Direct sunlight or even-covered-shade, which do we prefer…and did I get it wrong this time?

I’ve always been taught to shoot in even light. Why? Well, probably because it is generally more evenly lit, and my subject will not have those harsh highlights or dark shadows.

When I was recently out walking in the Australian bush, I came across one of our country’s native birds in all his glory. A kookaburra was sat watching me, perched upon a branch and ready to roost for the evening approaching. With the warm glow of golden hour wrapping itself around his photogenic feathers, I reached for my camera to grab a shot. My experience told me to wait for cloud cover to shoot, but not knowing whether the bird would take flight, I took my shot in the sun regardless. Then the sun went in and I took two more.

In total I had four different shots; two in the light and two in the shade – and I thought I knew which I’d prefer. That was, of course, until I got home and opened the images up in Lightroom…

Check out this video of what I found:

0:33 The raw images
1:02 Edited images in Lightroom
1:35 My choice

The Kookabura’s raw images

In the sun…


In the shade…


My choice

Upon opening the images for editing, I was able to pull back the blown highlights on the white parts of the bird in Lightroom, adding additions of contrast to the eye. Of the complete set of images I now had, I was surprised to see it was now the ‘in sun’ ones that were standing out, despite the uneven light.  

Kookabura ‘in sun’

Reasons why I prefer the subject in the sun this time:

  1. The eyes of the bird are more clearly defined
  2. The image looks more vibrant with the kiss of golden light

Definition and vibrancy are two key features I always look out for in photography. So where I thought I had the shot nailed using even natural light, post processing the RAW files has actually changed my mind. I would love to know your thoughts on this. Is it down to personal preference, or is the even light image, the more ‘technically favourable’ shot?

Leave your comments below and let me know which you prefer and why!


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