The Great Journey in Photography

The Other Side of the Sun

Snowy Egret walking on path

300mm f5.6 250iso 1/640sec

One of th big rules in bird photography is to always shoot with the sun directly at your back. Some say that being off by a couple of degrees here or there, you are toast. That is good advice almost all of the time but as you might be able to guess rules are made to be broken. There will be times when you can’t get around the sun and for whatever reason have to make the shot. Here are a few tips for shooting birds in backlight situations.
Unless you are looking for something very dramatic that will probably wind up being a silhouette image anyhow don’t place your subject directly in front of the sun. Instead let’s try a couple of tricks that portrait photographers use all the time. Do everything possible to place the sun off to one side or other, this is what they call “hair” lighting. The result is the sun will be out of the frame and the edge feathers of your subject will be illuminated. The other trick is to bounce sunlight back onto the subject. Portrait shooters use reflectors. Nature can provide us with all kinds of reflectors. In the picture above the Snowy Egret is crossing a path of light-colored gravel. That almost white gravel is bouncing sunlight in all directions including back up to the subject. Now I have detail in the shadows that I can work with. The image below shows a great egret along the water’s edge. Below the frame is a small body of water and a large concrete culvert bridge (where I am standing) both reflecting light back to the subject illuminating what would normally be a dark mini lagoon.

Great Egret backlight

420mm f4 320iso 1/1,600sec

You will get the best results with light and white colored birds. Flash helps but remember that the main purpose of flash in bird photography is to soften the shadows and throw a catch light in the eyes. If you are planning to use flash as a main light and defeat the sun at bird shooters distances you will be disappointed even with an extender. Always shoot RAW and don’t be afraid to let the fringes go a little overexposed (in camera) as it can usually be recovered in post. More important is to have detail in shadows as you will more than likely want to lighten those up.
Go out and look for the light, look for the hair light and natures reflectors and nice backlight shots are possible.

Thanks for reading and as always have a great day. You can see more of my work at


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s