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Nature Photography: Getting the Most out of Your Outdoor Shoot

written by: Shawn S. Lealos•edited by: Amy Carson•updated: 7/3/2013

Heading to the great outdoors for a photography session can produce some of the most beautiful work a shutterbug can ever produce. Some of the best photos are of the forests, seasides and deserts. Before you set out to take your own masterpieces, here is some advice to get you started.

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    682px-Ansel Adams - National Archives 79-AA-E23 levels adj When discussing the art of scenic photography, one needs look no further than Ansel Adams for inspiration. Adams elevated the job of shooting photographs of landscape in the U.S. National Parks to an art form. It is often said that Ansel Adams did more for the National Parks system than anyone else simply through his photographs opening the minds of Americans to their national treasures.

    Out of all the forms of photography, nature photography is the one that can bring back some of the most breathtaking and awe inspiring photographs imaginable. However, there are many tips and tricks a shutterbug must understand before undertaking this rewarding task.

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    The first thing photographers need to be aware of is the equipment they need to make sure the photos will be the best they can be. If a person plans on heading out into the wilderness to snap photographs with a cheap disposable camera, they will always come back disappointed and their photographs will normally appear amateurish and of lower quality.

    Since scenic photographs need to be sharp images, it is always better to use an SLR camera with an adjustable lens. Each shot taken must be focused individually to ensure the best quality possible for the specific nature of the shot. When shopping for a camera, it might be better for budget conscious photographers to choose a high quality digital camera but, for the best photographs, an SLR camera is a necessity.

    The final thing to keep in mind before setting out for a natural landscape photography session is to bring along a good tripod. Handheld shots will never look as good as a well placed tripod shot when it comes to scenery. Shooting scenery takes a longer shutter speed rate and it is imperative that your camera remain completely still during the shot.

    With your equipment in tow, it is time to head out to shoot the great outdoors.

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    So, when you are wanting to shoot scenic natural photography, where should you go? Ansel Adams proved that the best places to shoot at are the ones right in your backyard. Avoid tourist traps and head out to shoot unknown locations, full of beauty and exquisite detail that few other photographers have ever captured. Of course, it is also possible to shoot good photographs in well-known places but, after seeing what Ansel Adams shot at Yosemite, is there a chance you can find anything unique for your photography portfolio there?

    Here are a few places to consider when heading out to start your photography adventure.

    The Tetons and the Snake River by Ansel Adams Water: It doesn’t matter where you live or where you go, you are sure to find lakes, rivers and streams with beautiful landscapes surrounding them. On the coasts, you can get amazing shots of oceans as well. When looking at these locations, determine what makes them unique. Is it a fast moving river or a lazy, slow stream? Figure this out and then decide if you want it to be the focal point of your composition or just a device to use to focus on something beside or in it. You can also find amazing reflections in the water, which will enhance your photographs even more.

    Forests: Forests present a photographer with numerous opportunities. Look around and decide if the forest is open and welcome or enclosed and gloomy. When you find the “personality" of the forest, decide what objects in the forest will allow that attitude to come to life in your photographs. It can be a tree, a winding path or a colorful break in the greenery. Find what makes the forest come to life and capture it in your photographs.

    Plains: The wide open spaces, especially in the Midwest, can seem dreary and boring but, with the right eye, this can also become the scenic photographers dream. The most important thing to find here is something to focus on. Find an old road sign, a barbed wire fence or an old gravel road and then use these items to show the vastness of the open space beyond it. The plains are also a great place to get amazing shots of the sky as it morphs and changes colors throughout the year.

    Mountains: Remember, you are not just shooting mountains, you are shooting something with the mountains in the background. Sure, there can be some amazing pictures displaying the curves of the mountains but those photographs can get boring after awhile. Instead, find something close to the camera, such as a tree or a person admiring the mountain. Using this subject, the mountains will look vast and immense in comparison.

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    Planning Your Shots

    One of the most important things to understand when shooting scenic photographs is to keep your camera completely still and stable at all times during the shot. Since your primary objective is to get a sharp, brilliant photograph, a slower shutter speed is normally necessary. This means that, while the camera is processing the shot, you cannot move the camera. This is best achieved with a tripod but there is also the chance on many cameras to set a delay, so after you snap the shot, it waits a few beats before it takes the shot, giving you the chance to Farm Workers and Mt. Williamson remove your hands from the camera and move away.

    Another thing to keep in mind when taking these photographs is to understand the weather. The wind, while sometimes giving nice visuals like a leaf flying through the air or a branch swaying from a tree, can wreck havoc on your camera’s focus. If the wind blows, the flowers can appear blurry, ruining a portion of your photograph. Wait for the winds to die down to make sure you get the best shot possible.

    Also, understand the lighting available to you. Many brilliant photographs have been seen of dark, stormy weather, but there was not an overcast so dark that the sunlight was shut out completely. When you take a picture, you are shooting the light as it reflects the object. If it is too dark and overcast, you will not get the quality of shot you might desire. You also need to beware of the sun being too harsh. If you are shooting in the bright sun, use a polarizing filter to add rich textures to the objects in your shot.

    Finally, it is important to take your time when shooting your masterpieces. There is no need to rush. Find what you want to be the focal point of the shot and then work around until you find the perfect shot. Snapping a million pictures rapid speed will give you quantity over quality. Take your time and find your perfect shot.

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    Shooting Techniques

    One important thing to keep in mind is that the scenery in the forefront that you are shooting is not necessarily the focal point of your shot. You need to understand the depth of field of the photograph and understand the mountain range, stream of water or stretch of plains is the background of your photograph while you will have something more specific in the foreground that will focus the viewer’s eye, enhancing the scenery in the background. It can be a tree trunk or an animal, but the foreground is just as important as the vast scenery in the background.

    rule-of-thirds It is also important to understand the “Rule of Thirds." This rule imagines you split your shot into nine equal sections using four lines (see sample to the right). This gives you important sections of your photograph that points of interest should be placed. The individual lines should be used to also line up specific elements along the line in the shot as well. An example would be a stream of water or horizon line, which should line up along one of the horizontal lines or a tree that could line up along one of the vertical lines. Whatever focal point you choose for your photo should line up with this Rule of Thirds.

    Finally, one of the best things you can consider when shooting outdoor scenery is to capture movement. I mentioned earlier to avoid wind because of blurring but you should try to signify the real world moving before and after your photos. This can be a branch swaying in the breeze or the water rushing through the stream. In this manner, it is always good to remember that rules are really just guidelines and you should feel free to break one in order to make another work.

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    Once you get your equipment together and find your perfect spot for your scenic photography, sit back and enjoy your work. Taking nature photographs can be one of the most relaxing and rewarding forms of the art. Above all, enjoy yourself. The photos will document your journey but the memories can also last a lifetime.


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