The Golden Lining

Marlon duToit All Authors, Marlon 1 Comment

I come across the issue of metering & exposure so often whilst out on safari with my guests, and I really do not think that people give this topic enough attention.

To become a well-rounded wildlife photographer – completely in control of the images you capture – you need to have the very basic understanding of what avenues there are that need to be explored in order to achieve the correct exposure. There’s always a big fuss kicked up about what mode you should shoot in, what f-stop to choose and how fast your shutter speed is, but all of these factors are linked & connected – you can’t have on & not the other.

Now I can write an entire blog about metering modes & exposure compensation, but fortunately for me my Wild Eye team mate already did this a year ago in a brilliant & insightful blog. Please  take a minute to go through this blog by Andrew Beck, and familiarize yourself with it.

Metering Modes in Wildlife Photography

I have selected a few images that present some tricky exposure options. In many of the images below, the hard task was “protecting” the little bit of light – often golden in colour – from over exposing. The majority of the image captured is dark, and your camera can very easily read this darkness as being too dark, and then as a result slow your shutter speed right down. This is EXACTLY what you do not want, because the slowed shutter speed means more light and as a result you end up losing the golden lining you wanted to capture in the first place.

Most of the images I discuss below were captured in AV mode.


It was early morning and the sun had just popped its head above the horizon. The lion had this glow around his head & mane and I really wanted to emphasize the beauty that I saw.

I purposefully under exposed and in so doing managed to capture this rim-lit lion with very little detail in the darker areas. Would this image have had the same impact had I not done so, or allowed my camera to determine the correct exposure & then ultimately shutter speed? Likely not.
The background was very dark and my camera would have opted for a slower shutter speed in order to “correctly” expose the background. That is not what I wanted, and by taking my exposure compensation to the left or minus, I increased my shutter speed and ended up with the image I had in my mind!


This was another scenario similar to the one above. A male lion in Mana Pools walking through a dark Tricelia woodland. There was this incredibly striking ray of light up ahead and I hoped for all I was worth that he would walk right into that!

By dropping my exposure compensation to -1,7EV I was able to override the slower shutter speed my camera wanted to assign, and ended up with the exact image I so hoped for!

Screen Shot 2016-07-07 at 11.12.03 AM





Look at that histogram and all the darkness!

This needs to become second nature – you need to feel it, sense it! Every situation is different but with time you’ll quickly realize what the correct exposure for a scene will be.


It was the lonely, shy elephant the drew my attention to the scene above. It was early morning and the first soft rays of sunlight could be seen on his skin, ever so slightly.

In scene’s like this you need to be mindful of your exposure. It’s very easy for the camera to determine a shutter value too slow based on the darker tones in this image. That would result in me losing the pretty golden light on the elephants skin, and those tusks will go very, very white.

I dropped my exposure compensation to 1,7EV, allowing me a faster shutter speed and in so doing preserving the stunning, gently sunlight on the elephants skin.


Whilst on the topic of elephants, here’s another tricky image to capture.

Notice how dark this image is?

Screen Shot 2016-07-07 at 11.07.28 AM





Here’s a view of the histogram from this shot! It’s excessively dark and this means my camera will no doubt try and lighten it.

Do I want that? Absolutely NOT!

I dropped my exposure to -2,3EV allowing for the fast shutter speed & correct exposure.

Can you see why I have to keep this in mind?


I came across this lion lying atop a rocky outcrop, an incredible scene! That dark rocky background presented a challenge with regards to exposure, and that needed to be considered. The sliver of sunlight falling on his face & feet made the shot come together, and all I had to do is correctly expose.


I will end with this image, once again containing many of the exposure challenges mentioned above.

It’s so easy to ruin an image like this. The last thing you want to do here is to have to fix it in Lightroom or Photoshop. It’s purely a matter of getting your exposure in the right ball park, and smiling all the way back to camp.

Just look at the histogram on this image. It’s so easy for the camera to compensate by slowing the shutter & messing with the exposure the way you intended for it to be.

Screen Shot 2016-07-07 at 11.27.23 AM




Some points to keep in mind:

  • Take a quick moment to look at the scene & think about what your exposure situation involves. Shooting with different focal lengths will drastically alter your exposure & shutter speed, as more/less tones are included/excluded from the scene you are trying to capture.
  • If you see yourself under exposing by large amounts, at time over 2 stops down, don’t stress. There’s nothing else happening to your final image, apart from a faster shutter speed, that’s all.
  • Always, always always check your exposure on the back of your camera before shooting too many shots. Many people are inclined to get into a sighting – especially an exciting one – and fire of a few hundred shots before reviewing. This means that if those first shots are under/over exposed, you’ve got a problem. Always make sure your exposure is spot-on!
  • The exposure compensation grid or bar is visible in your camera viewfinder – try not take your eye away from your camera when adjusting this, allowing you to keep your eye on your subject!
  • Make use of your histogram on the back of your camera – this is especially helpful when there’s bright sunlight around & you can’t see the captured picture properly.

I trust you gained some new insight on this well talked about subject. Please remember to have a look at Andrew’s blog – it will clear up many of the questions you may have!

Till next time,

About the Author

Marlon duToit

Passion, enthusiasm and an unquenchable thirst to explore and introduce you to our natural world’s wildlife perfectly sums up my ambitions. I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. Through my African adventures I kept my photographic passion alive. Behind a camera aimed at a lion or a leopard is where I am most at home, my heart skipping a beat at the mere thought of it. My intention has never been solely for recognition but for the plight of what’s left of our natural recourses. Using my love and understanding of wildlife I am able to convey to the viewer more than an image or a fleeting moment. I aim to tell a story, to bring that moment alive to you and to capture your heart through it.


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