Everything is in bloom and the world is blanketed in delightful colour. Mother Nature is a great painter, mainly of landscape realism, but she veers off into abstraction if you start looking at cloud formations for too long. It’s all fodder for great photography.
Perhaps you just read that paragraph and said to yourself, “Well, I won’t be reading this blog!” You may possibly think that you have to have a creative eye or a fancy camera to create nature photography. But if you’re reading this blog on a hand held device aka smart phone, you are half way there to becoming an awesome photographer. I promise! I am going to share with you my tried and true tips to capturing things in nature by getting you to think beyond what you see in front of you and consider different approaches to taking a photograph of nature.
Once you have read the blog, head over to my resource library to check out the “Nature Photo Bingo” game I have created for you to play. Play it for fun, OR join the photo contest to win a great prize! All of the details will be there.
But for now, are you ready for some creative fun? Let’s begin!
Light (or the absence of light) is the most important element of photography. It is what creates dramatic shadows or pools a sky in saturated colour. Here are some of my tips for capturing light in photography:
Shut off the flash! In my opinion, the flash fills in the object to be photographed too much and makes it look fake. The flash is that little lightning bolt on your camera. To shut if off, press the lightning bolt and switch it to “off”.
If you want dramatic lighting at night of specific objects in nature, hold a flashlight to it or get someone to hold one for you. It is a softer more focused light that creates unique dramatic effects because it usually keeps the background completely in the dark (unlike a flash).
Head outside on a super sunny day and study the shadows. In the winter time, the shadows of trees can stretch a long way across the snow creating dramatically abstract images.
Also head outside on cloudy days. The lack of shadows allows you to photograph natural objects without having strong shadows getting in the way. Neutral days also pumps up colour saturation making everything look super lush.
Take a photo of the same natural object in the exact same spot at different times of day. You will understand then why Monet painted the same pond over and over again. Morning, eastern light looks dramatically different then the golden glow of setting western sunlight. You will be astounded by the variations in colour.
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(On a quick art history note, Claude Monet was an Impressionist. Impressionists were interested in the study of light and how it effected colour. They worked quickly to capture that first “impression” of colour in a landscape. Monet would go back to the same spot, painting at different times of day to demonstrate the dramatic changes in colour. As a matter of fact, Monet painted water lilies about 250 times!)
Unless you’re really into black and white photography, which brings in a whole different mind set to photography, you are going to be photographing nature in colour. Here are some things to keep in mind:
Colours play games with our eyes. Warm colours (red, orange and yellow) pop forward making them the first thing your eye notices. Cool colours (greens, blues and purples) recede. That is why when you photograph a rose, you see the red of the flower before you notice the foliage. Keep this in mind when you take a photo. If you want to take a picture of a neat bug, but there is a red mushroom or flower in the photo, nobody is going to be looking at the bug (unless the bug is right on top of that red item, of course!)
Play with complementary colours. The following sets of colours look really great together: red and green, blue and orange, yellow and purple. If you ever see these two colours together, you are well on your way to having a dynamic photo. That’s colour theory 101 and a tried and true method for creating great photography.
I spend a lot of time looking at things in nature up close and personal. I can’t get enough of the veins in a leaf, the water droplets on a flower, the bark of a tree, the lichen on a rock. To me, it’s the textures around us that makes being in nature such a phenomenal experience.
Get as close to the object as possible; whether it looks like you’re kissing the bark of a tree or down on your hands and knees studying the pine leaves scattered across the forest floor, the only way to truly appreciate nature is with close inspection. Try not to use the zoom on your camera to get that detail. Get as close as you can without the image being blurry. This way, if you choose to enlarge the photo, it won’t look pixeled. I have been able to create some beautifully abstract photographs simply by letting the texture of nature speak in the photograph.
On the other end of the spectrum, sometimes it is better to back way, way up and get as much in your camera as possible, creating a sense of depth in your photograph. Here are some things I like to do when taking full shot photos that show the foreground, middleground and background;
I like to create a visual trail. Usually, I will make sure that there is something of interest that is either colourful or textural in the front (foreground) of the photograph. The viewer of the photo will look there. Then I like to have something of interest in the background too. The viewer will naturally look at the whole photograph, exploring all of the details in the different levels of depth in the land along the way.
Sometimes I like to have something in the foreground as the main focus, with a lot of background space around it that is just a repeated texture or a solid colour. With all of the focus going to the item in the front, the background becomes blurry, which adds even more focus on that item in the front.
You can do the same with the middleground as well, as is exemplified in the photo Brad took of me. The eye instantly looks at the striking red leaves, and then travels back to the person smack dab in the middle of the photo.
In the art world, artists and photographers alike enjoy using the rule of repetition in their work. Rhythm creates a sense of motion and movement. I did a whole YouTube video on creating nature art using the principle of rhythm as your guide that you can check out and explore. It’s a super fun summer activity to do with your kids and gets you outdoors scavenging in nature.
I love exploring the patterns that nature creates. Sometimes the whole photograph gets filled with the randomness of one natural item that goes on and on in what seems like forever, and at other times, I like to highlight the repetitive patterns that are seen in isolated areas, like the undulating lines on fungus that travels up a tree trunk or the haphazard sprinkling of leaves on the ground.
Sometimes the repetition of items in nature helps to create a patterned background which then enhances something found in nature, such as a bee in a field of flowers, or a spider in the grass. Once you start thinking about repetition, you will be surprised to find just how much it can be seen all around us in nature.
This is probably my favourite way of photographing nature, because it allows for juxtaposition. When ever we see two things beside each other that are in strong contrast to each other, we look harder. We try to figure out what we are looking at, and spend more time thinking about what we are seeing. I love that about photography. When I am creating contrast in a photograph, I like to show;
Contrast of colours
Contrast of shapes
Contrast of textures
Contrast of lighting
As I said earlier, you want to get up close and personal with the natural world. You want to not just see what is in front of you, you want to touch the softness of the wild rose petals, smell the dampness of the forest in autumn, hear it crinkling leaves under your feet and even taste the juiciness of those delicious berries! Sometimes the perspective of your photo can really help a viewer get all of those sensations when they look at your photo. Don’t be afraid to get down on your belly and look at the bottom of that toadstool mushroom. Lay on your back and look up at the moon popping out from the tree tops. Climb a tree, get on top of the hill, flip your camera up so that you are seeing the underbelly of a flower instead of the top of the flower. Imagine you are a bird soaring over the land and take a photo from that perspective. Get on nature’s level and it will reward you with its beauty. You just have to be willing to look at it from different angles instead of the one you always seem to be at.
CLEAN IT UP
You have options on what you include and don’t include in a photo. If you have a perfect shot but there is a branch in the way, try taking the photo from another angle. Or crop your picture, or ask someone to move the branch out of the way for you while you take the photo. Nobody said that nature cannot be manipulated a little bit to allow for aesthetics to take over. Alternately, incorporate that branch into part of the design, using the rules that I just shared with you as a way to creatively approach something that could otherwise be considered a visual deterrent.
Basically, my philosophy in photography is that you can’t get it all in one photo. It’s just impossible to capture Mother Nature in all of her glory, and if you do, it is usually too visually overwhelming for the viewer to take in. So, instead, give bits and pieces of “the best of nature”. Highlight those colourful gems, and fantastically undulating patterns, and textures so incredible you want to reach out and touch the photo.
And take a hundred photos on your 5-minute walk. It’s not like in the analog days where you had to thoroughly plan out every single photo you took so as to not waste film! Take the time to stop, and really look…really, really look around you and think about things like colour, texture, depth, patterns, angles, and contrast. Then sit down with your photos and look at them, flipping through them and deleting the ones that immediately do not impress you. Keep the ones that do, and take them to the next level with photo editing options embedded directly in your phone’s camera, or beyond. I won’t get into that aspect of photography now, though….that’s definitely another blog that can be posted some other time. Right now, the wild flowers are in bloom and it’s time to get out there and start snapping pictures.
Make sure to check out my “nature photo bingo” game in the resource library. Get a full house and win a gift package worth $150 and have your photos featured on my website. How cool is that?