Photographic rules… Sure, photography can be said to have “rules”; a series of guidelines helping the photographer achieve the desired final image. These certainly do make a huge difference in capturing a moment or a scene and following them (or at least acknowledging them) will be necessary in the early stages of discovering what photography is and beginning to master its basics.

Composition, framing, exposure, lighting and motion seem limited or expectantly regulated through these “rules”, and pleasing results usually do follow. However, once understanding and confidence in the abilities of the camera develop, a sense of experiment could tempt the photographer.

As a foundational basis, then, these so-called rules become flexible while some even fall away completely in certain situations. This is when photography starts to really become true to its existence as it is realised as artistry; “photo”-“graphy” meaning “light painting” as the artist creates an image using light, essentially.

Going against the grain and “breaking the rules” in any way or form will not only help you further your understanding for the art of photography and the limitations of the camera, but it may also surprise you with not only very different results but some pretty magical ones too.

The examples for this type of trial and error shooting is endless as all forms of photography can be twisted and explored. For this post, the misconception of light strength and direction will be pulled apart.

Having soft and gentle, golden morning light over your shoulder bathing the subject does very often create a beautiful image of warmth and clarity. However, what about late in the morning or early in the afternoon when light is white and harsh and blows anything pale into over-exposure? And what about not having the time, space or opportunity to choose a shooting direction with the sun behind you?

This fallacy of light can quite enjoyably be tossed aside as we reverse lighting beliefs and play with new scenarios. Light strength and direction are two factors which can transform any scene from one extreme to another.

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The sun, our key to most of wildlife photography. With just enough cloud cover, a risen sun becomes the perfect painter of land and sky in this one moment; not too dark to be hidden but bright enough to illuminate a dramatic blanket .1/320 at f/11; ISO 200.

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As opposed to lighting our subject from our angle, incoming sunlight does just the opposite, and to our benefit. Casting the subject into shade, the light paints the entire picture for us and leaves the unmistakable shape of a leopard remaining; a powerful contrast of glow and a unique result. 1/640 at f/4; ISO 400.

5
Nkoveni 2:2 Female
2012 - present

A young female that lives to the east and south of camp. Easily recognised by her 2:2 spot pattern she is often to be found in Marula trees.

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Nkoveni 2:2 Female

Lineage
Sunsetbend
Identification
markings
Timeline
38 stories
Territory
maps
Parents
2 known
Litters
1 known
Offspring
known
Siblings
known
Videos
playlist
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And again, by coming in from behind the subjects the light illuminates everything else. A little softer in this scene, and from more of a side angle, the light catches some of the leading edge of the elephant calf as well as reveals the dust cloud kicked up by both subjects; pink and orange combine in this evening set. 1/500 at f/5.6; ISO 1000.

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Very strong light coming in from the back and the leading side of this subject create a dark backdrop and shaded lion, with a hot leading edge. From the other side this lion would have been beautifully golden, but flat against an equally golden background. The angle into the sun proved a better choice in this instance. 1/500 at f/2.8; ISO 640.

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Early sunlight this time, but again, direction being the key part to this vibrant morning scene with leading-edge-illuminated hyena on the move. A high contrast moment, otherwise flat in golden light. 1/640 at f/2.8; ISO 320.

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Even after sunset, the great scale of the sun’s light sends it travelling through our atmosphere from beyond the western horizon. At the time of this capture, no colour could be seen with the naked eye other than a slightly brighter skyline compared to the eastern horizon. A long exposure directed into the approaching light photons created the colourful fade of night as the stars above were revealed. 15,0sec at f/4.5; ISO 1000.

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When conditions are just right, a well-timed subject in nature can provide seemingly studio environments. This Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill stands perfectly between my lens and the harsh light’s point of reflection on pale and smooth sand. The result is a glowing dispersion of light fortuitously encircling the subject, with the bonus of a gently lightened bill from the back. 1/1000 at f/2.8; ISO 80.

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Not only contrasting this giraffe against a busy backdrop by coming in from the side, the harsh light furthermore catches each and every water droplet which would have gone almost unnoticed from another light angle. Although timing was crucial for this capture, the result wouldn’t have been as pleasing without the side lighting. 1/1250 at f/5; ISO 640.

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Side lighting technique again, but not limited to sunlight. The dull overcast conditions are good for shadowless shooting and ensuring subjects are evenly lit. But some added light from a handheld torch/flashlight can create that desired contrast for a change of scene. 1/500 at f/4; ISO 1000.

5
Tatowa 3:3 Female
2012 - present

The Tatowa female was one of a litter of three females born in early 2012 to the Ximpalapala female of the north.

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Tatowa 3:3 Female

Lineage
Short Tail Female
Identification
markings
Timeline
8 stories
Territory
maps
Parents
2 known
Litters
1 known
Offspring
known
Siblings
known
Videos
playlist
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Light coming in from the back and again slightly from the leading side; not all of the subject is required. An outline of the leopard and its directional terrain is all that is needed for a dramatic image. 1/13 at f/2.8; ISO 1600.

10
Tamboti 4:3 Female
2007 - present

The Tamboti female inhabits the south-eastern sections of Londolozi, having a large part of her territory along the Maxabene Riverbed.

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17 sightings by Members
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Tamboti 4:3 Female

Lineage
Sunsetbend
Identification
markings
Timeline
29 stories
Territory
maps
Parents
1 known
Litters
3 known
Offspring
known
Siblings
known
Videos
playlist
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Similar technique and style as above, but with a dimmer light and a faster shutter speed to create a darker and less revealing image; this lioness only just emerges from the darkness. 1/50 at f/2.8; ISO 1600.

Intense golden results are most easily achieved when all the conditions are perfect and the camera is set up for such unique scenarios, while the photograph is taken straight into the light. There is no way to be consistent with this, as the margin for error is large and anything either side of correct becomes quickly over- or underexposed.

There is a small degree of safety, though, and some of the lucky captures can be brought back to perfection in post-processing with minor slider adjustments. Despite all of this, the best approach is to experiment and to adjust in-camera in the moment as you see fit by looking at what you’re getting in preview on the back of the camera. Most times the scene does not lend itself to direct sunlight shooting, but other times it may just be right… You will never know unless you try!

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Directing the lens into the sun is risky as most of the photograph’s detail can become lost in the harsh rays of direct light. But with a slight cloud covering, a high range of detail is manageable and sometimes interesting results follow. 1/250 at f/10; ISO 800.

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Another high range of detail emerges in the “dark side” of this elephant as thin clouds filter the direct sunlight just enough for a deeply contrasting landscape of a herd. Lens flare can be seen slightly left-of-center (colourful spot) which is usually unwelcomed (why we use a lens hood) but adds to the extremism of shooting directly into the sun, in this instance. 1/50 at f/8; ISO 100.

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Channelling incoming light down an angle across the subject creates two distinctly dark areas in the image: The distant background to the top-left and the core of the subject. Without the leading edge being illuminated as in previous examples, this male leopard remains somewhat concealed and mysterious. 1/800 at f/2.8; ISO 100.

7
Piva 3:2 Male
2010 - 2017

Directly descended from the original mother leopard and therefore part of the royal lineage of Londolozi.

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19 sightings by Members
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Piva 3:2 Male

Lineage
Mother Leopard
Identification
markings
Timeline
28 stories
Territory
maps
Parents
2 known
Litters
1 known
Offspring
known
Siblings
known
Videos
playlist
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Summer sunrise in all its heat backlighting the Varty Camp vehicles, casting their shadows across the sand and bathing the giant ebony tree in golden glow; don’t be afraid to aim into a sunrise. 1/160 at f/9; ISO 250.

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A more gentle light, gathering pinks and oranges, moments before sunset does not harshly highlight portions of these subjects, but instead is evenly distributed across the entire scene. Light direction, though, is everything in this image as the foal, especially, is entirely outlined. 1/800 at f/5; ISO 640.

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When the light is still low, but very harsh, the pinks and oranges are forgone for white. A faster shutter speed creates that dark feel without letting the light take over our attention. 1/1600 at f/5; ISO 100.

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And when the light is still low and harsh and directly into the lens, then a very fast shutter speed is required for any detail in the shadows at all without blowing the scene out in white. Luckily there was just enough ambient light from above those shrubs to illuminate a male leopard seeking the shade. 1/2500 at f/4.5; ISO 640.

9
Inyathini 3:3 Male
2008 - present

Another leopard who originated in the Kruger National Park, he has established a large territory in the south eastern areas of Londolozi.

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10 sightings by Members
q

Inyathini 3:3 Male

Lineage
Unknown
Identification
markings
Timeline
16 stories
Territory
maps
Parents
0 known
Litters
1 known
Offspring
known
Siblings
known
Videos
playlist
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Despite the sun only having just risen, the light was incredibly strong and direct. This warm and vibrant scene was possibly and beautifully enriched a mare feeding her newborn foal; right place at the right time. 1/3200 at f/2.8; ISO 640.

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Low, direct light during sunset, diffuses through the bare trees and onto a subject without illuminating her. Again, lens flare is unavoidable at this light angle (lower-center) but does not detract from the golden scene. 1/3200 at f/2.8; ISO 320.

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Although incoming, the light source was high and obstructed and so light only partially lit this subject as it tunnelled through a gold and green arena; thus the dark tones remain. 1/800 at f/5; ISO 1000.

9
Inyathini 3:3 Male
2008 - present

Another leopard who originated in the Kruger National Park, he has established a large territory in the south eastern areas of Londolozi.

U
Spotted this leopard?
You've seen this leopard
10 sightings by Members
q

Inyathini 3:3 Male

Lineage
Unknown
Identification
markings
Timeline
16 stories
Territory
maps
Parents
0 known
Litters
1 known
Offspring
known
Siblings
known
Videos
playlist
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In the shade of the Manyalethi River banks, a minute-long shaft of powerful light engulfs these cubs as they grapple and play in the sand; a few moments of magic. 1/1000 at f/4; ISO 800.

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A deep and dark-toned environment foiled by intrusive light. A vehicle of excitement leads a story of dust, all ignited by a hot afternoon sun. 1/4000 at f/4; ISO 800.

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A very special photograph to me… Close friends of mine and of each other, Simon Smit and the late Foster Masiye, form the backdrop as more incoming light pours over them and channels onto a subject moving through last year’s long golden grasses. Memories are forever. 1/320 at f/4; ISO 400.

The Little Bush female is a rare visitor to Londolozi as most of her territory lies beyond our southern borders.

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1 sighting by Members
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Little Bush 3:3 Female

Lineage
Unknown
Identification
markings
Timeline
5 stories
Territory
maps
Parents
1 known
Litters
2 known
Offspring
known
Siblings
known
Videos
playlist

Keep exploring the never ending surroundings and persist with your luck.

Dare to shoot into the sun.

Involved Leopards

Nkoveni 2:2 Female

Nkoveni 2:2 Female

Spotted this leopard?
You've seen this leopard
Tatowa 3:3 Female

Tatowa 3:3 Female

Spotted this leopard?
You've seen this leopard
Tamboti 4:3 Female

Tamboti 4:3 Female

Spotted this leopard?
You've seen this leopard
Piva 3:2 Male

Piva 3:2 Male

Spotted this leopard?
You've seen this leopard
Inyathini 3:3 Male

Inyathini 3:3 Male

Spotted this leopard?
You've seen this leopard
Little Bush 3:3 Female

Little Bush 3:3 Female

Spotted this leopard?
You've seen this leopard

About the Author

Sean Cresswell

Safari Guide

Sean is one of the humblest rangers you are likely to meet. Quietly going about his day, enriching the lives of the many guests he takes out into the bush, it is only when he posts a Week in Pictures or writes an ...

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6 Comments

on Photographic Journal: Lucid Light

Join the conversationJoin the conversation

Mike Sutherland
Guest

Lovely Cress!! Well done bud!

Gillian Evans
Guest

Great shots Sean! Love the giraffe, the Tatowa female in the tree and the lion cubs in the light! There is so much to learn and absorb with photography!

Sharon Blackburn
Guest

Beautiful post. All the photos are amazing, but the giraffe is incredible!

Chris
Guest

Hi Sean. Great article. Is that a tooth hanging from the mouth of the male lion? If so, what happened and who is he?

SJ
Guest

Hey Sean, nice shot of Charleston Male. where was that shot taken?

ian James
Guest

Great pictures, but whatever happened to the two Leopard males, pink nose and brown nose?

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