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.
What You Need
A camera, of course.
The beauty of nature photography 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 photography or 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
A digital single-lens reflex camera—also known as a DSLR– is almost always going to be the best camera to photograph nature, especially for beginners.
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
Just as important as picking out the best camera—and maybe even more so–is selecting the best lens. It 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, lenses 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 Nature Photography Tips That Will Make You Look Like a Pro
To celebrate the world around us and do justice to our planet—and all of the amazing things that live on it—you’ll want to hone your photography technique and follow some best practices.
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, 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 home 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 when photographing nature to create more interesting (and more professional looking) photos.
6. Have Some Patience
Breathtaking 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 photography, especially outdoors. 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. To properly capture nature, 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.
You Have the Tips, Now Use Them!
Don’t let the camera or the wide outdoor expanse intimidate you. With practice, patience, and persistence, you can take beautiful, natural shots you’ll be proud of.
Make Light the Star of Your Photos
Outdoor Photography: Shooting at Sunset, Sunrise, and Night.