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Plan and Time your Nature Photography Outing

A Guest post by Ray Ranga

Stunning shots can be created in the wilderness when mother nature cooperates. While I tend to agree with that mostly (look for a future article about thriving on cloudy days), its much more than just weather. Its all about Timing! There are certain tricks that can help alleviate conditions due to bad weather.

So what do I exactly mean by TIMING? Lets approach this with a time scale. I want to look at timing from a seasonal perspective to closer to the actual photo shoot all the way to that moment when you hit the shutter.

Long Term

The best possible weather is preferred when shooting a location. Rain is generally good to avoid. But thats not to say that sunny blue skies are the most ideal conditions. Every location and every subject is highlighted at various times of the year. First, decide where you want to go and what you want to photograph there. Find out what is the best time of the year at that location to photograph your subject of interest. When you are new to this, the enthusiasm and excitement takes you places and sometimes the weather doesn’t really cooperate. Don’t worry or lose hope. I have had that happen to me. What do I do? Read on…
Something that I have started doing from this year is I listed out the places I wanted to visit in 2011. After extensive research, I listed out the subjects I am interested in shooting and the best time of the year, i.e. month, to visit each location. For example, January is probably not the best time to photograph waterfalls in Oregon, the rains are going to be pretty much keeping you indoors. On the other hand, January is a great time to visit the Death Valley National Park. Oregon waterfalls are perfect to shoot in late spring when there are overcast days with lesser rain, which is the ideal weather for the falls. There are no guarantees when it comes to weather, but with good planning the chance of success can be maximized.

Short Term

Many of us who don’t photograph landscapes and wildlife for a living visit places hoping to capture stunning images during our vacation travel. We want to book ahead of time, find deals on airline tickets, hotels and rental cars. That means you are going to have to gamble a bit with the weather and hope for the best. The tradeoff here is to wait enough to get a reading on the extended forecast while trying to keep things within budget. Ideally if its possible, I would wait till a week before and plan. If only we could all plan last minute…

On the Day

So you have done all your phenomenal research and you end up at your dream spot to click away and fill up that 32GB SD card. Now what? Understand your subject and correlate that with the weather that has been bestowed upon you. If all you have is an overcast day, chase waterfalls. You can shoot the entire day with the cloud cover posing as a soft box. With some creativity, a lot more options open up. If you are set to have bright blue skies, I’d shoot around dusk and dawn and scout locations during mid-day. 

The Final Moment

You have found your spot and setup your gear and tripod ready to hit that shutter. It might seem like a trivial thing but the exact moment you hit the shutter might make or break your shot. When shooting sunsets on the beach, try waiting and time the waves. A receding wave going back towards the ocean looks more pleasing on the shot. Wait for the wave to come in all the way, and hit that shutter when the wave hits the farthest point inland, so that your shutter is open when the wave starts to recede. While shooting wildflowers, wait for the wind to subside. It will help you from having those flowers blurred out. For whatever reason, when you can’t set your camera on a tripod, breath control could go a long way. Hold your breath exactly at the instant you hit the shutter, this minimizes shake in addition to other tools such as a faster shutter speed and image stabilization.  
But most importantly, don’t forget to have fun out there and share your comments on how you plan and time your shots.
Ray Ranga travels to some of the most scenic places around the world to photograph breath taking landscapes and wildlife. He also loves to teach photography and offers lessons in the Bay Area. You can see more of his work and information on his classes at Light to pixels

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