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7 Tips for Taking Great Nature Photographs

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Creating memorable photos from your adventures in the great outdoors doesn't require an expensive camera and a suitcase of lenses. Learn how to use different kinds of natural light and arrange subjects in your viewfinder into dynamic compositions, and you'll be well on your way to impressing friends and family with your incredible photographs!

Mules Ear Wildflower Below The Organ
All photos: Bret Edge

The single best way to improve your photography is to shoot when the pros do: at sunrise and sunset. The light is warmer, richer and the long shadows cast by a lower sun reveal details in the landscape not evident in midday light.

Always consider the location of the sun when composing your photographs. Photographing with the sun is at your back results in evenly lit landscapes that are pleasing but not particularly dynamic. Shooting into the sun can have dramatic results, especially if you use a small aperture (f/16 or smaller) to create a sunburst effect.

Sidelight sweeps across the landscape from the left or right side of your camera and enhances the appearance of depth within a scene through the interplay of light and shadow.

Mule Deer Buck in Autumn
When composing the various elements within your viewfinder (or LCD screen), don't place your main subject dead center in the frame. Instead use the "Rule of Thirds." Imagine straight lines drawn through your photo that divide it into thirds horizontally and vertically. Place your main subject where these lines intersect to create a more dynamic composition.

Use an interesting foreground such as a bouquet of wildflowers or a small cascade on a creek to add depth to your images.

Most people take photos while standing up. Experiment with camera position; get up high on a rock or lay flat on the ground. By varying your position higher or lower you're introducing a unique perspective.

Pastel Sky Over Oxbow Bend Edit Edit

Depth of field describes how much of a scene is sharp and in focus. If you're photographing wildflowers in a meadow with a mountain in the background you'll probably want the flowers and the mountain to be sharp, right? This requires that you use a small aperture (f/11 or smaller) to maintain sharpness throughout the image. This is easier to achieve using a wide-angle lens, i.e. something between 15mm to about 35mm.

What if you'd rather have your subject sharp against a blurry background? Use a large aperture (f/5.6 or larger) and a longer focal length (over 100mm), focus on your subject, and the background will blur out.

This is a great technique to use when photographing wildlife as the sharp animal naturally stands apart from the blurry background.

Storm Light on Fins at Fiery Furance
As hikers we usually hope for clear blue skies. Photographers, on the other hand, seek out inclement weather for its dramatic conditions including moody skies, rainbows and spotlighting on the landscape as the sun plays peek-a-boo with clouds. Be ready with your camera at the leading and trailing edges of storms to take advantage of the very best opportunities. Be careful though: lightning and flash floods are deadly side effects of stormy weather.

Raindrops on False Hellebore

Most of us are drawn to the outdoors for the incredible grand vistas that reward our hiking efforts. While these views are indeed fun to photograph, don't forget about the intimate side of nature. A lone wildflower, a small waterfall or a stand of aspens bearing golden autumn leaves can be just as exciting to photograph and they help to complete the story of your adventure.

Highland Mary Lakes Hiker
Research has shown that humans react more viscerally to images that depict a person enjoying nature than to photographs that show only a beautiful landscape. Include your hiking partners in some of your photos—not the cheesy "hiker standing by a trail sign" pose, though! Photograph them as they hike through a particularly scenic stretch of trail, hopping rocks to cross a creek or standing at the edge of an alpine lake enjoying an amazing view.

One of the best ways to learn any new skill is through immersion. Sign up for a workshop and you'll spend a few days learning photography hands-on with one or more professional instructors. I recommend Santa Fe Workshops, the Rocky Mountain School of Photography or my own company, Moab Photography Workshops.

Bret Edge is a Moab-based professional nature and adventure photographer, gallery owner, husband, Dad and dude. He leads private and group photography workshops throughout the year. Follow him on Twitter at @bretedgephoto.

At the heart of everything we do are the folks who make the magic happen. A group of likeminded footwear-industry vets who left our big-brand jobs back in 2007 intent on doing business a better way. 

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