By Park Ranger Blake Trester
You’d be hard pressed to find better locations to photograph nature than in America’s National Parks. The beauty and diversity of the parks offer unparalleled photographic opportunities.
Whether you shoot with film or digital media there are some basic guidelines that can help you improve your photos.
Know your equipment. Understanding how to properly use all your camera’s features will expand your capabilities.
- Learn how to shoot in the manual mode (if possible) to increase your control over the final image. Many people use only the program mode, which limits their creative control over the image.
- Use a tripod whenever possible. Using a tripod can mean the difference between a tack sharp image and a blurred discard.
- A general rule of thumb: Don’t exceed your shutter speed by your lens’ focal length without a tripod, for example; if you are using a 200mm lens then be sure your shutter speed is at least 1/200th sec. or faster, otherwise use a tripod to prevent blurring. Also realize that some people have steadier hands than others so compensate as needed.
- Try using a polarizing filter to eliminate reflections, intensify colors, and to deepen blue skies.
In photography timing is everything. Being in the right place at the right time is paramount to taking great photographs.
- Seasonal: Being familiar with the seasonal cycles of plants, the weather and angle of the sun allows you to plan ahead, increasing your chances for successful photography.
- Time of Day: The hour of the day (angle of the Sun) has a dramatic effect on the quality of light (i.e. color & intensity) illuminating your subject(s)
- Rare Opportunities: Having a camera on hand and ready to go will enable you to capture unique moments in time, whether it be rarely photographed weather or atmospheric phenomenon or a rare bird or animal.
There are no absolute rights or wrongs when it comes to photographic composition, but there are a few generally accepted guidelines that can improve or enhance your photographs.
The rule of thirds: Imagine the frame of the photograph split up into equally sized segments by two vertical lines and two horizontal lines.
- Try placing the horizon on one of the two imaginary horizontal lines to emphasize either the landscape or the sky. A common tendency is to place the horizon dead center, giving both the sky and landscape equal emphasis, which can confuse the viewer trying to recognize the main subject.
- Try placing the main subject at one of the intersections of the vertical and horizontal lines to create more drama; rather than placing it dead center in the middle of the frame.
- Use the lines in the landscape to lead the viewer’s eye through the photograph to the main subject. Diagonal, converging, and “S” shaped lines have strong graphic qualities.
- Try framing the scene both vertically and horizontally to see what you prefer.
- Try different perspectives other than eye level (i.e. ground level, kneeling, etc…)
- Avoid including too much blank featureless area in the photograph.
- Try using fill-flash to highlight your foreground subject or to bring out details in dark or shadowed areas.
- Eliminate unrelated or extraneous objects from within the frame - more is not always better. Simple compositions seem to have more visual impact than busy or cluttered ones.
- Try including the Moon in the photograph
- Get in close for an interesting perspective of plants, flowers, and insects.
Take advantage of inclement weather conditions for unique images (i.e. clearing storms, rainbows, fog, unusual cloud formations, etc…) Beware of lightning!
- On overcast days try focusing on macros (i.e. close ups of plants, flowers, insects, etc…) the diffused light helps decrease contrast and improve overall color saturation.
- On sunny days try photographing within an hour of sunrise and sunset. The low angle light accentuates the details of the landscape and the atmosphere filters the sun light; casting a warmer, softer light on your subjects.
Do some research before your visit to learn about the unique aspects and qualities of the park, in addition to any potential hazards you may encounter.
Remember - Safety first!
No photograph is worth risking your life for, nor is it worth endangering the park’s natural resources.