Start Your Nature Photography Journey
Are you a green traveler who’s passionate about exploring new cultures, as well as nature and wildlife in exotic locations?
Consider preserving memories of your travels through photography. By using a digital camera during your trips, you can discover new features, textures, and colors in the natural environment.
However, if you’ve never tried your hand at nature photography (an umbrella term that includes wildlife and landscape photography), you may feel overwhelmed by the different cameras and lenses that are available. You may also be completely clueless when it comes to choosing your subjects and crafting your first photos.
Just as importantly, you may worry that your first venture into nature photography might harm the wildlife and natural areas you’ll be exploring. Read on and you’ll soon be armed with the know-how and confidence to tackle nature photography like a boss.
Capturing the Beauty of the Natural World
Nature photography is all about capturing the beauty and grandeur of the natural world—landscapes, wildlife, and plants or close-ups of textures, scenery, and wildlife. Unlike other photography genres (like documentary photography), nature photography places greater emphasis on the aesthetic value of the photographs.
As a result, many nature photographs have marked artistic and painterly qualities such as intense colors, unusual contrasts between light and shadow, and other creative enhancements. This maxim is best expressed by Ansel Adams, who said that “beauty comes first” in his images.
Ethical Nature and Wildlife Photography
Of particular concern to green travelers is the ethical aspect of nature and wildlife photography. While photographers should be free to explore themes and subjects that inspire their creativity, they should also avoid causing any harm to the animals, plants, and natural areas they photograph.
As some photographers are prepared to do almost anything to get the shots they want, conservation groups and photography associations have published a number of codes of conduct for wildlife photographers.
Listed here are the key points to remember when photographing wildlife:
- Always photograph the animals from a safe and respectful distance.
- If the animal shows any signs of stress, move further back or leave the scene altogether.
- Be patient when photographing animals and never force an animal to do something.
- Never encroach on nests or dens during breeding season.
- Always treat the animals and their natural habitat with utmost respect.
- Respect local cultures and customs.
- When baiting wildlife, use only organic food that’s part of the animals’ natural diet, and avoid baiting animals that are potentially dangerous.
As for photographing the natural environment, common sense rules prevail. Nature photographers should avoid polluting and littering the natural environment, and stay on trails that are forged to lessen impact on fragile ecosystems.
The Best Entry-Level DSLRs for Amateur Nature Photographers
While it’s acceptable to begin your nature photography journey with a smartphone or point-and-shoot camera, these cameras offer limited functionality and lesser technical image quality. If you want to fully realize your creativity and capture professional grade images, then consider investing in an entry-level DSLR.
Entry-level DSLRs have simpler user interfaces with a greater emphasis on automation. Aside from being easier to learn than the more complicated mid-level and pro-level DSLRs, they’re also more affordable than their upmarket counterparts.
Unlike point-and-shoot cameras, DSLRs offer larger, sturdier camera bodies and interchangeable lenses. With interchangeable lenses, nature photographers can switch to telephoto zoom lenses when photographing wildlife from a distance and macro lenses when taking close-ups of insects, tree barks, and other subjects.
Great entry-level DSLRs for amateur nature photographers include the Canon Rebel T6i and the Nikon D3300.
Canon Rebel T6i
The Canon Rebel T6i is great for amateur nature photographers who want an affordable camera with great features. It has an easy-to-use interface, built-in Wi-Fi (for quick transfers to a computer or instant sharing on social media), and an upgraded autofocus.
Other key specs include a 24-megapixel resolution, an APS CMOS sensor, an ISO range of 100-12,800, shutter speeds of 1/4000-30 sec, and continuous shooting at 5 fps (great for shooting wildlife in action).
Moreover, the Canon Rebel T6i gives nature photographers access to Canon’s extensive line of EF and EF-S interchangeable lenses—including ultra-wide-angle, super telephoto, and macro lenses. Top lenses Canon users should consider investing in include the Canon 10-18mm IS STM and the Canon 10-22mm.
The Nikon D3300 is an outstanding budget DSLR that combines a 24-megapixel DX-format (APS) CMOS sensor (measuring 15.4mm x 23.2mm) with a feature set that’s designed to please shutterbugs looking to upgrade from point-and-shoot cameras to entry-level DSLRs.
Other key specs include an ISO range of 100-12,800, an 11-point autofocus system, continuous shooting at 5 fps, and shutter speeds of 1/4000-30 sec.
Choosing the Nikon D3300 gives users access to Nikon’s more than 70 current-production lenses and teleconverters (including close-up, fisheye, superwide, long zoom, and Vibration Reduction lenses). Top lenses Nikon users should consider investing in include the Nikon 10-24mm and the Nikon 18-300mm VR.
The Art of Taking Nature Photos
Once you own the best DSLR camera, you’re ready to start taking nature and wildlife photos, right? Not so fast. Check out the following sections to help you conceptualize and snap better nature photos.
Know Your Subjects
While serendipitous discoveries are always welcome during nature photo shoots, it’s vital to get some basic information about your intended subjects—whether it’s flowers, forests, antelope, or colorful birds.
Doing so will spare you a lot of mistakes. For example, if you want to photograph flowers, you’ll need to know when they’re in bloom and where they’re most likely to grow. If it’s animals you intend to capture with your lens, find out where they live, what they like to eat, and what time of the day they’re most likely to be accessible.
As for more dangerous wildlife, it’s best to embark on your photo expeditions with the help of an experienced woodsman or wildlife guide. Don’t forget to observe all safety precautions, and inform family members and friends of your whereabouts before going on your photo expedition.
Composing Your Shots
When it comes to composing your shots, the general rules of photography apply. How the elements in the photograph are arranged is of immense importance.
- Observe the rule of thirds: To create more dynamic and interesting nature photos, observe the rule of thirds. Start by drawing four sets of lines (two equally spaced vertical lines and two equally spaced horizontal lines). The end result will be nine equally sized squares. Pay attention to where the lines intersect, and place your subject at one of these intersecting points to create more interesting results.
- Center your subject: Consider placing your subject in the center of the frame for a more balanced composition.
- Avoid distracting the eye: Remember to focus on elements that attract the eye to the main subject and exclude those that distract the eye from the main subject. If it’s the background you wish to place out-of-focus, consider using a 200mm telephoto lens to bring the subject into sharp focus.
- Frame your subject to achieve balance: You can frame your subject so that the overall photograph feels balanced. For example, if you place your subject on the right vertical 1/3 line, then consider placing another subject on the vertical 1/3 line on the left as well.
Exposure refers to the amount of light that the camera uses to process each photo. Cameras manage exposure by controlling three things: aperture size, shutter speed, and ISO. DSLRs provide more exposure choices than point-and-shoot cameras. These exposure choices include aperture priority, shutter speed priority, program mode (wherein the camera chooses the aperture and shutter speed for you), and manual mode.
Adjusting your ISO value and exposure compensation value will enable you to fine tune your exposure. Amateur photographers should start with aperture priority, and should also experiment with other aperture settings, ISO values, and exposure compensation values.
Examine your shots carefully. If any areas of the photo are blinking, this means that these areas are over or underexposed. To get rid of these blinking areas, adjust the exposure compensation and ISO settings and try again. You can also use your DSLR’s histogram to determine if your photos have been properly exposed.
Using Post-Processing Software
You can enhance your captured shots using post-processing software like Adobe Photoshop Elements and Adobe Photoshop. Photoshop Elements is Adobe’s entry-level post-processing tool for beginners. Aside from being easier to learn, it’s also more affordable than Adobe Photoshop.
Once you’ve mastered the basic functions in Photoshop Elements, you may then consider upgrading to Adobe Photoshop to gain access to additional features and tools for even greater functionality.
Liz Pekler Author Bio
Liz Pekler is a travel photographer with almost 10 years of experience in the field. When she is not out exploring the world, she likes to share her knowledge about photography and travel through writing for blogs.