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A Nature Photographer's 5 Easy Tips for Better Shots

High-megapixel cameras are everywhere these days (even on smartphones), but they don’t help much if you have some bad shooting habits. And, unfortunately, most of us do.

Dudley Edmondson, nature photographerI have been a professional nature photographer for nearly 20 years, so the REI Blog asked me to share some of my surefire tips for taking better pictures. Just in time for your spring outings, here are my 5 favorites:

1. Patience. Pace yourself. When you get to a new place everything seems to be screaming out “take my picture.” Resist the temptation. Let things settle down just a bit first and soak in the place. That way you’re thinking clearly and can be more purposeful with your choice of subjects. Besides, how many times have you set up that perfect family group photo at the end of a trip only to find you’re either out of card space or battery power?

2. Framing. I’ve seen many vacation photos where people point to the picture and say, “See that dot in the middle of the frame? That’s Granpda.” If your subject is too small in the frame, you can improve the composition by having it off center. Try this: Imagine your frame as cut into 4 equal squares by 2 dissecting lines.  Place your subject within one of those 4 squares.  This will give your subject better scale in relationship to the other elements in the frame.

3.  Composition. This refers to the elements within the frame and their relationship to one another within that space. Composition’s most important feature is to have a clearly defined subject. In other words, if your subject is your child sitting on that rock, make sure he or she is large enough in the frame so it is obvious to viewers that they are the subject.  If it is the mountain range behind camp, make sure the other elements in the frame don’t draw the viewer’s eye away from your subject.

Example of good photo composition
Above: Example of good composition. The subject of the photo is clearly the woman.

Example of not-so-good photo composition
Above: Example of not-so-good composition. What is the subject of the photo: the arch or Grandpa?

4. Steady now. Blurry pics plague even the most experienced photographer from time to time. The solution: Create a stable anchor point for you and your camera. Try using a tripod or monopod if possible, or even a trekking pole is better than nothing. (REI even sells walking poles with camera mounts.) Not being aware of camera shake is a common problem. Assume it will happen and brace yourself accordingly. Bracing yourself against a thick, mature tree or anything that is fairly level and immovable will do. In a pinch, just try holding your elbows in close to your body with the camera in front of you. Note your steadiness and shoot away.

5. Shoot more candids.  To capture the true moments of a family vacation, work behind the scenes. People and subjects come across “more natural” during unstaged, real moments. That does not mean secretly following someone to the porta-potty or “punking” somebody Ashton Kutcher-style just to get a response. It just means taking notice of the people and things around you and being ready to capture those memory-making moments as they happen.

Work on these 5 habits and you should be very pleased with your results. You’ll be proud to display them on that new flat-screen TV for friends and family or on your flickr and Facebook pages.  It all starts with good photography habits and quality gear.

Okay, school's out for now, so go capture those wonderful moments with confidence.

Dudley Edmondson is an outdoor enthusiast, nature photographer, filmmaker and author of the book Black & Brown Faces in  America's Wild Places. His work has been featured in numerous books, magazines and other natural-history publications. He occasionally blogs at


Posted on at 2:10 PM

Tagged: Black and Brown Faces in America's Wild Places, Outdoors, Photography, dudley edmonson and nature

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Ann B

Thanks for the tips! I've been meaning to take a digital photography class, maybe at an REI store, so I can come home from trips with better photos.

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I'd also suggest: A tripod or monopod (if you can at all carry one, and at 2-4 lbs for the lightest models anymore there's little reason not to, even for my 54 yo knees...) A polarizer (all that blue sky and blue light tends to wash out pictures, and sometimes a pol can make sunrise/set colors really pop.) A neutral density graduated filter (I carry an ND grad 2 or two stop.) And learn the rule of thirds.


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