Nature Photography for Beginners


A close up of the inside of a magnolia bud. Photo by Donna L. Long.

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. Digital Nature Photography: Use Any Camera to Take Spectacular Nature Photographs by Mark Hatasaka, 2004 (on The book is out-of-print now but used copies are still available.

Take Thousands and Thousands of Photographs

Mr. Hatasaka philosophy is too take many, many photographs because just by sheer numbers there will be one that is stunning. He says,

“start taking pictures until your shutter finger cramps. Shoot everything, all day, every day. Don’t worry about quality at this point. Go for sheer numbers.”

“Within the first few thousand photographs, possibly within the first handful, chances are good you’ll take a photograph so good it will take your and everyone else’s breath away. It’ll will equal or better anything you’ve produced in your life.”

I’ve found this to be true. I have take some stunning photographs but couldn’t tell you how. Sheer numbers.

My field kit - mid-priced binoculars, field bag, small camers, notepad, field guides.
My field kit – mid-priced binoculars, field bag, small camers, notepad, field guides.

Nature Photography With a Minimum System

I always wanted to take pictures but was intimidated by the recommended equipment. Mt. Hatasaka work with a “minimum system”.

His minimum system consists of:

  • digital camera, point-n-shoots size
  • storage cards
  • batteries
  • mini-tripod
  • lens cap
  • lens cleaning pen
  • lens cloth
  • camera case to fit the point-n-shoot camera

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.

my Canon PowerShot S3 camera
my Canon PowerShot S3 camera

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 close ups 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.


female gray squirrel eating nuts
female Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) eating black sunflower seeds in my garden.

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 background 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. You are bound to take make something spectacular.

Some of My Photo Galleries

Spring Blooming Native Plants Photo Gallery

Smoky Mountains 2011; Photo Gallery

Paris Lessons: Versailles, the Ultimate McMansion


More Posts on Nature Photography

How to Photograph Moving Water

Secrets for Capturing Stunning Bird Photographs

Tips on Photographing Butterflies

How to Chase and Shoot the Aurora

Autumn Photography Ideas (Videos)

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