Nature Photography Tips Tricks and Techniques
Digital Photography Tips
Did you get a digital camera for Christmas?
Whether Santa was kind to you, or you've been using one for a while, you might be wondering how to best utilize it for your nature photographs.
Most digital cameras sold today are of the fixed-lens, or "point and shoot" variety. This article will be biased toward that type of camera. Digital SLRs (the type with interchangeable lenses like a traditional 35mm camera), are similar but are geared toward more advanced users who want more control over their camera's features.
Preparing to Take Your Digital Camera Afield
Most digital cameras that I've seen or used have the same basic limitations that any other camera has.
Capturing Your Digital Landscape Photos
- Water: Be sure to protect your camera from water and excessive moisture. Store it in a waterproof bag or case when it's not being used. If possible, use a dessicant pack to absorb excess moisture. Use an absorbent cloth to remove moisture from camera surfaces (Pack Towels by Cascade Designs are great for this.)
- Cold: Digital cameras are highly dependent on batteries, and batteries are susceptible to cold. Keep spare batteries and the camera itself close to your body to help sustain your battery life.
- Dust and Dirt: Similar to moisture, you need to protect your camera from dust and dirt as much as possible. If windy conditions are expected, you may want to purchase a filter to protect your lens from abrasive dirt and dust. A UV filter is perfect for protecting your lens from dirt and scratches.
- Film: Make sure you have enough "digital film" to last for your outing, or a storage device to download your images to.
Digital cameras have some definite advantages over film cameras, but again, many of the same techniques apply to getting great photos.
Back at Home
- Get Out! My first piece of advice to anyone wanting to get great nature photographs is to get out and do it. You can't get nature photos from your couch!
- Steady, steady. You can instantly improve the quality of your nature photographs by using a tripod. Using a tripod allows you to create sharp photographs under any lighting condition. In addition, you can use the lowest possible ISO setting on your camera to further improve the quality of your photos (higher ISO settings tend to increase digital "noise").
- Take your camera out of P mode. The bad thing about Automatic or Program modes is that they take all of the thought and creativity out of a photograph. Before creating a photograph, think about whether it needs a smaller aperature or a higher shutter speed (or vice versa) and adjust accordingly. Many cameras have modes that will automatically prefer certain settings. For example, a landscape mode prefers a smaller aperature for greater depth of field at the expense of shutter speed.
- Selective focus. With most cameras, you can select and hold the focus at a certain place by partially depressing and holding the shutter release button. If you want to change your composition, keep the shutter release depressed the entire time or your camera will likely change focus. Some cameras have a manual focus feature which is fun to experiment with.
- Image Size. Set your camera to store the largest possible image file (highest resolution) for the best quality photos. If you are an advanced user and your camera has the capability, consider using RAW mode. However, if you do use RAW mode, be prepared for the extra computer time required. Even a 3 megapixel image is capable of producing an 11 x 14 inch photo. However, that will be meaningless if the quality is poor. If storage capacity is an issue, weigh whether it is better to have a few very good photos or many mediocre ones.
- White Balance. Digital cameras have the ability to automatically adjust white balance. What that means to you and I is that the camera adjusts the color of photograph to compensate for different lighting conditions that might be encountered (indoors versus outdoors, incandescent versus fluorescent lighting etc.). The downside of this feature for outdoor photography is that the camera could remove color that we might want in our photos such as subtle sunset reds or bluish colors on bright snowy days. My preference is to manually set the white balance on the camera to daylight in order to capture these subtleties. They can always be removed later, but I suspect that you're more likely to enhance such great lighting rather than neutralize it. On the other hand, if you want these color balances corrected, a digital camera will save you from having to carry some filters.
- Don't be a slave to your LCD. Perhaps the greatest feature of digital cameras is the ability to "see" your photograph the instant it is created. Use the LCD as a guide, but understand that it cannot show you an image exactly the way it will appear on your computer. Also, don't pay so much attention to the LCD that you miss additional opportunities for great photos.
The fun continues! Once you've captured your digital photos, your work is not done. Now it's time to download, edit, and tweak them. I'll be back with another article that will cover tips for some of these tasks. Until then, happy shooting!
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