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You always hear about the importance of light in photography and some of you may not really understand what that means. Sure, there’s subject matter, composition and depth of field to consider but, hands down, it is light (or lack thereof) along with its intensity that plays the biggest role in a photograph.  

For example, in the following two images, light is the only variable that changed considerably, yet they couldn’t be more different. (Yeah, yeah, I know there are those of you who are going to point out that shutter speed also changed but that was simply to maintain the correct exposure).  

In the first image, we have fairly diffused, even natural lighting on this Mourning Dove, all fluffy and clean from bathing. 

“Dove on the Rocks” (Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura) Nikon D300, 650mm (200-400mm F/4G w/1.7x teleconverter), F/6.7, 1/160s, -0.3EV, ISO 400

A mere three minutes later, the clouds parted creating a much more dramatic scene, separating the bird from the background and providing areas of high contrast and shadow. 

“Drama Queen” (Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura) Nikon D300, 650mm (200-400mm F/4G w/1.7x teleconverter), F/6.7, 1/500s, -0.3EV, ISO 400

Which is better? Well, I’ll leave that up to you to decide. 😉


  1. I like the first one the best 🙂

    • Thanks, Mel! No right answer since ‘art’ is indeed, subjective! 🙂

  2. I like them both, but I prefer the colours and contrast in the second.

    • Thank you, Truels! Looks like so far, we’re in a dead heat! 😉

  3. Ah yes, light…. possibly the most frustrating thing in photography (except for uncooperative children!!)
    In this case I prefer the first one. In the second one the lighting is a little too harsh for my taste.

    • Ha! You are too funny, Michaela! 🙂

      Thanks for your opinion! (and when you say harsh, you really meant to say, dramatic, right? 😉 )

  4. Why is the dove so fluffy?

    • S/he had just taken a bath and was preening and fluffing up his/her feathers to dry off.

  5. Great shots Tracy, I really like the first shot but the second shot is good as well. I like both.

    • Thank you, Consuelo! I go back and forth on each….too bad there wasn’t a third happy medium shot, huh? 😉

  6. I’ll take the first. love the softer light.

    • Hey, thanks Pat! Yeah, you just cannot beat how that light really shows the color tones and texture of the feathers! 🙂

  7. Really? Are there humans prefering number one? BUT WHY?

    • Ha! You are so very direct, Babs! I knew the vote would be split. Everyone is entitled to their opinion! It would appear that you prefer the dramatic light over the soft…can’t say I’m surprised. It speaks to your bold personality! Thanks! 🙂

      • Was I too direct? Hehehe.

        Which one do you prefer?

      • No, never. I love your direct honesty. It is regreshing! 🙂

        Hmmm, I go back and forth but I agree with you…I love the drama in the second!

  8. One of my favorite quotes is “Photography helps people to see.” It is interesting how the light of the first enhances the blues while the light of the second brings out the browns. I think the bird posed better in the first but the second makes the creature pop and simplifies the photo elements considerably.

    • Thanks! Very well-stated, Burst! Perhaps you should be writing my commentary… 😉

  9. So you’ve only skipped one day…ha ha ha ha!
    1st one, definitely. More serene maybe.

  10. Being a biologist, I prefer the first one. As a photographer, I still prefer the first one as I love soft even light for portraits. Brings out the color and textures of the Dove’s features. IMHO. 🙂

    • Thanks, Scott! Opinions are always appreciated! 🙂

      I’m not surprised you brought up the soft portrait light. I was going to mention in the post about how changing lighting conditions, just as I experienced with the bird, is what can be very frustrating for taking portraits in natural light. Also, that as a portrait photographer, you can never really know what kind of lighting your client prefers. The best I have found to do is to take as many different shots as possible and let them decide which they like best.

      I agree, somewhat, with your assessment. Yes, the first shot is an excellent biological image since it really shows the true coloration and details of the dove. Could be found in any ornithological guide. However, I actually find the second shot intriguing because it is unusual for a bird image. Almost like the dove is being spot-lit for a dramatic performance. Can’t you just picture the little top hat and cane? 😉

  11. I enjoyed getting to see the many details and to get the opportunity to study the bird so closely. This is the reason that I prefer the first one. My expectation was primarily to get information – of course with an eye for the beauty that has been captured so well – and that is to me the answer of how we choose; it depends on what we wish to find in the photo.

    If I had been looking at it in a more emotionel way, trying to imagine the situation, many tones and details wouldn´t necessarily help me get this feeling. More contrast and less tones could even give space for my imagination. In that case, the second could be better.
    Usually the photographer decides and the viewer will like it more or less. This time you gave your viewers a chance to tell how they choose, that was interesting.

    • Thank you, Birgitte! I am touched that this posting affected you so much and that you took the time to explain what you saw (and felt) when looking at each image. This is the struggle I go through often when selecting images. Sometimes what I prefer isn’t what the majority prefers. So, it is a balance. There are the days I please only myself, and the days I please the majority. A GOOD day is when we are BOTH pleased!

  12. I like them both, for the bird; I like the second for the bird’s expression and the contrast between deep shadow and brilliant colours in the sunshine; I like the top because without the high light/deep shadow, it’s altogether softer.

    I colour photos (one in my blog recently to see if you want) and have this struggle whenever I have high contrasts, actually trying to remember how differently things look in sunshine as opposed to ‘normal’ light.

    • Thank you! I really appreciate your explanations for why you like each – very insightful!

      WOW! Took a look at the photo you colored on your site and if you didn’t tell me, I’d swear it was a color photo to begin with! Very convincing which means, you have done so with much precision and art! 🙂 You must have the patience of a saint! 😀

        • absurdoldbird
        • Posted June 7, 2010 at 7:43 am
        • Permalink

        Thanks! *Blushes* That’s actually the best compliment anyone could give me about my photo colouring that it looks like it was originally taken in colour, as that’s the effect I aim for.

  13. my immediate reaction is an almost visceral “SECOND ONE!!!!” but then as i look i can recognize the draw to the first.

    but its not about the lighting for me – based on lighting, second wins without a thought. shadows are magical, and the second’s shadow is awesome. however, i don’t know what the bird did (changed angles, or something) but it lost all its color in the second – the blue in the beak, feathers and head, the cool orange on the belly…they’re gone! i guess that strong shadow is hiding the belly some.

    but i still vote for the second – light trumps color when the light is that good.

    • You have perfectly summed up the dilemma I had with the two images! How lawyer-ly (?) of you! 🙂

      I love how you say ‘I don’t know what the bird did’, like it is the bird’s fault (I like that! Yea, yea…let’s blame it ALL on the bird! 😉 ). What you are seeing is the effect of bright sunshine on a subject. Colors become lost or washed out, especially subtle ones like on this dove.

      My fav is also the second because I love the dramatic light. You know me…I rarely go for the ‘typical’ shot!

      Thanks, Stephen! 😀

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