We’ve all been there. You scout out the nature photography location to shoot, plan the time of the day for the sweet light, and visualize the shot you want to bring home. All this planning, the early morning alarm clock, the drive to the right place, the anticipation of getting the shot you’ve dreamed of… and then the light you had hoped for doesn’t happen. Now what? Do you pack up and go home? How do you find photographic inspiration when you are faced with disappointment?
But don’t let the lack of light discourage smother your creative spark. With good does of creativity and techniques, you can still capture inspiring nature photos. Here are some tips for creative techniques for nature photography when when faced with disappointing conditions in nature:
Use Intentional Camera Movement for Nature Photography
Using slow shutter speeds to capture the motion of nature is particularly effective when photographing waterfalls, rivers, or moving clouds. But you can also combine slow shutter speeds with intentional camera movement to create a sense of movement and flow in your photos. Intentional Camera Movement (ICM) isn’t something I play with often, but I think of it when a colorful scene is before me and especially when there are strong vertical or horizontal lines. This photo below of the breezy birch forest turned out to be one of my favorites. Using intentional camera movement to create this image turned out to be a great way to show the windy conditions in the forest that day.
Intentional camera movement is a powerful tool in nature photography that can be used to catpure artistic and dynamic photos. By experimenting with different speeds, you can capture beautiful and unique images that showcase the beauty of nature.
Look for Patterns and Shapes
Nature is full of patterns and shapes that can provide inspiration for your nature photography. Look for repetition, symmetry, and other interesting shapes that catch your eye. I especially enjoy photographing for patterns in reflections.
When photographing this loon on a Michigan lake, I was drawn by the colors and textures in the water. I got in position and then waited for the loon to look my way, using a fast shutter speed to freeze the swimming of the bird.
Try Black & White Nature Photography
Shooting in black and white can create a timeless and moody feel to your nature photos. By removing color, you can focus on the textures, shapes, and contrast in your subject. When I saw this massive underwater school of jacks during a dive in Indonesia, I knew I would likely process it as a black and white. The story of the “jack tornado” was best told by using the back light to highlight the shape of the school and the frenzy of the moment.
Color was not needed to bring this scene to life and in fact wold have likely been a distraction. Think about capturing black and white nature photography when you want to simplify the story and emphasize form and structure in your image.
Focus on Macro Photography Subjects
I often focus on macro photography for a creative spark when conditions for a good landscape shot don’t develop. The goal of macro photography is to capture fine details and textures that might otherwise go unnoticed. By filling the frame with the subject, macro photography allows the viewer to appreciate the beauty and complexity of small objects. This is why I always bring my macro lens when I’m out shooting in nature.
When the rushing stream that I had hoped to photograph turned out to be little more than a tiny trickle, I decided to enjoy my time in the forest and look for macro subjects like the image you see below:
Macro photography can be challenging due to the shallow depth of field that is often created when shooting at close range. This means that only a small portion of the subject will be in focus, while the rest of the image will be blurred. Careful attention to focus and depth of field is essential when shooting macro images.
Try New Techniques to capture Nature Photos
Try experimenting with different techniques such as long exposures, multiple exposures, creative focusing techniques for macro photography and more. Playing with different techniques can inspire new ideas and help you see the world in a different way. Choose digital camera settings that will tell the story of your subject, such as this painted bunting that is displaying for its mate. I had learned about the bunting’s behavior before going on my bird photography adventure, so when I saw the male bird fluttering his wings for the nearby female, I recognized this as a mating display. Quickly, I lowered shutter speed on my mirrorless camera to capture blur in his wings. A high shutter speed would have frozen the wings, and the sense of motion for the viewer would have been lost.
Lucky shot? You bet! I had prepared by learning about this bird‘s behavior and I was familiar enough with my digital camera to be able to quickly change my shutter speed when I saw the scene unfold before me.
Be Prepared for the Unexpected
Inspiration for nature photo opportunities can come from anywhere, so be open to new experiences and always have your camera with you. I learned this lesson in a dramatic way on a dive trip to Roatan a few years. I took the opportunity to make the most of my time underwater and carefully looked around for something special to photograph. And did I ever find it! I discovered that the upper part of the reef was full of large barrel sponges which were spawning! This is rarely observed and quite spectacular. Female barrel sponge ejects eggs into the water column, where they can mix with sperm from male sponges. This occurs only a few times a year and lasts only about an hour. The eggs shown above the barrel sponge are large and tend to sink, while the sperm from the male sponge floats like a cloud across the reef.
Fortunately I was prepared with my camera to capture a spectacular, but unexpected event.
So, the next time you are out photographing and reality isn’t matching up to what you hoped for, don’t give up. Remember, creativity and experimentation are key when it comes to nature photography. Don’t be afraid to try new techniques and push the limits of what you can do with your camera. You never know… you might just go home with something very special that you never expected!
Original Article Published in October 2018.