Creating Successful Photographs - Nature

Introduction: Creating Successful Photographs - Nature

About: Want/need to learn photography from a professional? That's what I'm here for. However, I'm bad at this, "talking about me," stuff, so here are some quotes that sum up my better bits. ---------- "Take me, I a…

I know, I know, nature photography is easy right?  You don't have to do anything because nature does it for you.  Well, regardless, I do still have a few tips that you might not know or think of, so if you're curious, keep reading!

**NOTE: Most photographs used in this tutorial were shot and retouched by myself, (with the exception of the second photo in step 1 and some of the photographs shown in step 4), including those that have the Vogue logo as they have been published on

Step 1: Capturing Nature As It Is

As I mentioned before, nature photography is not extremely difficult as nature is beautiful and does most of the work for you.  There is no need to modify it in any way to make a photograph better. Manipulating it, however, is another story.

The most difficult is capturing animals in their natural habitat.  They're all so skiddish that there's no saying weather or not you're going to even find a wild animal, let alone photograph one.  One of the sneakiest photographer tricks with nature photography is going to game farms.  Tricky tricky!!

Many commercial and stock nature photographers go to game farms, such as Triple D Game Farm, in Montana.  This is basically a nature preserve geared towards photographers and cinematographers who need shots of animals in a natural habitat.  They have hundreds of different locations and animals to choose from to photograph, however, the price can be a little steep.

Of course, there are also those lucky people who just happen to be in the right place at the right time who managed to capture a real wild animal in its own habitat.  These photographers have the patience and the time to sit in "hides" for hours on end until an animal happens to walk by.  These hides can be simple stick or mud huts, which are more permanent, or you can even purchase a hide, which would be much more mobile as it is simply a tent with camoflage printed on it.

*This is a photograph of a 12 foot Anaconda!  I was only able to photograph it and most of my other animal photographs because of the "Critter Demo" I attended for my nature class.  Critter Demos will be explained further in step 4.

Step 2: Landscapes

Landscape photography is the easiest to photograph.  Really all you need to be sure of is that you have an interesting scene, and make sure to get the whole thing, (if you have to turn your head to see it all, you need a wide angle lens).

Another landscape trick is to use the hyperfocal distance of your lens to create more depth.  To paraphrase, if a lens is focused at the hyperfocal distance, everything in the resulting photograph is in focus, from the foreground to the middle ground to the background. 

Please see my instructable on hyperfocal distance for more detail:

Step 3: Macro

Macro photography is probably the most technical of all nature photography.  This kind of photography does involve some more sophistocated equipment, specifically a macro lens. However, even macro lenses have their restrictions, which can be helped with either extension tubes or teleconverters, or both in some cases.

Teleconverters, or tele extenders, act as mini telephoto lenses, in that they can be mounted in between the camera and the lens and will help to magnify your subject. 

Extension tubes work in a slightly different way, in that they don't contain any glass or optics, but they create distance between your lens and sensor.  Instead of mangifying the subject, it allows you to come closer to it without affecting your focus.  This, however does affect the amount of light that comes through your lens and you may have to adjust your aperture to make up for it.

You are now trying to photograph at close range, a tiny creature or thing who is either much faster than you, or much lighter and can be blown away.  On top of that, because you are getting closer, every single detail will be important, including that speck of dirt stuck to your flower petal.

When working with flowers, you need to make sure that you can create an environment that looks natural, and in some cases, picking or moving certain plants might even be illegal.  For situations like this, I like to use a plant clamp.  This is really any kind of clamp that (preferably), has a flexible neck that you can attach to your tripod.  This will keep your plant still as you photograph it with its natural surroundings.

Working with small animals or insects can also prove to be tricky, as they tend to run off in every which direction.  This can be prevented if you have a friend with you to help "wrangle" your creature when it escapes.  Another helping factor in cases like this is to build a set instead of trying to capture the animal, say, on a tree, where it's difficult to wrangle back into place.  Buliding a set also gives you the benefit of being able to control what goes into the image as well as the lighting.  It doesn't take much, just a box of some sort with some sand, or moss, or leaves and twigs in it, where you can place your subject and set up your lighting around your mini studio.

*This photo was taken on an very windy day, so having the advantage of a portable flash and a plant clamp was extremely useful.

Step 4: Critter Demos - an Explanation

Now I'm sure you're curious as to what a "Critter Demo" is.  While attending Brooks Institute, I had the pleasure of being taught by one of the best, and famous nature photographers in the country, Ralph Clevenger, (also the author of "Photographing Nature").  You may even recognize some of his photos!

Critter Demos began as a collaboration between Ralph and Dennis Sheridan, as a learning experience for the Brooks nature class.  Every session, Ralph takes the students to a park and Dennis brings animals for us to photograph.  Cool right?  One of the best classes I've ever taken.  This is where I had the opportunity to photograph an Anaconda, a Blue Tongued Skink, a Mexican Fireleg Tarantula (which you can see sitting on my shoulder), and more!  If you're interested, here is a list of links:

Ralph Clevenger

Critter Demo (on Ralph's blog)

Dennis Sheridan

Triple D Game Farm

Last two photographs © Ralph A. Clevenger
First photograph © Greg Lawler

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