The use of artificial light

Johan van Zyl All Authors, Johan Leave a Comment

A lot has been made about Photographing with the use of artificial light in Wildlife Photography, mainly spotlights.  The first thing that jumps to mind is ethics.  One has to be very careful not to overstep the boundaries, and have the approach of the animals safety and well being always come first.

The use of spotlights can give you some amazing results, if you know how to do it, but as I mentioned, it has to be done in a very sensitive way.  It is strictly used on nocturnal animals, more often than not either Leopard or Lions, and the light is usually bounced off the chest or the legs of the animals, not right into their eyes.  Again, you need to be ethical in your approach and as soon as the predator is on the hunt and within viewing distance of potential prey, all lights should be switched off.  It is also important that you put some sort of time frame on this exercise and that it doesn’t continue for hours on end.

1/320 F5 ISO 3200

½00 F4 ISO 3200

1/400 F4 ISO 3200

1/400 F2.8 ISO 3200

Here are a few settings that will help you capture some dramatic images at night:

  1.  Switch your camera to Manual or M on your mode Dial.
  2. As a starting point, dial in a Shutter Speed of 1/320 (remember this is just a starting point and will vary depending on the reach and intensity of the spotlight).  If your image is too bright, increase your shutter speed.  If the image is too dark, the decrease your shutter speed.
  3. Dial in your Lowest Aperture number (widest opening) e.g.. F2.8 or F4.
  4. Increase your ISO to 2500-3200
  5. Switch your Metering from Evaluative to Spot Metering.  This will help your camera to only take an exposure reading from the point of focus, and will ignore the rest of the scene.
  6. Use only the central AF point as this is the most sensitive to light and will help ensure you achieve accurate focus in low light conditions.

1/320 F2.8 ISO 3200

1/400 F2.8 ISO 3200

It is vital that you understand the affect your shutter speed will give your image.  If your subject is close to you, more light will be on it, which means your shutter speed will have to be faster, otherwise your image will be overexposed.  If the subject is moving further away from you, or if you are creating backlit images from another vehicle’s spotlight, your shutter speed will have to be slower to avoid a very underexposed image.

Hope that helps, happy snapping, and please feel free to give any of the Wild Eye Team a shout if you need some help.


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.

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