To the photographer, the natural world is an enormous blank canvas, awaiting capture at the click of his shutter. Unfortunately, many of nature’s masterpieces end up looking quite different in print form or on the computer screen. This disappointing experience is most likely the result of one or more common mistakes beginning nature photographers make. The following five tips will help you make the most of your next outdoor photography excursion:
1. Use the Right Equipment
For nature photography, this generally means a 300mm or longer telephoto lens. It is just not reasonable to expect to capture a visually stunning image of nature at its best with anything less. A 300+ lens allows the photographer to watch the subject unobtrusively while waiting for the right moment. This is much preferred to sneaking up on the subject and attempting to grab a quick shot with a shorter lens before the subject scurries away. One alternative to a long telephoto is a teleconverter. These effectively double the focal length of whatever lens they are used with. For instance, a 200mm lens would become a 400mm; a 300mm lens would become a 600mm and so on. It is important to remember that lens speed is sacrificed when a teleconverter is used. The 2x converter described above comes at a price of 2 f-stops on lens speed. A reading of f4.5 with a 300mm lens would become f8 with the 2x converter in place. Most digital autofocus SLR cameras make this adjustment automatically. Teleconverters are relatively inexpensive accessories that can add a new perspective to nature photography.
2. Use a Tripod or Monopod
Longer lenses require steadiness and hand-holding focal lengths of 300mm and beyond is not recommended. Even the slightest twitch transfers into significant blurs on the focal plane. This problem is easily rectified with a tripod or monopod. Naturally a tripod is the most reliable but can be difficult to maneuver. Use a tripod if you are going to be concentrating on one subject and not moving around a great deal. For extra stability, use a remote or cable shutter release. A monopod is the way to go if you are going to be hiking from vantage point to vantage point. These are lightweight and easily carried with your equipment.
3. Shoot at Dawn or Dusk
If your nature photos lack a sense of drama, it may be that you are shooting in the “flat” overhead daylight hours. Shooting when the sun is low in the sky adds longer shadows with interesting texture and detail. In addition the colors of the spectrum are diffused by particles in the atmosphere so the chances for a brilliant color display are enhanced. Another important reason for shooting at these times is there is more likely to be an abundance of wildlife. Dawn and dusk are generally the times animals seek food and water so the photographic opportunities are much greater.
4. Natural Backgrounds
As man’s influence spreads further and further into the wild lands, it becomes harder to escape his presence. But it is important that there is no evidence of manmade objects to be seen in your pictures. A telephone pole in the background or park bench arm in the corner will ruin the effect you worked so hard to capture. Make sure the viewfinder is clear of any unwanted subjects before you begin shooting. If your camera has a manual mode, putting the f-stop at the widest aperture will blur the background, especially with a long telephoto. This technique is also a helpful tool in eliminating unwanted background material.
The adage “Patience is a Virtue” is certainly true in nature photography. Depending on the subject, it can take hours, days or weeks for the right moment to arrive. Good nature photographers read up on the species beforehand, look at pictures from other photographers and formulate a plan. Great nature photographs rarely just happen. Most are planned carefully and executed with precision, and with patience.