What makes a good nature photo? Having a good eye is obviously essential, but it’s equally important to hit the right notes with your equipment and your technique.
When it comes to photography, nature is the perfect subject. Not only is it (naturally) stunning, it also offers a ton of nuance in terms of style, color, texture, and dimension, and it can invoke feeling in a way that you can’t always achieve with man-made objects.
Flora, fauna, and other stunning natural elements are always around us, and amazing things can happen when you focus your lens on them. To get you started, we’re sharing some of our best tips on how to take nature photography, including what camera and lens you should bring along for the journey. Let’s get to it!
What You Need for Nature Photography
How do I start my nature photography? With a camera, of course.
The beauty of photographing nature is that all of the elements are right there in front you—you just need to have the right equipment on hand in order to capture their essence.
While (with some practice) you can absolutely take breathtaking shots on your smartphone, if you’re looking to pursue professional nature photography or nature photography contests, then you’re probably going to want to invest in a more serious piece of equipment. Here are some things to consider.
Choosing the Best Camera for Nature Photography
The best camera for nature photography, especially for beginners, is almost always going to be a digital single-lens reflex camera—also known as a DSLR.
DSLR cameras offer exceptional range and can be used for both landscape shots and up-close images of plants or wildlife. They also have a ton of versatility and offer superior performance for the price.
To narrow in your number one DSLR choice, take into consideration the heft of a camera (you’ll be lugging it around outside, so you don’t want it to be too heavy) as well as its features. And if you’re new to this type of camera, check out our Fundamentals of DSLR Photography course to get started with the basics.
Choosing the Best Lens for Nature Photography
Picking out the best lens for nature photography is just as important as picking out the best camera—and maybe even more so. Your lens will have an impact on the clarity of your shot and how much you can capture in a single angle, and it can make a huge difference in the overall composition of your work.
Like your camera itself, lenses do come down to individual preferences, but you’ll want to keep utility in mind too. You’ll probably want a variety of lenses to choose from on any shoot, but make sure to have these three on hand:
- 16-35mm: For wide angle shots
- 24-70mm: For normal focal lengths
- 70-200mm: For both close-up shots and distant landscapes
The more you shoot, the more you’ll figure out what you like, so play around and experiment to discover what lenses give you the results you’re looking for.
13 Tips for Photographing Nature That Will Make You Look Like a Pro
What is nature photography if not a way to celebrate the world around us? To do justice to our planet—and all of the amazing things that live on it—you’ll want to hone your technique and follow some best practices on how to take nature photography. And we’ve got some tips to help you out.
1. Use the Right Camera and Lens
We already covered this one, but it’s worth a repeat. Your preferences will largely be at play here, but don’t make it harder than it needs to be by using a camera or lens that isn’t optimized for your purposes. (And if you do have to rely on an iPhone, don’t worry—we’ve got some tips for that.)
2. Do Your Homework
Professional nature photographers do a lot of research before they ever step foot into their locations, and you should too. Check to see if you need a permit or other special permissions to shoot on site, and look up if there’s anything specific you’ll need to have on hand for your safety, comfort, and convenience.
3. Choose a Focal Point
This is true in any type of photography, nature included. While it’s tempting with landscape shots to try and put the focus on everything at once, it’s essential that you center your image around one primary feature, be it a rock outcrop, a tree, or even the glare of the sun.
4. Keep an Eye Out for Texture
Every subject you photograph should tell a story. And in nature photography, that story could be something as simple as a dew drop on a flower petal, or the veins of a leaf. Looking for texture will help you hone in on the story worth telling—and can usually be captured best using a macro lens.
5. Use the Rule of Thirds
The rule of thirds in photography states that each image can be divided into nine equal squares composed of two vertical and two horizontal lines—and that the most dynamic features of your shot should be placed on one or more points where these lines intersect. Try it out with your nature photography to create more interesting (and more professional looking) photos.
6. Have Some Patience
Breathtaking nature photography requires a lot of patience. Whether you’re waiting to catch sight of a particular animal or you’re waiting for the sun to hit just the right spot, sit back and soak it in, and don’t try to rush the process.
7. Try Out a New Point of View
You’re used to seeing the world from your own vantage point, but it takes on a whole new perspective if you get up high or low to the ground. Make a point to photograph subjects from different angles for a better chance at finding that magical shot.
8. Photographing Animals? Give Them Some Space
Wild animals aren’t prone to sticking around when humans get too near. If you’re focusing on wildlife photography, keep your distance and use a zoom lens to capture their essence up close without actually, you know, getting up close.
9. Utilize Natural Light
Light plays a huge role in nature photography. Plan your shoot around the type of light that you want for your final product, keeping in mind that you’ll get totally different results shooting the same subject at different times of day.
10. Take Lots of Images
If there’s one thing that most nature photographers probably have in common it’s that they don’t stop at one or two shots—and sometimes not even at one or two dozen. Every shot you take is an opportunity to capture something unique that might not appear in another image, so don’t be afraid to use up plenty of memory space in search of that pièce de resistance.
11. Be an Active Student
Sometimes you have to study a subject before you really understand it. In nature photography, this might mean making multiple trips out to a certain site in order to figure out when it’s at its most vibrant. This is doubly true for photographing animals and flowers, both of which have natural rhythms that they follow throughout the day.
12. Pack the Right Gear
We’ve already mentioned the importance of your camera and lens, but they’re not the only gear you’ll need. Good shoes (or hiking boots, depending on where you’re shooting) are key, as is sun protection, some snacks and water, and a backpack for carrying your things between locations.
13. Have Respect for the Environment
Your goal is to honor nature, not to interfere with it. A large part of this type of photography is immersing yourself in the natural environment without having any sort of impact on it, so be respectful and quiet, and don’t leave anything behind.
Resources for Nature Photographers
Wondering how to get paid for nature photography? Like any photography field, it will likely take you some time to turn a profit, but there are resources available that can help you speed up the process.
- Classes: You’ll find a ton of online photography courses on Skillshare for learning the ins and outs of both how to take and edit a stellar nature photograph and how to understand the business side of photography.
- Contests: Enter nature photography contests to get more eyes on your work and to start building authority and recognition.
- Professional affiliations: There are various organizations that can help you establish a network in the industry, including the North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA) and the Photographic Society of America.
You can also seek out jobs in the field, such as shooting for a magazine or even an outdoorsy brand’s social media page. With practice, patience, and persistence, you can accomplish a lot beyond just taking beautiful natural shots.
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