8 Nature Photography Tips to Apply on Your Next Adventure
There are of course endless subjects to photograph, but nature somehow manages to capture the attention of almost everyone. A simple browse of your Instagram feed usually reveals countless photos of incredible wildlife in various destinations around the world.
It’s hard to believe there was a time when capturing images of the animals we have all come to love today wasn’t possible. It was only as recent as the early 1900s when National Geographic published its first wildlife images.
Whether you’re considering wildlife photography as a hobby or want to attempt to turn your passion into a career, taking photographs has never been easier thanks to easy-to-use cameras that have become rather inexpensive at the same time.
No matter if you’re looking to capture images of colorful insects and flowers using macro photography or want to invest in giant telephoto lenses for your animal photography, taking captivating images is a skill that takes time and practice. You can of course start taking better nature pictures rather quickly by following some basic photography tips.
Here are some helpful tips that will hopefully allow you to start making your wildlife images stand out in your social media feeds.
Thanks to modern DSLR cameras, photographing wildlife has not only become much easier, it’s also a lot cheaper than it once was. Gone are the days of spending a lot of money on film and developing, not knowing if you even got the shot you were after.
In addition to DSLR advancements, smartphone cameras are also now producing some pretty exceptional images which means you may be able to capture some pretty incredible wildlife shots without even owning a bulky professional camera.
While it’s true that more expensive high-end cameras do potentially produce better quality images, you the photographer also play a major role in how your photos turn out. Your understanding of your camera and how to operate all its available settings is vital, so if you’re not the type that wishes to learn a lot of technical aspects, you may be better off with an entry-level DSLR that you can more easily learn how to use.
Some key elements to look for in a good wildlife camera include finding one that is weather-sealed being that you will be spending a great deal of time outdoors, one that allows for a manual mode which is important when shooting in natural settings where lighting can change constantly and drastically, and one that will allow you to change out lenses in order to capture both landscapes and close-ups of animals.
A quality camera is just one part of the equation when it comes to wildlife photography. Lenses play an even bigger role in many cases, with some top-of-the-line lenses costing exponentially more than the cameras they attach to.
Aspects that make a lens more expensive and therefore higher quality include having top-notch glass elements and a low minimum f-stop (high maximum aperture) that allows for shooting in low light conditions and thus taking advantage of faster shutter speeds to maintain sharp details and minimize blur.
Telephoto lenses are of course used by the majority of wildlife photographers as they allow you to bring animals closer without disturbing them as much. Some telephoto lenses are fixed focal length while others allow you to zoom between a range of distances. Lenses equipped with optical stabilization (OS) will help reduce blur caused by shaking.
There are then additional teleconverters that can be attached to telephoto lenses to further increase the reach of your lenses. They come in different magnifications such as 1.4x and 2x, allowing you to turn a 400mm lens into a 560mm lens in the case of a 1.4x teleconverter or 800mm lens with a 2x teleconverter.
Note that telephoto or zoom lenses available on smartphones are still quite weak in terms of reach, although some phones are featuring decent macro and wide angle lenses. Wide angle lenses are great for capturing natural landscapes while macro lenses will allow you to capture small details often hidden to our natural eyes such as pollen on a bees face or the individual scales of a butterfly.
A tripod is another item that most wildlife photographers add to their list of gear at some point. Photographers shooting wildlife quickly realize it often requires waiting a long time to acquire the shots they want, so having a tool that can hold your camera while also maintaining your shot setup is a must.
Some examples of situations where a tripod comes in useful include waiting for a bird to return to a nest, an animal to come out of its burrow, or achieving time-lapse shots of nighttime star trails or lightning.
There are numerous cheap tripod models out there but many of these do little to stabilize your camera and often break under the weight of a heavy camera or everyday abuse from hiking in the field.
It pays to get a professional tripod with a quality ball head or gimbal head to be able to make smooth adjustments with your camera and keep it steady. You should also look for a tripod that will allow the legs to be placed at differing angles in order to deal with uneven terrain which is quite common.
Lastly, while you want a tripod to be sturdy and durable, it should also be lightweight. Tripods made of aluminum or carbon fiber will allow you to carry your camera setup longer distances in search of elusive wildlife.
Tools for Editing
Even when equipped with the best camera equipment, photos often require at least a bit of editing. Having a powerful photo editor will allow you to do everything from removing distracting elements from the background of shots to making lighting and color corrections.
You can also easily edit your wildlife videos using a quality video editor. This will allow you to trim videos, add music or narration, and include graphics and special effects. Using a video converter for Macs or other PCs will allow you to quickly convert video files and compress them without loss of quality so they may be shared on your various social media channels.
Because nature photographers shoot outdoors, they must rely on natural light which of course is much harder to control than lighting in a studio setup.
Shooting during the midday sun can wash out colors and often creates unpleasing images with harsh shadows and highlights. You’ll find much better success shooting during the early morning hours or around sunset to capture more vivid colors and pleasing light.
Studying your favorite professional nature photographers and how they utilize light to create stunning images is one of the best practices for inspiration. Then take to the field and see what effects different times of the day and various weather conditions have on your shots in terms of light and color.
There are a number of technical aspects to learn in order to better “control” natural light to produce quality images. One is understanding exposure value which relates to the combination of a shutter speed and aperture (f-stop).
You can utilize exposure compensation to correct incorrect camera metering, and auto exposure bracketing (AEB) will allow you to take several shots of the same subject but with differing exposures to ensure one will offer the correct lighting you were after.
When it comes to ISO, choosing a higher ISO value will allow you to shoot during low-light conditions but note that higher ISO values often comes with unwanted extra noise in images. You will really start noticing noise when using ISO values over 800.
Another tip is to use your camera’s AE lock button, if equipped, which allows you to lock in your preferred exposure settings such as shutter speed, aperture, and ISO without these values changing whenever you recompose a shot. This works well when there are dramatic light differences between your subject and the background or when taking multiple images that will later be stitched together to create a panorama.
Good photographers know how important composition is when trying to create an image that is pleasing to the human eye. Using the rule of thirds will allow you to achieve well-composed shots in most cases. It involves breaking down the image you see in your viewfinder into thirds both horizontally and vertically, creating a grid of nine equal sections.
The goal is to place your subject or key elements of a photo near to where the imaginary grid lines intersect. And thanks to cameras and some camera phones these days, you don’t even need to imagine grid lines because you can enable a rule of thirds grid to be laid out over the scene you see through your viewfinder.
Using the rule of thirds will help you avoid placing your subject directly in the center of an image which can make your images look uninteresting or unpleasing to the eye. You want to leave room in the frame for your subject to move into and want to help lead viewers’ eyes around your image instead of getting bored and moving on.
Another way you can make your wildlife images more interesting is to try your best to shoot at their eye level for a better composed shot. This means avoiding shooting up at perched birds or down on animals such as snakes or small mammals. Positioning yourself to be at their eye level may mean crouching/laying on the ground or doing a bit of climbing.
Make Your Subject Stand Out
When you start with nature photography, you can be so focused on the animals in your viewfinder that you fail to see what’s in the background or how the background appears in relation to your subject. One way to make wildlife really stand out in images is to use a shallow depth of field which will blur out the background and leave the focus strictly on your subject.
While you may not have a lot of flexibility when it comes to backgrounds for wildlife shots as you would say shooting models in a studio where you can simply change a backdrop, often simply moving a few steps or even inches in another direction can create a completely different blurred background in terms of coloring or lighting when it comes to outdoor wildlife shots.
You also want to avoid having distracting elements photobomb your shots such as stray twigs, grass, or leaves that can often become much more of a distraction when blurred in the background or foreground because a shallow depth of field was used.
Always review your wildlife images in the field, if your subject allows you to, in order to spot any distracting elements you may not have originally seen so you may alter your position or framing to remove those distractions. Alternatively, you may later have to use a cloning tool when editing your photos to help remove distracting elements.
Get to Know Your Subjects
You can have the latest and greatest photo equipment available, but if you don’t take time to know the wildlife you’re after then you will likely struggle to capture quality images. Thoroughly researching the behaviors and habits of the animals you are seeking to photograph will put you in a much better position to being in the right place at the right time.
Learn what the best seasons or times of day are in which you are most likely to see the animals you’re after, and seek out signs whether it’s tracks or scat that may prove a specific animal is in the area you are photographing in. Having knowledge of the wildlife you wish to photograph will allow you to better anticipate when and where you are most likely to encounter various species.
Research also plays a role in photographing nature aside from animals. For example, you may want to record when certain species of flowers are in bloom or when exactly the foliage color changes of autumn occur.
The most essential lesson for any nature photographer to learn is to respect what you’re photographing and where you’re shooting. Many people get so wrapped up in pursuing perfect shots that they forget to respect nature.
Never harass an animal in order to get a shot as this can potentially be life threatening for them. Stress in animals can be deadly and nests or young can be abandoned if you cause enough disturbance.
While the old saying “take only photos and leave only footprints” is a good start, you need to also make sure your photography does not cause any serious irreversible harm to the environment or the animals that live there.
Lastly, in terms of developing your own photography style, experiment with various styles and strategies to make your work stand out from the crowd. Uniqueness is what will make your photography get noticed. And remember that as long as an image brings you joy, then it is a successful image. You don’t always need validation from others to prove your images are good.