First and foremost... patience, patience,
patience! Be patient with yourself while you learn. Be patient with your
subjects since the natural world doesn't run on
a 4GB network. Be patient in general. It pays off!
Take some time to really get to know your camera. It will help you understand what it can - and more importantly - what it can't do.
Digital cameras have come a long way, but they still have limitations that
might get in your way. Know those before you head out on a big expedition.
If possible, take your time and
experiment. If something does not work right the first time, try again and then try again another way. Maybe try again another day, if you can.
Practice makes perfect!
Be prepared to take a lot of pictures. This is where a digital camera comes in handy. The more photos you take, the better chance you have of having ones you like. In the end, you may have
100 of the same scene, but you may wind up liking the light in one more than another. Some pictures may accidentally blur, animals may move, it may be darker than you think... a lot of things can happen. It's better to take 200 photos and have 1 good one than take one photo and it not turn out the way you wanted.
media cards, a tripod, and extra batteries and/or your charger. I can't tell you the
number of times that I've headed out with a blank 2 GB card and thought it
was enough and it wasn't. Better to have too much disk space than not
enough. Tripods are valuable for dark locations and for any number of
reasons. They make some really small ones (I have a 4" one that has
been invaluable) Extra batteries and/or your charger are a great idea.
Batteries run down faster in cold conditions. If you stay outside overnight and have no electricity, pull into a
coffee shop for an hour the next day to charge your battery while you warm
up and drink coffee and eat a cinnamon crunch bagel (gotta love Panera!!) Most coffee shops
have electrical outlets for computers.
Get to know your subject
beforehand. If you're planning on photographing deer, remember that they
come out in the early evening and morning hours instead of noon. If you want to
photograph bloodroot flowers, remember they only bloom for 2-6 days out of the year,
so go out when they're in bloom.
If you want to see fall foliage, know when the leaves generally turn and
watch for climate changes (such as a dry summer) that might impact that.
Look for the unusual. Sunsets and green forests are great, but so are fungi,
vines, leaves, tracks, dead wood, rocks, and sunlight and shadows. Be
creative. Learn to look at the world in a new way.
Change your perspective. Get on the ground and look at plants and insects.
Look straight up at the trees. Experiment and see what looks good to
you. There are "rules" for photography... I encourage you to break
them and see what happens.
boring objects can be great photos if you just change how you look at them.
Check your background. Don't just look at your subject, also look at what is behind it.
Check your horizon lines and make sure they are straight. Look for bright colors and patches
of sun that might draw your viewer away from your subject. Make sure your subject doesn't have
a "tree growing out of it" if you don't want it to have one.
This is a particular problem with digital cameras since most will capture an
entire scene in focus.
Remember cameras see light differently than we do.
It's darker than you think in the woods, and cameras see contrast (the difference
between light and dark) much more intensely than we do.
Bring a tripod or set your camera on a log or rock, especially if you think the photo may blur.
Don't let rain get you down. Although you probably shouldn't take a camera out in the pouring rain,
dew can provide wonderful photo opportunities. Colors tend to be much more saturated on cloudy days than sunny ones.
In fact, sunlight can wash colors out.
I carry a small fold-up umbrella with me. Remember that all seasons and
times have their own special beauty - you just have to look for it.
Remember you're a guest
visiting someone else's home.
The forest is home to hundreds of animals, insects, trees, plants and other life.
They live here full time, but you're visiting. Please try to be respectful of their home by
not disturbing plant life, moving logs or picking flowers.
It's tempting to re-arrange things for the perfect shot, but please think
first who you might be affecting if you do so. (Also, remember
that something might be living in or under that log... like yellow jackets.
I'm speaking from experience here.) Remember the saying to "leave
only footprints and take only pictures".
going somewhere remote, then common sense should prevail. I travel to very remote places
with little or no cell coverage and I always go alone. I've learned a
lot about survival skills in the past years and have learned that
preparation is the key.
Dress for the weather, including
wearing the right shoes. The goal is to stay warm and dry. Sandals and flip flops are not good for the woods
or for walking long distances (not to mention they offer no protection from snakes or poison ivy).
Layered clothing is a good idea. Wool is a
wonderful insulator and stays warm, even when wet. Be prepared for changing
weather. I carry extra zip lock bags for keeping equipment dry. Larger bags
are also good for putting on wet ground if you choose to kneel.
Get a map and know where you're
going. Pick a route and stick to it.
Know the local laws and any
hidden dangers. A park ranger can tell you where private property is and if
there have been sightings of rabid animals, venomous snakes, or any other dangers. It's a good
idea to know what poisonous plants look like, such as poison ivy.
Bring plenty of
water and some food that requires no
If you're going alone, let
someone know where you're going, when you'll return, and when to start
looking for you if you're not back. Many ranger stations offer you the
chance to sign in and sign out. Do it.
Carry a first aid kit. Do not
leave it in the car. Commercial kits can be large and bulky, so if that annoys
you, assemble one
you're willing to carry. I carry a fanny pack with the essentials.
Along with your kit, carry a whistle and don't rely on
shouting. 3 whistle blasts signifies you need help (6 in countries other
than the U.S.).
Don't ever disturb animal homes
or get too close to wildlife. Animals can get very defensive (and rightfully
so) if you get between them and their homes, food, or young. Understand that
sick animals can be very dangerous. Keep your distance.
Carry a cell phone, but don't
count on it being your only lifeline.
Make sure you have a backup plan.
Put your keys in
a secure, zippered location. I'm speaking from experience on this one. :)
If you really want to take
things to the extreme, take a basic survival course. Not only is it fun, but it
could save your life.
The woods and far off places
aren't the only nice photo spots. You have beauty in your own neighborhood. Businesses may have window boxes with flowers, tiny flowers may be blooming in grass, a bee might be on a dandelion. Many "weeds" actually bloom
nicely. When the trees leaf out in the spring, notice the bright green color. Snow or ice on a fence makes a great
Sometimes you're just lucky. It's a good idea to carry a camera with you when you go out, even if you don't think you'll be taking pictures. Sometimes the perfect shot just comes along out of nowhere!