Wildlife photography is one of the fastest growing hobbies today. With DSLR and lenses getting cheaper by the minute, it is only bound to grow faster. With more and more people taking to wildlife photography as a means to connect with nature and share its beauties, it’s become imperative that you start pushing the bar of your photography ever higher. One of the best and easiest ways to do that is to try out rim lighting shots. If you do not know what that means, you are on the right page – keep reading.
There are many ways to get creative with your wildlife photography, but in this article I will teach you one of the most impactful. Let’s start with getting to know rim lighting a little better.
What is rim lighting?
By definition, rim lighting in photography means any image where the light at the edges of the subject seems more intense than the other areas. For example, take a look at the image below.
Notice how the outline of the giraffes stands out? The rim of the subject looks well-lit. Quite simply, that’s what rim lighting is about.
How do you achieve rim lighting?
First and foremost, you need to position yourself such that the subject stands between your camera and the light source (more often than not, that will be the sun in nature photography). Rim lighting will happen in the natural world only if you can see the rim, lit up with your eyes. Some of the easiest subjects for this are animals that have a lot of fur and are not too smooth coated, for example, bears, giraffes, lions, or deer with antlers.
Take a look at the visual below for a quick understanding on positioning yourself.
There are a few guidelines that you need to adhere to while trying to obtain a rim-lit image:
· Rim lighting happens best when the sun is low in the sky, so try to look for a subject around that time.
· A dark background is necessary (check all the images in this article) so make sure that you try this in an area where your background is conducive to good results.
Speaking about the camera now, composition aside, rim-lit photography can be done using one of two approaches.
Approach #1 – Exposure Compensation
Using exposure compensation is the easiest way to execute rim-lit shots. Once you have ensured that you are able to see a rim-lit subject just go ahead and try a test shot with a little underexposure. Take a look at the sequence of images below.
Make note, by default when using the built-in metering system in your camera, more often than not the image in such scenarios (a lot of black and little bit of white) will turn out to be a bit washed out. It is just that the camera does not know what is the most important part of the image and makes an error in judgement (it tries to average the exposure).
Knowing where to stop with regards to exposure compensation is a subjective call. You could be happy with the second or the third image above. Just know that the more you underexpose the darker the surroundings will get.
This is a perfectly valid way of getting a rim-lit shot, but I generally recommend the second approach. The simple reason being that exposure compensation doesn’t reset itself. If you forget your camera is set at an EV of -2, it would mean disaster for the next few shots where you may not be trying to create a rim lighting shot.
Approach #2 – Exposure Lock (AE-L)
This approach is slightly more advanced in terms of understanding. Imagine yourself standing in front of a monkey with the sun setting behind him and the immediate background being dark trees. Now, do the following:
· Point your camera toward the sky. Half press your shutter-release button to activate metering.
· Next, press the Exposure Lock Button (AE-L or * button) which often resides right where your right-hand thumb would rest.
· Now, recompose your image with the subject as needed and click.
What happens is that when you point your camera towards the sky and ask it to meter from there, it takes a light reading from the bright sky and sets up a shutter/aperture combination accordingly. Let’s assume for a minute that the value came out to be 1/2000th at f/4.
Now, if you press the Exposure Lock button, the camera will lock on to these readings and will not change them for your next set of clicks. So when you recompose and photograph the monkey, the camera uses the locked in settings thus rendering only the areas in the frame that are as bright as the sky correctly. In this recomposed image, the only area that is as bright as the sky is the outline of the monkey, giving you a nice, well exposed rim-lit image.
Practice around home first
Go ahead, practice the AE-L at home and then get out there and try a couple of rim-lit shots. Here is what you can do at home, before heading out to the wild.
Catch hold of a friend or family member and make them stand in front of a car at night. They should be covering the headlight of the car completely. If you stand at the other end with your friend in between yourself and the light source, you should be able to see his entire body with rim lighting.
Now that you know how to get a subject, go out there with your camera and start trying the exposure compensation trick to get some fabulous rim-lit images. Please share your rim-lit wildlife images below as well as any questions you may have about this technique.
Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category
Rahul Sachdev grew up on Jim Corbett stories and was quick to find his calling in the wild. Despite enjoying a successful career in the software industry, he nurtured a deep-rooted passion for wildlife and photography, a journey that took him far and wide across the country and overseas. Today, Rahul leads photography tours and conducts workshops where he helps people make the quantum shift from taking images to making them.