Secret #1 Start with you
What elements of nature do you particularly like? You may already be clear on this; but even if you are, write it down, as something magical happens when you get things out of your head and living in front of you on paper.
Are you a flowers person? Do you like trees? How about specific elements of nature, for example, mushrooms on forest floors? No answer is a silly answer – just write them all down, no-one is screening what you say.
You have your own take on the world and you need to work out what it is. Then you’ll make nature photos that have a little piece of you in them.
Secret #2 How close is too close?
You can go as far away, or as close as you like when photographing nature. Just so long as the element of nature is clear within the photograph.
Let’s break it down a bit:
You can get a fair distance from your nature subject and allow it to dominate your frame. These trees were captured in late afternoon light with a polarizing filter to make the blue sky really intense. The light is pouring through – totally natural. Would you believe this was shot on transparency film – no post-production, ha! However, that means I can’t give you the camera settings. (slaps forehead).
Have a guess, what do you think the settings may have been?
Either ISO 100 or 400 because that’s what was available at the time! Handheld – 1/125th of a second or faster. F/? something large to keep the depth of field, maybe, f/11.
Take a few steps in toward your trees and your composition changes. The trees run right to the edges and now we are so close that some are cropped off. See how the meaning of this picture changes, just by moving in closer? (Yes, it’s a different scene, but work with me here!)
Where the previous picture was about the vast form of the trees, and the setting sun, this one is about the delicate nature of the branches and pine needles. It was taken about 11am on a bright, overcast day. The deep green needles contrast against the light, bright background.
See the careful placement of all the trees in the composition? Look all the way to the edges, then through all the grassy areas. Notice the care in the spatial placement of the trees and the green grass? Take your time, and really see where the elements are falling in the composition.
ISO 400, f/10, 1/160th
Take a few more steps in on one tree, right up close on the detail. You have a choice now about rendering most of the capture out of focus, or creating lots of depth with the f-stop. This one has a shallow depth of field, to keep the focus on the tiny caterpillars. You can see parts of the texture of the tree to give a little hint as to the environment they live in.
It was late afternoon with dappled, soft light coming through trees. The little creatures were spotted in their web in a soft, spot-lit area.
ISO 320, f/1.2, 1/1600th
Secret #3 Move your feet
When you come to photographing nature, it pays not to be too fixated on how you want to photograph your subject in terms of distance to subject, camera angle, and technical settings. Do have ideas in mind, but be open to the possibility that you may see something else (possibly better) on the day.
Walking and looking does wonders. Relax and enjoy your surroundings first. The beautiful things will come to you as long as you don’t force it.
When something catches your eye, go up closer to it, study it, and figure out what element in particular it is that interests you. There is spontaneity in capturing nature in its living, untouched state. The key is being open to the most beautiful, particular and unique elements, and finding your composition, lighting and camera settings to suit.
It does sound a little new-age, but give this method a try, and hey, it costs nothing but your time to walk around and breathe it in.
So there you have it – three secrets revealed as to how you can create pretty nature images, without it costing you a cent!
What’s your secret to getting better nature photographs? Drop it in the comments area below.