Appeared in 2016 summer issue of Union Sportsmen’s Journal. By Jess Levens.
As technology advances and cost barriers shrink, photography has become a popular hobby for people in all walks of life. While each form of photography requires practice and refinement, nature and wildlife photography rank near the top of the list when it comes to difficulty. Contributing factors include physical strain, lack of access to locations, inclement weather and the fleeting nature of wildlife – plus all the other stuff that’s difficult for any novice shutterbug.
At the USA, we have the pleasure of receiving hundreds of photos each year from our members, and it is abundantly clear that you love to document and share your outdoor passion, be it imagery of majestic landscapes, intimate encounters with animals, hunting and fishing snapshots or just casual pictures of friends and family spending quality time together in nature. As a former Marine Corps photojournalist, I jumped at the chance to talk with outdoor photography experts and United Auto Workers members Joe McClure and Troy Nemitz about how photographers of any skill level can take better images in the great outdoors.
Q&A: The Basics
Jess: What are some basic tips you would give to a new photographer?
Joe: First, make sure you have a good understanding of your camera’s functions, as well some basic photography principles such as shutter speed and aperture and how they combine to make an image. Rule of thirds. Fill flash. Use a tripod or monopod for low light or high magnification, like a macro shot of a bug.
Troy: Get the best gear you are comfortable buying. Like most things in life, the best gear is very pricy. I know a lot of people who photograph right beside me with more budget-friendly gear, and they are outdoors enjoying themselves just as much as I am.
Jess: Any other tips?
Joe: Underexpose your images. With a flash, underexpose by a full stop. Without a flash, underexpose by 1/3 stop. With a slightly underexposed image, you can typically bring the shadows back, but if an image is blown out (overexposed), that color information is gone forever. Lots of cameras have options that let you set exposure compensation automatically.
Troy: I don’t worry too much about photography principles. I shoot what I see and what is pleasing to me. Photography is an art, and what one person likes another will not. If you are pleased with the end result, that is what really matters.
Q&A: Shooting Landscape and Nature Scenes
Jess: What do I need to know about shooting landscapes?
Troy: I don’t shoot as much landscape as I’d like to, but good landscape photography is all about lighting. I have yet to see a great landscape photo with poor lighting.
Joe: This is where you typically want to use your wide-angle lens and a tripod or monopod for stability, even if it’s not a low-light situation. Always keep your camera close because you can’t predict nature.
Jess: What camera settings do you typically use for nature shots?
Joe: Aperture priority mode. If you have a close subject, like a tree or an interesting rock, I would use a shallow aperture to concentrate focus and blur the background. If I am shooting something large or far away like a mountain or a lake, I would use deeper aperture to capture all the detail in the frame. If you aren’t sure, f/8 is a good, middle-of-the-road aperture setting.
Jess: Can you share any tricks you’ve learned?
Joe: Water. Use a tripod and shoot with slow shutter speed to create a mist effect on water, and when shooting with a slow shutter speed on a tripod, using the camera’s timer function will eliminate unwanted motion blur from your finger pressing the shutter.
Q&A: Shooting Wildlife
Jess: Now that we’ve covered still landscapes, I want to know more about photographing wildlife.
Troy: Spend lots of time in the field. Get to know your subjects’ behavior patterns. This will help you with setting up your shots. Take lots of photos. Some days I take thousands of photos and only come home with a few keepers.
Joe: Game is seen in the late afternoon, when low-light conditions start taking effect, and most game is predictable, so being familiar enough to anticipate behaviors can make or break a photo shoot. With wildlife, I typically use a telephoto lens.
Jess: What about techniques and camera settings?
Troy: I like to keep my lens eye-level with my subject. If I need to lay on my stomach, that’s what I do. Keep the sun to your back as much as you can. This will help catch the light in an animal’s eyes and bring out detail in your subject. Keeping the eye of your subject in focus is very important for a great photo.
Joe: If you are shooting subjects that fly or are on the move, you’ll want to use shutter priority mode. If you want to freeze motion, use a fast shutter speed. If you want motion blur, use a slow shutter speed. If the animals are more stationary, try using aperture priority so you can control how crisp or blurry the background or foreground will be.
Jess: Any other wildlife photography tips?
Troy: When approaching wildlife, take some photos and then gradually try to move closer and closer, but be respectful of the wildlife and try not to cause any stress.