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Exploring Nature Through Your Lens

August 11, 2016 by Emily Carter Mitchell

The crisp autumn air greets me as I wander out early in the morning to explore. There is a hush about as the world around me is just beginning to start the day. My footsteps have led me to a meadow where white-tailed deer are known to spend their time. I didn’t know what I would find on this misty morning, but the solitude is enough to become part of nature.

Big Meadows in Shenandoah National Park is home to a large deer population and over the years, these deer have become quite accustomed to visitors. Perfect viewing for any nature or wildlife enthusiast, these deer walk close by without a care in the world.

Autumn is the beginning of mating season for the resident white-tailed deer and to my surprise I came across two male deer with beautiful antlers. Right before me, they lowered their heads and began to wrestle their antlers together in a fight for territory. One was larger than the other and I could hear the clack of their antlers when they tangled together.

They would fight a bit, then back off for a few moments to regroup. Then without warning, they would wrestle antlers again. Although a dramatic scene, it was a quiet and calm fight, and the larger one showed his dominance by pushing the smaller one back with his strength. After ten minutes of fighting they broke off and went their separate ways. The loser wandered towards me and calmly passed only ten feet away from me. 

It is moments like these that thrill me as a nature and wildlife photographer. Being at the right place at the right time and being able to witness nature in action is truly magical.

Nature can be found closer than you think, and finding these special moments only needs one to be aware of their surroundings. Open your eyes and begin observing the small details; like the birds in the trees or the butterflies in the garden. Nature is everywhere you look and once your awareness grows, nature shows itself in the least expected places.

Nature in the Neighborhood

There are many natural areas surrounding you that can be easily found. County, State and National parks are wonderful places to explore and many offer amenities that make it comfortable for your visit. Look for a park or nature center near you and become familiar with it. The more you visit, the more you’ll start to notice the details and the changes in nature.

As a photographer begin looking at the landscape and the broad views the natural area offers. Then start to consider certain elements within the scene and create a composition that highlights it. Whether it be a tree, a stream, or a bridge determine what is in the scene that attracted your attention in the first place. Is it the leaf that is sitting on the rock? If so, then make your composition tight and emphasize that leaf by eliminating distracting elements.

Be observant of the weather and when a storm passes it can create some wonderfully dramatic light and skies. Visit your favorite natural area throughout the year and capture it in every season.

Preferred Camera Equipment

It is said that “The best camera you have is the camera you have in hand.” While having a DSLR with multiple lenses can give you great versatility, any camera can lead to beautiful nature photographs. Sometimes having a simpler camera allows you to concentrate on creating strong nature compositions as you’re not having to worry about the technical aspects of the camera. Even your Smartphone can be a fun camera for capturing nature. There are many new apps available for both capture and creating intriguing nature images.

Kicking it up a Notch
If you’re seriously interested in nature and wildlife photography, having a DSLR with a wide angle, and also a telephoto lens will provide a great range of focal lengths for a variety of images.
When using a wide-angle lens for sweeping landscapes, you would like to have as much in focus as possible. Select Manual Mode or Aperture Priority and choose an f-stop between f/16 to f/22. Then select a low ISO in the 100-200 range. In the priority mode, the camera will select the shutter speed, in Manual mode, adjust the shutter speed until you have the correct exposure.

Finally, set the camera on a tripod and either use a remote-trigger or select the camera’s 2 or 10 second delayed timer. Don’t have a tripod on hand? Find a rock or log to set the camera on and using the delayed timer, create your composition, press the shutter button and let the camera do the work.

To photograph birds and wildlife, a telephoto lens is a necessity. This allows you to get as close to your subject as possible without scaring it away. There are several more affordable options such as the Sigma 150-600 or Tamron 150-600 lens available for both Nikon and Canon.

Looking for a more affordable and lightweight camera that you can use? Consider something like the Canon SX60 or Nikon P600 which offer 60x zoom.

Tips on Accessories

To complete your nature photography kit, there are several items that are helpful.

  Tripod – get a sturdy tripod that can handle double the weight of your camera gear.
          *  Ball head for landscapes – using this type of tripod head helps with quickly moving the camera into the desired position.
          *  Gimbal head for wildlife – when using large telephoto lenses, this type of tripod head provides full flexibility for panning and moving with subject.
          *  Remote Trigger Switch

  Filters including:
          *  Circular Polarizer for enhancing colors and reducing glare.
          *  Graduated Neutral Density Filters for bright skies and dark foregrounds.
          *  Neutral Density Filters for creating silky waters.

  Backpack for transporting camera equipment

  Smartphone Apps:
          *  All Trails – to discover trails and natural areas near you.
          *  Weather Bug and MyRadar to keep an eye on the weather.

Seeing nature through your lens can be an exciting adventure. Whether it be a local park or a holiday in a National Park, getting out and becoming part of the natural world help you slow down and take a deep breath.

“Come join me on one of my fun adventures or creative nature photography classes. I look forward to having you explore nature with me.”