Nature photographers can be terrified of working with artificial light, be it flash, flashlight, or anything other than light from the sun. I certainly understand that, as it can take awhile to get comfortable with adding light to an image. Once you get over the hump, though, adding light to an image can be quite fun and anything that puts out light is fair game to use.

And why not? That is the joy of digital photography. It it doesn’t work, try something else!

I had a reminder of that recently at Vermejo Park Ranch in New Mexico. A late evening electrical storm suddenly popped up after sunset, creating some really interesting light and colors in the clouds when the distant lighting hit. I drove out to a spot I had previously scouted where I could frame a nicely shaped tree against the “V” of a distant valley. I set up my tripod, focused on the tree, framed the picture and shot.

Unfortunately, the silhouette against the sky really did not work. . . . At all. . . . In fact, it really sucked. The lighting did not really light up the clouds and the foreground was way too dark. But it was a start . . .

Tree framed by Lightning storm and night sky, Vermejo Park Ranch, New Mexico, USA.

Tree framed by Lightning storm and night sky, Vermejo Park Ranch, New Mexico, USA.

Looking at the back of my camera, I realized that I needed to light up the foreground and tree so they stood out more (plus get the lighting to hit during the exposure). I had left the parking lights of my truck on during the shot, and lo and behold, they were sort of hitting the foreground grasses with a nice warm glow. . . . Hmmm. Interesting. . . .

I walked back to my truck, turned on the headlight low beams, grabbed a role of gaffers tape*** from my toolkit, and taped up the headlights so that the light would just hit the tops of the grasses, but not blow out the foreground. Then with a little flashlight, I walked around during the 30 second exposure and “painted” the main tree with light.

Tree framed by Lightning storm and night sky, Vermejo Park Ranch, New Mexico, USA.

Tree framed by Lightning storm and night sky, Vermejo Park Ranch, New Mexico, USA. Canon 1DX II. 16mm. ISO 3200. f/4 @ 30 seconds.

Much better! So my light sources were (1) lighting lighting up the clouds to the left; (2) starlight; (3) flashlight; (4) truck headlights; and (5) light from the distant Casa Grande Lodge and other buildings.

***Gaffers tape is a photographer’s best friend. It grips like duct tape but does not leave a sticky residue behind. About $20 for a big roll, but well worth it. If  you use duct tape on your headlights, the tape would have melted into a gooey mess!