Like other forms of physical matter, light has properties that have been discovered and subsequently better understood over centuries. Though you don't need to know all about physics to be a nature photographer, to make the best possible photographs you should learn as much as you can about how light works in the natural world and how it affects the way objects appear and pictures are captured by the camera. The continuing study of light is one of the most important aspects of nature photography.

You first need to know the basic properties of light. Following are descriptions of the most important lighting characteristics for the nature photographer.


The direction of light on the landscape is the main consideration in photographing nature because it determines the appearance of highlights and shadows and influences how the shapes and forms of objects are rendered in the photo. The direction of the available light is the first thing to evaluate when setting up your shot.

The three basic directions are front light, sidelight, and backlight. These terms all refer to the direction of light as it appears relative to the camera position. Based on these three primary directions, you find conditions in nature photography that offer a combination of lighting directions, or relative degrees of variation among the three.

  • Front light. An object or scene appears front lit when the light is striking the front of the object from your perspective. In ...

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