Preparing to head out on one our wildlife, expedition, or polar adventures, and want to make sure you get the best shots to remember your trip by? Take a look at our beginner’s guide to nature photography, which will give you a good foundation for taking better photos of the animals and landscapes you’ll encounter en route.
It’s often said that “the best camera is the one you have with you” – you don’t need a high-end professional camera to get a great shot, and even with the best equipment there’s no disguising poor composition and poor lighting. A thoughtfully-composed smartphone image will almost always beat a hasty snap on an expensive camera.
So step your photography up a level by keeping these simple tips in mind when you head out with your camera!
Compose with the Rule of Thirds
Photographers use something called the Rule of Thirds as the basic element for photo composition. Put simply, you should imagine a 3x3 grid overlaid on the frame of your picture, and then try to place whatever is most interesting in the scene on the intersection of those lines, or to place larger elements, such as the horizon or a towering tree, along these lines. Most cameras and smartphones will actually allow you to place a 3x3 grid on top of your display, helping you easily put together more compelling images.
It’s not a hard-and-fast rule though – for example, if by lining up your horizon in this way you’re left with a large section of featureless sky above, you should be prepared to ignore the rule, and some images will simply look better with the subject in the centre of the shot. The Rule of Thirds is a great foundation for understanding composition, but it isn’t everything. Try shooting with and without the rule, and see what looks better to your eye.
Choose the right time of day
Just as important as a strong composition is to make sure you’re shooting your photos in the best possible light. For landscape and nature photography, you should aim to shoot earlier or later in the day. The period of daytime shortly after sunrise or before sunset is referred to by photographers as the “Golden Hour” – the light is warmer and more diffuse, the shadows are less stark, and your photo will have greater depth and texture, making it overall more interesting and pleasing.
Be patient with natural light. If you find you’ve framed a great shot, but the lighting isn’t quite right, try waiting it out. It may be that a break in the clouds is all you need to turn a good photograph into a great one.
Get a different perspective
Many beginners hold their camera at eye level to take their shots. This can work fine, but sometimes, particularly with landscape photography, it can leave your image feeling flat and lifeless. Try climbing to a higher vantage point or crouching lower to the ground to change the outlook on the scene, or see what happens when you shoot a close-up instead of wide-angle.
Pay attention to the whole frame
Remember to look at your whole frame, and not just the subject. What elements do you have to work with in the foreground and background? Even if they’re not what you want the viewer to focus on, how can you use these elements to direct attention to your subject?
A strong foreground element is important for landscape photographs. It could be anything from a plant or bush to an interesting rock formation, and is generally best-placed in lower third of your image. Experiment with the distance you place between your foreground and background, and notice how this draws the viewer in and creates a sense of depth in your photograph.
Use a wider aperture (lower f-stop number) for a softer, blurry background while keeping your subject in focus. This can yield particularly good results when photographing wildlife. For landscapes, you’ll generally want to keep everything in focus, so use a narrower aperture (higher f-stop number).
Respect the environment
Remember the old maxim, “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints”. Don’t disturb animals in their natural environment, and clean up after yourself when you leave!