One of the things I get asked a lot is, when is the best time to shoot nature and animals?

There are a few answers to that - when is the best weather,  the best season,  when are the animals about,  etc.,  but now I'm going to be answering it in relation to,  when is the best time of day?

To me , light is the beginning and end of a photo.

You have to be aware of the light and making choices that allow you to shoot in good light, or , preferably, great light. 

Or you need to learn how to make the best of the light you're given. 

Either way, understanding, and developing a feel for light, and its counterpart, shadow, is the most important thing in my book.

The quality of light affects the colours and their saturation, and the feel and atmosphere of the shot. 

As you shoot, you will develop a preference for a certain type of light, although it pays to understand how to shoot in all light.

So, back to the time of day. 

Typically,  photographers talk about "the golden hour" which is the hour after sunrise,  and then later,  the hour before sunset. 

It's light worth getting up for or staying up for.

During these times,  the sun is low,  directional,  often coloured by the atmosphere,  and its rays are bounced around so that the light has a soft,  warm quality with soft shadows.

Golden hour - mid July, with mist.

Misty orange

Another early morning with mist - this time in March

Ugly ducklings

Once the sun is up,  it produces harder,  more defined light,  the shadows become darker with sharper edges,  and there is a lot of contrast which can be hard for the photographer to deal with.

Generally speaking, it isn't as flattering a light.  As the day goes on, the sun becomes more overhead,  and the direction is lost, or rather,  it's downwards,  so the shadows show up underneath producing unflattering appearances on faces.

If the day is very cloudy,  the light gets bounced around in the clouds and loses its direction, coming in from all angles.  Everything is lit equally and shadows are mostly obliterated.

While this can be nice light for some things, generally it produces "flat light",  lacking in dimension, shape or drama, and often the light is uninspiring.

In this situation, certainly with shooting people, you might try to create direction and shadowing by shooting at the edge of a wood or the door of a building.

This is more challenging with wildlife as you can't just position them where you want them. But being aware of the light and its direction are a key part of producing beautiful animal photos. 

Taking time to think about it, and seeing if you can shoot an animal under a tree, or on the edge an area of shadowing, can make all the difference.

Lovely light and shadows are what makes your image stand out.

If it's a partly sunny day with a little cloud, you might find, before the sun gets too high, that you still get a soft, directional light from the sun being diffused through some of the clouds.

But this light is often shifting in and out of more harsh light as the sun moves from behind clouds, so you have to be ready to react.

Anyway, back to the golden hour.  Actually the light starts to get nice about 20 mins before sun up and continues for the same after sunrise. 

Don't forget you camera sees dark differently from you - in humans our light sensitive "rods" are what we use at night but these don't show colour, or detail very well.

The camera continues to see the full picture, as long as you give it enough exposure. Often surprising colours can be captured by your camera even when your eyes can't register them.

Also, I'm not talking here about taking pictures of the sunrise and sunset itself.  That's a different topic really,  and not something I do much.

I'm talking about utilising the lovely colours and quality of light to illuminate wildlife, often out and about and more active at dawn and dusk.

The skies opposite a nice sunset or sunrise can often be beautiful too.

Throw in a bit of mist, particularly if you can back light it with the sun, and the picture can be very atmospheric.

Just be aware that the light is changing quickly during golden hour as the sun comes up as and as the sun goes down..

It pays to have picked your location and be ready to shoot as the golden hour goes surprisingly quickly!

Early morning, February, still soft but winter light

Heron on the River Wharfe

Evening golden hour in late summer

Golden Sunset

I'll be talking a lot more about light in future posts, as it is the most important thing.

How good are you at seeing the light?

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