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How to do Outdoor Photography

 9th Mar 2021


What do you picture when you think of outdoor photography?

Most people automatically conjure up images of landscapes, nature and wildlife, macro, travel and adventure. Well, make sure to include portraiture, fashion, editorial, sports, architecture and photojournalism in the mix. 

Honestly, any style of photography can become ‘outdoor photography’ if you just do it outdoors! It’s really just an umbrella term.

Going outside with your camera opens a world of creative possibilities. 

It’s also a brilliant way to build confidence as a photographer, learning new techniques and exploring compositions that you rarely can when surrounded by four walls and a roof.

Because so much exists under the outdoor photography umbrella, I could keep you here all day getting into the finer details of how to execute umpteen styles of photography outside.

However, I’m not going to do that because I’d rather give you the main points for consideration so you can actually get out there and put it into practice.

When it comes to any art form, actually going off doing it is the best way to learn and improve!

So, what I’m going to cover in this blog is what you need to remember when embarking upon any kind of outdoor photography.

Plus, I’ll dip briefly into the following genres and what to consider:

  • Landscape
  • Wildlife
  • Macro
  • Portrait

Top things to remember about all outdoor photography

Preparation is key!

Take plenty of kit - yes it can be hard work lugging it all about BUT, you don’t want to be stuck with the wrong lens, no tripod when you need stability or filters to create awesome effects. 

You may even want a camera hood and a reflector, and you should definitely pack spare batteries and SD cards… 

That’s got to be the worst - when you’re out and about and your camera battery dies, and there’s no way to charge it. Oh the heartache!

Kit doesn’t just refer to the technical equipment either. 

Always double check you’ve packed the personal items you might need, water being the most important, but also food, sunscreen, a method to contact emergency services - especially if going off the beaten track, and the right clothing for the environment. 

No one wants to be caught up s*** creek without a paddle!

Get to know your camera

Working outdoors is unpredictable, and we’ll get onto reasons why later on. Because of this you’ll want to be confident with your camera. 

Make sure you know how to adjust settings quickly so you don’t spend the whole time fiddling and risk missing the perfect chance to shoot. 

Get comfortable with using manual mode - you definitely don’t want to be using auto, it just won’t do the pictures justice!

If you’re fairly new to photography and a little uncertain about some of the technical aspects of using a DSLR, I run a great course that you’ll really benefit from. 

Take a look at The Masterclass in Photography, it’s designed to get you in control, build your confidence and help you really achieve the wow-factor with your photos. 

Think with your photographers head first

Focus on creativity and then decide what technical aspects are needed to capture your vision. 

Try to be inventive, capture something new rather than copying what you’ve seen before. Especially if you’re visiting a popular location, do something different with it. 

Get that thinking cap on and experiment!

It’s always a good idea to remove the ugly stuff from the frame. No one wants power lines, rubbish or other objects that cause distraction - unless they are adding to the image itself.

I’ve got a great example of a landscape photo I took while exploring Vietnam.

The first image below is a nice shot, but there was a bare branched tree sticking up in the foreground and I knew it would look better if I cropped it out. 

https://www.photographycourses.biz/videos/creative/composition/3-landscape-tips @ 2:58

So I decided to try again after taking a few steps away. Here’s the shot:

https://www.photographycourses.biz/videos/creative/composition/3-landscape-tips @ 3:58

It looks so much cleaner and the frame contains everything I wanted to include.

Now as much as I like this image, I did visit the same spot earlier in the day when the lighting was more dramatic which really lent itself to the drama of the landscape. So I didn’t quite capture the essence I wanted… which brings me to the next point.

You cannot control the elements!

In particular I’m referring to natural light and the weather. There’s no dim switch and mother nature is unlikely to listen to your prayers!

The best advice I can give is to do some research. Check weather reports, time and location of sunrise and sunset in your chosen location. 

Have you heard the term ‘Golden Hour’? It is roughly the first hour after sunrise and the last hour of light before sunset. Producing a warm natural light, it is favoured by most photographers as the best time to shoot outdoors. 

Choosing the best weather conditions doesn’t necessarily mean wonderful sunshine - you might want to shoot a moody scene with grey clouds overhead, or you might want to use reflections in puddles and so need some rain. 

If you have something particular in mind, just think ahead. 

However, if you don’t have a plan and just want to see what magic you can make on the day, that’s cool too. All you need is an understanding of how to work with the elements that present themselves, and the preparedness to adapt to changes.

Respect your surroundings and leave no trace

This might seem a little trivial, but I think it’s important not to inflict damage on the natural world, or disturb the wildlife too much. 

No one wants to lose the beauty we are so fortunate to have access to.

Plus remember that if people come into your shot, make sure they are happy to be included. 

Landscape photography considerations

Grab the opportunity when it presents itself and always be prepared with your camera. 

You might be driving around and boom an incredible landscape appears before your eyes; or the sun is setting and creating a gloriously magical scene.

Missing out on the chance to capture magnificence would suck and if you’re like me, it would put you in a foul mood for the rest of the day!

Get exploring and don’t be scared to spend some time wandering down unknown paths, you never know what’s at the end! Please don’t of course go trespassing or put yourself in danger - if you do keep my name out of it ;) 

It’s a good idea to focus on one thing at a time, especially with landscapes as there’s usually a lot within the frame.

From wherever you’re stood do a 360 turn - you might find more gems from that one position. 

Consider different angles and perspectives and don’t be afraid to get down low or shoot from above.

Take your viewer on a journey through an image using leading lines. They’re especially important in landscape photography; adding depth and connection from one element to another.

Get more in depth information on shooting landscapes take a look at my blog, and if you’re particularly interested in sunsets, I’ve got some great tips here.

1165 0138   1329 Vietnam 15-270   1356-Iceland-2017-726

Wildlife photography considerations

Know your subject! If you plan to take pictures of wildlife it’s really helpful to do some research first.

This will allow you to figure out when the species is most active, where it usually resides and how it behaves. The more you know, the more likely you are to get a brilliant shot.

Obtain permission if you plan on getting close to someone's animals, and make sure you know what you’re doing - animals can behave badly. 

It helps if you can speak the language, so let off some moos, hoots or meows!

Be prepared for them to do what you don’t want them to do, they are alive and usually in motion so be creative and learn to adapt quickly.

Have patience and perseverance. Wildlife is unpredictable.

I had a great time in a field of cows a while back. They really are beautiful and chilled out creatures.

Anyway I was tasked by the farmer to capture some pictures of his cows. I had an image in my head, I knew what type of natural light I would need and where the cows would need to be located.

Did it turn out exactly how I planned on the day?

Of course not! But I adapted and used my creative brain to make it work and I love the photos I ended up with. 

I’ve got a fab little video of me in action with the cows, so you can see how I worked with these magnificent creatures on the day, take a look here.

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Macro photography considerations

I’ll let you into a little secret, you don’t need a macro lens to shoot macro.

Your DSLR camera has a macro setting (M) and with a good zoom lens you can focus in fairly close. So if you’re just dabbling in macro, there’s no need to invest in a new lens just yet.

However, a lens designed specifically for macro use will focus on an astonishingly tiny level of detail with more precision and give you that crispness of detail.

Because of the level of magnification you are using, it’s crucial to remember how little movement is required to alter the focus and depth of field.

For example if you’re using your camera handheld and move your body position by even a tiny bit (i.e. breathing) the entire frame will change. 

Keep your camera as still as possible by propping your elbows up on something sturdy, or better yet get a tripod to help you.

Using macro to shoot tiny animals and insects is brilliant, but it can be quite tricky. The closer you get to the subject the more likely you are to scare it away.

Always be prepared for the elements! When using macro outdoors, a slight breeze can have a huge impact, be patient and wait for it to pass - or come back another day. 

When it comes to light, think about what you are photographing. For example if it’s delicate, such as a flower, you will want soft light. 

You also might need to make use of a reflector, which when your subject is of such a small scale it’s pretty easy to manage. It doesn’t have to be special, just a piece of white card will do the trick.

Read my Macro photography tips blog for more nuggets of wisdom. 

DSC3130   talks 069

Portrait photography considerations

When shooting people or animals (with a camera!) try to focus on one area of detail. For example if the subject is looking directly at the camera, focus on the eyes.

Using a wide angle lens for close up of the subject with shallow depth of field, will help ensure that the subject is the main focus of the entire photograph.

Don’t distort the subject, get your focal length nailed so they look natural.

You should take the time to study your environment and choose the best place to position your subject, think framing, colours and of course lighting. 

Avoid harsh lighting, unless you purposely want some weird shadows, overexposed faces and probably very squinty subjects in the frame.

I’d recommend finding a shaded area rather than using direct sunlight - light behind subject = silhouette. 

If this isn't an option, try to mimic studio lighting: make use of a reflector, be clever with positioning and timing. 

Remember light is king when it comes to photography, it can make or break your image.

Finally make sure to use RAW when photographing people and animals. It will allow you to get the colour balance right after taking the image, just in case you didn’t quite get it spot on when shooting. 

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Creating magic with your outdoor photography

Now we’ve explored the ins and outs of outdoor photography, and touched upon some important points of different genres, it’s time for you to get out there and have a go for yourself.

My photography locked down group on Facebook is a brilliant way to challenge yourself among a class of budding like minded photographers. It really helps get you out and about and be inspired by what others are doing.

However, if you are looking to really up the ante with your photography, intertwining the technical knowhow with creative thinking, consider getting yourself a seat on the 7 Building Blocks of Photography course. 

You’ll learn:

  • How to Think like a Photographer
  • Using and predicting light
  • How to find compositions that work
  • Know instinctively which focal length lens you need
  • Know which Camera Settings to use
  • Take home images you're proud to have taken
  • Gain confidence as a photographer