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There are just a few more days to get in those entries for our Africa Geographic Photographer of the Year 2016 competition. We hope that over the last couple months, through this blog series of tips and tricks from Will Burrard-Lucas, you have grown to be competent with your camera, consistently capturing decent shots.

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Now it’s time to look for ways to take your wildlife photography to the next level, and an easy win is to make the most of natural light. Good light can turn an average photo into an extraordinary photo, as can be seen with some of the competition entries featured within this blog post.

Will says the best time for photographing wildlife is around sunrise and sunset. The light is most beautiful in the 10 minutes after sunrise and before sunset, as the light rapidly becomes cooler and harsher as the sun gets higher in the sky. However, it is still very good for at least an hour or so at the beginning and end of the day. Good light is so important that Will aims never to miss a sunrise or sunset whilst out in the field.

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There are several different ways to use beautiful sunrise and sunset light. Most commonly, photographers will place the sun behind them so that their subject is bathed in lovely warm light. Front-lighting will always achieve pleasing results, but Will also encourages you to experiment with side-lighting and back-lighting as this can often result in more interesting photographs.

Below he gives some tips for different lighting effects…

Front-lighting

This is great when you have a strong subject. Your subject matter is the overriding feature of the photo and the light is there to complement it. Front-lit shots are generally very easy to expose just by metering on the subject.

A Cape fox in soft light in the Namib. Photo competition entry by Sanet Rossouw.
A Cape fox in soft light in the Namib. Photo competition entry by Sanet Rossouw.

Side-lighting

This gives you dramatic shadows, which emphasise the form of your subject and texture of the background. Be careful with your exposure – if you meter on a shadowy area then your highlights can become blown out.

A male impala takes a morning drink at the Matabole waterhole at Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana in golden light. Entry by Chris Grech.
A male impala takes a morning drink at the Matabole waterhole at Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana in golden light. Entry by Chris Grech.

Back-lighting

There are two types of backlit shots, silhouettes and non-silhouettes. In a silhouette, the subject is completely black and only the background is exposed. Usually the background is a sunrise or sunset scene. It is easy to expose a silhouette by metering on the bright background.

A silhouetted African wild dog watches a pied kingfisher in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. Photo competition entry by Dominik Behr.
A silhouetted African wild dog watches a pied kingfisher in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. Photo competition entry by Dominik Behr.

The other type of backlit shot is where you expose details in the animal and have a bright background behind. This is much easier to achieve these days because modern camera RAW files have good dynamic range so you can easily brighten shadows and darken highlights in post-production. You will need to meter on the subject to expose the shadows.

Waterbuck buddies at sunset in Klaserie Game Reserve, South Africa. Entry by Simon Webber.
Waterbuck buddies at sunset in Klaserie Game Reserve, South Africa. Entry by Simon Webber.

Often you can get a lovely halo of brightly-lit fur or feathers around the edge of your subject. This is particularly effective if you can line-up the animal with a dark background.

Cattle egret basking in the early rising sun over a waterhole in Rietvlei Nature Reserve. Photo competition entry by Chris Jek.
Cattle egret basking in the early rising sun over a waterhole in Rietvlei Nature Reserve. Photo competition entry by Chris Jek.

In general, back-lighting works best when the sun is low and the light strong (in Africa this occurs more frequently in the wet season when rain washes all of the dust and smoke out of the sky). You can view more backlit photographs in this collection on Will’s website.

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For more wildlife photography tips from Will Burrard-Lucas, including tricks for shooting when the light is bad, be sure to sign up to his free wildlife photography course here. You can enjoy Will’s photography in his brand new book: Top Wildlife Sites of the World, a selection of which was recently featured in our online magazine article: Top Wildlife Sites of Africa.

We hope you found those tips useful and we look forward to seeing the final entries for the Africa Geographic Photographer of the Year 2016 competition. Enter here before the closing date on 30 April 2016!

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Africa Geographic Photographer of the Year

The Africa Geographic Photographer of the Year Competition is brought to you by Land Rover and Canon, in association with At Close Quarters, Airlink, Klaserie Sands River Camp, Hideaways, iSimangaliso Wetland Park, Thule and Rhino Tears. The competition will run from December 2016 to May 2017 and entrants can submit images via the online entry form or via Africa Geographic's Instagram channel. This profile will be used to showcase photographic tips from experts as well as blogs from our sponsors to set you on your way to becoming our Photographer of the Year!