Point your shadow at the subject! I have heard many well-known professional nature photographers say that the best wildlife photos come when we follow this adage. As a professional nature photographer myself, I could not disagree more with this advice. Breaking this rule will lead to the most interesting pictures.

Why? If the light on our subject comes from directly behind us, our pictures will be devoid of shadow. The interplay of light and shadow is precisely what gives pictures depth and a sense of dimension. Now, frontal light can indeed show off the colors of birds and other animals. As such, it can be useful if we are shooting in a more documentary way, say for an ID guide. But if we are trying to capture artistic photos, looking for sidelight or backlight often will lead to much more interesting results!

When I’m out photographing in Costa Rica, I prefer these types of light for my nature photography. First, cloudy light is great for landscapes and portraits of birds. It produces rich colors and soft shadows. Second, side-light can yield wonderful and dramatic portraits of birds and mammals. The mix of dark and light tones (chiaroscuro in artist speak) conveys a deep rainforest mood. And third, backlight focuses our attention on the shapes and forms in nature. It can also make bird wings translucent, a very cool effect.

The next time you’re out photographing, don’t point your shadow at the subject. You just might take your favorite picture!

“Sunset Jewel” – I pointed my shadow directly away from my subject for this shot of a magnificent hummingbird spreading its wings as the sun set over Costa Rica's Talamanca Mountain Range.)
“Marvel of Evolution” – A cloudy day was just perfect for capturing the rich details and colors of this keel-billed toucan in northern Costa Rica.)

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