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A Guide to Nature Photography

written by: •edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 3/9/2010

Looking for tips and new ideas on how to take stunning photos of nature? While nature photography may require a little more patience than other forms of the art, the end results can be more than worth the effort.

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    What’s So Special About Nature Photography?

    In addition to being quite beautiful, photographs of nature have a certain universal appeal. That is, while other people might enjoy looking at digital photos of your family dinner at Thanksgiving, those pictures are obviously going to have more meaning to your friends and family than they would to the average Joe on the street. On the other hand, an exquisite photo of a butterfly landing on a flower or a beach at sunset can provoke great emotion when viewed by any audience.

    On a more general level, many of the tips that relate to nature photography can really be applied to any type of photography. Pay attention to light and details, make sure you have a well-stocked camera bag, don’t be afraid to experiment with different shot angles, and so forth. However, there are some definite considerations and tips that are particularly important to keep in mind when shooting nature scenes.

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    Let There Be Light… Or Not (and Other Technical Details)

    Tree Line and Sunlight Since photographing nature usually means you’re outdoors, you have less control over light than you would in a studio setting. So, it’s extra important to pay attention to lighting and shadow conditions. Shifting the shot angle just a tiny bit can make the difference between a good photo and a great photo. Be a little adventurous when it comes to choosing a viewpoint. In fact, experiment with several if you can. You can always weed out the good shots from the bad when you get home, and learn more about what works for you in the process.

    It’s also worth the effort to get to know your camera very well before embarking on any serious photo sessions. It can be tempting for beginners to want to depend on a camera’s auto focus settings, but successful nature photographers generally prefer the flexibility of manual focus. Also, take the time to learn more about macro photography and your camera’s macro capabilities, especially if you want to able to shoot stunning photos of flowers.

    Photo Credit: sxc.hu/bennay1990

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    Trees Make Great Subjects

    Shrine Drive-Thru Tree Not only are tree photographs beautiful in their own right, but they can also be used to illustrate a wide variety of concepts and emotions. Think for a moment about what passes through your mind when you see a large redwood tree. These massive giants can bring all sorts of concepts to mind, such as strength, sturdiness, perseverance, age, a sense of rootedness – even wisdom and tradition.

    One of the great things about photographing trees is that they’re not going to go anywhere. This makes trees an excellent subject for beginners as well as more advanced photographers.

    Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Jan Kronsell

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    Capturing the Beauty of Flowers

    Hummingbird and Morning Glory Getting a perfect shot of a flower or garden can be a lot more difficult than it sounds. After all, almost everyone has taken photos of flowers before, and most of those photos end up being decidedly “average." So, what can you do to make your flower photos special enough that people stop and take notice?

    First off, plan ahead a little and decide which time of day is best to photograph a particular type of flower. Instead of shooting at high noon when the sun is at its brightest, aim for dawn or dusk hours. You may even want to try shooting at night with different types of artificial light sources.

    Also, flowers are a perfect subject for experimenting with depth of field and Bokeh effects. These techniques will accentuate and emphasize the details you want to focus on in the photo and blur any background distractions.

    Photo Credit: morgueFile/bowlingranny

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    Birds and Other Wildlife

    Peacock Feather Birds can be pretty tricky subjects to shoot. One of the biggest bird photography tips is to have patience. This is one of many instances when it pays to do a little research before you actually strap on your camera bag and head out to take some shots. By learning a little bit about your subject’s habits, you can save yourself a lot of time that would be spent on tracking down a particular bird or hoping that luck leads you in the right direction.

    Along those same lines, there are a few more things that can help you prepare to photograph birds and other forms of wildlife. First, spend a little bit of time practicing by taking shots of some less exotic creatures – like animals that frequent your neighborhood or even your own family pets. You may not be so interested in getting a great photo of that squirrel that is constantly stealing seed from your bird feeder, but using him as a “practice model" can help prepare you to deal with the fast and seemingly unpredictable movements of nature’s other creatures.

    As an intermediary step somewhere between your backyard and the great unknown, you may want to test the waters by photographing animals at a zoo or wildlife refuge. At the very least, these environments will help you become more patient and perseverant.

    Photo Credit: sxc.hu/Leonardini

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    Get Inspired

    For inspiration, you may want to take a look at the work of Art Wolfe and other photographers who have made nature photography a true art form. Also, you may want to browse through some of the special-interest groups at Flickr and other photography sites. In addition, there are a number of articles at Bright Hub that give excellent, inspiring tips for all photographers – beginners, veterans, and everyone in between. Reading advice and viewing the photos taken by others can help generate a lot of ideas for shots that you’d like to take – as well as help you determine which styles aren’t that appealing to you.