Hello and welcome to a new Photography 101 chapter! My name is Yuukon and I'm pleased to see you made it here!
If you are new to Photography 101, please check out the previous chapters first:
Photography 101: Chapter 01: Basics - Looking
Photography 101: Chapter 02: Composition-Location
Photography 101: Chapter 03: Lighting
Photography 101: Chapter 04: Light sources and WB
Photography 101: Chapter 05: RAW and Basic Editing
Photography 101: Chapter 06: Gear
Photography 101: Chapter 07: Categorising Photos: Part 01
Photography 101: Chapter 07: Categorising Photos: Part 02
Photography 101: Chapter 08: Architecture
Today, we will be discussing a subject that has been requested a bajillion times: Nature photography!
Before we start off, I want to introduce you to the nature photography categories on DA. They are all in a parent category under photography called "Animals, Plants and Nature".
- Aquatic life
"Photographs of plants and animals living underwater"
"Photographs where birds are the primary subject"
- Domesticated Animals
"Photographs of animals that have been domesticated (tamed to live with humans), as either pets or livestock, which depend on humans for their survival"
- Flowers, Trees and Plants
"Photographs of plant life, such as trees, flowers, shrubs and herbs."
"Photographs of fungi, such as yeast, molds, lichens, mushrooms and toadstools."
"Photographs of geological features, such as rocks and natural geological formations."
"Photographs of invertebrates, such as insects, snails, arachnids and starfish."
"Photographs of natural scenes that have land as their main focus, and which is usually free of man-made obstructions and human activity.
This category holds any and all APN photographs which do not fit any of the other categories.
- Reptiles and Amphibians
"Photographs of reptiles and amphibians, such as lizards, snakes, turtles, frogs and salamanders."
"Photographs of natural scenery that contains water as the main subject, including oceans, rivers, waterfalls, and lakes."
- Weather and Sky
"Photographs of nature involving the sky or weather features as the most significant element"
- Wild Animals
"Photographs of animals that do not typically live with people including captive wild animals."
And next to that, there's also:
- Macro - Nature
"Photographs that capture nature on a macro level, as depicted in water droplets or insects."
This is how DA has explained all the categories that are part of the Animals, Plants and Nature category and the Macro > Nature category. It's very understandable that you may be confused about where to put your photograph. There's a lot of categories, so it often takes a bit of thorough investigation when unfamiliar with them. But let's not forget that there is so much more behind nature photography than what is explained in these gallery descriptions!
In this chapter, the following subjects will be discussed:
In this chapter, the following subjects will be discussed:
- A short introduction to Nature Photography
- What are the different kinds of Nature Photography?
- What gear do I need for Nature Photography?
- Some tips & tricks for Nature Photography
- (Frequently) Asked Questions & Answers
- Showcasing Nature Photography
A short introduction to Nature PhotographyNature photography, on DA lovingly referred to as "Animals, Plants, Nature" or simply "APN", is a huge category. You'll find anything in there- from cute baby animals to roaring tigers, from magnificent landscapes to beautiful details of flowers, gorgeous, yet dangerous weather to a tiny little snail, and from the most amazing sunrises to fantastic shots of the milky way. Within nature photography, the possibilities are endless. However, there is one thing that all nature photography has in common: there will be as little as possible man-made elements in there.
What are the different kinds of Nature Photography?There's a ton of different kinds. This is why, for this article, I have divided this up into the ones I see on DA the most. If you are interested in something else, feel free to drop a comment below and I'll do my best to help you!
- Animals, wild & domesticated
- Scapes - including land, sky and water
- Flora & Fungi
Animals: Wild & DomesticatedAnimal photography is a huge part of nature photography. We have our wild animals, our domesticated animals, our zoo animals, the ones that live in the water, near the water, in the woodlands, on the fields, and so on and on. Often, these are categorised as wild animals and domesticated animals. Let's toss in some definitions as found in the dictionary:
Wild: (of an animal or plant) living or growing in the natural environment; not domesticated or cultivated.
"a herd of wild goats"
synonyms: untamed, undomesticated, feral
Domesticated: (of an animal) tame and kept as a pet or on a farm.
synonyms: tame, train, break in, gentle
These words also show up as each other's acronyms in the dictionary, which basically means they are each other's opposite. If we follow the definitions, domesticated animals are our pets or farm animals, while wild animals are the ones we don't keep in the house. This also includes animals in zoos, and insects and invertebrates. Reptiles and Amphibians, Aquatic Life and Birds could be either, they can be seen in the wild, but they can also be pets!
ScapesScapes refers to a multitude of things. There are many different kind of scapes, also outside nature photography, for instance, cityscapes. In this case, we will focus on landscapes, waterscapes and skyscapes (weather and sky on DA). Let's define these three!
The main focus in a landscape will be the land. If either the land itself is the main focus, or if 60% or more of what you see on the ground is land, it's often considered to be a landscape.
In a waterscape, the main focus will be water. If either the water is the main focus, or if 60% or more of what you see on the "ground" is water, it's often considered to be a waterscape.
While land- and waterscapes focus on what's below, in a skyscape, the sky will be the main feature of your photograph.
Flora & FungiFlora is also one of those categories that could contain a lot of different things. Let's dive into that dictionary again:
Flora: the plants of a particular region, habitat, or geological period.
"Britain's native flora"
Keep in mind that flora only includes things like flowers, trees and plants (which has it's own subcategory on DA), but not things like fungi. Fungi are a fungus, not a plant. The dictionary also has a definition on that:
Fungi: any of a group of unicellular, multi-cellular, or syntactical spore-producing organisms feeding on organic matter, including moulds, yeast, mushrooms, and toadstools.
"truffles are fungi but not mushrooms"
MacroMacro is the true representation of a subject on a 1:1 scale. It shows off details you wouldn't see with the naked eye. Good examples of macro subjects are insects, tiny flowers and, something we see on DA a lot, droplets in nature.
It's important not to confuse macro with a close-up, as they are two entirely different things. If you want to learn more about the difference between macro and close-up, I'd like to refer you to my article on that: INSERT LINK HERE
What gear do I need for Nature Photography?What kind of gear you need, will depend on the kind of nature photography you're practising. Let's break things down in the same categories as in the above segment, to keep things organised and for our sanity.
- Animals, wild & domesticated
- Scapes - including land, sky and water
- Flora & Fungi
Animals: Wild & DomesticatedThe kind of gear you need for animal photography, often depends on how well you can approach them. Since wild animals are more difficult to approach compared to domesticated animals, these will each be discussed separately.
Wild AnimalsWild animals are animals you can't easily approach, even when you photograph them in zoos. Therefore, you're going to need a telephoto lens. I currently have a 70-200 mm lens, and from my personal experience, even in zoos, the 200 mm is not enough. If you have a DSLR camera, you could use a tele-converter, also known as an "extender" to extend the focal length of your lens. This is a tiny "lens", which you place in between your camera and lens, and depending on which you get, it will extend both your minimum and maximum focal length with either 1.4x or 2.0x. Those aren't as expensive as a lens with a longer focal length, however, they are tricky considering they won't work on all lenses (or even when you change your aperture). Some of them don't even support auto-focus. If you want to get one of those, it is important to research it thoroughly, because if you don't: chances are you'll spend your money on something that doesn't even work with your lens.
With wild animals, it's also recommended to use a moderate to fast shutter speed. If your shutter speed drops too low, and the animal moves, chances are you'll have a load of motion blur in your photograph. Personally, I always try to stay above 1/500 of a second. In dark areas in for instance zoos, you'll have to compensate by increasing your ISO speed. With how much is something that will depend on your lens and camera. Some camera sensors have a higher sensitivity than others.
If you don't have a DSLR camera or can't afford one, I would recommend to look into a "super-zoom" bridge camera. These cameras have a huge zoom, and they zoom optical rather than digital. This means that it will zoom with the lens, and not on the pixels, which will result in higher quality photographs. These cameras can often be set to work manually, and are a lot cheaper than DSLR cameras. Downside is that the quality of the photographs is often lower, and you can't exchange your lenses.
Domesticated AnimalsWhen it comes to domesticated animals, you can often get a lot closer to them. This means you'll need less focal length than you'd need for wild animals. The lens I mentioned earlier, the 70-200 mm is one that is absolutely lovely when working with domesticated animals. It's one that allows action shots, close-ups but also, if you take enough distance, a wonderful lens to capture the animal in a landscape. For domesticated animals lenses like the 50 mm 1.8 are often wonderful to work with as well, especially if you have an animal that wants to stay close to you. It will allow you to get even closer, which in turn can get you awesome portraits with a nice depth of field.
When working with domesticated animals, it's once again important to not let your shutter speed drop too far. Domesticated animals can move just as unexpectedly as wild animals, and even a flinch could create motion blur if your shutter speed drops. Personally, I always use a minimum of 1/500 second, like with wild animals.
When you don't have a DSLR, in this case, one of the super-zoom cameras would once again be a good fit. It will give you the full range I just mentioned above. However, I can not guarantee that you will be able to create as nice a depth of field as you can with a DSLR.
There is one thing that is important when working with both wild and domesticated animals: do not use a flash. You'll risk spooking them, and depending on what they are, they might actually run away and become afraid of the camera itself.
Some domesticated animals are used to it, but if this is an animal you don't know personally, always discuss this with the owner before you actually use it.
ScapesFor landscapes, you're going to need a whole different set of gear. For instance, a wide-angle lens. A wide-angle lens could be any focal length up to 35 mm. It's also recommended to have a tripod, filters and a remote control.
Let's start this party by discussing lenses. For landscapes, you will need a greater depth of field than when you're working with animals, which means the number on the side doesn't need to be as low. When I shoot landscapes, I often up my aperture to at least f/8, to ensure that all of the landscape is properly focused and you don't lose focus to a shallow depth of field (if you're unsure what all this means, check out the first chapter in this series).
A tripod will allow you to work with the long exposure technique. This means that you'll expose your sensor (or film, if you're old school) to light for a longer period of time. This could be one second, but it could also be ten minutes. Longer exposure shots work well to create a smooth water surface, clouds which seem to be moving or to simply get rid of the pesky humans in your 'scape. Something important to know about long exposure is that the intensity of the colours will also change. At sunrise or sunset, it's something that will really bring out the natural colours in the sky, creating a magical scene. When working with long exposure techniques, it's important to minimise vibrations to your camera. Even a slight touch already causes a vibration, this is where the remote control comes in. If you touch that instead of the camera, you will eliminate the vibrations.
Tripods are also very useful when you want to shoot a panorama (shoot multiple pictures next to each other to combine to one, wide/tall landscape afterwards). If you shoot a panorama from the hand, chances are your horizon will change, you could tilt your camera a slight bit, etc, all of which will make it more difficult to combine them later on.
Filters are something that can be used in a multitude of situations. With the long exposure technique, you'll often use an ND-filter (Neutral Density). These are dark filters, with or without a gradient, which are available in different grades of darkness. These will be placed in front of the lens to block out part of the light coming in, allowing you to use an even slower shutter speed.
There's also UV-filters, which are amazing at protecting your lens as well as preventing lens flare, polarisation filters to make the colours more intense and remove reflections and many, many more.
FloraFor Flora (and fungi) a standard lens or a short telephoto lens are recommended. A standard lens will give you a range of between 40 mm and 50 mm, and a small telephoto lens will be up to a 100 mm. Depending on the weather, you can play with shutter speed too. If it's super windy, a faster shutter speed would be beneficial to your photograph, but if there's no wind, you can easily take your time and use a shutter speed of for instance 1/60 of a second. If you want to go any slower, it's best to use a tripod (there are tiny ones like the Gorillapod that will allow you to work close to the ground) or something else you can place your camera on for extra stability, like a rock, or you could just place your camera on the ground. Do use something like a plastic bag underneath to protect your camera from moist and dirt if you place your camera on anything that is not a tripod. It will also protect from damages if there's something sharp sticking out, etc.
When it comes to aperture, a wider aperture is recommended. This will create a smaller depth of field, creating a nice blur in the fore- and background, which in turn will put the focus in your photograph on the flora/fungi you're photographing.
I personally love to use my 90 mm f/2.8 lens for close-ups like these. The f/2.8 will create a nice depth of field, and the 90 mm allows me to keep some distance, but also get close enough to capture all the details. I also use my 50 mm 1.8 on a regular basis if I want a depth of field that's even more shallow. It often depends on the subject, so I usually take both with me.
MacroFor macro photography, you're going to need some macro gear. Macro gear comes in all sizes and shapes, there's lenses, extension tubes, and many more! In this part, we will focus on macro lenses, reverse-rings and extension tubes since these are the three most commonly used.
LensesThere's a wide array of macro lenses, and lenses with a so-called "macro function". The thing about lenses with "macro function" is that it's hardly ever actual macro, but a lot closer to a close-up. An actual macro lens can get your subject pictured on a 1:1 ratio. There's many different ones when it comes to focal lengths, the most common ones I have seen are 60 mm, 90 mm and 100/105 mm. These lenses often double as a nice portrait lens (for both human and animals) and are also amazing for close-ups.
Most macro lenses have a wide aperture, around f/2.8 and some lenses have an even wider aperture. This is incredibly helpful to get a good depth of field in your macro shot, but it can also be tricky as it can be harder to get something tiny properly focused in a very shallow depth of field. Even in macro you can use your aperture to create a greater depth of field. The effects won't be as obvious as if you were to work with a landscape for instance, but it will definitely help you focus on the tiny things a lot better. I personally love to use my f/4 or higher on creatures that might move away, since it helps me act faster than if I were to use f/2.8. When it comes to things that won't walk away, I like to keep the aperture open as wide as possible, which is f/2.8 on my macro lens.
Extension tubes are a set of rings which you can place in between your camera and lens. This will increase the distance between your lens and sensor, which, like with the reverse rings, will change the way the light hits your sensor, also creating a magnifying effect. Often these tubes come in a set of three, and in the sizes 7 mm, 14 mm and 28 mm. These measurements are the amount of mm you will increase the distance between your lens and sensor. The more distance you create, the closer you can get. They come in AF and MF variants, but from my personal experience I have learned that AF and macro don't match very well. The MF tubes also are a lot cheaper. With this, you will also have to pay attention that you buy them in the correct mount, otherwise they won't fit your camera.
Reverse-ringsReverse rings are like adapter rings. You screw one side on the filter ring of your lens, and the other side is a lens mount. By using your lens the other way around, you kind of turn its life around, changing the way it catches light and focuses. This will create a magnifying effect, which makes it perfect for macro. You can get these rings for about two bucks on eBay, so they're not expensive at all. You do have to make sure you get the correct size for the filter ring and the correct lens mount for your camera, considering nearly all brands have a different lens mount.
(Frequently) Asked Questions & Answers
- Do I really need a tripod for scape-photography?
It's not a necessity... but it will make your life easier in certain situations. For instance, you can already make sure the horizon on your photograph isn't tilted, you can decide to work a longer exposure, shoot a panorama and so on. If you're just going for the one landscape without the fancy stuff, you could easily manage without a tripod.
- What is the quietest camera for wild-life photography?
To be honest, I am not entirely sure what brand or type would be the quietest, but there may have been tests on it. What I do know is that many DSLR's have a "quiet mode" when it comes to shooting. You can often cycle through the shooting modes and (in Canon) you'll find one with an "S" next to it. That S stands for... you guessed it, Silent Mode. It's not entirely silent, but it's not as loud either. I don't know about other brands, though.
- What kind of settings do I need to create depth of field capturing landscapes?
It depends on what kind of depth of field you want to create. Do you want a shallow depth of field? Then open up your aperture, and make sure there's one prominent object to focus on. For a greater depth of field, close your aperture.
- Are telephoto lenses only limited to capturing wildlife from afar?
No! You can also use them for portraits, close-up shots and even landscapes. Just because something is made to do a certain thing, doesn't mean it can't do anything else!
- I don't have access to a camera but I have a phone. How can I use that for nature photography?
Depending on your phone, there are tons of camera apps that will allow you to use manual settings, and if your phone supports it, it will even let you use RAW files! That already makes the post-processing of your phone photos a lot easier. Phones have such big screens that it's easy to see what your composition etc looks like. Personally, I do shoot the occasional landscape with my phone, and there's even a few in my gallery. Most phones also have a pretty great close-up mode, so you can also work with things like flora and fungi.
- How do you photograph a creature that moves a lot and what are the best DSLR settings for it?
Fast shutter speed. Make sure it's at least 1/500 second or faster, and make sure to move along with your subject. Try to work in manual or shutter speed mode rather than the built in modes in your camera. Working on manual or shutter speed in this case will also allow you to work in RAW, which will make things a lot easier in post-processing as JPEG files break easily.
- How do you know what type of lighting is suitable for what you're trying to take a photo of?
I personally always try to avoid the harsh sunlight. It will often create extremely dark shadows and overexposed highlights. Obviously, this does not mean you "can't" go out when the sun is out, but the light will look a lot nicer when there are some clouds the light is diffusing through, or if you for instance go out in the early morning or evening sun. The light is a lot softer then than it would be in the afternoon, plus you'll get that lovely golden glow.
- What are some settings on camera, and techniques in post-processing, to get more accurate colours?
In-camera, you can use the white balance settings. There are different modes in that, for different light circumstances. In post-processing, you can also alter the white balance, but you can also play with things like vibrancy and saturation, hue and luminance, and in many programs that is something you can do per colour, or the whole photo in its entirety.
- How you do you deal with weather during shooting?
Basically, be prepared. Keep an eye on the forecast using weather apps for instance. If rain is expected, bring protective gear for your camera, and a raincoat for yourself. If it's sunny, bring sunscreen. If you're near low water in summer, bring some bug-spray, etc! Weather changes can make good photos, so don't stay inside because of it!
Showcasing Nature Photography
As always, I hope this article was useful to you! If you have any questions, feel free to drop them in the comments below and I'll do my best to answer them for you! In case there's something you want to learn that I haven't written about yet, feel free to let me know! I would love to hear from you guys what's interesting so we can all learn more about it.
If you want to receive some feedback on your photography, I encourage you to check out PhotographyGuide, a group dedicated to giving feedback and helping you grow, because nobody is ever done learning!