When the weather cools, the outdoors beckon—not just with brisk, invigorating temperatures, but with an alluring colorscape, too. Leaves crunch beneath your feet as you walk around the neighborhood. Towering trees in yellow, red, and orange line country roads and city parks alike. And every hour of daylight feels precious as winter waits around the corner. With all of autumn’s changing vistas, there’s no better time for budding nature photographers to get outside and capture the array of new hues. Whether you’re dusting off a DSLR camera or relying on your handy smartphone, consider these tips and takeaways on nature photography from five experts in the Skillshare community.
Make a plan.
Some of the best moments in nature are a complete surprise, from encounters with wildlife to the perfect ray of light peeking through the foliage. But that doesn’t mean you can’t set goals: In his course Travel Photography: Seeing, Shooting, and Editing, photographer and designer Dan Rubin suggests treating a day of nature photography like a scavenger hunt. “There are five categories of shots I try to find whenever I’m traveling,” he explains, citing prompts that range from birds-eye views to standard postcard scenes. Whether you follow Rubin’s scavenger hunt list or formulate your own, setting out with a specific to-do list in mind can help you see the potential in moments you might ordinarily pass right by. “You can get so much more out of the places you visit through the lens of a camera,” says Rubin—and dreaming up the perfect photo can begin long before you arrive.
Consider your timing—and the sun’s.
Shooting outdoors depends largely on cooperation from the weather. “My favorite time of day to go is first thing in the morning,” says Tabitha Park, a lifestyle photographer who shares several tips in her 18-minute class Nature Photography: Recharge and Enjoy the Outdoors. “The sun is lower in the sky, so you get these really long, beautiful shadows that sparkle through the trees.” Early morning shoots also hold the promise of different textures—you’re more likely to capture the morning dew, for example—and increased activity from birds and wildlife. If you’re not an early riser, Park also recommends heading out around dusk. “It’ll still be a lower light in the sky,” she says. “You tend to get kind of a golden light toward the end of the day, and that can be really beautiful.” Still, don’t feel trapped by a schedule—lovely sights can be found at all hours of the day. “Just enjoy being outside,” says Park, noting that even a lunch break can yield beautiful images. “Take thirty minutes and just go for a walk.”
Change your perspective.
“You can never really plan for epic moments to unfold,” says Chris Burkard, a staff photographer at Surfer Magazine. But you can prepare yourself to capture them from the best angle possible—a skill Burkard outlines in his course, Outdoor Photography: Shooting at Sunset, Sunrise, and Night. “When I come to a spot, I hate just taking my camera out and shooting photos,” he says. Take the time to walk around, finding approaches that might not be immediately obvious, before you start snapping. “I’ll circumnavigate the entire area: look low, look high, and get an idea and a feel for every other way to shoot it,” he says. Most people only experience the world from eye level, so try bending down low for shots of tall subjects, like trees, or climbing up high for an elevated viewpoint. “That’s the only way you can really understand what your subject is—by looking at it from all perspectives,” says Burkard. “Try to really see what’s going to make something look unique.”
Make the most of your camera (even if it’s just your phone).
You don’t have to invest in top-of-the-line lensware to properly document the changing seasons. “My number one rule in photography is ‘ten percent gear, ninety percent what’s-up-here,’” says Dale McManus, a professional photographer and YouTuber who guides aspiring documentarians through the basics in iPhone Photography: How to Take Pro Photos On Your iPhone. Optimize your iPhone camera settings by turning off “live photo,” which records brief video before and after your shot, and switching on HDR (short for High Dynamic Range), a setting that captures three separate photos with every shot, combining them into a single balanced image. The technology in your pocket offers many more options, too—there’s just one big one to avoid. “Never use digital zoom,” says McManus. “It greatly decreases the resolution of your image. This turns an HD photo into a blurry pile of crap.” If you feel you need a better view, walk closer.
Use composition to tell a story.
“Composition plays a big part in landscape,” says photographer Tim Landis, who offers buildable tips for beginners in his class Smartphone Photography: Capturing Landscapes. Whether you’re shooting on an iPhone, a digital camera, or through a special lens, you can really make a photo pop by experimenting with symmetry, subject isolation, and “leading lines,” like horizons or straight roads, that guide the eye to a subject. “Vanishing points, especially with roads, let the audience know where you’re headed or where you’ve been,” says Landis. “Or, you can tell the story of a season—whether you have trees surrounding [the road] with leaves changing, or bare trees in winter.” Landis also recommends including people, be they passersby or friends, in a frame or two to offer additional context for your viewer. “It just gives an idea of the size of what you’re viewing—it leaves the audience more awestruck,” says Landis. It can also spark the imagination. “Capturing those moments inside the landscape is going to allow someone to come with you on that journey.”
Capture Amazing Nature Photos
Explore the outdoors behind a photographer’s lens with Tabitha Park.