Nature photography can be one of the most challenging photography niches to work with.
Because you are taking photographs of plants, animals, or landscapes, you don’t have any of the control you’d have working with human models or fixed objects in a studio.
Instead, you have to contend with constant weather and lighting changes, moving subjects with their own ideas of how to behave during the shoot, and challenging terrain.
However, the rewards can be significant, with nature photography having the potential to create memorable, even iconic, images to share with the world.
Here are 16 tips to help you take better nature photographs.
1. Do your homework on your subject
Before heading out on your nature photoshoot, it pays to do some research on the animal, plant, or landscape you are planning to photograph.
For landscapes, this will be as simple as getting an idea of how weather patterns are likely to affect your shoot and the quality of light on offer.
For shots of animals, you’re going to need to have an idea of the behaviors of the animals you’re shooting, including:
- Studying animal behaviour to determine the best times and places to view the animals.
- Identifying which behaviours you want to capture.
- What distances you should maintain between yourself and the subject.
Plants are simpler to photograph, but it can be useful to find out which time of the year and/or day plants are likely to display their most photogenic features.
2. Use the background to define the subject
When shooting plants or animals you want the subject to be the focal point of the image.
This can be challenging in natural backgrounds, which may be quite busy and cause the subject to get lost in the noise.
The best way to bring out your subject is to have some distance between it and its background.
You can then use a wider lens aperture and focus on the subject, this should automatically give you a softer background that helps define and bring your subject to life.
3. Shoot at golden hour
Golden hour is the gift nature gives to outdoor photographers.
Around dawn and sunset, natural light will tend to be stable and soft. This allows you to capture a more even picture without shadow impacting detail on your image, with less risk of over-exposure.
This time of the day can also provide you with a brilliant palette of background colors, including reds, orange, and pastel colors.
4. Use a wide angle lens
Unless you are taking close up-images of your subject, where the primary focus will be on capturing texture and patterns, a wide-angle lens is a must for nature photography.
That is because the landscape sets the stage for your photography subject, and can be used to communicate space and context.
Wide-angle lenses also capture more light than conventional lenses, which means you can use faster shutter speeds when taking images of your subject.
5. Consider shutter speed
Planning on taking a shot of a sunbird or a flying fish?
You not only need to be fast on the trigger but will also need to set your shutter speed to a fast setting to avoid blurring.
A faster shutter speed captures less light by default, which is why a wide-angle camera lens is the best option for nature photography whether you’re taking landscape or animal photos.
Also keep in mind that irrespective of what type of lens you are using, you’ll need a strong supply of light to capture a decent shot at high shutter speed.
If it’s getting dark, or you are shooting at night, you will either need to use an artificial light source or reduce your shutter speed to capture your subject. Both of which will increase the difficulty of getting a decent shot.
6. Take RAW format images
RAW format images are taking up more storage space than other image formats, and require a DSLR camera, which is why some photographers may choose to take images in other image formats.
However, using other formats will introduce compression into those images, which will result in loss of detail which you may want to bring into your final composition.
If you have a DSLR camera, take RAW images and you’ll have more options available to you when it comes to editing your image in post-production.
7. Use longer focal lengths
Longer focal lengths are a natural fit for nature photography:
- They allow you to capture more of the landscape surrounding your subject.
- They allow for improved magnification for those close up textures and colours.
- They provide a suitable distance from potentially dangerous subjects (photographing a rhinoceros up close and personal is rarely a good idea).
A lens with a broad focal length range will usually give you a balance between distance and detail.
If you’re looking for even more distance, a telephoto sense can help you capture objects like birds in flight.
8. Use a tripod
A tripod is a must for nature photography. Stabilizing your camera will allow you to:
- Use longer exposures and smaller apertures, this will help improve you depth of field.
- Allow you to set up and compose your shot in advance, giving you more time to react when the moment you want to capture comes along.
- Minimize movement during wildlife shots, which will help you to avoid scaring off or distracting your subject.
9. Use the rule of thirds
If you’re new to nature photography, always use the rule of thirds when considering your image composition.
You can do this by mentally dividing the image into three rows using two horizontal lines. Then divide the image into three columns, using two vertical lines.
This will divide your image into nine even-sized blocks.
The human eye will naturally fall on the points where the vertical lines intersect with the horizontal lines. Placing your subject at one of these points will result in a more pleasing, engaging image for your viewers.
10. Don’t disturb the wildlife
There are practical and ethical reasons to remain inconspicuous and at a distance when taking nature shots of animals.
From a practical point of view, concealment can be your greatest ally if you want to capture authentic shots of your subject going about its daily routine without startling it.
In fact, the most special moments will be those that are completely unscripted and unplanned, which are most likely to happen when you are patiently concealed, waiting for the perfect shot.
From an ethical point of view, luring animals with food, attempting to move animals or insects to other locations to achieve a more suitable backdrop, or otherwise interfering with their daily existence will disrupt or harm the very natural order you are attempting to capture in your shot.
11. Invest time in image processing
Once you’ve completed your shoot, don’t settle for unedited images.
Instead, you want to ensure that your images evoke the light, colors, and textures that inspired you to capture them in the first place.
Post-shoot image processing using software like Adobe Lightroom can bring your images to life, enriching colors and enhancing contrasts.
Cropping is also going to be essential for most of your images. And for close-up images in particular cropping can help reduce distracting elements in your image while bringing your subject to life.
12. Use water effects
Imagine a mountain perfectly mirrored in a crystal clear Alpine lake. This type of image is immediately striking and evocative and should be part of your natural photography repertoire.
In contrast with animal pictures, you’re going to want to use a tripod and show shutter speed when taking landscape shots with water effects and reflections.
This allows your image to soak in as much light as possible while also providing the clearest possible image of the scenery you are capturing.
13. You don’t need exotic landscapes
If you’re starting off in nature photography, don’t assume you need to get 100 kilometers out of town to the most rugged environment you can think of to take decent nature photographs.
If you look around your local environment you’re likely to find many small pockets of nature, harboring sufficient plant and animal diversity to create memorable nature photography shots.
This is particularly true of close-up shots, where even your garden or the closest park will have birds, insects, squirrels, or other creatures that you can capture up close with zoomed-in shots.
If you’re struggling to find wildlife in your vicinity, don’t be shy to ask other locals, or people who work around natural areas in your town or city, what types of animals they have seen out and about, where they were seen, and what time of day is best to set up an encounter.
14. Don’t hold back on the size of the shoot
It’s one thing looking at what you think is the perfect shot on your camera preview screen, and another thing looking at it on a 20-inch monitor once you are editing.
Don’t set yourself up for disappointment by moving onto the next shot after taking a few images you think will do the job.
Rather take a large number of images to ensure you are spoilt for choice when it comes to picking the one that best captures light, landscape, and your subject.
15. Don’t forget the humans
Some of the most memorable nature photographs feature interactions between humans and animal subjects.
Capturing this type of image requires both patience and knowledge of your location, and doing some research on where you are likely to encounter spontaneous human/animal interactions.
This could be a local picnic area that is frequented by wild monkeys, or a park bench where the occupant could expect a visit from one of the local squirrels.
16. Share your images with the world
Nature photography images have a unique ability to both soothe and inspire.
So, if you’re creating great nature photography images, you’re going to want to share them with the world, and even secure commissions to turn your passion into an income.
Cherrydeck was designed to give photographers a professionally designed platform to showcase their work to potential clients looking for photography services.
Signing up to our busy platform is 100% free. Once you have signed up with Cherrydeck you’ll also have access to:
- New commissions and collaborations made available on our platform.
- Tools to boost your Instagram reach and following.
- Discounts on software for creative professionals via our Partner Deals program.
- The ability to present your events to our large creative community.
Visit Cherrydeck now to set up your online portfolio now.