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How to Work with Outdoor Lighting

Ideal Landscape Lighting & Filters
In order to get the richest color from the sun, it is best to take landscape photos shortly after sunrise or just before sunset. Set your equipment up quickly because this lighting does not last long. But if you have to contend with midday sun, use a UV filter, circular polarizer or graduated neutral density filter to add color and dimension to washed out sky, mountains or water.

Here I have two photos of Devil's Tower in Wyoming. The one on top was taken late afternoon with an overcast sky. The photo below was taken during sunset, adding natural warmth without the need for a filter.

bad lighting devils tower

sunset lighting devils tower

I usually like full sun when photographing animals because it helps to illuminate the details of feathers and fur and enhances the color. Also, with more sunlight I can use a faster speed for quick movements as many animals are hunting for food (or running away from photographers). Unfortunately, most creatures are active during the morning and evening hours when lighting is dim, so getting a sharp shot with the speed below 1/60 second (to let in more light) is difficult. Finding wildlife in clearings is best.

I took the first shot below of the big horn sheep (female) south of Canon City after the sun had gone behind the mountains. The image is not as sharp and colorful as the big horn sheep (male) beneath it, which was taken in full sun in Glen Eyrie (west side of Colorado Springs).

no direct sun big horn sheep

direct sun fur detail big horn sheep

ISO Settings
If an opportunity presents itself in a dimly lit forest, for example, switch the ISO setting to 400 or higher, which enables the camera to be more sensitive to light. The only drawback is that you will get a grainier image. For full sun and stationary subject matter the ISO is best set at 100 for optimum clarity.

Blocking the Sun
A lens hood is necessary to prevent the sun's rays from interfering with your photos, creating a haze or flare, which can greatly detract from the intensity of color and sharpness of your image. If your hood doesn't reach far enough to block the sun or annoying reflections, hold one hand along the appropriate side of the lens to help shade it.

You may want to purchase a folding hand held or standing diffuser (white shade), which will soften harsh midday sun on a subject such as someone's face or flowers, removing sharp shadows if positioned about a foot away. If the diffuser is held much farther away it will create a dark shadow instead.


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