Nature photography encompasses a large range of subjects from landscapes and mountains to wildlife, insects, or plants. Nature photography is a massive category housing several kinds of popular photography, and even certain types of travel photography. However, its focus is simple, to be in nature and focus on capturing the all-encompassing beauty that nature is. It’s broad, overarching, and has few limitations. It’s also one of the most rewarding types of photography to pursue, because you are able to capture so many beautiful aspects of nature. If you are interested in nature photography, there’s no better time to start than now, as the temperatures rise, with summer on the horizon. Here are 10 nature photography tips and tricks that will have you shooting confidently, learning to capture the vast landscapes, beautiful wildlife, and stunning details that encompass nature photography.
Yes, everyone says to buy and shoot with full frame cameras. However, there are scenarios in which crop-sensor cameras are much better for nature photography.
The reason why? Crop-sensor cameras provide a much higher magnification for your lenses, around 1.5x to 1.6x magnification to be exact. For example, a 50mm lens full-frame lens on a crop-sensor APS-C camera will have the focal length of a 75mm lens with a 1.5x magnification and 80mm with 1.6x magnification. So if you’re photographing wildlife or want greater reach when shooting nature photography in general, a crop-sensor camera might be the best camera to bring with you.
Nature photography is the umbrella where landscape, wildlife, and outdoor photography reside under. To be completely honest, you can successfully shoot nature photographs with almost any lens because the nature category is so complex and diversified.
However, there are three lenses that are particularly important when shooting nature photography, that you will use often when shooting in the field.
First is a wide-angle lens, either a fixed or zoom lens wide, flat aperture. However, a wide-angle zoom lens, like a 16-35mm f/2.8, will provide the most versatility. These lenses are fast and have a super useful, wide, flat aperture that allows you to stop up or down and create a variety of depth to your images. Their wide focal length, sometimes smaller than 15mm, can capture more of the landscapes you are shooting in, offering a wider perspective than the human eye can take in naturally. This makes this lens perfect for nature photography.
The second is a telephoto lens, either a fixed or zoom lens with a wide, flat aperture. Sometimes when shooting nature photography, your subject is farther away. A telephoto lens provides that extra reach that you need to capture that perfect fleeting moment while allowing for space between you and your subject, which is especially important when shooting wildlife.
Two great lenses to look at are the 70-200mm f/2.8 and 70-200mm f/4. Both offer fantastic versatility in their focal range and allow for nature photographers to stop up or down when needed. Prime lenses above 200mm are also great options but just come with a higher price tag.
And third, be sure to bring an ultra-bright prime lens. This can be 35mm, 50mm, or 85mm. Even a macro lens, like a 100mm f/2.8 Having a prime lens like this in your nature photography kit is super helpful, especially if you hope for small details and complex textures in the environment you’re shooting in.
Typically, when shooting nature photography, you’re focusing on a specific subject in a landscape or environment. Whether it’s an animal, tree, or flower, you want to create separation from the busy landscape to focus on your subject. This is one of the most important nature photography tips.
This separation is created in two ways. First, shooting with a shallow depth of field, creating that beautifully blurred background while focusing on your subject. To accomplish this effect, you must be at a wider, brighter aperture, around f/2.8-f/1.2 or greater.
Second, focus on framing your subject within your scene. You can use the sky or elements of the landscape that are contrasting to your subject. Utilize the light to your advantage and silhouette your subject against your background. This process takes more time and a greater trained eye, but can lead to stunning, simple compositions.
In nature photography, perspective is everything. Try to shoot a scene at different angles and focal lengths. Try to pull as much out of a scene as you can, and don’t just focus on the easiest composition you see.
If you want to capture the best nature images you can, it’s important to photograph in the calmest hours of the day. These are typically dawn and dusk. Early morning around sunrise and late evening around sunset is when the most animal activity takes place and the light is soft, warm, and more ideal for photographing.
You also tend to escape the larger crowds of people around these hours. This bodes well for both photographers and the natural scenes they are shooting.
Textures are easy to glance over and miss when photographing a large scene or landscape. But focusing on the small details and textures can be just as powerful. Think about the leafy patterns of a fern or the complex cracks of a desert wash. Those details, if captured well, can be just as powerful as a wide, sweeping landscape. This leads to the next tip…
Nature photography can seem overwhelming because our planet is so complex. However, when it comes to nature photography, a simple composition can be the most powerful. It could be a baby fox peeking through the brush, a lone tree on a perfectly sloping hill, or a jagged mountain peak surrounded by fog; sometimes keeping your image simple can tell the greatest story. So don’t try to overcomplicate things. Focus on your subject and seek simplicity when necessary—it’s one of the most significant nature photography tips.
I know it sounds counterintuitive, adding a human subject in a natural setting. However, when done correctly, adding a person in a composition can lead to powerful nature images.
Whether it’s showing the massive scale of a place or a human being responsibly interacting with a beautiful environment (e.g. diving into an alpine lake or hiking along a ridge line), the human element can tell a beautiful story in nature photography, when placed correctly.
If you’re by a water source, like a lake or river that is casting a reflection, use it in your composition. Even something as small as a puddle or pool of water can create intrigue and extra dimension in your photos.
A filter, like a circular polarizer, is incredibly useful and effective when shooting water reflections, because it allows you to control the amount of reflection in your image.
Last but not certainly least, and this goes without saying, respect the nature you photograph. A nature photography tips list would be incomplete without this important step. Whether you’re shooting wildlife or landscapes, be conscious of the impact you have while shooting. Even small acts like staying trail and giving animals space can help keep fragile ecosystems safe as well as keeping you, the photographer safe. Also, always pack everything out that you pack in, even biodegradable items.
As the popular phrase goes, “Take only photos, leave only footprints.” It sounds cliche, but if all photographers practice “Leave No Trace” principles and leave places better than they found them, it will insure these locations and the wildlife that live in them are preserved for years to come.