Story and photography by John E. Marriott
There are a number of situations in wildlife photography where conditions get so challenging that the killer shot you’ve been striving for actually gets missed, either by you, or by the camera. Four hours freezing at -40 C might cause you to head home right before the critical moment, howling winds might shake your lens too much right as the animal does its thing, or giant, puffy snowflakes may catch your auto focus at exactly the wrong time. But besides these weather-related circumstances, one of the toughest situations to nail as a wildlife photographer is shooting backlit subjects. Not only might you encounter backlit wildlife on an almost daily basis, but you’ll quickly discover (if you haven’t already) that photographing backlit animals uniquely tests your camera’s auto focus system, your compositions and your exposure knowledge.
Despite the technological advances made in the past decade with digital cameras, most auto focus systems, even on the 1DX2s and 5Ds of the world, can face challenges when it comes to repeatedly focusing accurately on an animal with direct light behind it. Couple these auto focus troubles with the fact that backlit subjects require an even higher level of attention to exposure than normal — under-expose too much and you end up with detail-less shadows, over-expose too much and you blow out that beautiful golden-rim lighting — and you can see why backlit wildlife poses a distinct set of problems that keep even the most seasoned wildlife photographers on their toes throughout a shoot.
To read more on how John E. Marriott tackles these problems to create exciting backlit images in this 10th anniversary issue please pick up the Winter 2017 (#40) issue of OPC. Or to never miss an issue please SUBSCRIBE today!