BYOC: Lighting Tips and a Kiboko 30L Backpack Giveaway from Andy Biggs

Streams of light illuminating motes of hoof-churned dust. Storm clouds swirling over the Serengeti. As photographers, don’t we all dream about that? Please welcome guest blogger Andy Biggs, founder of Gura Gear,  African Safari leader extraordinaire, and SmugMug Pro. Gura Gear’s Kiboko backpack was inspired by Andy schlepping his gear thousands of hard miles trekking to the ends of the Earth. In it you’ll discover oodles of thoughtfully designed, photography-smart details to carry your cargo. Check it out here, and keep reading to find out how you can win your own to keep your gear safe on your next adventure.

Making The Most Out Of The Light

By Andy Biggs

When we think of dramatic photographs we often think of brilliant sunsets, saturated colors and a sun that hugs the horizon. Emotionally speaking I think many photographers are looking for those kinds of in-your-face lighting situations. Well, I have to say that much of the time we as nature photographers have to deal with lighting situations that are less than ideal. Ok, most of the time lighting is sub-par, or at least not what we are expecting. Here are some ideas on how to think about your photography in a different way, and how to come home with photographs that still stir the soul.

Let’s be honest. How many times have you gone outside with the intention of going to your favorite location, wait for a long while for sunset and then realize that the light didn’t meet your expectations? This happens to me when I am out on safari on a daily basis. It is something that I just have to deal with. What to do? The best approach is to accentuate the good things and try to eliminate the negative things.

Skip the Sky

Case in point. When the sky is overcast, grey or just not exciting, don’t include it in your photograph. As a wildlife photographer, that means that I might point my lens down more to include more of my subject and less of the sky. I also will use a longer lens that will include less of the environment. The photograph is more about the main subject than anything else, so I will go for a tighter shot than I would normally want.

As a general note, when I compose a scene I like to think of the potential photograph as a game: I attribute a plus, neutral or minus to various elements in a scene. My goal is to eliminate the minuses and accentuate the positives. The neutrals are just there because they have to be there. I use my shooting position, focal length and shooting angle as my variables to get all of the best pluses into the scene and to leave all of the negatives out.

Shoot Portraits

Because the sky is overcast, this means that the light that is falling on my subject is soft. Think of the light as if it is coming from the largest soft box on earth. There is a rule of thumb with lighting: the larger the light source, the softer the light. Well, a cloudy day will yield a very pleasing and flattering light, which will help accentuate colors.

Exploit Texture and Motion

Another approach that I use is to blow out the sky and turn my image into a black and white photograph. When a sky is mostly grey and has no definition in the clouds, it is very easy to overexpose and blow the skies out. This doesn’t always work for color photographs, but it is a great technique for B&W images. You end up with a high-key lighting situation, and it makes it easy to draw attention to what matters most: your subject.

I find that marginal lighting allows me to get creative with shots that have a very low success rate. When the sun has gone away for the day, or when it goes behind a cloud, I seek out pockets of soft light that work for blurred panning shots. I slow my shutter speed down and experiment with about any subject that can be found.

Harsh Light

Midday light can also be challenging, because the light that is directly overhead can create harsh shadows that have a distinct clue color cast to them. Rather than compete with the light, I find that by avoiding the direct light I can get some decent images. One type of example would be a leopard who is in a tree. I can end up with soft light on my subject’s face and body, due to the shade of a tree, and still get an image that I am happy with.

In Summary:

Spend your time thinking about how you are going to use marginal light to your benefit, as opposed to letting it take control over you. Photography literally means ‘writing with light’, and you will never be able to photograph without light. Use the lighting situation to your advantage and you will find yourself coming home with images that you are happy with, even though you had not though of those types of images before.

Remember to use what you have, and use it wisely. Be flexible with how you approach your photography, and don’t go out looking for only one kind of shot, because the light may not be what you want it to be.


Enter to Win a Kiboko 30L Bag Loaded with Photo Goodies


(This giveaway is now closed. Keep reading to see which lucky folks won big.)

The Kiboko 30L is a magnificent bag, designed by photographers for photographers. It’s lightweight (only 4 lbs), durable, and features a butterfly opening, allowing for unique customizable configurations for long lenses and multiple SLR bodies. The newest incarnation features a removable waist belt and fewer zippers for snag-free travel. In fact, SmugMug’s very own In House Pro, Andy Williams, swears by it. What more could you possibly want?

Here’s how to get yours:

  • Step one. Visit our sweepstakes page on Facebook.
  • Step two. ‘Like’ the page.
  • Step three. Answer the questions on the page.

That’s it! We’ll announce the winners on April 30, so stay tuned and come back.

Here’s the juicy prize list:

  • Grand Prize: 1 Kiboko 30L backpack ($429.00 value); 2 free years of SmugMug Pro ($300 value); 1 Monocular ($349.99 value); 1 Really Right Stuff TVC-24 Versa Tripod ($910.00 value), 1 Really Right Stuff BH-55 ($375  value)
  • 1st Runner Ups: 1 free year of SmugMug Pro and $75 Gift Certificate to Gura Gear
  • 2nd Runner Up: 1 free year of SmugMug Pro and $50 Gift Certificate to Gura Gear



Thanks to everyone who entered our Gura Gear giveaway.  We shuffled, tossed, and mixed up all the entries and randomly picked the following winners:

Grand Prize Winner: Randy Ellen

1st Runner Up: Shawn Kinney

2nd Runner Up: Osman Ullah

Just cuz’ we love ya, we also randomly picked 20 people to win Smuggy T-shirts. The lucky folks are: Radu Margarint, Kevin Whitehead, Larry Johnston, Kristine Philipp, Lamar Smith, Ken Holmes, Chris Holtmeier, Janet Wheeland, George Rodriguuz, Christine Ruffo, Kris Dome, Kathy Brundage, Zach Blackwood, Brittany Ann Spriggs, Wendy Peterson, Jamie Raddatz, Peter Williams, Joe Sterne, Joseph Orchard, and Jim Sylvain. Congratulations everyone! We’ll get in touch with you by email this week.

If you didn’t win this time, take heart. We have many more giveaways coming up for all Smuggers.


Have Bag, Will Travel

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I'm a writer based in San Francisco who loves travel, rangefinders, medium format film photography, and everything in-between.

16 thoughts on “BYOC: Lighting Tips and a Kiboko 30L Backpack Giveaway from Andy Biggs”

  1. Would be great if the US-only nature of the giveaway would be mentioned in a bit more prominent place than the T&C that nobody actually reads (OK, I did, but I’m weird :) ).
    Other than that an interesting read.

  2. Would be nice if you included a way to participate for non-Facebook users. Perhaps Twitter and/or Google+?

    1. Hi Tiago – the sweepstakes rules, which are different depending on what country you are in, cover the grand prize and first and second runner up prizes. We regularly host giveaways on our blog and FB that are open to all Smuggers, so please keep your eyes peeled for more fun stuff.

  3. Question about the Gura Gear drawing. I “liked” smugmug but did not see the questions I need to answer. Where would I find them? Thanks in advance.

    1. Hi Steve, under the big image on the center of the page you should see a gray “Enter Now” button. Click that and you should see the questions.

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