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.

digital horizons

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.


This Article Features Photo Zoom

I especially like the compact digital cameras that have a flip-out, tilting LCD screen. This encourages you to put your camera into unique locations just to see what a photograph from there looks like, including over your head, down on the ground and even held into places your head won’t fit. My older Canon PowerShot A640 has inspired me to take all sorts of pictures that I wouldn’t even have considered otherwise, and this affects how I use my D-SLR as well. One challenge of many small digital cameras is that they don’t have a very wide wide-angle capability. A lot of manufacturers are now working to remedy this, but your options can be limited. This is one reason why I like the Samsung NV24HD. This very pocketable camera as a wide-angle equivalent of 24mm, making it a fun little camera to play with. In addition, the camera includes a 16:9 framing option that’s totally different than what you’ll find with standard cameras. This format fits the widescreen television sets that so many people are using today, but that’s not the reason why I use it.

Shooting with the camera challenges me to look at compositions differently. I can guarantee that if you start taking pictures with such a different format, it will change the way you frame any photograph. The 16:9 format is often used in movies where the look can be interesting because of the way composition is used in this wide frame.

digital horizons

Watch Out For Judges. I’m suggesting that you can honor nature by creating images that other people haven’t already seen many times. But in doing that, you often end up with photos that are so different that an internal judge starts criticizing you. “Why are you doing that composition? No one will like it.” “You’re using the LCD way too much. What will the other camera club members think?” “You hardly need another camera. Anyway, why would you want a stupid point-and-shoot?” That critic can be harsh; I know that from long experience. But you have to step up and say, “Shut up! I can do what I want! And I want something better, not the same old stuff that you, Mr. Critic, are comfortable with.” I think this quote by media guru Phil Cooke (www.philcooke.com) says it all: “Don’t give your audience what you think they want. Give them what they never dreamed possible.”

Rob Sheppard works to encourage new ways of seeing through his class, Impact In Your Photos, at BetterPhoto.com and through his blog at www.photodigitary.com.

3 Comments

    My husband HAS to read this article. It reflects my sentiments exactly about how I take my pictures. Plus, it made me realize that I need to look at all the angles.

    Excellent article Rob. I look forward to learning from you at the NANPA Regional in Florida in March. Also, I love the “Photo Zoom” that you have incorporated into your website. I would like to add that to mine. How can I get that? -Dave-

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