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Nature photography is a very popular field to be involved in. That’s no surprise though, as it gets you outdoors and seeing our planet in a way that others may miss. When I first started as a nature photographer, I began to see things differently. It sounds cliché, but I paid more attention to my surroundings and saw things from different angles.
This tutorial will look at some of the most important things to keep in mind if you are looking to become a nature photographer.
Luckily this isn’t a very hard thing to adhere to, but you must love nature to excel at capturing it on camera. Nature photographers spend a lot of time outdoors. If you’re a landscape photographer, you’ll spend lots of your time hiking through scenic areas for just a few clicks of the shutter. Wildlife photographers often spend hours and hours sitting in one place, waiting for an animal to appear. Without the passion and drive behind you, this can be mind-numbing.
So it’s not for everyone, but if you’re reading this article, then chances are you have that interest programmed within you already!
While it’s great that nature photography is so popular, this brings with it one big challenge – everybody is doing it. This means you need to figure out how you can be different (assuming you want your photos to be noticed).
This could be anything from focusing, and specializing on a single family or species of animal, to developing an artistic quirk and style in your photography. Personally, I spend a lot of my time photographing red squirrels – thousands of hours actually, to give you some idea. All this time has allowed me to learn about the animal, and capture behaviour that others have not managed.
By taking risks I mean with your time, not necessarily something dangerous to your wellbeing. As the saying, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” suggests, if you don’t take risks then you are unlikely to capture those truly mesmerizing images.
Recently in the North of England, there was a display of the aurora borealis. Typically, it is hard to predict this phenomenon, and the available forecasts only look an hour ahead. It can finish as quickly as it starts, so planning for such an event is not really possible. I decided that I wanted to capture the Northern Lights with a particular castle in the foreground, but it was over two hours away. Nevertheless, at 2 a.m. I dropped everything, and raced off to the coast. When I arrived the display was weakening, but I waited a further two hours and the lights erupted in front of me. I got home at 8 a.m., but it was well worth it.
I’m particularly pleased with this result as photographing the Aurora Borealis can be especially challenging because we are positioned only just north enough to see them.
Unfortunately, this is one thing that is not adhered to by everyone who calls themselves a nature photographer. Having an ethical approach to your photography, especially when it involves animals, is of the upmost importance. Those who don’t are shamed within the industry, and immediately lose the respect of the majority of photographers who really care about their subjects.
No photo should come before the welfare of an animal or place. It’s just that simple, and remembering this rule will help to improve your photos in the long run. The best photographers don’t cut corners, and you’ll find they have a great affinity with the environment.
It’s easy to press the shutter when you finally find what you’re looking for, whether that be an animal or a scene, but clicking the shutter without thought will often result in unimpressive photos. Think about what you’re trying to convey to the viewer. You want the person looking at the picture to feel like they are in your shoes, looking at the scene themselves.
For landscape photography, this often comes with effective composition, thinking about both your foreground and background to properly document a scene, and avoiding a flat appearance.
With wildlife photography, this comes from capturing the character and behaviour of an animal. Impactful photos can be achieved by establishing eye contact between the viewer and the subject.
Sometimes we are just bowled over by the scale of something in nature. Documenting this with a camera can be tricky as you’re recording a three dimensional scene with a two dimensional medium. Think about using objects to show scale in your photos.
For this photo of the Northern Lights, I photographed it above a tree. This tree is particularly famous, resting in a gap on Hadrian’s Wall in England – and it’s actually rather large itself! This helps to convey the expanse of the sky and display above.
This is another way of experimenting with your photos, and it works for both landscape and wildlife photography. If you usually shoot with a wide-angle lens, then put it down and pick up a telephoto. If you use a telephoto, then try something shorter. This forces you to play with perspective, and capture something new.
Photographing wildlife with a wide-angle lens is great fun, and can result in some fun shots that incorporate the surroundings into the image.
Just because nature is relatively unpredictable, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan your shoots. Have an idea of a photo you want to capture, and keep at it. Maintaining a long-term study of an area, or animal, will allow you to capture something extra special. It may be that particular shot you’ve been chasing, or something completely different.
If it was easy then everyone would do it. Nature photography requires a huge amount of time, but it should also be something that you can relax and enjoy – it definitely shouldn’t be a burden on you.
Results don’t come instantly, and like anything, it takes practice to achieve great images. Since you can’t direct nature and tell it what to do, taking good photos can be a longer process than in the other disciplines, but the challenge is what keeps it interesting.
Please share any other things you’ve noticed about being a nature photographer, and your nature images in the comments below.