Nature photography has produced some of the most recognizable images ever. This photo niche is attractive to anyone who loves to be outdoors in the beauty of nature. There is an endless supply of subjects, perspectives, and challenges.
Nature photography is also the best place for beginners to start and build confidence before moving on to people and other subjects.
At the same time, nature photography can be frustrating if you do not have the right equipment or do not know basic techniques. Getting started is pretty simple if you know some essential tips.
Here are the 12 tips that will help you get eye-catching nature pictures.
#1. Choose the Right Lens for the Subject
There is no single “right lens” for nature photography, but you need to plan what you will shoot and then get the right tools for the job. If you want to take landscape pictures, a wide-angle lens with a longer focal length is best. For beginners, super-zoom cameras are a good option.
If you plan to get close up and photography flowers, plants, or insects, for example, a macro lens will serve you well.
You don’t want to miss a good picture, so you should carry multiple lenses with you when you head out. If you prepare, you can photograph whatever Mother Nature happens to present to you on that particular day.
At the same time, you still want to travel light. If you have to hump lots of equipment, the experience won’t be enjoyable. That is why selecting two or three lenses to fit your needs is the best strategy.
#2. Choose the Right Time of Day
The time of day is essential when it comes to nature photography. You can use a flash occasionally, but mostly you will rely on natural light.
Photographers use the so-called Magic Hours in the morning and evenings when the light is even, so you don’t get harsh shadows.
These post-dawn and pre-dusk times are suitable for certain types of nature photography, but you may not always have to wait for these times. If you photograph in a forested area, the trees will naturally diffuse the sunlight so that you can avoid harsh shadows and bright spots even in the middle of the day.
Also, you can watch the weather. Overcast days will produce magic-hour conditions continuously.
If you are out in the middle of the day, you can limit the sun’s impact. For example, you could choose a shaded area to shoot, focus on subjects such as flying birds where the shadows have less impact, or position yourself between the sun and your subject to limit shadows.
#3. Use the Lowest Possible ISO
In photography, an ISO number refers to the camera’s light sensitivity. The numbers start at 100 and move upward. They can get relatively high on digital cameras, up to 3200 or more. Basically, the higher the number, the less light you need to take a picture.
So why wouldn’t you always use a higher ISO? When it comes to overall image quality, a lower ISO produces better pictures. High ISO photos can be grainy or have pixelated areas where the sensor cannot accurately capture the details.
ISO affects the other settings on the camera, however. At a higher ISO, you can have faster shutter speeds or more depth of field. These could be necessary when shooting fast-moving wildlife or landscapes with lots of detail.
Cameras perform differently at higher ISO numbers. Also, you can reduce some of the effects in post-production with Photoshop or another image editing program.
Unless you are shooting at night or in very dark conditions, you will not want to go higher than 800 ISO on most cameras, or you will want to be sure that you have equipment that can handle low-light shooting.
#4. Use a Tripod When Necessary
Tripods can be cumbersome. However, they can sometimes be the best tool in your photography arsenal. A tripod is especially useful in low light conditions, such as shooting at night or trying to capture the perfect sunset.
How do they help? A tripod steadies the camera so that you can use slower shutter speeds. A slow shutter setting allows more light to get to the sensor. When this happens, you can see details clearly, even if it is darker outside.
Also, a tripod can allow you to increase aperture settings. When you do this, you get more detail at different depths. For example, both the foreground and background in a landscape photo will be in focus.
When it comes to tripods, you need to plan appropriately. If you are taking an image in low light or deep depth, it is worth bringing this tool. However, if you will not use these settings on a given day, then you can leave your tripod at home.
#5. Use the Correct Shutter Speed
Shutter speed can change the look of a photo dramatically. Fast shutter speeds will capture all the details clearly, even if the subject is moving. If you are photographing birds flying, you will want the fastest possible shutter speed to capture every detail clearly.
You may want a blur to convey speed or motion or just for aesthetic reasons in some cases. In this case, slower shutter speeds are appropriate. However, you need to be aware that if the shutter speed is too slow, there will be too much blur.
In general, you should not drop below a speed of 1/60 for handheld shooting. At speeds lower than this, your hand may not be able to keep the camera steady, and the image may blur because of your shaking.
#6. Decide How to Carry Your Gear
One of the best aspects of nature photography is enjoying being outside. The level of enjoyment, however, may be lower if you are lugging lots of equipment. Also, the heavier your load, the less time you will want to stay out taking pictures.
You can plan to take only the cameras, lenses, tripods, or other equipment that you need for the day. You also need any other items, such as an umbrella, bug repellent, or warm clothing, to make yourself comfortable and keep your camera safe.
In addition to planning, the solution is to get a comfortable backpack or bag that you can carry easily for an extended period. This pack is a very worthwhile investment.
#7. Consider Filters
In photography, some people use filters to alter the color of a picture. Purists will tell you that filters are always the wrong choice, especially for nature photography, where the goal is to capture photos as they actually appear.
Some special filters can prove very useful for nature photographers. For example, a polarizing filter does not change the color of an image. Instead, it limits the contrast between light areas, which can be very useful when photographing the sky.
A neutral density filter can artificially create better shooting conditions on bright days by limiting the light that gets to the camera sensor.
#8. Follow Composition Rules
A lot is happening in nature, so it can be easy to get overwhelmed and start snapping pictures everywhere. Following the basic rules of image composition can help with the organization and quality of your photos.
The Rule of Thirds involves two horizontal and two vertical lines on an image. When they cross, these lines create three rows of three equally-sized squares. You can try to place the center of the image at the point where any of these squares intersect to give your photo structure.
You do not always have to follow the Rule of Thirds, but it offers a good guideline when you aren’t sure about composition.
#9. Know When to Use a Flash
Sometimes, a flash can create a harsh appearance in a photo. However, if you know how to employ it, it can enhance the quality of a picture.
You can use an indirect flash or a diffused flash to provide a softer artificial light than a direct, head-on one. You can get a flash diffuser, which fits over your flash, for relatively cheap, and you can also get varieties that move light upward instead of directly at the subject.
Also, you can use a flash in situations where there is enough lighting. You would do this to fill in shadowed areas and limit the contrast between lighted and shaded areas.
Depending on the situation, you could also deploy a remote flash to fill areas that a head-on flash won’t hit. All these options aim to create even lighting or allow you to take pictures in low-light situations without the harshness of a direct flash.
#10. Use Priority Modes
Most cameras, such as DSLRs, have a manual setting mode. This mode allows you to change the shutter speed and aperture to fit the conditions and aesthetics you want.
The catch with nature photography is that things sometimes happen quite fast. By the time you get the settings right, the animal may have moved, or a cloud came in front of the sun to change lighting conditions.
Priority settings can help speed things up. With priority modes, you set either the speed or the aperture, and the other adjusts automatically.
If the depth of field or focus is vital to a good picture in a given situation, you will use aperture priority mode. If speed is more important, you will use shutter speed priority mode.
You can get the right settings with a few flicks of your thumb with the priority modes. And, if you have time to set up a shot, you can opt for full manual control.
It can pay to practice adjusting your settings on the fly in different modes. Then, when you are in the field, you can confidently get to the right settings quickly and get the shot in a fast-changing environment.
#11. Embrace the Details
Some of the most-classic nature pictures have incredible detail. Famed landscape photographer Ansel Adams has many images with astonishing detail.
How do you get this detail? Adams often used a powerful medium-format camera. These cameras are prohibitively expensive. You can, however, take images with extreme depth of field by using aperture settings around f/16 or f/22.
Higher f numbers will give your pictures great depth. The catch is that this setting lets in very little light, so you will need a slow shutter speed. If the shutter speed is below 1/60 of a second, you will likely need a tripod.
The reward for great depth of field, however, is fantastic landscape pictures that resemble classic images.
#12. Change Perspective
Changing perspective can alter the way a scene looks. Sometimes the difference can be dramatic.
For example, shooting up at a subject will make it seem taller. This idea can apply to trees and mountains, but you can also use it to make smaller plants, flowers, or animals appear larger than life.
Sometimes, pulling back to include more elements in the frame can be a rewarding strategy. For example, suppose you have a reflective lake in the foreground of a mountain landscape. In that case, it makes the picture completely different (and arguably more dramatic) than a closer view of only the mountain.
There is no “best perspective” for each type of shot. This skill is something that you have to learn by doing. Being playful with perspective can lead to rewarding discoveries and give you new strategies for approaching subjects.
One thing to always remember is that you have to take lighting and camera settings into account when changing perspective. You will need to ensure that the light source is diffused or behind you when you switch positions, and you will have to adjust the aperture and shutter speed accordingly.
With the right equipment, knowledge, techniques, and approach, you can take excellent nature photographs even if you are a beginning photographer.
Nature photography can indeed be challenging, but if you plan and apply the correct practices in the right situations, it can also be one of the most rewarding forms of photography.
Hopefully, after reading this article, you feel like you have the know-how to take fantastic nature images.