The warm weather and longer days are beckoning me out of the house.
Whether it’s in my backyard or way out yonder in the wilderness, I have developed a love of photographing wildlife, landscapes and lately a little bit of outdoor macro too.
I love being able to slow down, concentrate on the creative process and connect with the peacefulness of Mother Nature. (And as a bonus, I never have to bribe my subjects with ice cream to pose for me for five minutes!) Want to give it a try? Here are a few tips to get you started!
One of the greatest sources of joy – and frustration – in wildlife photography is that animals do their own thing, whatever they want, wherever they want. So whether your “wildlife” consists of birds in your backyard or something exotic in the wilderness, getting the shot, that perfect, magical moment, can be very rewarding.
1. Consider connection
An eye-level perspective in wildlife photography, especially when combined with eye contact, draws the audience in. That connection, making the viewer feel like part of the scene, can really make for compelling images. That means you may find your most successful wildlife images are captured while crouched down low or even with your belly on the ground.
If your camera has an option to set your shutter to “silent,” use it; shutter sounds can startle your subjects and send them running. And remember to use a fast enough shutter speed to freeze action in case they do dart off, especially when using a longer lens.
3. Be patient
Addie Sheahin was on a group photo outing in Jackson Hole when they stumbled upon a bull moose snacking on vegetation. While the others moved forward, Addie stayed back and waited, and her patience paid off when the moose walked into a gorgeous patch of light directly in front of her. Rim light highlighted his face, antlers and shedding velvet as well as his exhaled breath.
“The light he walked through really brought the moment to life,” Addie said, “I framed my shot and just kept shooting as he walked in front of me and disappeared into the woods.”
Sometimes landscapes and wildlife photography overlap. Wide-angled shots of creatures in their natural environment are great, and so are images of a beautiful landscape or cityscape alone.
4. Composition is key
How you choose to compose an image is important in every genre of photography, but especially so in landscapes. Look for compositional elements like leading lines, patterns, color or symmetry. Pathways, reflections on water, and using elements within the scene to frame the image all add interest to landscape compositions. Resist the tendency to center the horizon by using the Rule of Thirds and placing the horizon line near the top or bottom of your frame can add dramatic sky or land feature impact. And remember that breaking the rules can also be fun, so experiment!
5. Hyperfocal distance helps
Unlike portrait photography where a blurry, bokeh background is often a lovely touch, in landscape photography we usually want the whole scene, from the foreground to beyond, to appear sharp. But where do you focus to do that? Your smart phone can tell you! Hyperfocal depth of field calculator apps let you enter your lens, camera and aperture and will calculate just where to set your focus.
6. You can shoot anywhere, any time of day
You don’t have to be in a far off destination at sunrise or sunset to take amazing landscape images. Experiment with aperture, shutter speed, focal length and ISO to create interesting landscape images just about anywhere, anytime. A city scene at night can be a fun challenge. Try using an aperture around f/11-f/16 to turn points of light into starbursts or create blurred light effects with a slow shutter speed. Diminish the light on a bright sunny day to mimic sunset by choosing a narrow aperture and a very fast shutter speed. Let your creativity reign and try something unexpected!
It’s called “macro therapy” for a reason. Like wildlife and landscape photography, macro is a genre that focuses our attentions and practically requires quiet solitude. For those of us who spend much of our time capturing the happy chaos of our family lives, the serenity of “me” time outdoors with a camera can be a very welcomed change!
7. Focus on focus. Or don’t.
Like connection in wildlife and composition in landscape, the key factor in macro is focus. There are a few techniques to help with this, from the most common of stopping down your aperture to f/11 or more, to more complicated techniques like focus stacking, which combines images in post processing so that more of the image appears sharp. Or instead of seeking perfect focus, you might enjoy letting go with freelensing macro techniques. Disconnect your lens from the camera body (a 50mm works well for this), turn it around and place it near the area of lens attachment, and then move yourself until you find a close-up distance where some of your image appears in focus. The result is more about artistic feel than technical perfection.
8. Anything goes
Last tip, the cool thing about macro images is the close-up perspective; you are not limited in subject matter. Everyday objects take on new interest with enlarged details – try experimenting with light and shadow, movement, color or form.
Up close, even weeds can become objects of beauty. Jessica Nelson shows just that in this macro image she recently took of a dandelion.
“From afar they look ugly and pepper your lawn with unwanted color. But up close they are truly beautiful from the textures of the center green to the brown seeds to the white fluffy edges. These little details go unnoticed.”