6 Traits of a Great Nature Photographer

There are countless articles and videos that teach the technical and creative aspects of nature photography. However, I believe that all the instruction in the world cannot make you a great nature photographer. You also need to possess certain personality traits. In hopes of improving my own photography, I have carefully observed great nature photographers and have documented the traits you need to become great.

I don’t want to brag, but my girlfriend claims that I possess many of the traits that could allow me to become great. As you read this, ask yourself if you also have what it takes to become a great nature photographer.

Skyline View Overlook

An aspiring great nature photographer is seen its natural habitat.

Overwhelming Insecurity

The first trait that is evident in most great nature photographers is an overwhelming level of insecurity. If someone posts a negative comment about one of their images online, they will either lash out at that person or pretend to be above the criticism, when it is actually eating them up inside. Their anger and frustration will slowly turn to acceptance. They will realize that, in spite of the fact that there was only one negative comment and 1,000 positive comments, they are terrible at photography. They will then do everything they possibly can to improve the next time they are out shooting in order to prove that one person wrong.

Sometimes, a photographer will start out insecure and will rapidly improve at their craft. Eventually, they will receive so much adulation that they will start to believe they are truly great. At this point, their images will stop improving and slowly start declining in quality. Only the most insecure photographers, who can ignore even the most positive comments, can continue to improve and reach that upper-echelon of truly great nature photographers.

Love of Nothing Else

If you’re unlucky enough to be the spouse or partner of a great nature photographer, he / she will undoubtedly say they love you above all else. This is a blatant lie. Their true love is nature photography and you are a distant second. If you are extremely devoted and caring, they may, over many years, come to love you half as much as photography. But you have no hope of ever catching up entirely.

Ice Cave in Southern Iceland

Ice Cave by Grant Collier

If you want to date a nature photographer, I strongly recommend finding a mediocre photographer. You can be sure that his / her love of photography is not all that strong, and you’ll have a good chance of becoming the #1 priority in his / her life.

Hates Good Weather

If a great nature photographer has a trip planned and the forecast calls for it to be beautiful and sunny every day, he / she will begin to despair. Nothing is worse than good weather. The great nature photographer will begin desperately searching for a different location, and ultimately find one where it is -40 degrees, with 70 mph winds, and 10 feet of snow. Great nature photographs can often only be achieved in the most miserable conditions. But misery is something that a great nature photographer has learned to love. In fact, misery is the only thing that truly makes him / her happy.

Gulfoss falls, Iceland

When I walked out of our hotel room in Iceland, I was nearly knocked off my feet by the 50 mph winds, which gusted to 100 mph. I was, of course, thrilled and quickly dragged my girlfriend over to Gulfoss Falls. I stumbled down the trail, trying not to be blown down into the falls. My girlfriend stayed in the car and finally confirmed what she had long suspected. Here boyfriend was not sane.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

If you’re a normal, well-adjusted human being, you will get your camera out around sunrise or sunset, take a handful of images, and then leave. You have better things to do than sit around for hours or days just to capture a photo. This is not the case with great nature photographers. They will endlessly walk around an area looking for the perfect composition. Nothing will quite satisfy them. They will frequently adjust the camera position 1 centimeter to the left or right, because that one centimeter is going to make all the difference in the photograph.

Even before they arrive, these photographers will pore over data on their phone apps and computers to make sure the sun, moon, Milky Way, etc. will be in exactly the right position in the sky for a photograph.

They will refuse any professional help for their OCD, because all that matters in their life is taking the perfect photograph. The perfect photograph is, of course, impossible to capture, but they will nevertheless spend their entire life in a fruitless pursuit of it.

Northern Lights over Alaska

My OCD was on full display when I spun around for 2 hours, capturing numerous 360-degree panoramas of the northern lights in minus-10 degree weather in Alaska. But alas, a truly great nature photographer probably would have spun around for 8 hours.

Patience of a Lizard

After a great nature photographer finally finds the ideal composition, they will then have to begin The Long Wait. If you’ve ever watched a lizard trying to catch prey, you will know that they usually sit around for hours on end, perfectly motionless, waiting for the prey to come to them. Great nature photographers are basically large lizards. They will wait for hours for the best possible light. If that light does not materialize, they will often camp in the same spot for days on end just to get one photograph they are satisfied with. While waiting, they will be regretting most of their life’s decisions and thinking about all of the better things they could be doing with their time. But when they finally get the right light and get an image they like, all of that wasted time will be forgotten. Their adrenaline will be so high that they can think of nothing but setting out to get that next great image … and then waiting and waiting and waiting…

Wilson Arch, astronomical twilight

This image was taken toward beginning of astronomical twilight in the evening. A passing car lit up the arch.

Extreme Anti-Sociality

If, while watching from a safe distance, you notice that a photographer has most of the above-listed traits, you can be fairly certain that he / she will also suffer from extreme anti-sociality. You should never approach such a photographer in the wild while they are taking photographs. They can be extremely unpredictable and very dangerous. If you accidentally disturb a great nature photographer while they are taking photographs, stay perfectly still and do not make eye contact. You should raise your arms high in the air to make yourself appear large and powerful. When the photographer turns his / her attention back to taking photos, you should very slowly back away, making sure he / she remains focused on photography.

It should also go without saying that you should never feed a great nature photographer in the wild. Food is the one thing that can briefly lead a great nature photographer away from their camera. They will often be so focused on getting that perfect shot that they will forget to eat for several days. However, providing them with food could make them accustomed to contact with normal, sane human beings. This could lead to an ugly confrontation, resulting in the nature photographer having to be put down. Even worse, if a great nature photographer does not respond violently and senses that you are a kindred spirit, they may try to convince you to also become a great nature photographer. You will then be doomed to a life of loneliness, insecurity, and abject poverty.

Is this a great nature photographer?

Never approach this close to a nature photographer in the wild unless you are certain they are not a great nature photographer.

About Author Grant

Grant Collier has been working as a professional photographer since 1996 and has been shooting photos at night since 2003. He is the author of 12 books and has recently released a book called Collier’s Guide to Night Photography in the Great Outdoors. He has also produced a new instructional video called Collier’s Guide to Post-Processing Night Photos.