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Design & Style

6 Tips for Breathtaking Nature Photography

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Dec 20, 2019 • 4 min read

From national parks to your own backyard, the natural world is a phenomenal place for photographers to explore and is one of the most ubiquitous subjects found in photography. And this isn’t just for the pros—armed with a few simple nature photography tips and techniques, anyone can easily and beautifully photograph wildlife and landscapes.

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The Best Gear for Nature Photography

While it is possible to capture beautiful images with nothing but a regular camera or smartphone, more specialized gear will help you take more precise nature shots.

  • DSLR camera. To take your nature photos to the next level, a DSLR camera is key. DSLR cameras allow you to take full control of your camera settings, which means you can fully customize the light sensitivity, shutter speed, and more—this customization is especially useful if you’re planning on photographing wildlife or landscapes in low-light situations since a higher ISO or slower shutter speed will help capture as much light in the shot as possible.
  • Wide-angle zoom lens. If your goal with nature photography is to shoot vast landscape shots, then a wide-angle lens (with about a 50mm focal length) will help you capture the scale of your subject. But nature photography isn’t just about scale—it’s also about the details. A good zoom lens is a great way to capture the details of any shot—whether you want a wide shot of a flat prairie or you want to zero in on an animal making its way across it. (A wide-angle zoom lens is a great beginner camera for aspiring nature photographers—once you get comfortable with it, consider a telephoto lens, which will help you isolate details even better in faraway landscapes.)
  • Tripod. Tripods are a handy addition to the arsenal of equipment since they stabilize the camera and provide a valuable assist during long periods of downtime spent waiting for interesting critters to appear in the frame. Tripods are also a useful tool for capturing the same shot over a period of time: to create long exposures of things like cascading waterfalls, to show how the weather affects a scene, or to capture growth or decay.

6 Nature Photography Tips

Nature photography encapsulates anything that shows elements of the natural world in situ. Think breathtaking vistas in national parks, a single plant sprawling out from within a concrete jungle, or even a nicely landscaped front lawn. These tips will help you get the most out of any situation.

  1. Pay special attention to the light. Since landscape and wildlife photography is focused on the outside world, lighting is one of the more important factors to consider. If you shoot during the day, you’ll be working with direct, unfiltered sunlight, which creates harsh tones and lots of shadows—this makes it much more difficult to make your shots look dynamic, soft, or colorful. To combat harsh lighting, most nature photographers prefer to shoot during the “golden hours,” which are the periods of time just before the sun rises and just after the sun sets; during the early morning and early evening, the natural light is soft and indirect with a dreamy, romantic quality, which allows true colors to pop.
  2. Use the rule of thirds. One of the simplest landscape photography tips is to compose your image according to the rule of thirds. The rule of thirds is a composition technique that helps a photographer position points of interest along an invisible grid. When looking through the viewfinder or screen, envision two horizontal lines and two vertical lines; placing your subject along the points where these lines meet will, in theory, yield the most aesthetically pleasing and balanced image, especially when shooting landscapes, which often don’t have an immediate focal point. Some cameras provide grid camera mode, which overlays the 3x3 grid onto the screen to assist photographers in getting that perfect shot.
  3. Play with depth of field. Many nature photographs focus on a main subject, such as a bird or flower. To help separate your subject from the background, use a wider aperture (f/2.0 or f/2.8). Aperture is the size of the lens opening, and it affects “depth of field”—wider apertures create a shallower depth of field, causing backgrounds to look blurrier and helping focus attention on the subject, while smaller apertures create an extended depth of field, causing backgrounds to look sharper and more detailed. Experiment with both and see which ones help your subjects pop.
  4. Get creative. The natural world offers endless possibilities for wildlife and landscape photography, so try to take advantage of them! Bring your own unique vision and ideas when you shoot, and let yourself try things other photographers may not have tried. Where others shoot wide shots, consider taking a close-up; where others shoot from a high vantage point, try shooting from the ground.
  5. Study nature. You’ll always be able to take better shots of things you understand well—and nature is no exception. By being more informed about different animals, plants, and areas, you’ll be better able to predict and follow their rhythm. For instance, a wildlife photographer who knows where certain birds like to perform their mating rituals will be able to set up in the right place for a great shot.
  6. Always be respectful of the natural world. Nature is an incredibly vast and abundant subject to photograph, with ever-changing landscapes and cycles of birth, death, and rebirth. A sense of curiosity and adventure, and the willingness to get a little dirty, will go a long way if your goal is to capture magnificent images of nature at work. However, one of the most important photography tips to keep in mind is respect.
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