Light! Subject! Action!
The quality of light is at least as important to your image as your choice of subject…
I’ve spoken about light several times before, but it’s a topic worth revisiting from time to time. Preparation is a large part of nature photography – simply hoping to stumble across magical light frequently leaves you disappointed. The angle and direction of the light changes quickly throughout the day, and also from one season to the next. In fact, the rapidity with which the quality of light can change during the course of a day is one of the reasons why most nature photographers nowadays use zoom lenses – not having to waste precious seconds changing lenses can mean the difference between capturing a once in a lifetime moment, or spending the rest of your life lamenting “the one that got away.” It’s always best to scout out a location several times – you’ll often find that the more familiar you become with when, where and how the light falls on a given location, the more your images in and of that location will improve.
Now I won’t go so far as to say that light is the only thing that matters in an image – after all, a dirty sock photographed in glorious golden evening light… is still a dirty sock. However, if you can manage to combine an interesting subject with flattering light, then you may be on your way to something special.
What constitutes flattering light? That depends on the subject, and what qualities you’re trying to accentuate, or what mood you’re trying to convey. Landscapes can look quite dramatic when photographed with side or back lighting. Wildlife often looks best with front lighting, or when photographed on a bright but overcast day. Macro photography is also often best accomplished during bright but overcast days. Remember though, rules are made to be broken. There’s nothing that says you absolutely cannot photograph back lit wildlife or macros, or front lit landscapes. Sometimes you might even find the best light for a given subject in the middle of the day, a time at which many will tell you that you should NEVER be shooting. Every scene or subject requires something different to convey it’s best qualities, and your personal, emotional reaction to those qualities. This is where your own personal creative vision comes into play. Use the rules as a guideline, and then be prepared to trust your eyes and gut and break those rules. Often, that’s when the real magic happens.