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Quick Steps to Improve Your Nature Photography

We own both a finca in a natural park (the Sierra de Aracena & Picos de Aroche park, known for it’s excellent bird watching opportunities) and a DSLR camera (Nikon D3300), so the connection was quickly made to try our hands at some nature photography. Since we don’t know much about photography at all, we thought we’d better ask a professional. Meet Daniel Baker, a talented photographer living in Barcelona. For this post, we asked him to give us some tips on how to best capture nature’s beauty by camera.

Nature photography can be one of the most rewarding forms of photography, but it can be difficult to produce stunning images. In this post I’ll give you some quick steps to improve your nature photography that require little effort but can still make a big impact.

Shoot Early or Late

One of the most important things in photography is lighting. Shooting at midday when the sun is highest creates very harsh light and makes taking photos all the more difficult. The bright light creates harsh contrast that means you end up blowing out parts of the image to get the subject exposed correctly.

By shooting early in the morning or late in the afternoon you give yourself much softer light to work with. The difference between shadows and highlights are less harsh and it becomes easier to get a more balanced exposure.

A stork (Ciconia ciconia) looking for food.

The late evening sun helps paint this stork in a soft orange glow

Another bonus is that wild animals are often their most active during the early morning or late evening so you stand a much better chance of seeing something interesting out in the open.

Focal Length and Shutter Speed

One trick to getting tack sharp images is to keep your shutter speed high. Small birds are naturally fast moving so a high shutter speed is essential for freezing them in action. However, if you are using a telephoto it’s important to remember that any movement in the camera is amplified by long focal lengths. A good rule of thumb is if your focal length is 300mm you need a shutter speed of at least 1/300s. This helps counteract any movement you have when you press the shutter.

Tip: A good rule of thumb to keep your shutter speed equal to or greater than your focal length.

Of course, a tripod or a steady surface to rest on will also help with keeping your camera steady, but sometimes you just can’t carry that much equipment.

A Fan-tailed Warbler on a reed.

A shutter speed of 1/500s using 300m focal length helped to keep this image sharp

Warm up your images with White Balance

If you’re finding that your images look a little flat in the camera and they could use a but more pop try changing your White Balance to the ‘overcast’ symbol. This will add more warmth to the photo by increasing the orange tones. If the effect is too strong you can always tweak the camera setting by adding a little more blue.

Know your subject

In wildlife photography patience is key. Wildlife tends to be wary of being out in the open, which means to stand any chance of seeing something great you have to be prepared to wait.

You don’t have to be an expert on tracking but knowing when and where animals are going to be will be a huge advantage. When I first started out in nature photography I used to think that trekking into the wilderness was what it took to get interesting shots. In reality knowing more about your subject is the key. If you know where animals are most likely to be, and when they’re most likely to be there, you reduce your dependency on luck.

Two great crested grebes dancing during mating season in their winter plumage.

By knowing where these Great Crested Grebes liked to be I was able to capture a photo during their courtship dance.

It’s all about the eyes

A great way to give life to an image is to capture an animal with a catch light in it’s eye. This little highlight can turn an image into something special. A catch light helps give the subject a sense of life. Without a catch light animals tend to look lifeless and stuffed.

Catch light in the eye of a Junvenile Black Redstart

The catch light in the eye of this Juvenile Black Redstart helps bring it to life.

Get down low

Finally, you need to get on their level. To really isolate your subject in it’s surroundings you need to get down low. By getting on eye level with your subject you can really blur out the background and foreground of an image. This helps the animal stand out from it’s surroundings and really adds to the portrait.

Common Sand Piper

By lying on the ground I was able to isolate this Common Sandpiper from the rest of the scene.

Want to learn more?

I hope you’ve found these tips useful. If you have any questions please leave a comment and I’ll be happy to answer! You can find more of my wildlife photography and work over on my website, Facebook, or twitter. Thanks for reading.

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