There is immense beauty in the natural world. And for as long as there has been photography, there have been nature photographers seeking to capture it in all of its glory; celebrating, embodying, and telling stories about earth’s natural elements in their art.

If you’ve picked up a camera before, then you’ve probably turned your lens on nature at some point. There’s always inspiration to be found in the outdoors, from broad landscapes to close-ups of plants, flowers, and wildlife. There are also endless sources of wonder, with nature photography shining a spotlight on some of the most magical parts of this planet that we call home. 

What is Nature Photography?

Nature photography is a genre of photography focused on elements of the outdoors. Specific subjects may include sky, water, and land, or the flora and fauna that inhabit these spaces—or both.

phone photo of lanscape
Source: Skillshare teacher Cielo De la Paz
The world is an amazing place, and it’s the job of the nature photographer to capture that in their work.

While the objectives of any individual photographer can and do vary, many seek to educate viewers through their work on just how beautiful—and just how worthy of conservation—nature is. In doing so, they share with people unique places and points of view they may never have had exposure to otherwise, reminding all of us just how lucky we are to live within such a stunning natural habitat.

There are lots of places to look if you want to see impressive photos of nature. The internet is one obvious option (particularly the social media pages of nature and travel photographers), but you can also check out publications dedicated to sharing the best of the best in nature photography, such as National Geographic, Outdoor Photography, and Audubon Magazine.

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Types of Nature Photography

Nature itself is extremely multi-faceted, so it’s no surprise that there are quite a few different types of nature photography. These types are often considered to be their own complete genres, with techniques, strategies, styles, and famous works that embody each field. 

If you’re new to nature photography, it can be a useful exercise to explore each of these types separately, particularly if you’re interested in pursuing one or more as a hobby or career. Here’s a snapshot of the various types of nature photography to get you started.

Landscape Photography

landscape photo
Source: Skillshare teacher Cielo De la Paz
Photographs of landscapes serve to transport the viewer to new places or to see familiar places from a new perspective.

Landscape photography is one of the most recognizable subsets of nature photography. It encompasses any photograph that displays a full outdoor scene, whether that’s a vast view of a mountain range or a pocket of forest captured at golden hour. Subjects of interest range from the location itself—a farm, field, orchard, beach, or cave, for example—to the physical objects within it (trees, hills, rocks, wildlife, and so on). Light and weather also play a strong role in this type of photography, with subtle shifts in the time of year or time of day having a profound effect on the overall piece.

Because they capture so much at once, photographs of landscapes have long been used in support of conservation efforts. There’s even a name for this—conservation photography—which refers to landscape images used with the express purpose of promoting empathy for the natural world. Not all photographs of landscapes are taken with the goal of conservation photography in mind, but any image that displays the wonder of the world can achieve that. That means all of us can use our cameras to spur further appreciation for the environment among ourselves and others.

Wildlife Photography

polar bear
For many people, photographs of wildlife are the best—and perhaps only—way to see undomesticated animals in their natural habitats.

Animals are as important a part of nature as land and water. Wildlife photography turns the lens on them, highlighting animals (generally undomesticated ones) in their natural habitats, wherever that may be.

Wildlife photographers must bring a number of key skills to the table beyond photography itself. That’s because a crucial feature of this type of photography is leaving the animals undisturbed, capturing not just what wild animals look like but how they inhabit their space. This usually requires a keen understanding of the behaviors, habits, and habitats of an animal subject, as well as the ability to take photographs without direct interference. 

As such, professional wildlife photographers often must rely on specialized equipment and practices, sometimes investing thousands of dollars and days, weeks, months, or even years of their lives to get that one perfect shot.

Flower Photography

Source: Skillshare student Redpath Meadow
Photographs can show us elements of flowers that we might not notice just by looking at them with the naked eye.

Flowers are one of nature’s prettiest creations, and flower photography puts them into focus in remarkable detail. Also known as plant photography, garden photography, or botanical photography, it relies heavily on composition to provide us with a deeper look at something we may see every day but not really notice all of the nuances of. 

In that way, it differs from nature photographs of hidden beaches and rare animal species, since the subject is one that most of us are quite familiar with. In capturing flowers in new ways, however, plant photography gives us a renewed appreciation for the blooms around us, from the common daisies in a suburban backyard to the extraordinary ghost orchids in Florida’s flooded forests.  

Bird Photography

Source: Skillshare teacher Rodney Kimbangu
You can spot some wonderful creatures when you point your lens up at the sky.

Birds are another part of nature that we often spend a lot of time around without always paying attention to. When they get in front of the camera, though, amazing things can happen, especially when they’re captured in flight.

Bird photography is a unique skill, requiring a heavy dose of patience and a flair for hitting the shutter button at just the right moment. A bird photographer also needs to have a knack for composition, so that not just the bird but its surrounding environment come through in the image. For that reason, wide angle shots are common in this type of photography, allowing the photographer to put the bird into context with the habitat where it resides.  

Ocean Photography

Source: Skillshare student Julio Villaverde
Take a visual trip to the ocean, no bathing suit required.

Ocean photography is a subset of general landscape, but there are some major distinctions. For starters, the ocean is a constantly moving subject, with waves, splashes, and reflections of light painting different pictures across the water from moment to moment. It’s also logistically a little tricky and demands specialized equipment that can handle getting wet.

In many ways, photographs of the ocean are as much about all that aforementioned movement as they are the vastness of the water itself. That’s where the strategic use of shutter speeds comes in. Shutter speeds are slowed down to capture waves and ripples without blurring the shot and can be further tweaked to mitigate movement in the shot and make the ocean appear more serene than it really is. Notably, this type of photography differs from seascape photography despite the similar sounding names, since the sea is an inherently calmer subject than the ocean.  

Macro Photography

Macro lenses let us get up close and personal with some of nature’s smallest inhabitants.

Browse through examples of nature photography and you’re bound to come across plenty of macro images. Macro photography simply refers to close-up images of small subjects, with the composition scaled in such a way that they appear to be life sized in the frame. Insects are a popular focus for macro photographers and can appear surprisingly majestic when put into such an extreme perspective.

A macro lens is a must-have for this type of photography, since zoom alone won’t cut it. On the bright side, you can buy affordable macro lenses that attach to your existing camera, even if you shoot on a smartphone.

Micro Photography

water droplet
Source: Skillshare student Mike-Alec Kearney
Images shot with a micro lens are proof that just because you can’t see something in nature doesn’t mean that it isn’t there.

Micro photography gets us even closer to subjects, giving us a look at things that we wouldn’t be able to see at all without a specialized lens (in this case, a micro lens). It’s sometimes referred to as microscopic photography or photomicrography, and is just a step further in the magnification process than its macro cousin. If you want to get technical, the magnification of photomicrography is between 10:1 and 20:1, while macro is 1:1 up to 10:1.

Nature Photography Day

Held on June 15 and overseen by the North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA), Nature Photography Day is an opportunity for photographers and everyday nature lovers to join together and share their enthusiasm for wilderness images. It’s an annual event designed to promote this field of photography and the vital significance of its role in advancing the cause of conservation efforts. It’s also the perfect day to seek out inspiration for your own projects.  

How to Celebrate Nature Photography Day

Taking out your camera and shooting the outdoors is the best way. You can also further your education on naturalism and conservation photography, bring your camera along on a nature scavenger hunt, and browse through the work of famous photographers.

Even better: share all that you do and learn with others on your social media accounts, and help your friends, family members, and followers become just as knowledgeable as you are about nature photography and why it’s worthy of celebration.

More Than a Hobby, It Can Be Your Mission

It’s impossible to improve upon the natural beauty Earth offers us every day. But you can capture it in ways that inspire and move those who see your work. Perhaps even move them to take care of the only home we have.

Source: Skillshare teacher Jeremy Janus
Where will your love of nature photography take you?

The natural world could always use more people on her side. Start photographing nature, and join a long list of talents who have used their skills to teach others about the wonders of our planet.  

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Written By

Laura Mueller

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