Becoming a Nature Photographer
InFocus has the latest round of entries from the National Geography Photo Contest posted on their site and the entries are something to behold. If you are an aspiring nature or wildlife photographer, National Geographic has long set the standard for the best quality of images and it would behoove you to take some time to visit their website and become familiar with the different photographers and their work.
Nature photography (including landscape and wildlife photography as well as some astrophotography and storm photography) is a very great branch of photography with images that are breath-taking, awe-inspiring, and, in some cases, shockingly horrifying. This branch of the field does require a lot of travel, relative good health, familiarity with your equipment, and patience. Infinite patience. If you’re interested in trying out this field of practice, we have some helpful advice to get you started.
1) Start working out — Nature photographers have to be able to get out to where nature is. Unlike portrait, music, band, commercial, or wedding photographers, nature photographers can’t sit around in a studio or a nice, air-conditioned and environmental-controlled venue with a parking lot. So, if you want to be a nature photographer, you’ll want to make certain you’re in great physical shape. Start out with hiking while carrying a good backpack. You might also want to look into kayaking and canoeing as well.
2) Learn your gear — You’ll need to know your gear backwards and forwards. Not just the settings on your camera (though that is very important) but also which lenses and lens accessories will be necessary and which would just be nice to have if you can afford to carry the extra weight. Given that you’ll probably be hiking and walking well off the beaten path, you won’t want to carry five lenses when you’re only going to use two of them.
3) Learn to use a map, compass, and a GPS tracker — These days, far too many of us rely too heavily on our smartphones or GPS units to get us from point A to point Q. However, if you’re going to be hiking through the mountains, jungle, or forests, it’s unlikely that the GPS manufacturers will have a route mapped for you. So, if you’re rusty in your map-reading and compass-reading skills, find a hiking group near you to help you get up to scratch on them. Additionally, you can get a GPS fitness tracker that can be helpful in determining where you are if you get lost — though you will still need your map and compass!
4) Get used to roughing it — As a nature photographer, it’s unlikely that you’re going to find a high-class luxury hotel out in the middle of the mountains. So, invest in some good camping gear that is fairly light-weight. Don’t skimp too much on this gear as the extra weight of a high-end waterproof sleeping bag and tent will be infinitely better than a cheap sleeping bag and tent that leak or don’t keep you warm in the middle of a storm.
5) Always let someone know where you’re going — Even in today’s super-connected world, hikers, mountain-bikers, white-water rafters, and adventuresome folks go missing. Sometimes, they’re found fairly quickly and rescued just a little the worse for wear. However, sometimes, they aren’t found at all. Increase your chances of being in the “found and rescued” group in case something happens by making certain several people know where you’re going, how long you expect to be there, the routes you’ll likely take, and alternate routes you might use. Then, agree on a length of time to wait before contacting assistance if you don’t make your scheduled return.
6) Wild predators have superior arsenals — If you’re out in the wilderness, you need to know what predators you might run across (both big and small) and their behavior. Most larger animals will tend to avoid humans in most cases but there are always exceptions. Learn them because, unless you are planning to carry a rifle, any lynx, bobcat, puma, wolf, or coyote you encounter has you out-gunned by virtue of their superior teeth, jaw strength, speed and agility, and claws.
7) Have respect for nature — Nature photographers, like many outdoorsmen, have a great deal of respect for nature and wildlife. So, don’t litter, don’t be careless with your campfire, don’t feed the animals, and don’t try to turn a mountain reserve into your version of the Hilton Resort.
If you decide to give nature photography a shot, be sure to let us know and share your results with us over on our Facebook page!
– da Bird