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Augment Natural Light in Nature Photography

When at all possible, use natural light for your nature photos. However, sometimes you will have to diffuse or reflect light if Mother Nature throws up roadblocks like trees or other objects that block the sun.

You may also find that you actually have too much sun, or the sun is shining directly on your subject and casting harsh shadows. When either scenario occurs, you have to augment natural light.

Diffusing light

When you see an object you want to photograph, like a lovely flower, but the light is directly overhead and casting knife-edge shadows, you have two options: Come back when the light is better or diffuse the light. If you choose the latter option and you’re shooting with a buddy, you can create a makeshift diffuser by having your buddy hold a piece of cloth over the subject you’re photographing.

In fact, it’s a good idea to carry a small piece of sheer fabric with you for situations like this. The sheer fabric diffuses the light just like an overhead cloud. Alternatively, you can purchase what is known as an all-in-one reflector that has gold, silver, white, and black reflector fabric as well as a fabric to diffuse the light.

The black fabric is known as a gobo, which subtracts light from the side of the subject at which the reflector is pointed. Diffusing harsh light can mean the difference between a bad photo and one that gains critical acclaim from your friends and fellow photographers.

Reflecting light toward your subject

When you photograph a small object, such as a flower that’s shaded by another object, you can shed some light on your subject with a reflector. Commercial reflectors are available in a wide variety of sizes, but they are not always practical because of the sheer bulk.

When you need to brighten shadow areas on an object you’re photographing and you’re with another photographer, have him hold a white object like a T-shirt and move it until it catches the available light and bounces it toward your subject. You’ll be able to direct your buddy as you look at the scene through your viewfinder.

If you aren't photographing with a buddy, you’ll have to get inventive and place a white object in the right position to bounce light at your subject. A small piece of foam core or a car windshield sunshade works well as a makeshift reflector.

If you do decide to purchase a commercial reflector, you can purchase a reflector as small as 12 inches, which is fine for bouncing light onto small objects like flowers. The next available size is 22 inches. Larger reflectors bounce more light at your subject but are not practical to carry in the field.

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