Not every day out with the camera is going to be a drop dead gorgeous sunny day.
In fact there is a saying “good photographers sleep during the heat of the midday sun ”
Why? because bright, direct sun light, causes some of the worst photographing conditions around.
Ok, I admit it, I made that saying up, but still lol.
So for this article we will look at how to get the best images on those days when the sun hides behind the clouds and refuses to poke its nose out.
Firstly there are some great advantages to taking photos in cloudy, over cast conditions.
whites or highlights don’t blow out, blown out means whites become so bright that the camera cant record any detail, all you get is solid pure white, lacking any fine detail or slight colour variations.
Here is a perfect example of a happy mistake.
I overexposed the above young Pied Shag by at least 2 stops but was able to drag some detail back into the bird with Lightroom.
the background is completely blown out and featureless.
I really like this image but from a technical point of view I blew it big time (pun intended )
On overcast days, brightly coloured birds can undergo a remarkable colour sift.
Without the bright sunlight bouncing the light back off the bird, the light is absorbed and you can see much greater feather detail.
This first bird is an Australasian shoveler duck and is our most colourful native duck.
The first shot is taken in bright conditions.
This second shot is of a similar coloured bird but in very subdued light.
Again another bird in low light conditions
If you can be out in light drizzling rain without drowning your camera even better, you can capture shots that are much different from the stock standard sunny day shot most people have.
Here we can see a comparison with a Mallard drake.
the first in bright direct light
THE NEED FOR SPEED
Ideally, you want to be tripping the shutter at twice the speed as your focal length.
so with a 300mill lens, you want to be around 600th of a second but this is just not realistic much of the time.
Image stabilization (IS) is a must if one wants to be serious about wildlife photography.
don’t bother wasting any money on a lens that does not support Image stabilization (IS)
Nowadays it can mean 2-3 stops of speed, each stop equally the effect of doubling the speed of the shutter.
this brings the man with the 300 mil lens down to a shutter speed of 200 or less.
Then practice holding your camera steady, learn to pan with the birds on the water don’t stop moving with the bird when you trip the shutter.
If you have a relatively new DSLR (?) then the game is all yours, over the last 5-10 years the ability for cameras to take really good images at high ISO, 800 and above has changed wildlife photography forever.
each stop of ISO (double value) doubles the speed that the camera can register the image on the camera’s sensor. 100, 200 , 400, 800, 1600. each full increment doubles the speed of the camera.
Practice with your camera; try out your high ISO settings in varying conditions.
Very poor low light just makes the effects of high ISO far too grainy (digital noise) and sometimes you have to walk away and come back another day, however, limited but good light may enable you to go 1600 and higher.
This Female Paradise shellduck was shot on a bright day but limited light on the water and weak light on the bird its self.
At ISO 1600 I knew I could get a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the bird sharply.
Mostly the slowest I shoot is ISO 800, this gives me a better chance of getting the shot sharp, yet still gives me acceptable fine detail given reasonable light.
The higher the ISO setting, the faster the shutter speed, the faster the shutter speed, the more likely you will be at successfully getting a sharp image.
The tradeoff is always going to be high ISO = a bit grainy (digital noise) that hides the finest details but it can also give you a shot to store on your HDD or post to your mates on the internet.
In light cloudy conditions the focus of the image may be of the sky its self.
A storm front approaching can be very dramatic.
If you’re a serious landscape photographer you will be using a tripod so we won’t worry too much about the settings you take your images at, what ISO and such, so shutter speed will not be an issue, instead all your focus will be on the drama.
So just because its overcast out there, don’t find something else to do, grab that camera and head out and see what you can get.