How to take better photos of your garden, wildlife
So the garden you planted or enjoy each day is flowering. Birds and animals are busy in your yard or neighborhood. And you’d love to capture all this natural beauty in photos.
It’s so easy these days to pull out a phone and take pictures of anything anytime, but a little time and thought can produce better garden and wildlife photos.
“There’s a big difference between that for-the-record shot that preserves a memory and getting a really nice image,” says Brenda Tharp, author of the new book “Expressive Nature Photography” (The Monacelli Press).
Try to identify what it is about the subject matter that “stopped you in your tracks,” she says. “It’s really about narrowing down your purpose in making that picture.”
Some tips from Tharp and other nature photographers:
The rule of thirds: Resist the temptation to center the subject, suggests Rob Simpson, an instructor in nature photography at Lord Fairfax College in Middletown, Virginia. Think of your photo as a tic-tac-toe board, and place the subject in one of the off-center thirds of the space. “It’s going to make the photo more pleasing to the eye,” he said. “It gives it balance.”
Texture is terrific: One of the most exciting things about photographing flowers and leaves is capturing something that passers-by won’t see — their textures up-close, says Patty Hankins, a floral photographer in Bethesda, Maryland, who sells her work and offers photography tips at beautifulflowerpictures.com.
A camera’s “macro” setting lets you take an extreme close-up and keep it in focus. “It shows you all these incredible things that people who aren’t stopping to look won’t see,” she says. “It’s about filling the frame with small details.”
Staying still: When using the macro setting, keep the camera as still as possible, Hankins says. “If you’re taking a picture of the Grand Canyon and your hand shakes a little, people aren’t likely to notice,” she said. “But if you’re taking a photo of the center of a sunflower, they’re much more likely to see it.”
A tripod can help. Look for one that is lightweight and can get low to the ground, she says.
Light matters: Often, outdoor photos come out better on cloudy days or when the sun is not directly overhead, Simpson says. The soft light that comes through on an overcast day will not cast harsh shadows, and may result in a more even exposure and better details.
“People love sunlight, but it’s not the right light for every subject,” Tharp says. “For intimate views of nature, opt for soft or diffused light.”
For landscape photos, however, sunlight can add drama.
Think 3-D: Having items in a picture’s foreground and background helps put the viewer in the photo and creates a sense of depth, Tharp says. When taking a photo of a meadow or landscape, include objects closer to the camera as well.
Animal action: The best animal photos reveal the subject’s behavior or personality, Tharp says. Take time to observe the animals and wait for the best shot. But be ready to capture the action when it happens. Simpson recommends a fast shutter speed to avoid missing the shot. Keep the animal’s eye in focus.
Shutter selections and apertures: Becoming a better photographer will mean understanding shutter speeds and apertures, Tharp said. The right shutter speed can mean the difference between freezing the motion of a moving animal or ending up with a blur. When photographing something in motion — an animal, bird or waterfall — give precedence to shutter speed over aperture, which is the amount of light being allowed into the lens.
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