Nature photography is one of those great passions of mine. I get satisfaction from it in a few different ways. Being out in nature by myself helps to calm me when I feel like the world is too big. It also ensures that I’ll get amazing photos for whatever project I’m working on – nature is already so beautiful that it’s pretty easy to photograph it well. Plus images of natural substances are so versatile that I can use them in a lot of different photography projects. All that being said, I do have a “process” for how I accomplish effective and evocative nature photography – if you can call it a process (it does change from time to time based on the environment). Keep reading to discover how I manage to get stunning nature images.
There are a few things I consider with nature photography before I ever even take a picture on-site.
First Consideration: Location
Before I can take any pictures at all, I have to pin down exactly where I’m going to photograph. This is important because not all photo-sites are created equally. Photographing in the woods behind your house is a lot different than photographing in a large national park with various nature centers and greenhouses. Although both can yield beautiful photos, you want to give yourself the opportunity to collect as many project-ready images as possible (especially if you actually are planning to use nature images in photo projects or collections). I think very hard about what kind of images I want to make – water, natural resources, tree/plant-based, etc. Then I can make a decision on which location has more to offer in that vain of photographic content.
Second Consideration: Time of Day
I often photograph during golden hour – the hour after dawn or before dusk when the sun is at its lowest and gives a golden hue to the horizon. Actually, golden hour is my favorite time of day to photograph in nature as the light is already so perfectly diluted but still vibrantly golden that I don’t have to do much in the way of light correction (which saves me time later when putting together images for a photo project). However, if I’m going to photograph in a large canopied area (for tree or plant-based photos), then I may need to do so during mid-day when the sun is at its highest. This kind of lighting can create very evocative shadows when beating down through the tree-tops, and that’s the kind of thing I would want to take advantage of. There aren’t many times when I would photograph at night for nature projects because the temperature of moon lighting is a lot cooler than sun lighting; some of the things I’d want to photograph would need more vibrant conditions than this.
Third Consideration: Camera
Most of my nature photography happens while hiking – when I can expose myself to a lot of different phenomenon over the course of an hour to an hour and a half hike. That being said, I don’t really want to carry around a lot of heavy equipment while I’m hiking all over the place, so I will generally use my phone to take these kinds of photos. Folks who have never experienced what smart phone cameras can do now will say that this isn’t enough – that I need a professional camera for every occasion. To those people I say: “The joke’s on you because this phone is a professional camera.” For all intents and purposes, my iPhone XS Max does the exact same thing I would want my professional cameras to do when out in nature – with less of the bulk and weight. I may post a specific tutorial on iPhone photography – various apps to use, how to adjust certain settings, etc. – so keep a lookout for that!
Final Consideration: Photo Subjects
I need to know ahead of time what I’m looking for while I’m out there. Most of the time, I make tree/plant-based photos. Sometimes I research (which means scroll through Pinterest) different nature photography project ideas to get some inspiration. One such idea was to look for the “out of placers” – anything that looks like it doesn’t belong in this spot. That’s how I made the image below. (Notice the string-lights in the top right corner of the image during a snow flurry, making it hard to tell where this picture was taken!)
Once you take these four things into consideration, you’re ready to get out there and make some magic! Once I get to the site, I make sure I know my way around; if I’m at a park or public location, I do this by finding a park map and taking a picture on my phone so that I have it on-hand while I’m hiking. If I’m at a private location, I’m always with the owner of the land so I have their guidance to get around. Then I walk my path and take pictures of anything that even remotely matches my photo subject ideas from the final consideration above. By taking many pictures – even if they don’t seem that relevant at first – I maximize my photo pool later when I’m editing and putting together various photos for a project/collection.
And that’s basically it! I love nature photography so much, and I get super excited to hear others’ ideas about it. If you do something special when photographing in nature (or before-hand to prepare), share it in the comments down below!