LESSON 16: NATURE PHOTOGRAPHY
If nature’s calling your name and you just can’t ignore its persuasive and photogenic landscapes, lace up your sneakers and head outside. Just keep these photography tips in mind — and don’t forget your camera!
When it comes to shooting natural landscapes, you’ll probably find yourself wondering which orientation is better — horizontal or vertical. The answer is relatively simple. If the subject matter is tall or you want to convey vertical movement, hold your camera vertically. For almost every other scene, default to horizontal. When in doubt, take multiples, switching orientation.
For sweeping landscapes, you’ll likely want to use a wide-angle lens to capture as much of the scene as possible. In these cases, it’s also best to stick with a deep depth of field (unless there is a dominant feature you can focus on).
Naturally, everything you’ll be photographing will be outside (unless you’re in some kind of greenhouse), which means that you won’t be able to manipulate the lighting. Depending entirely on natural light can give even seasoned photographers anxiety, but there is one basic principle that should assuage any worries: Avoid the midday light. When the sun is directly overhead, it creates harsh shadows and images that are difficult to edit in post. Instead, photograph during early mornings, late afternoons, or early evenings. The sun will be lower in the sky and the environment slightly less sunny. Golden Hour (just after sunrise, or just before sunset) and Blue Hour (just before sunrise, or just after sunset) are also ideal for outdoor photography for the same reasons.
If you’re hoping to capture the magnificence of a sunrise or sunset, check out our guide to that very subject.
As always, composition rules. Since there’s generally no human subject matter in nature photography, utilizing the Rule of Thirds to create interest and guide your viewer is more important than ever. Use the points of intersection to place prominent features within your frame, emphasize various components of the landscape by dividing your frame into three, or break the Rule of Thirds completely to create more dynamic images.
When deciding how to photograph your subject matter, ask yourself: What makes this stand out?
Look for various textures in the landscape, get up-close-and-personal with the plants, flowers, and insects, and be sure to highlight any natural movement around you. When photographing wildlife, use a faster shutter speed to achieve crisp photos of the animals in action. For detailed shots of small subjects, try a macro lens, or physically get closer to the subject and use a shallow depth of field. If the landscape you’re exploring features water, use it as a reflection tool to mirror your subject matter, or consider photographing long exposure.
Once you have your answer and know what you want to capture about your natural surroundings, try to highlight that element using what you know about different photography principles.
- Default to horizontal orientation unless your subject matter is tall.
- Avoid the harsh midday light.
- Utilize natural light, and photograph during Golden Hour and Blue Hour when possible.
- Rely on the Rule of Thirds to create dynamic images without human subjects.
- Always be observant and creative when considering the natural landscape you want to capture.
- Ask yourself: What makes this subject stand out? Use what you know about different photography principles to highlight the answer.
Header image by George Turner