouds made for a much more dramatic scene
Photo: © Daniel De Granville, 2007

“The early bird catches the worm”, claims the popular saying. One of the fundamentals for those who deal with wildlife or landscape photography is the need of waking up and getting to the field very early. First, because the best natural light for such kinds of pictures happens when the sun is very close to the horizon, throwing an inclined and soft light that illuminates the subject evenly, without pronounced shadows or strong contrasts. In second place – and just as important – is the fact that animals are more active during these periods, specially in the first hours of morning.

But, different from what beginners tend to think, firsthand experiences and reading about photography have taught me that in many occasions an overcast day can be equal or better than a sunny day for photographing nature. Pictures taken inside the forest, in particular, come out much better when done on a sunless day. The thin layer of clouds acts as a giant natural hazy light, similar to the accessory used in studio photography to attenuate shadows. This way, the problem with the “hard” light in the middle of the day is gone (keeping in mind that in lower latitudes, as I said in a recent post, the “good” sunlight usually lasts very short).

With time our eyes get accustomed to perceiving when the natural illumination is at its best. As well as too much sun is bad, too many heavy clouds may turn the environment too dark and the colors become lifeless. Also, if you are shooting landscapes in which the skyline appears, a gloomy sky just won’t do. Then the only solution is to wait for the next day…

Amazon Rainforest, Brazil
The overcast sky made the light soft and even
Photo:© Daniel De Granville, 2007

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