National Forest Foundation

Five Easy Tips To Improve Your Nature Photography

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by Ray A. Foote

The National Forests offer us a photographic bounty. My interest in outdoor photography is rewarded on these public lands as I look for interesting patterns, color, texture, and just tremendous beauty. Below are a few basic photo tips to help you capture your experiences on the forest. It’s not about fancy equipment; it’s about having fun in majestic places and depicting them in a way that is meaningful to you. It might be a huge vista, or a creek, or just an interesting old stump.

Composition

Pause and ask yourself ‘what am I trying to show?’ A shoreline, great forest vista or maybe a plant detail? Your “composition” –what you include and exclude – determines what is important. Often, tilting the camera down so you have just a small band of sky really helps bring the foreground into the frame. It’s not always easy, but imagine the picture before you take it. Try to achieve what you’re visualizing by where you stand, where you point your camera, and whether you zoom in or out. How do you frame a great shot outside?

White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Photo by Ray A. Foote

Bitterroot National Forest, Montana

Photo by Ray A. Foote

Lolo National Forest, Montana


Focus

Nothing ruins a photo faster than it being blurry. For far-off subjects like a horizon or distant mountain, focus shouldn’t be a challenge. But when you get close to something, say a beautiful wildflower, pay careful attention. On digital cameras, pressing the button halfway down will focus the camera. Even on most smartphones, if you touch the screen before taking the picture, the phone will focus on that specific spot. As you become more confident and capable with focusing, you’ll see a dramatic improvement in your photographs.

Flathead National Forest, Montana

Photo by Ray A. Foote

Kisatchie National Forest, Louisana

Photo by Ray A. Foote

Bitterroot National Forest, Montana

Photo by Ray A. Foote


Color

National Forests offer abundant colors. Pull them into your picture to create impact. Our eyes are drawn to vivid colors. On the Forest that might be the golds and oranges of fall leaves, bright greens of early spring, a deep blue sky, or a vivid kayak or canoe in the picture. Color can provide a powerful “focal point.” Take a look at pictures that you like (say on a favorite outdoors-related website), and note how the use of color strengthens the images.

Flathead National Forest, MT

Photo by Ray A. Foote

Yosemite National Park, California

Photo by Ray A. Foote

White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Photo by Ray A. Foote


Sun

Put the sun behind you. While there are exceptions to every rule, this is one where you can hardly go wrong. When you point your camera toward the sun, you get overly bright areas and often silhouettes of everything else. When the sunlight is coming over your shoulder, the lighting is more even and often warmer. Try different settings on your camera or phone to develop a feel for different amounts of sun.

Flathead National Forest, Montana

Photo by Ray A. Foote

White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Photo by Ray A. Foote

Lolo National Forest, Montana

You'll notice the sun is in this photo; sometimes it's important to play around and break the rules!
Photo by Ray A. Foote


Simplify

Most strong pictures have just a few things in them. You can simplify your pictures by combining the tips from the past few days. For example, pause and find what is really speaking to you. Then look for a spot of color in the scene. Move in and make that your subject. Regardless of how you do it, simplifying an image almost always gives it more impact. Have fun and experimenting. Isolate on something you want to highlight; say a beautiful big pinecone. Take a few practice shots up close, and take a few from 10 feet back. Which works better? My guess is the close up!

White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Photo by Ray A. Foote

Bitterroot National Forest, Montana

Photo by Ray A. Foote

Bitterroot National Forest, Montana

Photo by Ray A. Foote


Additional Resources

As you continue your photographic journey, find “fellow travelers” along the way. Don McGowan from North Carolina is one such person; Don posts one picture per week with a brief description of where it is, why he took it, what it means to him, and how he did it. It’s like a free, five-minute photography lesson every Sunday. Check it out here.

This is a convenient source for clusters of tips, sort of a ‘list of lists’ to help you take better pictures. Lots of examples and easy to follow steps.

Here is a comprehensive resource on everything from how to photograph plants to using your smartphone camera more effectively.

20 Essential Photography Tips for Beginners

Check this out for some more advanced tips and techniques.


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