Like many, I find nature photography enjoyable and a fantastic hobby. It’s easy to overthink this style of photography and put unnecessary stress on yourself. We all know what we tell ourselves:
“I’ve got to make sure I’m setup on this mountaintop for magic hour, I’ve gotta book three days of lodging in case it rains two days straight, I need to set up extra cameras and tripods in case the wildlife comes from an angle I’m not expecting.”
Enough! Don’t forget the reason you’re out there in the first place … you love nature! Here are ways I find delightful satisfaction on nature photography excursions and still end up with great shots!
Be in the moment
Nature just “is.” Nature is ever-changing and has many looks. If you are in the moment, you will find beauty in whatever you encounter. That means less disappointment with missed preplanned shots.
Maybe you wanted to capture a dramatic sunset behind the mountains, but Mother Nature decided upon a cloudy and rainy evening. Look for other photo opportunities. Reflections in puddles, rain upon the lake, dramatic cloudscapes, nesting animals and perhaps a rainbow.
Yes, the golden hour truly is magical, but sometimes you need to work with the weather. Lots of photos exist of sunrises and sunsets in popular places, but how many exist in less-than-perfect weather? Nature has stories and images waiting to unfold in those times, too.
I believe in taking photos of what I see, and sometimes things aren’t “Instagram filter perfect.” And why should they be? It’s nature — beautiful just the way it is.
Look with your eyes first, not your viewfinder
Spend time looking with your eyes NOT behind a lens. You’ll see more and you’ll get more ideas. If you are hyper-focused on getting one shot through the lens, you may miss a small animal on your peripheral. You may miss a better angle from the clearing on your right. Birds may be on their way into the frame, which would add a great element to your shot.
Here’s an example. I happened to be on a trail in Glacier National Park in the harsh afternoon sunlight. Nonetheless, I was trying to capture the valley in a photo because I happened to be there. After snapping photos for a while, I actually put down my camera and looked around. There was a marmot basking on the cliff taking in the view. With better lighting and setup, this could’ve been one of those inspirational quote posters! And to think I almost missed seeing it because I wasn’t looking with just my eyes.
When it comes to animals, just shoot (photos)
Unlike plants, which just sit there, animals are active. Small ones don’t want to be by you and you don’t want to be by large ones. I have missed numerous animal shots because I tried to get the perfect shot. By the time I had everything dialed in, the animal’s business end was the only thing in the frame as it was running away. Now, I just shoot a lot when I see an animal. I know that 19 shots may not be perfect but that 20th photo might be awesome.
Sometimes you’ll get surprised by an animal that you really shouldn’t be near. If you are a wildlife lover at heart, you’ll get to a safe distance and worry about the photo later. Sometimes, that means not getting the photo at all (like the time I turned the corner and saw a huge moose in front of me, so I took off running). But rest assured, animals will show up when you least expect it.
Here’s a black bear sporting an ear tag from Kings Canyon National Park rangers. He just popped up in the lake as I was walking by the shore. I fired off a photo in about three seconds before getting to a safe distance, at which point the bear waded off. If I tried to get the perfect shot, I would’ve missed it because the bear would either be coming to swat a paw at me or be long gone. Sometimes photos aren’t perfect (darn plant stem), but they provide good memories. If you are into travel blogging, photos like this help tell your story.
By accepting things as they are, being observant, and shooting early and often, you will have an enjoyable trip in the great outdoors and lovely photos to last a lifetime.