How I Get Photos in Yucky Light – and a PRIZE


Early Morning

Part 1 – Taming the Light

I am no expert or even a professional photographer, but I do love photography. I quickly learned a few things about macro and closeup photography a long time ago:


Early Evening

  • Unlike most landscape photography, one can shoot anytime of day.
  • Photograph just about anything, anywhere, anytime, all 365 days a year.
  • Unlike most wildlife photography, it is not the right place at the right time necessarily. Bugs and flowers are easy to find.
  • Macro has a low success rate in nature. Closeup photography the rate increases dramatically, yet I am still lucky to bring home one I really like.
  • Pixels are free and plentiful.

But even in closeup photography, the sun can play havoc with what you want to shoot unless you have option and choice. In this post, I used a 28-300mm lens so these are not true macros. Next post, my macro lenses will be used like I did for the bee below.


Late Afternoon and Partially Overcast

As with all outdoor photography, the best option is shoot when the light is more forgiving, like images opening this post. But what if you want to shoot when it is convenient for you under the bright warm sun? I do this often too.


Late Afternoon with Sun

There are a few ways that help me capture a photo when I need a lighting work-around. All are convenient and not too costly. A diffuser, reflector or a small softbox fit the bill, plus I make choices concerning my location in relationship to the subject. Let me show you why these things help.

Here is a simple shot of a hydrangea in my garden. Look at these two examples as the sun comes in from the side.


Morning with Diffuser


8:30 in Morning, Bright Sun

Which is more pleasing at 8:30 in the morning? How did I soften the light in this case?


I clamped a 12″ collapsible, translucent white diffuser to a lily stalk to filter the light. The diffuser softened the light to produce even lighting, similar to an overcast sky. A reflector will bounce light back into the shadows if needed.

At 12″ round, both the diffuser and reflector are lightweight and collapsible and so easy to bring along. They shrink down to 4.5 inches in their own little bag with a loop to attach to a belt or bag.


With insects, I place or hold the diffuser in amongst the foliage and hope it does not scare away my quarry. Sometimes when thrown into shadow, they get skittish and fly away, but not always like below.



Here is the comparison on a different hydrangea. The fly image is a bit contrasted below in straight light compared to the one above diffused. The color flattens in the bright light.



What about you?


Better point of view and even lighting

Another thing often overlooked by many is repositioning oneself for better lighting. You can’t change the sun location, but you can change your relationship to it.

People get excited to see a beautiful butterfly and forget all about its relationship to the sun. Just move to the other side of its perch and improve the shot. I used no light modifiers on either of these images of the same grasshopper. I just repositioned myself to get even light and a better angle of view.

A lower vantage point makes the harsh shadow disappear too.  Walk around to the opposite side and look what you want to eliminate! I learned a long time ago… painters add and photographers eliminate. 


Bad shadowing among other things



This brings up another topic too. All the desirable things I discussed are in this photo, but one, interest. Do you just document like above, or do you try to make a photograph, not just take it? I find my hornet rather boring, but really thinking a shot through can produce art.



If you want to see photos that the fly above was part of and I actually took my time to set up, see this post.

Tame the Light with Flash

It seems counter intuitive to throw on more light when you already have too much, but what it does is give your shadows a boost.

I have a softbox that I attach to my flash so that the light is softer. Next post see how getting in really close is helped by using a flash.


What do you think the camera is pointed at? I have a prize for the first one that gets it right.

Just mention your guess in a comment in this post.

If nobody guesses correctly, the winner will be randomly picked for anyone leaving a comment here. You do have to be a US citizen though for me to ship the prize.


Can you even guess the prize pictured above? A hint… the prize was inspired by my post The Need to Care.  It is something I have a few of, is eco-friendly and that I use every single day when going to the ….

To win the prize, here is a hint.  It is a flower pictured in a recent post. For you frequent readers, it should not be too hard to at least find that post. Just match up the surroundings of the camera on the tripod above, note your answer in a comment in this post and you will be the one to win the…? And make sure I get your email address so I can contact you if you win. The winner will be announced next week in Using a Flash in Your Garden Photos.

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at:
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66 Responses to How I Get Photos in Yucky Light – and a PRIZE

  1. That was very enlightening, Donna!!!!
    Still you do need an artists eye to give them that extra touch, like you do!
    🙂 xx

    • Thank you Marina. The eye helps, but first order of business is always know your tools! Everyday, I learn more and more what my tools do because there are so many used in combination with each other. Especially in post processing. Endless combinations.

  2. Hope says:

    Your photos are beautiful…as always!

  3. ginnietom says:

    no. 3 an amazing bee shot…no 2 very nice focussing in front…and at least this marvelous no. 1 ist just a sister of my “painted lady butterly” clone…:-D
    really great post…but a bit overloaded from too many shots in 1 stream…less is more, i’m tired from 16…:-)
    have a nice day…

    • Thank you very much for enjoying my images. I appreciate your advice, but in this post, it is necessary because I am showing photo comparisons and illustrating the text. I know professional photographers will not find this post helpful, but it is really for those enthusiasts that just want an extra edge in certain lighting conditions.

  4. acuriousgal says:

    Just beautiful photos, Donna!! Thank you so much for the tips!!

  5. Stephi says:

    A little morning thinking game :-). I think it’s aimed at a daylily and coleus in your garden. Not sure the name of the daylily, but very pretty. Hopefully that’s the right answer, I love your prize. I have one in my purse that my daughter gave me as a gift. If not, someone else will certainly enjoy the prize. Thanks for offering it.
    I love your helpful hints on being a better photographer. I’m working on it and passing your hints to the real photographers on the family. Hopefully, I’ll be able to use more of their photos than mine! Yours are just beautiful.

    • Oh, so close Stephi. You can try again! That is the great thing about the bag, it rolls up small to fit in a purse. Plus the design is pretty and that makes it a little stylish for the utilitarian thing that it is.

      • Stephi says:

        This is challenging! Looks like continuing around the garden is the daisy and butterfly weed. Drawing a blank on the purple flower, I even have that in my garden.

        • That is Pink Poodle Echinacea. It really is very long flowering, but kinda of a strange plant. The petals keep forming and it is like the flower has a bouffant hairdo. I guess that is why it is called Pink Poodle. Still not right yet Stephi. I thought this would be easier. You may win out of perseverance, but it is making it easier for others too. Get in another guess.

          • Stephi says:

            Since no one else is answering, I’ll give another try. The hydrangeas? They look like they might be behind some of the others I have guessed. In any case, I’ve enjoyed scouring your previous posts for hints. I did figured out what the daylily was, Real World, very pretty. Also like your description of your summer garden maintenance.

  6. GREAT post for beginners….loved how you showed the set up. Is the prize, a reusable bag?

    • There are so many garden photographers that shoot in bright daylight, myself included because often, visiting a garden is only open during those hours. I found quite a few tricks that are convenient and make getting a shot possible. Yep, a reusable bag that is pretty. Much better than the ones I have from the grocery store. Plus it rolls up for travel. It is great for travel on planes too, so small and light.

  7. Pat says:

    Lovely photos, great tips!

  8. Eulalia says:

    Beatiful pictures as always!! 🙂 Thanks for sharing them and teaching us your awesome tips!

    • Thank you for the support. I really can not teach others the craft, but more like share stuff I learned. I always like to share and hope others follow a path for themselves. I bet there are some here that can offer tips on taming the light that I may not know. I wish more pros would state how they get their shots. Maybe it takes the mystery out of what they do, but I never minded myself.

  9. Very useful. Judy does not use any of these aids you mention (except positioning in relation to sun). I wonder if she would like to give them a try.

  10. beautiful photo! wonderful use of light

  11. What a brilliant, beautiful post! What’s learned in pleasure is learned full measure!

  12. Loving your post – Great Advice – thanks so much for sharing:)

  13. janechese says:

    i disagree that you are not a photographer. You have enough technical savy and a good eye. Great blog, thanks.

    • Thank you. Since it is not my job and just a means of being creative each day, I don’t consider myself a photographer, even though I have sold and did commissioned work. I guess the more I do, one day I will feel differently. After all, I have been shooting for a really long time.

  14. I really like the idea of using a diffuser, and the difference is impressive. I’ve typically been a tie-myself-knots to change position photographer, or more often, resort to the flash. Although the flash solves the shadowing issue, and equalizes the light, sometimes, in some situations I find it equalizes the light a little too much, and the resulting image can be somewhat bland, and lacking in depth. I’m not a pro either, but I do like the ‘mood’ of the images with the diffuser. I agree, pixels, thankfully, are cheap, and I really wish digital cameras existed when I first learned how to use a camera…would’ve saved a fortune on film! 🙂

    • It really helps soften and I gravitate to softer images as a preference. It is a balance with sharpness of the subject that I fight with. True, it can flatten a bit in tone, but if I want, I can easily restore it with Photoshop in areas where it is needed by doing it in different layers. I just don’t use Photoshop for editing on the blog normally. Too time consuming to make a really good edit and not much point unless I do the work to make it good. I use it mostly for painting and illustration.

  15. These are all fantastic images, and thank you so much for sharing with us your magical secrets. Great tips you’ve shared here.

  16. Hi Donna,
    My guess is that it is pointed at nothing because the cover is over the lens.

  17. Great information, Donna. I always learn something new when I stop by. I don’t know if I’m even close, but I seem to remember a dragonfly on a Hawkweed flower–maybe that was it? I actually think all of these photos are excellent and non are boring–but I guess I’m an easy audience. 😉

    • Hi Beth. No answer has been correct yet, so make another guess. The actual flower will be in the post on using flash. Thanks for liking the images. Honestly, it is hardest to make a really nice photo with stuff one sees everyday. Like I said in the post, it really has to be thought through: lighting, angle of view, time of day, color relationships, static or action, frame composition and the list goes on. I find the best way to get a good photo, is move until you find all the composition elements come into place. That is something that take time and concentration. I was never overly patient either.

  18. Jennifer says:

    I don’t have a diffuser, a flash or a soft box. Lot’s to think about…

    • The flash helps on shots in the garden – more than just macro. It can brighten a foreground or you can bounce the light back onto the subject by aiming toward a pale surface. It is used a lot on photos of people outside because if the person has their back or (even the side sometimes) to the sun, they would be too dark in a photo with harsh shadows. The fill flash brings them back. I have seen pros use large reflectors and softboxes on landscape shoots. I have even seen them bring in the huge lights too. I saw this for the making of a Southern Livings magazine shoot. Amazing how they get these magazine shots. That is why it is hard for us, unless we hit the early/late times to even come close.

  19. Well this was certainly an interesting and informative post. I’ve never heard of a diffuser but I could see where it would come in handy. I guess for me though right now I’m still learning the “ins and outs” of my camera and adding anything extra to shooting just isn’t going to happen for awhile. Your photo’s are just fabulous.

    • Best to learn the camera for sure. I am always learning something new about it myself. I always liked studio work. I did it working at our photo studio at University. This is like setting up a shot in studio on a really, really small scale.

  20. Karen says:

    You may not be a professional photographer but your photos look like you are one.

    • Thank you Karen. I have been shooting for twenty years, so I do learn stuff along the way. I wish more pros would show their how-tos and process Much I learn from seeing them work or just experimenting myself.

  21. Patrick says:

    Would be a very unique how-to book with such technical chapter titles like — How to Take Pictures in Damn Yucky Light??? Love the horses image. Would look nice over mantel of a reclaimed brick fireplace, my dear gifted friend.

    • I think a book like that would be a best seller. Photography books are often very dry and boring. Like I mentioned above, you don’t find many walking you through an image. They talk in generalities which skips a lot of important steps. They might show a big studio shoot in depth, but I rarely see them explain getting simple shots like one might find in the garden.

  22. Sonja Daniel (zooperson) says:

    You can’t have too many pictures for me. That was very valuable information and the comparisons were so helpful. Thank you for that trial and error you just saved me from. The picture looks like abstract koi, but I think it is yellow daisies. Sonja

    • Thank you. I know that some people do think I overdo the images. I have been told this on quite a few occasions, but the weird thing about it, it is always guys that say it. Funny too because I have a number of followers that are men, maybe more than women. Boy are you close, but think bigger. I need a link too Sonja. I have no way to get back to you should you win.

  23. Denise says:

    It is very nice of you to share all these useful tips Donna. ‘Pixels are free and plentiful’ is what I also always think. I just take an awful lot of photo’s and hope that one or two turn out oke. I realy like the one about the diffuser. I think I must buy one. Thank you.

  24. flora says:

    wow awesome shots Donna ! love all of them!

  25. Toni Johnson says:

    Love your photos, Donna….I always look, even if the subject matter doesn’t interest me. I’m not a photographer, but love what you do. I can guess at what you’re shooting at…I think you may be taking a photo of the garden apron that you had hanging or displayed with all the pockets.

  26. bittster says:

    Thanks for the ideas, I tried putting them into action today but still there’s a lot more to it! At least I’m thinking about it a little more instead of just grumbling at the camera and photo subject.

    • The key really is practice. It becomes so part of oneself. I know if I don’t use the camera for a few weeks, I get rusty and have to think through shots more. It is always some little thing I forget.

  27. b-a-g says:

    Great tip about the difference between interesting and boring. I never thought about that,

    • Well, between the two, it is always subjective. I have my own artistic sense and I know it varies from what others see as optimal. Sure there are rules to follow, but many times an interesting picture breaks rules.

  28. Bom says:

    Donna, I can buy a diffuser and move around and still not be able to shoot like you do. This is a fact that I have long accepted but I will still try to keep your tips in mind. 😀

    • You take fine photos Bom. Many do and never used a diffuser, but I find it handy in certain instances, like when one must have a particular angle and there is no choice but to deal with the sun. Other times, it is being at a place in bright sun and not being able to get back there when the light is more forgiving.

      • Bom says:

        You are too kind. I have to admit that I use a diffuse for my underwater shots. The lack of light makes everything such a dull green and blue but using a flash directly on macro isn’t always a good idea as I’m sure you know.

  29. A.M.B. says:

    As always, stunning photos! I particularly like the first one. I love butterflies and moths. Just yesterday, we went to the Academy of Natural Sciences and spent time in the butterfly exhibit. One of my twins had such a great time in there, while the other one was actually kind of afraid of being so close to so many butterflies.

  30. I experiment a lot with light and position to get shots and you have given me some additional tricks..thanks Donna.

  31. Fergiemoto says:

    Great shots and great tips! Thank you!

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