Introduction: Photo Safari Tricks & Tips

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One of my favorite ways to get away from it all is to take a walk in the woods, and whenever I do, it invariably turns into a photo safari because I always haul my camera around with me in the event that something totally amazing presents itself. Something totally amazing rarely does, but the hike always turns into a good photographic practice opportunity, as well as a great opportunity to practice "seeing."

You don't have to be a seasoned photographer or have a fancy camera to take nice nature photos on a hike, nor does a Photo Safari have to be relegated to nature either. You can go on a safari trip anywhere: to the mall , a swap meet, car or aviation show, an anime convention or Renaissance Fair or on your next vacation.

But nature doesn't require photo releases, and I do like hiking, so that's my practice of choice!

The goal of these tips and tricks is to help amateur photographers do a little more than take landscape photos, and learn how to zero in on some of the finer details of what you're seeing.

Step 1: Look for Contrasts

Look for things that contrast with their backgrounds. The long hollow opening in the tree creates a black blaze of intrigue on the tree trunk. What's in there? Conversely, the white fungus on the black log creates the suggestion of a bulls eye.

Finding and capturing the things that are different from everything else makes for interesting and thought provoking images.

Step 2: Find Textures

Okay, I'm a big fan of mushrooms on tree trunks. They create interesting textures and often have eye catching colors. They grow in patterns like stair steps and rings, and are their own landscapes.

Step 3: Color Coordinate

On first glance, a natural landscape - in the woods, by the water, in the mountains - may look homogeneous. Some landscapes, like Florida swamps and woods, can look like a bunch of chaotic green, and can photograph like that, too, if you don't narrow your field of view a little.

Finding colors that stand out from the dominant backdrop of green or brown or blue will reveal images that make a greater impact for the viewer and in your photos.

Step 4: Natural Highlights

As you walk, look for areas of bright light and shadow. Natural highlights can occur from sunlight coming from behind plants and leaves, as in the air plant, creating a back lit effect that accents colors and textures. Sometimes just sunlight filtered through leaves creates a soft lighting effect that helps highlight other natural features, like seeds or flowers.

Step 5: Isolate the Little Things

Okay, so this gal's not so little - this is one of our gargantuan Florida golden silk spider that get as big as six inches across or more. However, if you're unaware of them, they're easy to overlook - unless of course, they build one of their bird catching eye level webs! They can be surprisingly hard to photography, despite their size, because visually, especially in a two dimensional photograph, they get lost in the cacophony of busy forest backgrounds.

The trick to photographing spiders, big or small, and other small creatures like lizards, and beetles and the like, is to find a way to isolate them from the background. Using my long lens to blur the background while focusing in on the spider is half the battle - the other half is moving around a bit to make sure the background colors and lighting behind the spider helps it stand out.

Bonus points for getting the right light on the web (you can see why they're called "golden silk" spiders). You can also go for totally backlit image to throw the spider or whatever your subject, into full shadow, and in the case of spider, creates a perhaps more menacing image.

Step 6: Frame Your Subject

Nature provides some great natural frames to set off animals and other areas of focus. In the case of the anhinga photographed here, the curve of branches around it is similar to the curves of its neck and serve to help frame the resting bird. It also helps that the anhinga is a really dark bird perched in gray branches.

Again, moving around, crouching down, and trying different angles will help you find the framing device that works best for your subject.

Step 7: Stop Motion

Not talking animation here, but waiting for animated things to stop moving, or at least slow down sufficiently for a good shot. Butterflies can be one of the most beautiful and frustrating of photographic subject matter. Maddeningly and beautifully flitting, with visually tantalizing colors usually set off against lovely contrasting flowers, they require patience to photograph.

So park yourself nearby, with a long lens if possible, but otherwise just close, and enjoy the show until the butterfly slows or stops. One eventually will. When that happens, take lots of photos, rather than waiting for wings to open, which, by the time they do and you see them and try to capture it, they've closed again. You could use a flash of course, but then you lose all the other wonderful hues and textures.

So just be patient. Enjoy your walk, practice your seeing, take lots of photos and have fun! If you're somewhat new to photography and try out some of these techniques on your next outing, I hope you'll share back your images.


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