People often ask how they can improve their photography skills, especially when dealing with shooting in nature. We’ve all seen some pretty bad shots and some amazing ones. What makes the difference, and how can a photographer make their shots better?
Are Rules Sacred or Meant to be Broken?
Of course “better” may be seen as a rather subjective term, but for the most part there are some general rules any artist should apply. Then, once you learn the rules you may be able to break them. Many of the greatest works don’t follow every rule. But they know and understand the rules first!
Will Better Equipment Help?
Good equipment is awesome, but it is not the key to success. Do you need an expensive camera and full set of lenses, tri-pods, and the “whole nine yards”? Maybe. Maybe not.
The most important “equipment” is your eyes and brain. You have to first be able to see the shot. Having the best equipment in the world is no guarantee of success–just an guarantee that you spent some big bucks. We’ve seen some amazing shots made with modern cell phones. (Believe me, I never thought we would be saying that.
Honing Photography Skills
Always look for ways to improve your photo skill set. Learn about lighting, color, all the technical parts of your camera…you get the idea.
Having an “eye” for the shot is one skill that some people appear to be born with. Don’t know if that is really true, or if they just had training, even subliminally, at a very early age. This can be taught–if it couldn’t be taught there would not be a plethora of art schools that seek to teach that skill, among others.
Read, follow other artists–not just photographers. Studying a great landscape painter can be a good way to help train your eye. What makes a painting interesting (or not so interesting) can also be applied to a photographic image.
Keep in mind that what YOU find interesting and exciting may be different from what someone else likes. Put a group of 20 wildlife photographers together in front of the same pack and you will see similarities, but lots of differences in style, framing, lighting, etc. Follow your heart and you are likely to find the best teachers and your own voice.
Reading a book and/or taking a class may be a great starting point, but most nature photographers certainly didn’t stop there. They continue to learn. Photographers will find other photographers whose work they like and learn from them. This may be formally, such as a workshop or mentorship, joining a group or society, or even informally by studying the artist’s work itself.
Of course if the photographer you most admire is deceased, such as the incredible Ansel Adams, you won’t be able to be mentored by him, but there are others who have studied and analyzed his work and you can learn a lot from them.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Like most skills, it is crucial that you just keep at it. Take shots all the time. I don’t mean a quick snapshot or that you need to get hundreds of shots in every day. That could create something good entirely by accident, but could also ingrain some bad habits.
To really improve your skills in nature photography be thoughtful about your practice, but don’t let fear keep you from trying.
Digital or Film for Nature and Landscape Photography
Many photographers–dare I say most?–shoot digitally these days. For good reasons! There are a lot of advantages to the digital format. Imagine you are on a photo safari and you ran out of film. Of course that would be the moment the absolute best shots that “could have been” will cross your path. With your digital camera(s) you just need to have enough memory cards instead of rolls of film.
Disadvantages of going digital? Well, it is natural to perhaps be less selective when taking the shot. That can lead to a lot of shots to go through to pick out the best. And not all formats are available in anything but film, so that could be a limiting factor on your creativity. While it is great to be able to upload your files and view them on a computer, you will want to be sure to back up all the shots you really want to keep or market so you don’t lose them if your computer crashes.
Another aspect of going digital is it gets you out of the darkroom. For some artists, the darkroom is where the magic happens. They love to see the image come to life on the paper, or they like to manipulate the images with enlargers and lenses. Or maybe they just like chemistry. Other artists thrive by not having to develop film or the pictures. They can do any editing they like on the computer–or do no editing at all by carefully editing in-frame during the shoot itself.
One of the great things about photography as an art form is that it is something you will probably be able to do for the rest of your life. It is a skill that can grow with us. As we mature and our view of life, how we interact with nature, and what speaks to us evolves or changes completely, so can our photography. We can always learn more, experiment more, and grow as artists, and appreciate the subject matter whether our landscape photography shoots take place on the Savannah or in our backyard or our nature photography moves from wild jungle cats to our own house cats.
Thanks for sharing our love of nature photography!