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Design & Style

How to Become a Nature Photographer: Step-by-Step Guide

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Oct 2, 2020 • 4 min read

The natural world is a gorgeous and rewarding subject for a photographer to explore. And the best part is, anyone can do it: Whether you’re an amateur or a self-employed or freelance professional photographer, nature provides a dizzying array of patterns, insects and animals, bodies of water, and geologic formations to document.

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What Is a Nature Photographer?

A nature photographer attempts to capture nature in all its beauty and grandeur. Wildlife photographers will travel all over the United States and the rest of the world—from Patagonia to Norway to Antarctica—photographing exotic animals like the crab spider or emperor penguins or the stunning vistas of a national park.

Nature photography can be used to document the changing of the seasons in the natural world or call attention to environmental concerns through photo shoots of melting ice caps or drought-affected areas. It can also demonstrate nature’s resilience in urban environments like Los Angeles or New York. No matter the intent, wildlife photography involves a keen eye, profound curiosity, and a willingness on the part of the photographer to immerse themselves in their environment.

What Does a Nature Photographer Do?

Professional nature photographers use photography equipment like digital cameras and specialized lenses to capture nature images. Some nature photojournalists specialize in animal portraits of specific animals like the golden eagle or Tibetan fox, whereas others only shoot underwater photography or landscape photography. People in the nature photography business often have their work featured in outdoor and travel publications, and some sell their work to archival services offered by stock agencies or image aggregators.

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3 Requirements for Becoming a Nature Photographer

Professional photographers who specialize in wildlife photojournalism often require certain skills and equipment that differ from other commercial photographers. If you’re looking to land nature photographer jobs it’s important to understand the resources required:

  1. A good camera: Even though it’s possible to shoot wildlife photography on a smartphone, in order to properly get started in wildlife photography, a digital camera or DSLR is best. These cameras will give you clear, crisp images and the ability to shoot multiple frames per second, which is essential if you want to capture, say, the moment a hummingbird begins to feed. Canon, Nikon, and Sony have high quality entry-level cameras that will provide you with features like a fast autofocus, a black and white photo option, and the ability to capture images at a high enough quality to publish in magazines or reproduce as art prints.
  2. The right lenses: For professional wildlife photographers, the camera is only half the battle. The right lenses are also in order for nature photographers to do their best work. A telephoto lens is the best way to get started photographing wild animals from a safe distance while still getting an intimate shot. Telephoto lenses bring the animals up close, but they take a bit of getting used to and can be extremely heavy and expensive, so choose the one that best fits your professional photography career.
  3. Gear: Nature photographers and videographers also need supplementary gear for their cameras, including tripods, camera bags, and editing software. However, much of the equipment required for nature photography jobs has nothing to do with digital photography. Shooting wildlife is unpredictable and exhilarating, but sometimes the best wildlife photography takes endless patience, hard work and a willingness to brave tough weather. Therefore, wildlife photographers should always carry sunscreen, bug spray, and waterproof bags to make sure they’re prepared for every element.

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How to Become a Nature Photographer

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There’s more to becoming a successful nature photographer than equipment. These photography tips will help you become the best wildlife photographer you can be:

  1. Know where to photograph wildlife. The best place to begin photographing wild animals is somewhere close by where you can explore the natural world, where you feel comfortable, and where you know there will be plentiful wildlife. If you are just starting out, go to a local park, keeping your camera focused on birds or squirrels. As you grow more comfortable with these situations, you can expand your radius more to nearby wilderness areas and forests—or, if you feel comfortable, you can even go to a national park, such as Yellowstone, Zion, Acadia, or Everglades.
  2. Determine the best time to photograph nature. As a wildlife photographer, you will need to be prepared for early mornings and long days. Most animals have their active periods right before the sun comes up and just as the sun goes down. These periods are known as golden hour for the beautiful, golden sunlight you get during sunrise and sunset. Research when is the best time to photograph your subjects.
  3. Consider higher education. People interested in nature photography should consider getting a fine arts degree in photography. There are many great photography schools and universities with photography degree programs, many of which offer courses specific to nature photography. If a photography degree is not an option, consider taking photography workshops to practice and develop your skills.
  4. Understand the industry. While it is certainly possible to make a career out of wildlife photography, the road to making a full-time job out of it is unglamorous and difficult. Nature photographers tend to be part-time freelancers or work other day jobs in photography, often scanning for job postings for wedding and portrait photography opportunities. Just don’t your day job title prevent you following your passion for nature photography.

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