Nature photography is one of the most common forms of photography out there today and in this article, I’m going to give you tips for creating more compelling nature photography.
Instagram alone has more than 80 million posts under the hashtag #naturephotography. Not to mention that variations like #naturephotos and #naturephotoshoot have their own massive following. No matter what genre of photography you practice, getting out in nature and capturing images of the natural world is always fascinating.
Perhaps some of the charm and pull of nature photography has to do with the fact that it is free, easily accessible (depending on where you are), and there is never a shortage of subject matter, light or even creative framing – all elements that contribute to a stellar photo.
Nature photography doesn’t have to be boring or mundane. Nor is nature photography only images of dramatic landscapes in exotic faraway locations. Even your house plant or tree in your backyard can become compelling nature photography if done correctly. There are a few things you can do to take your nature photography from boring to amazing.
Focus on the subject
Look at any photography course, cheat sheet, or guide. It will talk about the importance of your subject as it relates to the overall image. The subject is everything. A subject can make or break an image, and I don’t say that to just sound dramatic.
Some photos have so much going on that we are confused about the message. On the flip side, some images use a shallow depth of field to focus on one element, yet nothing else gives context to what is going on in the image. We are often left wondering what the intention of the image is.
Don’t let that happen to you. Focus on the subject based on what story you are looking to tell. Ask yourself if the subject helps or distracts from that story.
If you want to photograph a tree in your backyard in the Fall, wait until all the leaves turn a bright red color to complement the story of fall colors. If you want to photograph a landscape at golden hour, figure out the direction of the sunset and watch the weather to see if conditions are right for a dramatic golden hour and sunset.
Understand what you are photographing and the story you want to tell. This will help you conduct the right kind of research needed for executing your shoot and the results you want.
Understand the light you are working with
If there is one thing I would shout from the rooftops as it relates to photography, it is about the importance of light in photography.
There is no such thing as bad lighting. Lighting is just different at different times of the day.
Not all lighting is the same in terms of quality of light. Light is just different at different times of the day. Sometimes the light is perfect – that warm, soft glow that translates beautifully in pictures. Other times, the lighting is harsh and strong. I wouldn’t say that type of lighting is always bad – it is just not the same every time.
The sooner you train your eye to read the different types of light, and what it can do to your images, the sooner you will be able to analyze your imagery better. You’ll also get photos closer to the style you like without wasting too much time in post-processing. No amount of editing can really fix an image taken in poor lighting conditions.
As it is with nature photography, you cannot always control your light source, that is, the sun. There might be many instances that you are out in nature during the harsh midday sun. This light is strong and very warm. Learn to use that to compliment your photos.
If you can get outside during golden hour, use that light to add some drama to your nature photos. But make sure that you don’t photograph directly into the setting sun as it leads to a lot of sun flare entering your frame (unless that is the effect you are after). It can also make the shot appear muddy and blown out to the point of not being able to see the subjects clearly.
Focus on the details
Most of us focus on the bigger picture when we photo nature and landscapes: big skies, large mountains, or even vast open waters. But there is something to be said about slowing down and noticing the details around you. The feel and texture of sand, the colors of pebbles at the beach, the curling leaves under flowers or the colors of a butterfly’s wings. There are so many ways to include details in your images to create compelling nature photography.
Just because something is larger than life, doesn’t mean it is the only thing that matters. Details create depth, texture, and complement the narrative.
Explore colors in nature
I recently came across a YouTuber who prepares natural paints from colors found in nature and uses that for her art. I found it fascinating to watch her grid stones and use their powder for colors, harness indigo from blueberries and red from wild roses. There are countless colors that are found in nature if only we know where to look.
Use colors to convey emotions and meaning. We all know that some colors are associated with certain types of feelings in the eyes of the viewer. Yellow evokes happiness and enthusiasm. Red means strength and energy. Orange shows creativity and warmth. Green signifies harmony and growth.
Use colors in your photography to give that element of wow to your images. Nature has an abundance of color all around – just look for it.
Simple always triumphs complex
I alluded to this earlier in the article, where I talked about the chaos in an image. Clutter can be messy and sometimes put off a person in real life. Some busy photos where there is a lot happening can be complex and chaotic. Life is crazy enough. We don’t always need to take that into our art.
Nature Photography has the power to transform us to a magical and fantastical place, someplace calm and peaceful. By simplifying our photos, we can transport the user to a place of calm so that they can emotionally connect with our images.
I hope these simple tips help you create more compelling nature photography. Nature has the power to heal in so many ways, and by using that effectively in our imagery, we can convey that narrative to our audience.
Here are more compelling nature photos: