Nature is one of my favorite subjects to capture. While I love the sensation of being constantly caught by the intricate details of how nature comes together, I’ve learned that too much complexity can destroy the impact of a photograph. In trying to include everything, sometimes we lose it all. Between the colors, shapes, sizes, textures and light, you may also feel like everything is getting lost. Here are some of the techniques and guidelines that have helped me throughout the years to improve my nature photography.
If composition is the body of a photograph, light is its soul. Finding the right light for your subject can make all the difference in the way that the photo communicates. Being that most nature photography happens outdoors, there will be varying degrees of sunlight. It’s easy to think that sunlight will help your photograph, but typically an overexposed photo will drown out the detail and texture that you’re seeking to highlight. The solution: Find or create shade. Move around your subject to find the best light. Brightness and saturation can always be adjusted later, but detail and textures that are lost cannot.
This is a don’t.
There’s so much light on this subject that the details gets washed out.
There is sun in this next one, but it’s mostly along the edges where I want it. The eye is led toward the center where tiny dew drops are being evaporated by morning light. Still, it could use a bit less light.
Light and Shadow.
Being careful of sunlight doesn’t mean that you have to avoid it altogether. Light creates opportunities to play with light and shadow. Shadows shouldn’t distract from the subject, as in this example where the light is harsh, shadows seem to serve no purpose, and details are “overshadowed”.
This is a don’t.
Light and shadow should complement each other and highlight the subject, like in these examples.
Play With ISO.
There’s a lot to be learned about ISO. Think about it as the pupil of your eye expanding and contracting to let in or shut out light. I’ll just give you a quick tip. Mess around with it. Particularly when working with the greens of nature, such beautiful effect can be had, for instance, by minimizing the light to create deep and moody images.
Here I transformed this cluttered visual…
…into something moody and mysterious.
Same exact image. Not too shabby, eh? Give it a shot.
Try Shooting In Black and White.
I know, nature is the opposite of black and white, so why would you remove the color? A scene such as this one can sometimes be overwhelming to capture. Using black and white film when I just started out is what got me started paying attention to how I was taking pictures, and of what. It also helped me to pay more attention to the mood and composition of my photos.
By eliminating the variety of greens, browns and yellows, you can simplify your images to focus on composition and mood.
Though you couldn’t tell from my Instagram page, black and white is a style that I’ve loved for most of the time that I’ve been photographing things. I remember buying black and white film as a teenager and taking moody pictures in solemn poses at the dark end of the hallway of my parent’s house. The nostalgia…
Coming From Behind.
Walking around your subject is a great way to figure out your optimal light, and when it comes to greenery, magical things can happen when sunlight filters through it.
Like with this banana leaf.
Or this palm leaf.
Photography is such a rewarding hobby. Sure, there’s lots of things to be learned and they will take time. Heck, I’m still constantly learning. But there’s no reason why you have to buy expensive equipment to feel like you can start taking beautiful pictures. The basics of photography will get you very far in producing images that you’re proud of, and not just by accident.
Keep learning and experimenting. Keep documenting the beauty of the natural world. It’s my pleasure to assist.
Tell me, which was the tip for using light that you’re most excited about or drawn to?
My name is Lyz-Stephanie and I want to inspire you to be more connected to yourself and the world, to find beauty in simple pleasures, and to have more adventures. Every day we can do something to make our lives happier and richer, make our minds more active and engaged. I’m on the journey. Will you join me?