Wildlife On Black

Bending light and learning its possibilities can really extend your creativity with your camera, it can help achieve a larger understanding of how the relation of your position, the direction of the sun and how the sun can light certain elements of the scene which can change the drama in the image dramatically. For the last month I've been focusing on capturing wildlife on a black background as I really like how it pulls the subject out of the image. Below are some of my favourite shots so far and I'll also give a brief insight into how you can create images like this.

So How Did I Do It?

When trying to capture shots of wildlife on a black background there are three things you need to remember: Sun Direction, Your Position and Shadows. From my recent outings to get these types of shots I've noticed that the area in which you get these shots is very small, a pocket of light passing though some trees maybe all you can work with which can make things very difficult as I will have to wait for the subject to go into the right position. The main component to be aware of is shadows, this is what creates such a dark background. When the sun is at a certain angle during the morning and evening it creates large shadows when the light hits the trees that are the sides of the river but when the sun is still high enough to light up areas around where the shadows are. The next component is the direction of the sun, I've found that having the sun behind you never seems to work well as then the shadows are not that dark. The best direction I've found is to have the sun on your side, from here you'll be able to see the shadows better and still be able to light the subject but this all depends on what element will be giving off the shadows, so take my methods with a pinch of salt as it may different where you are. The last crucial component is your position, you need to be somewhere that the light creates a large shadow but there is enough light for you to get a good exposure without the subject being too dark. When looking across the water you'll be able to see the shadows so put yourself in a position where you can see a large portion of the shadow and there is a dark background.


Getting the right exposure is key to making the shot work, you can end up taking 20 shots to find out that they are all badly exposed (which I've done many times!). In these sort of conditions it can really test the camera at how good it can read a scene to get an accurate exposure. My D3 was struggling to get the correct exposure at first as the white of the birds and black of the background was just confusing the hell out of it. To take some control of the situation I under-expose the camera to -1 EV, I then check the camera to see how the shots look, mainly making sure that the highlights on the birds aren't completely blown out. I've had the subject so bright before that I had to dial in -3 EV to combat the bright highlights! If you are only trying to capture this style when you are out with the camera, I would strongly recommend putting the camera in Manual mode so you can lock in the correct exposure.

I hope this blog has given you a slight insight into creating this style of shot, they can be quite complicated at first but once you've got the hang of it, it can be great fun to take your camera and creativity to a whole new level. If you have any question about what I've discussed then please feel free to leave a comment or email me.

Make sure to click on the images for a larger view and to also purchase as prints.