Nature photography encompasses a range of outdoor photography genres. This includes, but is not limited to, landscapes, weather phenomena, astrophotography, birds, and wildlife. Each of these categories has their respective specialized skills and can be expanded further.
If you are just starting your quest as a nature photographer, here are a few things to consider:
1) What do you want to capture?
Since nature photography is so vast, you can spend a lot of time in each sub-genre. So an important question to ask yourself is what do you want to capture? Do you want to photograph close-ups of plants and insects? Is your love that of the micro natural world or are you more enthralled by magnificent mountain ranges and lakes?
Maybe birds and larger animals are more interesting to you than sunsets and sunrises. Knowing what you like and what you want to capture is a great first step.
2) What equipment do you need?
When you know what you want to capture, this feeds into the decision of what gear you require. If you are shooting landscapes, you will go for wider lenses as opposed to wildlife and birds, which need more “zoom” or telephoto lenses.
A tripod is great for landscapes and astrophotography, but if you are trying to get a bird in flight or an animal in motion, knowing how to use your camera is your best asset.
3) Location and planning
What you want to capture drives your choice of location and time of day and season of the year. Scout your landscapes beforehand to see the direction of the sun, any potential safety issues, or terrain considerations. Then return to shoot during a more flattering time of day.
If you are shooting flowers, note the time of year they bloom. With birds, you need to understand a bit about their habitat and the times of day that they are active. If you want to shoot more dangerous wildlife, it is best to go with someone experienced.
A National Park is a great location for both landscapes and wildlife. Make note that you may need to apply for special permits for some parks and that they also have seasonal or time restrictions in some areas. This will impact your planning if those restrictions include your anticipated shooting times.
4) Reading the light
As in the previous tip, the direction of the light can be determined by scouting your location prior. You can also do online research on the area or decipher it from other photos taken there.
If you are shooting landscapes, arrive about an hour prior to your sunrise/sunset and position yourself. This way you can focus on your composition and maybe even do some test shots. Play around with your white balance, exposures, and different camera angles.
If you are waiting for wildlife to show up, use the time to work out what settings you need. When the animal shows up, you will find yourself photographing almost continuously trying to nail that perfect moment.
Closer shots and flowers give you more time to experiment, but you don’t want your light to be flat. Walk with a reflector or try to find angles that give you shadow, shape, and form.
Nature photography is not only vast but filled with interesting sub-genres and subjects to shoot. As a beginner, most times research precedes shooting. As you learn more about your intended subject and how to capture it, you will become better with time.
With wildlife, patience is a great asset as you spend more time waiting for a sighting. If you love the outdoors, it’s a great way to explore and preserve those fleeting moments. Determine what you want to capture. Take the gear you need when you scout. Research, plan and try to find the best light. Most of all have fun!