Nature Photography Tips

Picture of a crawdad in the mud

The nature photography tips section provides some basic tips for getting better nature shots. The tips are organized into some specific nature categories and the technical focus is on comparing fast versus slow shutter speeds.

Birds and dragonflies are the subjects for this particular page. The photography suggestions also work well with butterflies

Bird Photography: Shutter Speed

picture of a rufous hummingbird hovering near flowers

Birders continue to flock to the high end digital point and shoot and SLR cameras on the market today because they allow them to capture a variety pictures, including birds in flight. Increased zooming capacity, higher pixel capacity, anti-shake technologies and advanced picture setting choices represent a few of the features birders find particularly attractive in digital cameras.

The ability to set a shutter speed setting mode provides birders with a very useful, if less hyped photography tool. In brief, shutter speed defined means the amount of time a camera's eye, the lens, stays open to capture an image. Most digital cameras provide a range of shutter speed settings.

The slow end of the shutter speed range approaches the one frame every three seconds level. Typically, keeping a camera lens open for that amount of time during daylight conditions invites too much light into the picture, ruining it.

The fast end of the shutter speed range approaches the one frame every 1/2000 of a second level. Generally, bird photography enthusiasts opt for the faster settings. With few exceptions, birds are characterized by flight. Higher shutter speeds, in the 1/500 - 1/2000 range, are necessary for capturing clear pictures of birds in flight.

picture of a cooper's hawk resting on a branch with oranges

Shutter speed settings are equally important for non-flight pictures of birds.

While many bird species of birds can sit still and pose for extended periods of time, other bird species have trouble sitting still for any length of time.

Keeping a shutter speed setting at the 1/500 - 1/1000 level to compensate for any bird movement usually works for capturing most birds.

In rare instances where shutter speed is not an issue because the bird is sitting pretty, asking you to take his picture, consider changing the mode to aperture setting, which regulates the amount of light the lens allows.

Typically lower aperture settings allow in more light, adding greater focus and clarity to the scene. Higher aperture settings, on the other hand, allow in less light and provide a sharper focus on the subject and a blurred background effect.

Photo composition follows the mastery of technical issues such as light and shutter speed. Good technique makes for good pictures. Good technique and good composition make for better pictures.

Dragonfly Photography

picture of a dragonfly in flight

Dragonfly photography made easy starts from the very simple fact that most dragonflies enjoy perching on a sunny branch and are amenable to having their picture taken. Often it involves little more than taking a camera to a water location on a sunny spring, summer or fall day and snapping a picture of the first sighted dragonfly.

A more advanced set of dragonfly photography tips includes attentiveness to basic photography practices such as selecting the macro setting on the camera and insuring proper sunlight on the subject.

When the easy photography becomes unreflective, most dragonfly enthusiasts begin to realize that some dragonflies, especially the darners, do not follow the typical dragonfly perching mode. Solving that problem can be as easy as using a net to capture and photograph the dragonfly in a posed position. Capturing the dragonfly in flight represents another potentially successful photographic strategy.

The picture show a darner in flight, taken with the camera set to shutter speed priority of perhaps 800 and the flash open.

From this technical starting point, getting the picture is a matter of following the dragonfly with the lens and waiting for an appropriate moment when the focus locks on the dragonfly. Usually the combination of patience, flash and shutter speed are sufficient to capture a clear shot of the dragonfly in flight.

Practicing these techniques by taking fifty or so different pictures should produce at least one or two acceptable dragonfly in flight photos.

Miscellaneous Nature Photography Tips

Picture of fireworks exploding against a black sky

Save the oohs and aahs of the fireworks display year round. Setting the camera to a faster shutter speed can often be sufficient for capturing a fireworks moment in time.

Picture of a waterfall

Many photographers use slower shutter speeds for two subjects, water and night.

Use a tripod and try experimenting with slower shutter speeds to capture the many moods of the water in a waterfall

an example of night photography with a car going past on a highway night

The logic underpinning night photography is pretty self explanatory. Cameras work with light, and the absence of light at night means that the shutter needs to stay open for an extended amount of time in order to absorb any type of light in the area.

The picture shows a scene of a car passing on a highway at night. Setting the shutter speed to fifteen seconds and anticipating the arrival of a car allows the camera to capture fifteen seconds of the car's headlights. Experimenting with different shutter speed settings, up to thirty seconds depending on the shot and amount of available light, ought to produce some realistic night scenes.

picture of a torch lily with a black back ground

Torch Lilies are great night time photography subjects. Their brightness can be captured even in total darkness. Well, of course, the black background on the photo of the torch lily is an artifact of the natural day time situation of the plant itself.

Walk along any street during the brightest part of the day and notice that the sun often shines on one part of a subject, leaving the remainder of the subject in shade. Finding a way to capture both the brightness of the flower along with the background is merely a matter of changing the angle of the shot to insure that the black background is the only thing present in the picture apart for the sun soaked flower.

© 2001-2016 Patricia A. Michaels

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