Photo Tip: Spotlight on Spots


In game reserves where night drives are permitted, a spotlight is a useful photographic accessory, especially in the digital age. With modern cameras, sensors can utilize the light of the spotlight and produce mind-boggling results.

Beginner tip

When night falls, cameras fail. Even when using a spotlight, most cameras will not be able to focus, never mind capture an image, in the poor light. So if you intend to photograph during the night, with the light of a spotlight, make sure that you use a good flash to light up the subject. Concentrate on subjects close by, as a standard flash will not reach very far. Be careful of auto focus, as the camera will not easily be able to focus on the subject. If your camera has a manual focus setting, use it.

Pro tip

The only way to photograph with a spotlight at night is if you have a fast lens, i.e. f/2.8 or f/4. A slower lens will not let enough light through to the sensor, resulting in a too slow shutter speed. A slower lens will also not focus effectively in the light of a spotlight. Arguably, the best lens for night-time spotlight photography from a game drive vehicle is a 70-200mm f/2.8. Be careful, though, not to shine the spotlight directly into the eyes of certain species because this can cause damage to their eyes.

Lighting tip

When using a spotlight, notice the difference in light color between the spotlight and normal light. A spotlight is usually more orange than daylight, so if you use a spotlight during the day, the colour of the area it lights will be different from the surrounding light. The same applies to using a spotlight and a flash simultaneously. The light from the flash will come out very blue compared to the spotlight.

How you can take a similar image

  • Lens: Medium telephoto lens.

  • Settings: Maximum aperture. High ISO.
  • How: Set the exposure compensation on the camera to -1 or more, depending on the size of the area lit by the spotlight in comparison to the frame size. The light from a spotlight is focused, so normally the camera will overexpose the centre part of the image because of all the black in the frame. To create side lighting, always try and keep the spotlight as far from the camera as possible.