Before I begin, let me just say that I am in no way, shape, or form, a professional photographer. I do nature photography for fun, and what photos I do get printed are usually gifted to family and friends. For this article, I’m just sharing some of the things I learned over the past 5 years that I’ve been going around and shooting photos of nature. I’m just here sharing something I love doing, and I hope you fall in love with it as much as I have!
Nature photography is one of those things that combined two of my favorite activities: walking around and staring at beautiful landscapes. It started innocently enough: I was vacationing at a friend’s lake house in Michigan when I decided to take a walk through the woods. I decided to take my Nikon D5600 (which, I will later find out, is a good camera for nature photography) and take snapshots of the surrounding areas. The natural beauty of the area stunned me, and I was even more surprised when the photos I took somehow captured the essence of the things I saw.
A lot of people who want to take up this hobby get intimidated by what-they-think-is the high demands for equipment. I’m here to tell you that it’s not the camera that makes it pretty (although it does help!). By following a few basic photography concepts and a keen eye for balance, you can take beautiful shots of the world around you as well. Here are some of the things I learned.
Patience is Key
Often, we stumble upon a cliff or a vista and are inexplicably moved by the beauty of the view. We try to take a photo and…it just doesn’t capture it. What I’ve learned is that, a lot of the times, those photos feel flat because of the light.
You see, the human eye is an amazing thing: it can focus and refocus on different things at an amazing speed, and more importantly, it can adjust to different levels of light and process an entire image even when there’s high levels of contrast. Cameras, on the other hand, are not as efficient. Despite their high-tech nature, cameras still lag behind the human eye in terms of balancing light.
To get around this, and to get the most beautiful photo you can take, be patient and wait for the right kind of light to come out. I love walking around and taking photos in the morning when the light is at its peak because it makes for photos with lots of contrast: very dark shadows are balanced by very bright highlights. In the afternoon, when the starts to go down, it can give scenes a warm and supple glow, but it won’t be as bright. The same is true for overcast days, which can filter out the harsh light and provide you with a steady, soft light.
Steady Cameras Take Better Photos
When you start taking photos of landscapes, you want it to be even and straight. But sometimes, trying to get the right angle puts a strain on our hands, and we inevitably start shaking. This makes for blurry shots that don’t really give justice to the landscape you’re trying to shoot.
Especially when you’re shooting at faster shutter speeds, shaking can make a great photo dull and blurred. If you’re serious about taking great photos of landscapes, invest in a sturdy, but lightweight, tripod. This will help you take photos that are sharper than if you shot it with your hands. This accessory is a necessity when you want to take sharp and clear photos of skies, oceans, or panoramic landscapes.
Focus on the Important Things
When you start taking photos, it can be tempting to focus on the one thing that inspires us the most. While that’s all well and good (and frankly, something that will make your photos unique), it can lead to photos that are too narrow and congested.
When taking landscape photos, consider how you want to compose your shot. One of the best ways to do this is to consider where you want to place the horizon. Framing the horizon is an important part of photography, as this informs your viewer as to what part of the photograph is important. A low horizon tells the audience that the important parts of the photo are up top, while a high horizon tells them to focus down below.
If you want to take a dynamic shot, then the horizon line doesn’t necessarily need to cross the center of the image. However, if you’re a fan of balanced and symmetrical photographs (like me!), then the horizon line is best placed right in the middle.
Do it for the (Long) Exposure
Once you’ve gotten comfortable with your camera and you’ve reviewed some of the ways that you can manipulate the settings, consider adjusting your shutter speed for long exposure shots. Long exposure shots are a great way of creating a sense of motion and movement, even in landscapes that are completely still.
By extending the exposure of your shot, even slow moving objects like clouds, waves, or grass swaying in the wind, will turn smooth, soft, and wispy, giving your shot a dynamic sense of action. To do this, set your camera to a long shutter speed. Depending on the scene, this might take a few shots before you can get the right setting down. Don’t be afraid to do a trial-and-error run with your shutter speed!
Practice Makes Perfect
As with all things, the more you do something, the more you learn how to do it well. Nature photography is one of those hobbies that you can easily get addicted to. Again, you don’t have to be a pro or an expert, but you do need to get a grasp of basic photography skills if you want to improve. Do your homework and read up on more intermediate or advanced photography methods, but don’t be afraid to start at the beginner level!
Share your best nature photos with us and we might just feature you in our next article!