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Wildlife Photography in Non-Ideal Light

by Editor Lourens Durand (aldiohotography)
Edited and published by Yvette Depaepe, the 5th of May 2023

'Survival' by Peter Stahl


Light is a photographer’s best friend, especially in wildlife photography. Having said that, light like many of our (ex) friends), can be quite fickle.

It is common knowledge that the golden hours (just after sunrise and before sunset) present the most beautiful warm light, etc., and that is why dedicated wildlife photographers are up and ready to shoot before dawn, have a long lunch, and are active again in the last couple of hours before sunset.

We often prepare for a week of heaven in the bush in Sunny South Africa or some other safari destination, dreaming of taking fantastic front-cover photos of a lion kill or an elephant in full charge in golden hour lighting, only to be met by a week of dark, low, dismally cloudy weather.

What now? Well, there are other ways of making beautiful photos in the light available, and we have to learn how to make the best of it.

My favourite is to use B&W, because the soft, diffused lighting helps to bring out the drama and textures and to get the whole histogram of whites and blacks without excessive dark shadows and light spots.

But there are other alternatives:

Overcast weather presents soft, dispersed light (the dream of many portrait photographers) which can be used to some advantage, especially when taking into account the direction of the light. With wildlife subjects, soft light helps to accentuate the texture of feathers or fur, without harsh shadows or highlighted bright spots.
Diffused lighting means you can shoot at almost any time of day. As an added bonus, colour saturation is also better.
Get close, though, to take advantage of this and to reduce the possible negative effects of an overblown background.


In these lighting conditions, however,  it is an advantage if you learn to understand the behaviour of the subjects so that you can understand and predict how the behaviour changes in the absence of full sunlight. Subjects are less likely to be lying or sitting inactively in the shade or dozing off and may even sometimes prefer the conditions and may be more active.
On the downside, taking action shots of birds in flight against the white sky is a no-no (or exceedingly difficult).
So, stick around and look for the unusual shots, even waiting around to get a silhouette shot or two at sunset.
Of course, nothing beats the golden hour light, but we have to learn to make use of our limited time out there. We need to be more adaptable than in a studio situation because the light can change from minute to minute, and we need to compensate for it. The alternative is to use a flash, but this may be frowned on when in the company of others.

From a technical point of view:

Remember the exposure triangle of f/stop – shutter speed – ISO and keep the ISO as low as possible to avoid noise, which may limit you to non-action shots because of a lower shutter speed.
Shoot in RAW and maybe overexpose a bit to avoid excessive noise, then correct exposure in post-production (If the shot is underexposed, it is almost impossible to get rid of the noise in the shadows – even with de-noise software).
If you’re good at photoshop, you could get good effects by blending shots, or even HDR, but that is for another time…


Here is a spectrum of wildlife photos taken by 1X photographers under different lighting conditions, illustrating some of the above points – enjoy.

Lourens Durand 


'Twins' by Marsel van Oosten



'Love is Universal' by Marketa Zvelebil PhD LRPS CrGP.



'Desertstorm' by Marcel Egger



'Sign language' by Marsel van Oosten



'Lynx' by Marina Cano



'Friends' by Greg Barsh



'SPLIT' by The Jar – Geir Jartveit



'Ma chick' by Eyal Amer



'Against wind' by Cheng Chang



'Fresh Air in Morning after Night Rain' by Wanghan Li



'Wedding proposal...' by Thierry Dufour



n/y by Eyal Amer



'Navigator' by Salman A



'Necking' by Marina Cano



'Cheetah family' by Ken Dyball


'Raining' by Phillip Chang


'Fascinated for his mother' by Xavier Ortega


'Play Time' by Xavier Ortega



'Quenching thirst' by Swapnil


'Under the Sheltering Sky' by Marina Cano



' the dust...' by Charlaine Gerber



'Elephant's Moods' by Ali Khataw


'Old Graig' by David Dhaen



'The Jungle Book' by Roberto Marchegiani


'The Sleeping Beauty' by Sudhir Shivaram



'Hide and Seek' by Eunice Kim


'Rhino Land' by Mario Moreno


'Water conversation' by Phillip Chang


'Looking for Something' by Faisal ALnomas

Thank you Yvette and Lourens! Amazing work by dear friends!
Nice article for me to learn. Thank you very much, dear Yvette and Lourens!
Most magnificent shot - utterly wonderful!
Amazing photo gallery!
Excellent photos and article. Thanks a lot for selecting my images.
Really beautiful moments that remind us how beautiful our planet is. Merci
Really beautiful moments that remind us how beautiful our planet is. Merci
Really beautiful moments that remind us how beautiful our land is. Merci.
I got an aesthetic pleasure. Thanks!
izis PRO
Excellent! Congrats!
So impressed. A collection of the natural beauty and the talents of the photographers. Thanks to Yvette and Lourens.
Great article and so many fantastic photographs. Thank you for choosing one of mine as well.
...a very fantastic gallery. Many congrats...
great shots !!!
Thanks a lot for your selecting my images. Dear Yvette and Lourens!!!
Splendid photos, thank you for selecting one of my images. Thank very much to Yvette and Lourens for this splendid work !!!
what a marvellous works!