What on earth was I thinking when I came up with my title? How dare I say that you may ask? Is that not what wildlife photography is all about? A male lion drenched in golden sunlight or baboons playing whilst their coats glisten in a backlit sun-setting scene?
Yes, I do love those shots and absolutely love it when I get those opportunities. There’s very little that can compete with the effect of the setting African sun.
Why then my title to this article?
There are way too many photographers out there, amateur and professional included, who tend to pack away their gear the very moment the sun dips behind the horizon. Why on this glorious earth would you wanna do that? The fun has only just begun and your camera is capable of so much more!
I have found the times before sunrise and after sunset as some of the most spectacular to photograph wildlife. The vivid colours you are capable of attaining are mind-blowing. There seems to be a richness then that you can’t find at another time of day. The colours also soften all around your subject, almost pastel-like in quality. They blend together creating a stunning canvas for you to work from, especially when you are shooting at apertures below f5.
Texture on the skin tends to show a lot more detail. The skin of an elephant or rhino show all the scars and cracks and details, some of which you don’t always notice in sunlight. The fur on a leopard or lion also come to life in a different way.
Keep in mind the activity of some of the higher profile animals such as leopards and lions. They tend to rarely be active during the “golden hour” when we want them to. I am sure you can recall many hours sitting and waiting for those sleepy lions to atleast lift their heads but to no avail. In my experience most activity is outside of the sunny hours.
In that case would it not make sense to be photographing during this time?
This is often my favourite time to photograph and the results always blow me away. Many of my photographs of active cats are not in golden sunlight. I have plenty shots where I had to shoot at f4 or even at f2.8 with ISO settings of well over 2000. If I didn’t I would have missed a stunning moment in nature.
You may then worry about camera settings, or about too much noise because of having to push your ISO settings. Let me tell you now that if you have a half-decent camera you will be able to atleast attain shots at ISO1600. Just give it a go and see what it looks like, you will likely be surprised by the results. Yes, you will see more noise than what you would in “better” light, but it really is not that much of an issue. Please never delete an image because of a little noise, there is always a place for it.
Let me explain.
Images in these softly lit light display very little shadows. Due to this there’s always an opportunity for a monochrome image. If you feel that your shot is too noisy why not try and convert it to monochrome and see what it looks like. The grain may add to the mood of your image and create an almost vintage look.
Do you get where I am going?
On the other hand programs such as Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom and NIX software have incredible noise-reduction abilities. With a little careful post-processing you will be able to get rid of most of the distracting noise and could well end up with a winning shot!
So next time you find yourself in one of your favourite African destinations don’t even dare put that camera of yours down once the sun has set. Look for more opportunities and keep shooting away.
I guarantee that you will love what you see!
Marlon du Toit
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