Nature Photography - Tips
Joe Kegley | E-Mail | Updated 02-28-2011
Use a tripod
Using a tripod is the number one step you can take to improve quality. This is something a person can do without a broad knowledge of photography. A tripod is considered the single most important accessory you will ever own for your camera and lens. It's a no brainer. The moment you mount your camera and lens on a tripod you eliminate the possibility of blurry out-of-focus images due to camera shake. Hand holding a camera with image stabilization is no match against a camera on a tripod.
- Use a remote shutter release
Use a remote shutter release for landscape and macro work. A remote shutter release will remove the potential for unwanted vibrations within the camera due to physically pressing the on-camera shutter release button. This also minimizes the opportunity for bumping your camera during the exposure.
Shoot in RAW format
You have more control of how your final image looks when you shoot in a raw format. Characteristics such as white balance, saturation, contrast, and sharpening, are captured as additional information (metadata) and do not change the initial image data that was recorded. The only camera settings that have an effect on the actual image data recorded are shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.
When shooting in a JPEG format, characteristics such as white balance, saturation, contrast, sharpening, and color space are "burned" into your image data providing less latitude for image editing later. In addition, the JPEG format (.jpg) uses lossy compression. Each time a JPEG is saved data is lost. In fact there is a loss of data at the initial capture if you have your camera set to record in JPEG.
Shoot wildlife at the eye level
Wildlife images always look better when the perspective is at eye-level with the subject. Images shot at eye-level imply a sense of place as though the viewer is there with the animal.
When possible (and safe), adjust your position so that your viewfinder is level with the eyes of your subject. Many times this is easier said than done, especially for bird photography. At the very least try to minimize the shooting angle toward the subject as much as possible.
Shoot when the sun is low in the sky
The best natural lighting for photography is when the sun is low in the sky. Sun directly overhead can cause harsh highlights and dark shadows on your subject. In fact the camera may not be able to capture the full tonal range.
That's not to say don't photograph during the day. An overcast sky can filter and spread out light more evenly, removing some of the harsh highlights and dark shadows, though you might lose some depth to your images.
Study up on potential subjects before you travel to a location. Learn what flora and fauna might be present during the season you will be visiting. Note the trails, roadways, and potential canoe routes within the area. Aerial views are very handy for finding small open water areas that are not visible from the road. In addition they may show old roads and canals not listed on highway maps. Google Earth has very good satellite maps for this type of research.
Be willing to spend some time at the locale and immerse yourself in the environment. Don't go out for a couple of hours; plan on being out all day long. If the midday lighting isn't appropriate for photography then use the time to scout the area. You'll be surprised how handy your observations can be for tomorrow's adventure.
Learn all you can about exposure
Proper exposure and focus is the essence of a technically correct photograph. Knowing how to set and adjust exposure is necessary if you wish to have control over how your image looks.
Become familiar with how your camera behaves in regards to auto-exposure and be willing to adjust it using exposure compensation. Learn how to read a photograph's histogram and correct your settings as necessary. When possible use manual exposure. I recommend "John Shaw's Nature Photography Field Guide" for a good basic theory on exposure.
Don't be afraid of manual focus
Autofocus seems to work great most of the time, though there are scenarios where manual focus will be more accurate. For instance, if your subject is a songbird in a thick bush the autofocus may end up focusing on a leaf or branch. Low contrast or poorly lit scenes may produce unpredictable results when using autofocus. In these cases you'll be better off using manual focus.