Nature Photography Tips 16 to 19

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© Paul Mozell
The fourth installment in a new series. Your feedback is welcome! All photographs in the series are available as fine art prints and licensed stock images.

16) Silky smooth waterfalls and surf

Sideside homes on Bass Rocks, Gloucester, MA, Cape Ann. (Paul Mozell)

Sideside homes on Bass Rocks, Gloucester, MA, Cape Ann.

Most of us are drawn to silky smooth water photographs. Is it the other-worldliness that is appealing? Achieving the effect is very simple. It’s all about selecting a shutter speed of at least 1 second — avoid using Auto or Program modes. Sunny days are not ideal because there’s just too much contrasty light. So work early or late in the day, under a thick forest canopy or an overcast sky. You’ll need a sturdy tripod or even a beanbag, and ideally, a cable release. Set your camera on its lowest ISO setting to minimize the amount of light coming through the lens. Compose your shot and turn the aperture ring or thumbwheel on your camera until the corresponding shutter speed is at least 1 second. Experiment with different values until you get the effect you’ve visualized. Use of a cable shutter release ensures that you won’t shake the camera with your trigger finger. Alternatively, use the built-in self timer delay, available on nearly every camera. For perfection with long exposures on a DSLR, engage the Mirror lock-up feature to minimize vibration and cup your hand over the optical viewfinder during the exposure to minimize the risk of any stray photons striking the sensor.

17) Learn from landscape painters. As landscape photographers we have inherited a way of seeing and composing images from a heritage of centuries of landscape painting. Masters of paint, brushes, and canvas have a lot to teach those of us who record nature with pixels. As I noted in a blog post a few years ago, the 19th century’s Hudson River and White Mountain Schools of landscape painters have been particularly inspiring to many modern photographers. You might also find inspiration in the earlier landscapes of Dutch and Italian painters as well as the ever-popular abstract-impressionists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I would argue that painters have a much wider color gamut to work with than photographers armed with an array of red, green, and blue pixels. Notice how much shadow detail can be expressed with paint, compared to even the most advanced DSLR. Study some of the work of Frederick Church, Thomas Cole and Asher Durand and see if their contemplative, idealized interpretations of nature effects your personal vision of the landscape.

18) The wonderful beanbag. A cloth bag filled with your choice of beans — Pinto, Lentil, Black-eyed Peas — is a great tool for steadying a camera. Just plop down the bag on a surface and position you camera on top of the bag. I’ve used my beanbag on tree trunks, cliff edges, lots of guard rails, door frames, car roofs, on bare ground and in a few places where tripods are prohibited (cameras too?) If you are handy with a sewing machine this should be a 4 minute project. I like 100% poly or nylon fabric because it is quick drying. Cut out a rectangle that will fold into a 6 to 8 inch square and you are good to go. If you get the bag seriously moist, discard it. You probably don’t want beans sprouting in your camera bag!

19) The indispensable cable release. With a cable release you can release the shutter without shaking the camera, use both your eyes to view a scene and select the perfect moment to click, and go eye to eye with human subjects. These days you’ll need to purchase a cable that fits the socket on your DSLR or advanced point-and-shoot. You can spend about $20.00 for an aftermarket cable that will release your shutter or hold it open on “Bulb” setting. Or, you can invest closer to $100 and get a fancy one that works as an intervalometer complete with a handful of timing settings.

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