Playing With Light

Johan van Zyl All Authors, Johan 2 Comments

The past few months I’ve heard several people say “Ah the light has gone” or “Ah the light is too harsh” and put their cameras away, sometimes even as the action is happening.  Yes I think we all agree the “golden hour” is the ideal time to take images and most of the time where you get some of your best results, but it is most definitely not the only time where good and more importantly interesting images can be created.  In fact, personally I believe the most interesting images that tell you a story are created with most of the light has gone.

I find it surprising how few people attempt to take images in low light and I often wonder why?  Is it because we are nervous of the outcome?  Scared because we are so interested in sharp images that the thought of blurred images just don’t appeal to us?  Is it because we don’t know how to go about taking images with slow shutter speeds?  From what I have experienced in the last couple of months on this particular subject, it is because people just haven’t thought about it or don’t know how to go about it.

Once you start playing with slow shutter speeds, trust me, it will take your photography to the next level.  Not just from an enjoyment point of view, but it will add another dimension to your images, it will create a WOW factor.  Like most things in photography it takes a lot of practice and could take hundreds of images before you get the one that works, but man is that a satisfying feeling when you do get it right.

It is difficult to say exactly what shutter speed creates the best blurred images as it all depends on how fast the animal is moving etc but generally anything from 1/80 to as low as 1/8 sec can give you some really interesting results.


A beautiful image by Jono Buffey of the Wildebeest crossing.  This image was taken around 18:45 and it was virtually dark.  Image taken at 1/8 sec

image2Another stunning image by Jono, image taken at 1/10 sec

amboseli (1 of 2)Another great example of using slow shutter speeds by Grant Marcus

6G4A8051Sometimes slow shutter speeds can also be used to blur out potentially gruesome scenes, leaving a lot to the imagination.

As much as people don’t often take images when there is no light, almost the same could be said for not taking images when there is too much light.  Fair enough, more often than not most of your predators will be fast asleep, giving very little to photograph, but generally plains game and a lot of your herbivores will still be active, around waterholes mainly.  Around this time skies are generally blown out, and when photographing darker animals such as Elephants and Rhino, they normally just come out as black blobs, not very interesting right?

But have you ever considered shooting with converting the image to black and white in mind?  I am not suggesting taking a bad image that you think could be fixed in Lightroom afterwards, but rather under or overexposing your image with knowing how you would like the end result to be, make sense?   I guarantee you this will add to your portfolio, giving your images a more creative feel as well as more variety.

mara images (2 of 2)


Gerry van der Walt - Wild Eye - Big Cats & Tuskers

The more you start converting some of your “blown out” images to black and white, the more you will start shooting with your post processing in mind and the more creative your images will become.

So next time when there is no light or too much light, don’t just pack up and go home, think creative, try something different.

Who knows, you might just enjoy your photography so much more.


About the Author

Johan van Zyl


The opportunity of visiting some of the wildest, undisturbed areas and sharing my passion for wildlife, conservation and photography with like minded people is a privilege that I am forever grateful.

Comments 2

  1. Carol Bell

    Thanks Johan…. something I am trying to play with. Not too sure what I am doing or really how to go about it other than play and try….and then see what the results are and how my photos are affected by using different shutter speeds. One thing I think I am learning by this is “noticing what light there is and where it is coming from”….. a lesson I think is good for me.

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