5 Effective Exercises for Creative Nature Photography

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As a society, we’re bombarded with images all day long, from billboards to television to social media. As photographers, those images can really influence us. We’ve all been guilty of seeing an image and wanting to go to that exact spot to capture that same photograph. This is when creative photography can help you assess that scene and finding an entirely different way to present. Often, creativity in photography is a personal choice and it’s what can can really make it compete in the Fine Art arena.

A New Perspective

Finding a different way of viewing and capturing the world around you opens you up to greater creativity. You can do this in-camera with the use of unique lenses or filters, longer exposures, different angles, or even camera movement.

Exercise: Find an object and photograph it three different ways by using some of the ideas listed above. In Image #1, in addition to one photograph of the Aspen trees, I photographed for a panoramic stitch as well. Sometimes your lens may not capture the sense of space, so creating a multiple image stitch can work well. In image #2, I used shallow DOF and a long lens to create an abstract of the aspen trees. 

  • Example of Creative Photography: Panorama of Aspen Trees

    Image #1: Panorama of Aspen Trees

  • Example of Creative Nature Photography: Shallow DOF Abstract

    Image #2: Isolating a single Aspen Tree with shallow DOF.

  • Example of Creative Nature Photography: Aspen Tree Abstract

    Image #3: Aspen Tree Abstract

  • Example of Creative Nature Photography created by pointing camera up at the sky.

    Image #4: Looking up at Aspen Trees

For Image #3, I used an ND filter and moved the camera vertically. This created a fantastic artistic image of the aspen trees. The unique colors come from my infrared converted camera.

Image #4 shows another different perspective of the Apsen trees. In this case, I pointed the camera straight up to capture the contrasting colors of Aspens against the blue skies.

Develop a Unique Vision

Presenting a creative photograph can also be done in post-processing. You can do this by changing an image to black and white, adding creative texture layers, creating movement through software filters, or even selective toning. I rarely rely on just one post-processing option. Instead, I try different techniques, save them, step away from them, and review them at a later date. 

Exercise: Fine one image in your catalog and process it in three different and unique ways.

Instead of settling for the mundane, use some creative processing to add a touch of your own vision for the image.

This image is directly from the camera. To me, it is lackluster.

This image is directly from the camera. To me, it’s lackluster.

  • Processed for vibrant color.

    Processed for vibrant color.

  • Selective colorization for creative photography. Post-processed using On1 Photo 10.

    Selective colorization for creative photography. Post-processed using On1 Photo 10.

  • Processed for black and white with a brown tone.

    Processed for black and white with a brown tone.

Creative post processing is not just limited to selective colors and B/W conversion. You can use different exposure settings, color balance, vignetting to create mood and feeling for an image.

Here are a few examples where post-processing intentionally created emotions for the images. In image #1, the low-key processing was intentional to preserve the dark stormy mood created by the approaching storm. This also allowed the rich colors of the Pearl springs to be highlighted from the surrounding area.

In this image #2, I deliberately left a blue cast in the ice to create a feeling of coolness.

  • Post processing selected to highlight dark stormy mood, Pearl Spring, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

    Image #1: Post processing selected to highlight dark stormy mood, Pearl Spring, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

  • Creative post processing example with color cast

    Image #2: Blue color cast on Ice to convey the cool feelings, Aspen Leaf on Ice – Utah

Take Risks

Being a true artist can be scary. Embarking on uncharted waters can be uncomfortable yet exhilarating. The key here is to love what you do and not worry about what others may think. Experiment. Play. Have fun. Push the boundaries and don’t worry about the critics.

Exercise: Do the opposite! Take only one camera, one lens, and focus on what you rarely do. If you shoot color, then shoot for black and white. If you shoot landscapes, then try your hand at street photography. If you process for sharp, vibrant, color photographs, try creating a soft ethereal image.

I took the image #1 below with my iPhone. It was the only camera available on this last morning of my Iceland journey. As an infrared/black and white photographer, stepping outside my comfort zone resulted in this beautiful abstract photograph.

  • Creative Nature Photography example with an iPhone

    Image #1: Creative nature photography with an Iphone.

  • Wide Angle Landscape with Shallow DOF, Sunset Beach, Mana Island, Fiji

    Image #2: Wide Angle Landscape with Shallow DOF, Sunset Beach, Mana Island, Fiji

Landscape photographers are always trying to get everything sharply in focus when shooting with wide angle lenses. There are numerous video course available to show techniques that can be used to get every part of the image sharply in focus. However, it is possible to create wide angle landscape with a shallow DOF. Image 2 shows how a shallow DOF can be used to create a dreamy look for your photos straight out of camera.

Be Patient

Great creative ideas won’t come to you on demand. Creative people are always thinking, assessing, and stewing over the many ideas that pop into their head. Give yourself time to learn how to put the ideas in your head into your final piece. It is also very important to learn not to let your own head get in your way. If you have a creative  idea, get to work on it… don’t just set it aside for another day that may never come.

Exercise: Write down any idea that pops into your head. Look at your list daily and start working on those ideas.

Self Awareness

This is probably the most important aspect of creativity. Knowing who you are, what you are drawn to visually and emotionally, learning to let go of any societal pressures, and following your passion is what allows you to be the creative person you are meant to be.

Exercise: What is it about something that makes you say “WOW!!”? Find a way to photograph and capture the WOW feeling and convey it to your viewers. Storms and clouds in Image #1 give me the WOW factor! The size of the storm was large and the best way for me to capture the WOW was with a panoramic stitch with a minimal and nearly silhouetted foreground. Very little post-processing was done on this image. The amazing Arizona skies were really this amazing!

  • Creative Nature Photography example of the WOW Factor in Arizona

    Image #1: WOW Factor created by dramatic skies, Arizona

  • Creative Nature Photography example from Olympic National Park, Oregon

    Image #2: Getting sea anemone free of sand to create this stunning image in tide Pools, Olympic, Washington

Dramatic light is not the only thing that can create the WOW factor. Sometimes the creative process itself can be an enjoyable experience. Trying to get the sand out of a sea anemone was just as enjoyable as the final result in the Image #2.

If you truly want to be a more creative photographer, you need to get out and take more photographs, try new things, and experiment with different techniques, be it analog or digital. Step away from the endless images online and instead find yourself in your backyard looking at the details in a flower, the shadows of the rocks, the abstractness of the tree branches.

Above all… HAVE FUN!

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About Author Christine Hauber

The current that underlies Christine Hauber's work is the concept of serenity in a world of chaos. With 25 years of professional photography experience, she continues to be attracted to the simplicity of the minimal and thus makes every effort to be a faithful visual recorder of the world around her. She wishes for her images to distill scenes ranging from the ephemeral to the eternal, from the abstruse to the symbolic. As a dedicated artist, she strives constantly to explore and expand her definition of the splendor and mysterious in life and nature. Her images have an ethereal and enduring quality.

Christine's work is published in various books, magazines and websites and has been printed and hangs in homes and offices worldwide. She teaches private photography workshops worldwide focusing on the needs of each unique client.