Few things provide as many rewarding photo opportunities as nature. Every step may reveal another interesting sight to the creative eye. However, it’s also some of the most challenging stuff to snap with good results. Nature doesn’t arrange itself with visual appeal in mind, and everything is alive and ever-changing, which means good nature photography can get pretty technical. Fortunately, a few great tips go a long way.
Bring the right stuff
Proper equipment is key to great nature photography. First of all, SLR photographers benefit from bringing at least a good wide-angle lens and a telephoto lens. The former is essential for breathtaking landscape photos, while the latter is necessary for capturing wildlife in its full glory. It’s also wise to bring a macro for close-up shots of plants or bugs with their various intricate textures and colors. Also, a tripod will drastically improve nature photographs. Capturing all the vibrant detail often calls for slow shutter speed, and even subtle shaking will smear those long-exposure photos. Lastly, a filter or two will help out a lot. Polarizers, in particular, are very useful for nature photography.
Think about the composition
Even the most stunning views can look pretty boring in a photo if the composition isn’t good. Landscape shots benefit greatly from foreground elements that provide depth and interest. This could be a flower, a bush, or a branch. Ideally, they should be close to the edge and direct attention toward the focal point. Setting a clear focal point takes almost any composition to the next level. Applying the rule of thirds is an easy way to improve compositions. Think of the image as three equal thirds from left or right and let the focal point occupy one of them. It’s usually best to place it to the left or right rather than the center because it produces a more lively composition.
Unlike man-made structures that tend to place everything interesting at standing eye level, nature has luscious detail at every level and angle. Getting creative with perspectives can vastly improve nature photographs. Plus, nature is full of interesting details that only reveal themselves when you get close. For example, getting close to the ground and using a frog’s eye perspective to capture forest canopy and birds gives an interesting result – especially with some little plants in the foreground. Climbing a tree can allow for very impressive photos of ground-dwelling animals and low vegetation. Similarly, the same trees and shrubs can look very different from different sides. Moving around creates all sorts of interesting compositions as the trees or cliffs line up in different constellations.
Make the most of natural light
Lighting is the most important element for a great photo. In nature, light conditions are always changing. Different weather, seasons, and times of day affect how a place looks. And different plants and animals come to life at different hours. The soft, golden glow of sunset gives a very different result from the bright light of noon; and an overcast or light fog can give a dreamy effect. Therefore, timing is as important as location and equipment. Let’s not forget about filters. Polarizers and neutral density filters are like sunglasses for cameras that help photographers perfect the lighting. A polarizer attenuates the bright blue rays of daylight, which reduces glare and prevents overexposed skies. So, they’re excellent for capturing reflective water and sunny skies. Neutral density filters help prevent excessive contrast in exposure between bright skies and shaded landscapes.
Depth of field
The difference between a decent shot and an amazing one is often about the depth of field. Essentially, this is when things look crisp and in focus at a certain distance; while things are blurrier when closer or further away. Using a small aperture for landscape shots ensures that the relevant scenery stays sharp. For close-up shots, a wide aperture allows for that tight focus that makes the focal elements pop. When things don’t compete for attention, you can get very eye-grabbing results. So, experimenting with aperture settings is highly rewarding. Please note that aperture numbers may be confusing to beginners. While it may seem counterintuitive at first, higher numbers indicate a smaller aperture. Getting the hang of apertures and depth of field is one of the most defining steps on a photographer’s journey.