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5 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Starting Nature Photography

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How do you, as a beginning nature photographer, go about improving? How do you ensure that you gain useful skills as rapidly as possible so that you can start shooting professional quality nature photography?

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In reality, it’s often difficult for the beginner to recognize how they should learn nature photography.

But I myself am a nature photographer, and looking back the answers to these questions are clear. So I thought I’d make a tutorial that discusses several things I wish I had known at the beginning of my nature photography journey.

Read on. The sooner you know these things, the sooner you’ll begin to take consistently stunning images.

1. Photograph every day

The first thing I wish I had known when starting nature photography is extremely simple,

Photograph every day!

I cannot emphasize this enough.

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If you’re truly serious about improving as a nature photographer, you should try to take at least one photograph of nature, every single day. It doesn’t matter if you take it with your DSLR or your iPhone. Just get out and shoot.

You’ve likely heard that practice makes perfect, and this is part of that. But there’s more to it. By photographing every day, you’ll ensure that your artistic eye remains strong.

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What do I mean by that? If you photograph every day, thinking about light, color, and composition will become second nature. You’ll start to see photographic opportunities everywhere.

This is exactly where you want to be as a nature photographer.

2. View the type of photography you want to create

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This is a huge one, as well. If you want to create great nature photography, you have to view great nature photography.

When you view amazing photography, you develop an eye for light, color, and composition without even realizing it.

This is an essential skill for a budding nature photographer. Plus, there’s an added bonus – it’s really fun!

Start by looking up the type of photographs that you’d like to create. You can use a well-organized site like 500PX. Or you can just use Google. The important thing is that you find photography to look at for inspiration.

For instance, if you’re an up-and-coming macro photographer, try viewing the portfolios of photographers such as Mike Moats and Kristel Schneider.

If you’re a beginning landscape photographer, look at the work of Ian Plant and Thomas Heaton.

If you’re a budding wildlife photographer, look to photographers such as Marsel Van Oosten and Matthew Studebaker.

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Then expand from there.

The purpose isn’t to memorize their images so that you can copy them in the field. Rather, the goal is to appreciate great imagery, while recognizing (if only subconsciously) what makes it great.

The goal is also to get inspired.

3. Light matters more than you think

I’ve emphasized the need to practice photography every day, and that truly is essential. However, when practicing, there’s something extremely important you need to consider. That is the light.

I’ll state it plainly. Photograph the two hours after sunrise, the two hours before sunset, and during midday only if it’s cloudy.

Otherwise, stay indoors.

This generally takes some retraining of the brain. It’s easy to think to yourself, “It’s such a nice sunny afternoon; I should get out and photograph!”

But you need to resist this thought. Because photographing during a sunny afternoon will result in harsh, contrasty images that are almost never desirable in nature photography.

Start spending time observing the quality of the light. Notice how nicely illuminated your subject is when the sun is low in the sky. Notice how lovely and soft the light is on a cloudy afternoon. Notice how harsh the light is under the midday sun.

As a beginning photographer, I often forgot about this rule. So my photographs paid the price. I have thousands upon thousands of photographs that are simply unusable because of the harsh sunlight.

Memorize the rule. You may not be able to see such a difference in your images at present. But in a few years, you’ll thank me!

4. Gear matters less than you think

While light is more important than you think, gear is also less important than you may imagine.

You might think that gear is essential. You may ask me, “Jaymes, if my gear really isn’t important, then why do you spend so much time reading gear reviews and upgrading your equipment?”

But my response is this: gear does matter. High-quality lenses will allow you to capture the detail on a singing bird or the movement of sparring polar bears.

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High-quality cameras will allow you to photograph a wolf under the cover of twilight or a hawk flying directly above.

Yet gear is nothing without the photographers that wield it. A good photographer can get stunning images with any equipment. Whereas a bad photographer cannot create stunning images, regardless of their gear.

So focus less on making sure you have the right equipment. Instead, practice using the equipment you do have. Try to eke out as much as you can from it.

Eventually, if you work hard enough, you will get beautiful images, high-quality gear or not.

5. Most of the images you take will be terrible

Beginning nature photographers often have a dangerous misconception about nature photography. That is that the best photographers rarely take bad images.

This belief can lead to discouragement on the part of the budding photographer.

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This type of abstract photograph comes amid a huge number of deleted images.

After looking through your memory card, to find that only you’ve managed to nail a single image (out of a hundred!), you may want to give up.

Don’t.

Why?

Because most of the early images you take will be terrible, and that’s okay. This is true for nature photographers of all levels. Of course, at the higher levels, the nature photographer’s standards are higher, but the tip still applies.

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This is true for me, as well.

I go on dozens of photo shoots each month and take around 600 images per shoot. Yet I’m happy if I get a single image with which I’m really pleased.

Because uncertainty, guesswork, and reaction are part of the game. This is the nature of nature photography.

So let me reiterate. Don’t get discouraged. Most of your shots will be terrible, but it’s the good ones that count.

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In Conclusion

Starting nature photography can be daunting for a lot of people. It can be difficult to know how to improve. You want to take stunning images as soon as possible, but you just can’t figure out how.

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By understanding the lessons above, you’ll be well on your way to creating beautiful nature images.

Just remember:

  • Shoot every day.
  • View the type of photography you want to create.
  • Light matters more.
  • Gear matters less.
  • Finally, don’t be discouraged if most of your images are terrible.

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Someday soon, you’ll be a great nature photographer.

What are some things you wish you had known when first starting out as a nature photographer? Let me know in the comments area below.

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Jaymes Dempsey

Jaymes Dempsey is a macro photographer from Ann Arbor, Michigan. To learn how to take stunning nature photos, check out his free eBook, Mastering Nature Photography: 7 Secrets For Incredible Nature Photos! And to see more of Jaymes's work check out his website and his blog.