Have you heard that saying? The one that goes: ‘if you do not take a picture then it did not happen.’ With the creation and popularity of social media outlets, it seems as though that need to capture experiences on film, or nowadays digitally, is ever increasingly important. Long gone are the days of VHS home movies and projector screens. Yes kiddos, those are actual devices. Now the memories are shared on Instagram stories and Facebook updates immediately.
So how do you take that perfect photograph? Especially in the outdoors where nature and wildlife can feel daunting and with their untouchable beauty. Well, here are some easy beginner tips for any budding photographer to start capturing pictures of the oh so lovely outdoors.
Pick What You Want To Photograph
This may seem like a silly question to ask but nature photography is so vast – focusing on a sub-genre really is helpful. Do you want to do massive landscape photos of mountain ranges and hidden valleys? Or are you more into details on fauna and flora and all the small features? Are you looking for big game animals like elk and bears? Or are those cute little critters like chipmunks and pikas more your favorites? Are you into action shots or still-frame nightscapes of blinking shooting stars?
Once you narrow down your wildlife interests it will help you determine what type of gear to invest in, areas to explore, and different techniques to try out! Major arenas to explore include:
- Micro close up natural world
- Magnificent and large mountain ranges and lakes
- Sunrises and sunsets
- Aviation and large mammals
- Outdoor activities like trail running, hiking, rock climbing and mountain biking
Gear And Equipment
When you are able to find a focus of what exactly you want to photograph in the outdoors, the next obvious question is what photography gear is the most useful for getting that amazing photograph.
Landscape photography is ideally captured with a wide lens. They have more depth of field which is defined as the distance between the nearest and the furthest objects to be put into focus in an image. With a wide lens in a landscape environment, it is simple to obtain front to back sharpness for those clear and crisp images. Look for a lens with a focal length equivalent to 28mm on a 35mm camera.
When photographing wildlife and birds look for a ‘zoom’ or telephoto type lens. The major reason being it is super difficult to get close to wildlife! Look for a 400mm for a full-frame DSLR or 35mm SLR. If you can get fairly close to larger animals and still maintain a safe distance, a 70-200mm zoom can work as well.
A tripod is a great tool for astrophotography or capturing those dreamy night starscapes. This way you can utilize a longer exposure without blurry images from hand shakes. But if it’s action shots you’re after – I recommend taking some time really learning how to use your camera’s internal settings. A quick reference when setting up your camera for action shots: choose ‘Single Shot Drive’ mode unless you want a series of images, in which case, opt for ‘Continuous Drive’ mode. To stop the action, shoot in ‘Shutter Priority’ mode. When using these settings your shutter speed will range between 1/250 of a second and 1/15 of a second.
When And Where
Nature has a wonderful way of changing. Leaves turn vibrant and fall to the ground in Autumn. Spring flowers warm up their petals in the morning sun. And snow can cover mountain peaks all year or just a month or two in the winter. This ever changing landscape is why researching the area you hope to photograph in can be that extra something for a beautiful capture.
Start out by scouting – or visiting before you plan to photograph- the location. Scouting your location will give you needed information such as direction of the sun so you can figure out the time of day to go, what type of terrain you will be hiking in case there will be safety issues and also what different seasons mean in terms of weather and animal migration habits.
Smaller points of focus such as flowers or other fauna are good to research details such as when they are in bloom as well as what time of day they shine most. If you are after more aggressive, larger animals such as moose or bears, try scouting with an experienced photographer before trying to track those animals on your own. Staying safe is always more important then a great photograph.
Get Out There
Just like any new skill, practice really is the way to advance in your photography. Start with simply playing with your camera in manual mode. I know, I know. Ripping off the safety net of automatic settings can be unnerving and result in not the most awesome photograph at first. But in order to get more comfortable with your camera you must start somewhere!
Look for plants and animals around your own yard to photograph. Maybe have a kid pretend to be a grazing deer to figure out how to set up a telephoto or tripod shot. There really is no pressure by photographing everyday items daily and you will see improvement as time goes on.
I actually recommend photographing for fun on local nature trails to start off. The trails themselves are usually easy ones to navigate physically so no need to trailblaze or map-follow. They tend to be shorter in length and are set up specifically to showcase and educate people on local wildlife and species. This way the guessing game of what nature you hope to photograph is more defined and you can focus on just shooting as much as you can to fine tune your skills.
Nature photography is a fun way to connect with the world around us. Not only are you saving memories, you are living those memories in the wild as well. I hope these tips are helpful and happy shooting!
Kaitlin is a former ballerina who now travels around the country in an 18-foot converted school bus. Her and her tall one husband have welcomed 34 sweet children into their home the past eleven years. Although they would be a forever home for all of them they were able to adopt their daughter buckets and are legal guardians of their son monkey. Follow their crazy adventures on Instagram @runawaymusbus