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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Making Better Nature Photos

Honoring nature by creating new visions of the world

This Article Features Photo Zoom

digital horizons
Use the LCD to experiment with compositions. Even a slightly different camera position can make a big difference.
Photographers are always interested in the latest gear, how a new lens might help, in taking workshops and reading magazines like Outdoor Photographer, all in the effort to become a better photographer. I’d like to add another reason why we constantly need to strive to better our own photography. Nature is something important to all of us, and it’s under a lot of stress—from acid rain to global warming to increased pressures where human development and wild lands meet.

When nature photography simply provides more pictures like we’ve always seen, no matter how pretty, the importance of nature starts disappearing for the rest of the world. A quote from Anaïs Nin is about writing, but it really says it all: “It is the function of art to renew our perception. What we are familiar with, we cease to see. The writer shakes up the familiar scene, and, as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it.” Think about that. “What we are familiar with, we cease to see.” How often have you seen beautiful pictures in calendars, but didn’t really “see” the nature there other than a pretty picture? I know that has happened to me.

So how do we create new images that break through and have an impact on people? Here are a few ideas that I’ve found useful that push me to go beyond the obvious and common shots.

LCD Magic. The LCD on the back of the camera is a huge benefit in allowing us to see how the camera is translating a scene into a photograph. Since digital costs nothing to take pictures, we can freely experiment and review all of our experiments instantly.

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You may have heard some photographers dismiss this idea. They call checking the LCD “chimping” in a derogatory way. It’s true that if you check the LCD too often when action is occurring, you can miss the action. But I don’t get the idea that checking your LCD to review your shots is bad. Why shouldn’t we use the technology that’s available to help us become better photographers?

When I’m photographing in a great location and find a wonderful scene, I take the standard picture just so I have it. Then I start experimenting, looking for better, for more unique images, for photographs that are unexpected, pictures that won’t be the same as every other photographer’s shots.

To be honest, a lot of those pictures aren’t very good. But because I can review them in the LCD while I’m still at that scene, I can see what’s working and not working and make corrections on the spot. It’s a sad thing for a photographer to be at home reviewing shots and wish he or she had done something differently. The opportunity is gone.

A Different Sort Of New Camera. I frequently carry a little camera with me. I like having a camera that I can throw in my pocket and respond to interesting pictures around me at anytime. I’m not saying that any of those pictures are going to be great, but it allows me to photograph interesting things and learn from that experience. It’s almost like a sketchbook that a painter would carry.


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