10 Ideas for Photographing Nature in your Backyard

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Have you noticed how many photographers are fascinated with the natural world? Even if we specialise in another genre, few of us can resist a gorgeous flower, or a branch of autumn leaves.

One of the best things about photographing nature is that it is so accessible. You needn’t travel far to find it, because it’s all around you. You may take it for granted because you see it every day, but your own backyard is treasure trove. Every hour of every day and every season, bring something new.

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Summer lavender: ISO 100, f/3.5, 1/200th

Backyard needn’t be taken literally here. If you don’t have a backyard, you’ll find plenty of nature to photograph just by wandering the streets or public parks and gardens.

Tech details: All of the photographs in this article were shot on my Canon 5D Mark III. Unless otherwise stated, I have used my Canon macro 100mm f/2.8 lens. I have included details of ISO, aperture and shutter speed settings.

#1 – Flowers and leaves

Flowers and leaves are often the first things that come to mind when we look for subjects in our own backyards. They offer an endless variety of colours, shapes and textures for you to photograph. You could create a collection based on a single colour scheme, or try to find as many different leaf or flower shapes as possible.

iso 640, f4, 1/100 sec

Cymbidium orchid: ISO 640, f/4, 1/100th

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Violet leaves: ISO 800, f/8, 1/30th

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Geranium leaves: ISO 320, f/8, 1/40th

Experiment with different lighting and conditions. I love backlighting for leaves and flowers, as it creates a luminous, almost three-dimensional effect, and you can see details such as veins. Some shapes look better with strong, directional light, and I love how colours are enhanced in the wet.

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Erlicheer daffodils BACKLIT: ISO 100, f/4, 1/640th

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The same flower shot with the sun on my back: ISO 100, f/4, 1/800th

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Backlighting a leaf reveals details you wouldn’t see if you lit it directly : ISO 100 f/4, 1/250th

Flowers are seasonal, and in temperate zones, spring and summer offer the widest variety. There are still flowers to be found in winter, although you may need to look harder. Don’t forget that weeds, such as dandelions ,are also beautiful! Autumn (fall) provides the greatest colour spectrum in leaves.

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Liquidamber leaves photographed en masse: ISO 640, f/4, 1/80th

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A single leaf isolated against a dark background: ISO 640, f/4, 1/30sec

#2 – Fruit, berries and seed pods

When the summer flowers disappear, fruits and berries are nature’s way of providing for birds and animals throughout the colder months. Many berries and seed pods ripen towards the end of autumn, bringing colour to the winter garden. Citrus trees bear fruit in winter, and persimmon trees lose their leaves to reveal branches of shiny orange fruits. Think also of acorns, pine cones, and nuts.

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Kumquat: ISO 2500, f/4.5, 1/50 sec

photgraphing nature in your backyard

ISO 800, f/8.0, 1/500th.

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ISO 500, f/5.0, 1/1250th.

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Orange rosehip: ISO 500, f/5.0, 1/160th

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Bunches of red berries: ISO 500, f/5.0, 1/100th.

#3 – After the rain

Raindrops are fascinating through the lens. Try photographing them from various angles, and in different lighting. When photographing a single droplet, or a string of them, isolate them by keeping the background uncluttered. You can do this by creating distance between the droplets and the background, and using a wide aperture to ensure it is blurred. Notice also how water sits in nice round droplets on some types of leaves, but on others it disperses.

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Arthrododium leaves after rain: ISO 800, f/4.5, 1/80 sec

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Raindrops hang from the slats on the back of a garden chair: ISO 1000, f/4, 1/125 sec

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ISO 640, f/4, 1/125 sec

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ISO 1000, f/4, 1/125 sec

#4 – Mushrooms, toadstools and fungi

These are abundant in autumn and winter, but some species pop up throughout the year after rain. Look in damp, mossy places, on the sides of trees and log piles for them.

My personal favourites are the red toadstools with white speckles. They are evocative of fairy tales and magic, and their colours are a nature photographer’s dream!

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Toadstool: ISO 1000, f/6.3, 1/250 sec

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ISO 1000, f/6.3, 1/160 sec

Don’t ignore the tiny, dull-coloured mushrooms and fungi. The ones in the photo below were growing in a crevice in the side of my herb garden. You can see by the scale of the woodgrain how tiny they were. From above, they were nondescript, but when I lay on the ground beneath them and shot into the backlight, they became translucent and I could see their delicate structure.

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These tiny mushrooms were no bigger than the fingernail on my pinky finger! ISO 800, f/8, 1/160 sec

#5 – Look up . . . look down

We have a ginormous tree in our backyard. It was probably planted when our house was first built in the 1920s, and its canopy is as big as the footprint of the house. One of my favourite things to do in the warmer months is to put a picnic rug on the lawn, and lie on my back gazing up into its branches. It is free therapy!

Watching the leaves change from bright spring green through to darker green in summer, the first blush of colour in autumn, through to rich claret just before they drop, never ceases to delight me. I have photographed it time and time again through the seasons. Even lying on the ground with my 35mm lens, I can only capture a small portion of the canopy.

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Sigma 35mm Art lens, ISO 160 f/11, 1/60 sec

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Sigma Art lens 35mm, ISO 160, f/11, 1/100 sec

If you are lucky enough to have trees in your garden, try standing or lying directly underneath them and shooting up into the branches. Notice how the light changes from early morning, throughout the day into late afternoon and evening. Branches, whether they are naked or covered with leaves, contrast beautifully against a blue sky. They are equally stunning at sunrise and sunset, and on a moonlit night.

image showing photographing nature in your backyard

Sigma Art lens 35mm: ISO 200, f/11, 1/200

If you haven’t any trees, look for interesting cloud formations to photograph. You can create a collection of skies to use as Photoshop overlays, to add interest to other outdoor photos such as portraits. Look for vertical cloud formations, fat white fluffy ones, and those lovely soft colours around the edge of the clouds at dusk and dawn.

Down on the ground are a million microcosms in the moss, the lawn, between the paving stones, and the fallen bark and leaves. You won’t see them until you get down to ground level, so lie flat on your tummy and peer into another world.

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Macro world: the moss on a tree trunk. ISO 640, f/4, 1/40 sec

#6 – Black and white beauty

We tend to think of colour photography when we think of nature, but don’t dismiss the idea of black and white. Nature provides sculptural shapes and contrasting textures that make great black and white subjects. If you have succulents or cacti in your garden, they are often more interesting in black and white than they are in colour (except on those rare occasions when they flower). Ditto with white flowers against a dark background. Smooth pebbles, rough bark, snail shells, acorns and pine cones all look fabulous in black and white. Try strong, directional lighting, and a high contrast edit.

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When I converted this file to B&W in Lightroom, I played with the sliders in the HSL panel. The photo on the left has the blue slider pulled all the way down to -100 to darken the blue sky. On the right, the blue slider is set to zero.

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ISO 100, f/8, 1/100th. Converted to B&W in Lightroom.

#7 – Experiment with sun flare and haze

Your backyard is one of the best places to experiment with effects and new techniques. Firstly, you become familiar with how things look at various times of the day, and throughout the seasons. Secondly, you don’t need to travel far, so you can respond to anything on a whim. If you spot something amazing while you’re sipping on your morning coffee, you needn’t even get out of your pyjamas to capture it!

The subjects in the two photographs below are both visible from my desk. Every morning last summer, I noticed how this shaft of hazy sunlight would hit the planting of succulents on the pedestal, so I knew exactly what time to capture it at its best. Also sitting at my desk, I saw how the sun caught this spray of orchids just after the rain, and I rushed outside with my camera.

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Canon 85mm lens, ISO 100, f/4, 1/800th.

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Shot with sun flare and no lens hood: ISO 100, f/4, 1/1000 sec

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For comparison, this is the same scene shot with a lens hood to cut flare: ISO 100, f/4, 1/320sec

#8 – Snails, bugs and spiders

For nine months of the year, there are a million creepy-crawlies in my backyard. Butterflies, cicadas, crickets, praying mantis, caterpillars, moths, bees, wasps and spiders (I could happily do without the latter two). At the time of writing this article, it is winter in Melbourne, so most bugs are hiding or dormant.

#9 – Birds and other wildlife

I’m going to preface this paragraph with honesty. Confession #1: photographing wildlife of any kind requires more patience and a longer telephoto lens than I possess. Confession #2: I have the greatest admiration for those who do it. I have a Pinterest board just for animal photos (you’ll notice a clear bias towards squirrels) and on 500px I follow a number of photographers, one of whom only photographs squirrels!

Editor’s note: our own Will Nichols specializes in photographing squirrels.

The kinds of animals and birds you’re likely to find in your backyard obviously depends on which part of the world you live in, and how built-up your neighbourhood is. You will know which kinds of critters visit your backyard, and what their habits are. With that in mind, find a spot where you won’t be too conspicuous, and be prepared to wait. If you’re using a long lens, you might consider using a tripod or monopod to avoid camera shake. Have your ISO and aperture all set to go, with a fast shutter speed to freeze motion. If you have been watching the animal or bird’s behaviour over several days or weeks, it may be possible to focus roughly on the area you expect them to appear – for example, the birdbath.

Also read: Guide to Attracting Critters to Your Garden for Backyard Wildlife Photography

#10 – Portraits in nature

Nature provides us with the perfect canvas for portraiture. Look for a bank of flowers, a bed of autumn leaves, or just a green hedge – the colours in nature never seem to clash.

When photographing children and pets in particular, I almost always prefer an outdoor location over a studio. My eldest daughter usually runs a mile when she sees the camera, but the chance to roll around with the dog in these glorious leaves was clearly too much for her to resist.

I love how the soft hues flatter her skin tone. If you are shooting outdoors with lots of colours, such as flowers or autumn leaves, take care with your subject’s outfit. These portraits might been too busy if my daughter had been wearing a patterned outfit.

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Not even teenage daughters can resist these leaves! ISO 320, f/4, 1/400 sec

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ISO 320, f/4, 1/320 sec

Let’s hear from you!

So there you have it – plenty of inspiration to get outdoors and photograph nature in your own backyard. It’s time to stop reading and get out there with your camera. Please share your backyard nature photographs in the comments below … especially if they involve squirrels!

This week we are doing a series of articles to help you do better nature photography. See previous articles here:

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Karen Quist is a writer and photographer, specialising in documentary and branding portraiture. Originally from South Africa, she now lives in Melbourne with her husband, two teenage daughters, a neurotic dog and two spoilt rabbits. When she’s not writing or taking photos, you’ll find her working on her first novel, drinking strong coffee, or finding new ways to avoid doing the laundry. You can visit her website Lens and Pen Group or connect with her on Facebook or Instagram.

  • Portraits in nature are so fun. My personal specialty is macro, but I do enjoy a nice photoshoot with a friend of mine in the backyard of my parents’ house. There are fields all around, it makes it easy to get shots without any building in sight.
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/021dea151c9e1b9b7a37a5ee096028538611888676da21fbfae4771a41ed09a4.jpg

  • Beautiful pictures have a very important role of background.Beautiful Backgroud makes a picture more beautiful as the comparing natural beauty and created by softwares is no two differnt things
    http://patchsofts.com

  • Karen Quist

    Gorgeous shot! You’re lucky to have access to such a tall backdrop of nature.

  • Thanks! And yes, I’m lucky, although I only have access to this place when I go back to my parents’ place (it’s quite far from where I live).

  • wonderful…
    I started a few days of photography with a smartphone camera, and with additional lenses ..
    it makes me happy with satisfactory results. I share my experience on this blog https://www.99inspiration.com/2016/01/wonderful-capture-macro-photography-of-insect-using-smartphone/ please visit to see more

  • wonderful…
    I started a few days of photography with a smartphone camera, and with additional lenses ..
    it makes me happy with satisfactory results. I share my experience on this blog https://www.99inspiration.com/2016/01/wonderful-capture-macro-photography-of-insect-using-smartphone/ please visit to see more https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/686f5c765a33c748b436deb489e3ff6c4b9c48aa05f86bd1e87a800b5536b4fd.jpg

  • Karen Quist

    Sam, that is an amazing result – the smart phone lenses have come a long way. I love the colours in this photo.

  • Phaneendra k

    I shot this with my canon 1300D with 55-250 lens…

  • Karen Quist

    Looks great, the spiky thorns are a good contrast to the soft flowers πŸ™‚

  • Bob Butson

    Nice useful article Karen.

  • Cinderboo

    Squirrels ? I luv squirrels. We have a few ‘regular’ backyard friends who have provided, I’m sure hundreds of them, cute nature pics. I never go out without the camera ( Nikon Coolpix ), we have some backyard nature…….. a variety of birds, squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, etc; as well as all of the plants & flowers in various ‘stages’.

  • Cinderboo

    Forgot to mention though, that spiders & webs are my fave backyard photos, they can create some amazing pieces of work. Hope you don’t mind if I share this one

  • Karen Quist

    Awh, what a gorgeous little creature! You’ve really captured his expression here. Thank you so much for indulging my squirrel obsession πŸ™‚

  • Karen Quist

    Wow, what are these? they look like wasps.

  • Karen Quist

    Thank you, Bob. I’m glad you found it useful πŸ™‚

  • Cinderboo

    They are actually a nest of just hatched baby spiders, they don’t take long to disperse so this was a ‘lucky’ catch

  • Cinderboo

    They ‘indulge’ my ‘obsession’ with photography by sitting for pics & I have some pics of them taking peanuts from my hand. I had one last year that would chase me around the yard for peanuts ( Unfortunately I think he was a little too brave & one of the many cats around here probably got him πŸ™ ………….. mine get scolded for even looking at them………..LOL !! )

  • Hi Karen. Thanks for the ideas. I thought I am kind of “weird” for having the interest to explore my own backyard (literally) for photography, until I read this article. Awesome pictures you have. Now, I should dig out my albums and share them in my blog.

    Thank you once again.

    This is one of the photos I have. #afterrain

  • Karen Quist

    Beautifully captured, Sharulnizam. I love how the water beads on the leaf. I don’t think there is anything weird about wanting to photograph nature in your backyard – it just means you are a good observer πŸ™‚

  • Phaneendra k

    Thanks…@k@karenquist:disqus

  • Hank Williams

    Here’s a chipmunk we came across on a hike up to the Tea House above Lake Louise in Canada.

  • Karen Quist

    That is beautiful, Hank. Great shot!

  • Hank Williams

    Thanks, Karen. I guess he was assigned to sub that day for any moose or bear that we might have seen instead!

  • Karen Quist

    He’s a pretty cute sub! I’d love to visit Canada – such a beautiful country.

  • Chida P

    Good article that Karen!! Good to know that I am not the odd one trying to shoot leaves and flowers, tired uploading one of recent capture here.

  • OldPom

    At a rather advanced age, and not as mobile as I used to be , I find my own backyard in Queensland Australia a good source of photo opportunities. All these within fifty metres of my back door.

  • Karen Quist

    Lovely colours and composition you have here! Makes me wonder what chewed through the leaves.

  • Karen Quist

    Lovely, Chida. That red is amazing against the green background and the blue pot.

  • Hank Williams

    We were actually there more for the beautiful mountain scenery, and this little guy just decided to photo-bomb us! I couldn’t resist.

  • Judith Laguerre

    Delightful article, Karen! Sometimes inspiration is closer than you think. I captured this sweetheart strolling through the backyard recently.

  • Karen Quist

    Judith I can’t believe this gorgeous little fawn was in your backyard! How lucky you are, and good timing to have captured this great photo. Thank you for your kind remarks, and I’m glad you enjoyed the read πŸ™‚

  • Judith Laguerre

    I was pleasantly surprised to see this little darling walking around and quickly grabbed my camera! I appreciate the kind words and encouragement, and will continue to document the fawn in the coming days. πŸ™‚

  • Shawn Aikey

    I love nature/wildlife photography. I like to go to public gardens, they have so many more types of flowers than I could ever maintain. Many of the gardens in Florida have mutual membership deals, where if you pay for membership at one you get into several. Not all of them charge for entry, for example the Port St. Lucie gardens are free, and are funded through donations.
    The attached photo was taken at Butterfly World in Coconut Creek FL. I suppose some people would not consider a place like that “true” nature/wildlife photography, but I still do.

  • Karen Quist

    What a wonderful idea that is, to have a membership that gives you access to several gardens. That’s such a great shot you’ve captured of the butterfly, Shawn. A unique angle! And the red flower against the green background is stunning.

  • James Buckle
  • Karen Quist

    Great capture, James. The bokeh really helps isolate the subject!

  • RayL
  • Karen Quist

    Wow, what a fantastic shot just as the bird’s wings are right down like that! I love also how the colour of the birds’ chests ties in with the background on the left.

  • James Buckle

    Thanks Karen – sorry for the late reply.

  • Jeanelle Millet Waguespack
  • John

    This >http://tvpedia.tv/2016/11/30/sky-news-online-streaming/ is not only for fun but also its great for knowledge i appreciate it from deep of my heart.

  • Robert

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/a36a9420338304f604cb4040d5c71868764641411f0664c6e7ec4f9c5bb6a34c.jpg
    Shot in the summer of 2016 with my Nikon D5100 and 35mm lens (I think).

  • Joel Pacheco
  • Joel Pacheco
  • Karen Quist

    This is gorgeous – the pink and red against the blue sky! What flowers are those?

  • Karen Quist

    What a great shot! What kind of beetle is this? The colours are so vivid.

  • Joel Pacheco

    Hi Karen, I actually don’t know, it’s actually some sort of ladybug, it was tiny, found it on the stairs at my home’s door. Thanks for your comment.

  • Karen Quist

    So pretty!

  • Robert

    To be honest I have no idea πŸ™‚

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