Nature Photography for Beginners

Martins at Tinicum NWR - my April 2009 nature journal entry
Martins at Tinicum NWR - my April 2009 nature journal entry

This nature photography for beginners series of articles is my take on taking great photos outdoors. It is simple with the right tools. My nature journal has been greatly enhanced with the addition of pictures.

I always wanted to take pictures but was intimidated by the recommended equipment.

'Mary Rose' David Austin English Rose after Hurricane Irene (2011)

Then I stumbled upon a book entitled Digital Nature Photography: Use Any Digital Camera to Take Spectacular Nature Photographs by Mark Hatasaka. The book is unfortunately out-of-print, but might be available used on Amazon.com or from a library.

Mr. Hatasaka gave really good advice. Which can be summed up as “keep it simple”. He recommended creating a “minimum system”, consisting of:

  1. advanced point-and-shoot digital camera
  2. memory card
  3. batteries
  4. mini-tripod
  5. lens cap
  6. lens cleaning pen
  7. lens cloth
  8. point-and-shoot size camera case

On his website are free articles on simple digital picture-taking. You’ll find them at http://www.dpsimple.com/.

Here is an overview of some of the easy methods and simple tools I use to take good pictures.

Choosing a camera is the first step. I use a small Canon PowerShot point-and-shoot and a Canon SX series advanced point-and-shoot camera. You can take great photos with these simple models.

Polyphemus Moth (Antheraea polyphemus)
Polyphemus Moth (Antheraea polyphemus) larva eating Blackjack Oak

I don’t have tons of equipment just a few select pieces that make up my “Minimum System”. The camera is my basic equipment. I don’t use extra lens, filters, flash units, etc. And my photos are pretty decent. I focus on using the features built-in to the camera. By doing this my skills have grown beyond what I would have thought possible.

mushroom in Pine Barrens, New Jersey
mushroom in Pine Barrens, New Jersey

Even with no extra lens or filters, I take pictures of a wide variety. I use the shooting modes built into the camera to take pictures of special scenes, like snow. I take closeups with my built-in zoom lens and super macro modes.

An extremely important feature for me is a swivel viewfinder. Many of the Canon cameras have them. My Canon SX30IS 14.1MP Digital Camera with 35x Wide Angle Optical Image Stabilized Zoom and 2.7 Inch Wide LCD has one. This is a good small camera. I realized I could learn so much by becoming an expert on the features of a small simple camera.

Today’s point-and-shoot cameras have professional adjustments that were not available before digital cameras came along. Aperture, speed, ISO adjustments were all available on SLRs but are now available on point-and-shoot cameras.

Bald Eagle at Conwingo Dam, Maryland
Bald Eagle at Conwingo Dam, Maryland

The most important feature for nature photography is depth of field. Depth of field (Av- aperture mode) is important in how your subject stands out. I learned how to use the Av – aperture mode, by just keeping the camera on this setting all the time. The aperture set at a low number like 3.0 will blur the back ground and make the main object stand out. A high aperture setting of say 7.0, will make the object and background sharp and clear. The best way to learn is to take a series of photos of the same object only changing the depth of field change the aperture setting.

Mr. Hatasaka’s advice is to take hundreds, even thousands of photographs. With a digital camera you can take and erase as many photos as you want.

Next article: autumn photos

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