Wildlife Photography Tips: Shooting Wildlife on a Cloudy Day

The sunrays peaking through the thick rain forest vegetation offer little warmth to the morning chill of the Aberdares.

Raising the jacket zipper a little BIT, I scan the horizon somehow instinctively. I’m looking out for any disturbance in the lush green bush. An odd or sudden movement. Or a change in the natural flow.

A few meters to the left, a lone male buffalo pushes through the brush, purposefully turning his head towards me, curious – sharp horns sending a clear message.

I note the uniqueness of his boss; the bridge between his primary weapons… an indicator of his experience – an old male, probably at the end of his years.

Finger on the shutter, I let go a few shots from the DSLR, but suddenly the clouds close and the scene turns gray.

The heavy nimbostratus clouds the evening before should have prepped me for a drizzling morning. Even though it’s the best time for a safari, Julys are usually cold months in the tropics.

The wild bovine’s bloodthirsty eyes, take a bored glimpse – warily, and edges closer. Suddenly, as if having a change of mind, he snorts and trundles away through a patch of dense scrub.

Generally a peaceful animal if left alone and a distance, the buffalo can turn violent in an instant if it senses a threat. The behemoth will charge full speed at a perceived enemy even when the enemy isn’t primed to attack. The combination of deadly horns and the force of the charge are very often fatal.

Such scenes are common at Aberdares National Park, a range of lush mountains adorned with forest, ravines and waterfalls. The Aberdares, being the second highest ground in central Kenya, was believed to be God’s abode when He was not on Mount Kenya. It was originally known as Nyandarua, which in Kikuyu means ‘the drying hide’ because its hills resemble the folds of an unstretched hide. 

And as Kenya’s travel sector inches back to life, the region’s reputation as a relatively under-the-radar destination for safari purists, equipped with some of Africa’s best exclusive-use properties, makes it perhaps the most spectacular setting for an exquisite wildlife safari. 

But for now, I don’t look back to the camera’s functions for the results of my efforts, preferring to analyze them afterwards during the editing process.

Adjusting the lenses, I drive forward, hoping that the weather holds.

Have been on countless safaris as a certified safari guide and professional photographer, I trust my instincts. Going on a safari has always been a break from the hustle and bustle of daily life and from experience; wildlife and nature photography relies mostly on sensitivity to the natural light above all else.

You’ve PROBABLY heard that for good landscape photography, you generally want sunny conditions, early or late in the day when the light is low and soft, right?

Well… it depends…busy lifestyles don’t always allow us to choose the conditions in which we take our photos.

And of course when you’re traveling, you often only have one chance to take your photos before moving on, so you’ve to make the best of the situation as you find it.

There are many situations that suit cloudy skies just fine; in fact, there are some situations when cloudy skies are the best option for a good wildlife photo.

If you take your photo on a cloudy day, you can capture your wildlife subject in soft, even light that allows perfect exposure without ugly shadows. There’ll also be less glare reflecting off flat or reflective surfaces so your picture can actually appear more colorful.

If the cloud layer is relatively thin, you’ll be able to capture images with a relatively small aperture (large f-stop value). If the clouds are thick, you’ll have to use a larger aperture (smaller f-stop value) or increase the ISO setting. Your other alternative is to place the camera on a tripod.

You can increase depth of field by focusing on an object that is two-thirds of the way in your scene. When you focus partway into a scene, the background remains sharp because of the wide-angle lens and the relatively small aperture.

If the clouds are in conjunction with an incoming storm, you have all the ingredients for a compelling and powerful photograph. Use the brooding clouds as part of your composition.

The trick is to adapt to any situation as the wildlife does. Animals do not like looking into the sun any more than you do, so even early in the morning and late in the afternoon, when the light is softer, photography can be difficult. More often than not, you will probably find your subject turning away from the light.

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