Waking up before dawn and leaving my husband sleeping, I creep along the trail, coffee in one hand, camera in the other. It’s still dark, and I’ve forgotten my headlamp. Luckily, my eyes are adjusting - the rim of the Grand Canyon is no place to hike in the dark.
I’m heading to a spot I scoped out the day before, not far from our campsite at Desert View Campground in Grand Canyon National Park. Just as I reach the rim, and the sun is peeking above the horizon, I hear a rustling in the brush behind me, and I’ll admit, I’m afraid. But when I turn to face that fear, I see a single javelina rooting around in the dirt, totally oblivious to me and my photography shenanigans.
I spend few moments watching my new friend, and then raise my camera to capture a few shots. Not for the first time, I feel incredibly lucky to be out here, alone with my camera, while the world sleeps. Alas, when I turn back to the sunrise, it is well above the horizon. Time to head back to camp.
Tips for Improving Your Outdoor/Nature Photography
Contrary to what Instagram would have you believe, shooting good photos takes practice, and whether you shoot with your phone or a swanky DSLR, practice is still the most effective tool in your kit. You don’t have to bring your camera everywhere (although I do), but you do have to dedicate some time if you want to improve.
If you think of photography as an afterthought, and are simply snapping off shots without paying attention to composition or lighting, the awesome photos you get will be based entirely on luck. As you get to know your camera, your photos will become less about luck and more about skill. I promise. Here are some easy tips that will help you take better landscape and nature photos no matter what kind of camera you have.
Get out Early or Stay out Late
Light is the main ingredient in every single photo you take, but it can be your best friend or your worst enemy, depending on how you use it. There are a million ways to use light to your advantage, but for the sake of simplicity, look for soft light that is easy on the eyes and the lens. Shooting during the Golden Hour — just after sunrise and just before sunset, will create a subdued light that is very easy to work with. I love both times of the day, but when trying to capture scenes in national parks or other popular spots, I almost always choose sunrise when it’s blissfully quiet and wildlife is most active.
Look for Unique Angles and Perspectives
The easiest and most obvious way to capture a scene is to shoot at eye level. This is also the best way to capture a scene exactly like everyone else. Next time you’re out with your camera, I challenge you to look for a new perspective. Climb that big boulder and shoot down into the canyon, crawl on your belly and shoot up into the trees, get off the beaten path and find a perspective that tells another story about your favorite place.
Put people in Your Photo
Want to give your gorgeous landscape photo a sense of scale and balance while telling a unique story about the location? Simply adding in a human element can take your photo from mundane to extraordinary. While adding people to your shot can be tricky, there are a few things you can try to make your image more striking:
Keep the landscape as your main focus - Selfies have their place, but when shooting landscapes,the scenery should be the main attraction. A carefully-composed scene will use the human element to highlight the landscape, not detract from it.
Break up negative space - Many awe-inspiring and vast landscapes can look bland and monotonous without a focal point. Putting a person in your shot will break up negative space and add interest to your photo.
Use the rule of thirds - The rule of thirds is the basis for well-balanced shots, but not a hard, fast rule. Think of your viewfinder (or LCD screen) as a frame that is divided into thirds, both horizontally and vertically, by an imaginary grid. Your focal points, like people, should generally be placed along the intersections of these division lines, as opposed to right in the center of the shot.
Don’t Neglect the Details
Wide-angle landscape shots are probably the best way to capture the enormity of view, but if you want to tell a story about your outdoor experience, don’t forget to capture some of the details. Whether it’s an old trail sign, and unfurling blossom, or a reflection in a mud puddle — the little moments that make up a day in the outdoors can paint powerful portraits of your experience.
If you’re just starting your journey into photography, don’t be discouraged by the complexity and cost of it all. Check out this post on Money-Saving Tips for Beginning Photographers, and don’t forget to bring your camera on your next adventure.
Tara Schatz is a freelance writer and travel blogger with a passion for outdoor adventures. She currently blogs at Back Road Ramblers, where she shares travel tips, adventure destinations, and family vacation ideas for the wanderer in everyone. Her goal is to help families connect with the world and each other by stepping out their front door and embarking on journeys big and small.