When the light is soft and non-directional, the shooting angle usually doesn’t matter. Soft light is very forgiving in terms of shooting angle and direction. Other things still do matter, like background and composition. But direction, not so much. It is a very different matter in hard light.
It was late morning when I set out looking for birds to photograph. The sky was mostly blue to the west. to the east there was some haze low in the sky which was backlit by the sun. The sun was above the haze, providing well defined hard light.
I started out going from east to west and working my way along a fence line with a bunch of trees. I took several pictures of different species of birds. When I got as far west as I could go, I turned around and headed back east. Now I am facing the backlit haze which was quite bright due to the sun.
That is when I spotted a Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle variety) in a branch straight ahead of me. The bright haze made for a terrible background but I took the photo anyway because it was the closest I have ever been to a Yellow-rumped Warbler. The bright haze to the east increased the contrast and sapped the much of the color out of the scene. That is not unusual for a backlit subject. You can tell what kind of bird this is, but it is not a pleasing image. There are some situations in which backlight makes for some very dramatic and effective images, but this was not one of them.
Since the light from this direction was poor, I quickly made my way back east along the fence line.
Then I turned around to head west again along the fence line and through the trees again. I took my time. Once again I had nice blue sky for a background. As I headed west I saw another Yellow-rumped Warbler in a tree not too far away. I made a slow and careful approach. The warbler stayed put. I lifted my camera to my eye and created several images, including the image at the top of this article. This image is so much better than the first photo. The direction I was headed and the resulting change in quality of the light and the background, made all the difference in the world.
Nature Photography Books: The Three Essentials. If you only read three nature photography books, put these on your â€œmust readâ€ list.