I don’t claim to be an expert when it comes to nature photography. I often say that taking pictures is merely a hobby of mine, partially because this keeps me from feeling too guilty that most of my photos aren’t nearly as good as the ones printed in nature magazines or published in calendars. But I have learned a thing or two over the past several years that have brought about noticeable improvements in my recent work, and which I feel are worth sharing.
- First of all, anybody who is looking to seriously pursue photography of any kind needs to do their homework. Go to the library and check out as many books as you can that review the basic rules of photography: the functions of aperture, ISO, shutter speed, and how all of these things effect the final photograph. Study the rules of composition, such as the rule of thirds (below), and the many necessary elements to pulling off a successful wildlife shot.
- While some people like to believe capturing that once-in-a-lifetime shot depends on nothing but talent and determination, the fact is you will eventually have to invest in a decent camera. I’m not recommending you go out tomorrow and spend $1,000 on one you have no idea how to use, but you’ll eventually have to pay more than $100 for the on-sale model at Wal-Mart. I personally have yet to invest in a DSLR, but my Nikon CoolPix P510 gives me an unmatched 42X zoom, along with 16.1 MegaPixels. Perhaps most importantly, it allows me to customize my shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. Auto Mode might work 90% of the time, but it will never produce silky waterfalls or freeze a bird in mid-flight on a cloudy day. If you want above-average pictures, an above-average camera is a necessary part of the equation.
- Take LOTS of pictures! I recently visited the St. Louis Arch and went on a sight-seeing cruise up and down the Mississippi river. Over the course of a single afternoon I took over 400 pictures, the majority of which were deleted when I got home. I ended up keeping 116 for myself, and sharing only 5 with the world via my Flickr stream. The math is simple: only about 1% of the pictures I take make the final cut.
- Many people erroneously believe using any form of photo editing software constitutes cheating. And honestly, this belief is usually apparent in their photographs. Failing to correct crooked horizons, pale colors and lack of contrast is sometimes all it takes to turn what could have been a true work of art into a distraction. I don’t encourage over-editing your pictures, but don’t be afraid to digitally enhance your image in such a way that brings out more of the original beauty you witnessed.
- Back them up! When it comes to storing your digital photo on a PC, never fail to back up any more pictures than you are willing to lose. Personally, I pay for a subscription to Flickr Pro (it only costs about $2 per month), which gives me absolutely unlimited online storage for my photos. They’re all saved at full resolution and can be easily downloaded at any time.