5 Tips for Taking Beautiful Photos of Nature

Whether plants, insects or animals, each of these subjects has its own beauty. Capturing and depicting this beauty in pictures is the high art of nature photography.

Follow Chris Renk, the Chapter Organiser of the Germany Chapter and Member of the Society’s Nature Special Interest Group, as he gives you five essential tips to help you achieve better images out in nature.

# 1 – be prepared, know your subject!

„Always be prepared!“ – I think all of you have heard this saying before. Be it as a scout, during military service, or in your professional life.

This also applies to us photographers because it is crucial to know our photo subjects‘ behavioural pattern and habitat! Where else would we find them and know where we can best photograph them.

Fortunately, there is the internet nowadays, where you can access a wide range of information sources. 

For example, when preparing a photo trip, I often go to the Nature Conservancy website, the Hunting Association or the Wildlife Trust. There I find detailed information on wildlife habitats and their occurrences, which helps me choose the right locations and the equipment I need. 

You can also get tips there on tracking and the distinct voices of wildlife. 

Here is a list of links to the most popular associations:

Next, I use Google Earth and Google Maps to get a first impression of the planned locations from where I want to take pictures. 

I work through the following points:

  • How long it will take to get to the location
  • Parking possibilities
  • Walking time from the car park to the photo location
  • Terrain conditions (wetlands, terrain cover, elevation profiles)
  • Opportunities for overnight stays in tents/permanent shelters
  • Water supply (springs, rivers, lakes)
  • Mobile phone coverage for emergency purposes

After that, I find out about the weather conditions during the planned photo trip period. 

Finally, I familiarise myself with the functions I need, such as autofocus settings, live view or white balance settings on my camera. 

Besides, I visit the video platform „YouTube“ to watch one or two tutorial videos. Especially here, there are many videos on various photo topics, which are also free of charge! 

#2 – get on eye-level!

One of the points, often forgotten in the rush of excitement of having your favourite photo subject in front of your lens!  

Besides, nothing is more boring than a shot of a frog from a bird’s eye view. 

So get down on your stomach and look the subject of your desire directly in the eyes. It creates extraordinary moments that the ordinary viewer would not usually see. 

Your photos will be all the more impressive because they show a unique perspective. It doesn’t matter whether you shoot freehand or use a tripod for stabilisation. 

You will also notice that you need to familiarise yourself with your photo subjects‘ behaviour to predict their behaviour. Only then will you be able to position yourself correctly to take the photo subject at the right moment.

To not come home too dirty, of course, I always carry a foldable mat with me. I can quickly spread it out on the floor and use it to create a comfortable lying position. For kneeling positions, I use knee pads. After all, one is not getting any younger!

#3 – pick the right lens!

One of the most discussed points within the photo community is which lens to use for which subject. 

Of course, a telephoto lens is advantageous when photographing birds or wild animals with pronounced escaping behaviour. 

Still, if the animals are so trusting, and humans‘ proximity does not disturb them, then a wide-angle lens can also be the means to an end.

Of course, it is an advantage to have a good selection of lenses. 

Whether to get a prime lens or to settle for a zoom lens, everyone has to make up for themselves. 

I too would like to call a 600mm f4 prime lens my own, but the price of 11,000 euros puts me off again. That’s why I bought a 200-500 F5.6 (1049,- Euro) and I still don’t regret it. The lower weight is also an influential factor!

Here is a list of subjects and the lenses I use for them:

  • Insects, plants: 24-70mm / 50mm Macro / 105mm Macro / 70-200mm VR / 200-500mm VR
  • Amphibians: 50mm Macro / 105mm Macro / 70-200mm VR /200-500mm VR 
  • Birds / Reptiles: 24-70mm / 70-200mm VR/ 200-500mm VR
  • Mammals: 70-200mm VR/ 200-500mm VR

The question about the right aperture depends, of course, on the purpose of the photo!

For documentation purposes, the entire subject should be in focus. To achieve this, you should ideally use an aperture of f8. The image stabilisation of the lens and availability of higher ISO Rates compensates the resulting longer exposure time.

If you want to photograph the subject with artistic intent, you can use the full range of apertures of your lens. In this case, the aperture f5.6 has turned out to be the optimal setting. It offers an excellent bokeh with sufficient depth of field!

#4 – shoot in RAW!

Without wishing to offend photographers who still shoot in JEPG format, shooting in RAW is simply the standard! Using JPEG leaves a lot of the advantages of today’s digital cameras completely unused. It is precisely the high sensitivity of modern camera sensors that allows photography in a wide range of lighting conditions without any loss of image quality. 

Arguments of high consumption of time for developing RAW photos and the reduced shooting speed due to large amounts of data when taking RAW images are made absurd by the setting up an almost entirely automated development workflow and the availability of ever-cheaper and faster SD/CF cards. 

The possibility of changing the wrong settings of exposure values and white balance afterwards is worth its weight in gold. 

So get on your camera and take the step to switch to RAW!

#5 – don’t mind the weather!

I know it’s easy to talk about the weather when you come from a country where the climate is moderate. It’s not for nothing that the saying „It is raining cats and dogs“ comes from the English-speaking world! Nevertheless, you should not let bad weather stop you from taking pictures! 

Especially the moments before the actual rain and immediately afterwards offer a variety of different atmospheric images and colouring that you cannot otherwise experience and capture in pictures. 

The behaviour of wildlife during bad weather is often not covered enough and offers new and exciting insights into the animal world.

Other motifs include water drops on plant leaves or reflections on the water drops themselves. 

I always carry a rain cover in my photo backpack to be prepared for any weather.

It is not an expensive one, out of simple PVC material that protects lenses variant from wide-angle to medium-telephoto (up to 500mm) from heavy rain.

As I said, don’t mind the weather and I hope to see you out there during the next rain shower. 

Baltic Coast – Castle Gluecksburg during a rainy day

Day 141 of my 365 Photo Challenge.

Unfortunately, due to a heavy workload, I couldn’t continue posting for my 365 Photo Challenge. Now with the new lockdown in place, I have the time to catch up with the reposting!.
Right after my return from the Isle of Fehmarn, I had to repack my suitcase and headed up north again. This time, I went to the Baltic Coast in the vicinity of Flensburg. One of my first motifs was the Castle Gluecksburg, which has an adjacent lake next to it.
So, I had the chance to frame the castle with its reflection. The incoming rain provided a dark and dominant sky.

I hope you enjoy the image as I do!

Pelargonium inquinans

Day 117 of my 365 Photo Challenge.

After an eventful journey to the Ötztal valley, I found the time and muse to take a photo for my photo challenge.
This Pelargonium inquinans bloomed not far from my mountain hut on the edge of a forest. I usually only know this flower as an ornamental plant on balconies or terraces.

Here you can see again how plants can adapt to their environment and survive because the winters at 1.800 meters can be frigid.

The photo was taken against the light, which framed the outline of the flowers with a soft glow.

This time I used my Nikkor 50 mm F1.4 because I didn’t have much space for the photo.

Enjoying lunch in the Sun

Day 116 of my 365 Photo Challenge.

32 degrees Celcius! That was the value the thermometer showed today.

Almost too warm to take pictures outside. Nevertheless, I set out to get a motif for my challenge.

Again I focused on the butterflies, which took the opportunity to drink flower nectar despite the heat.

Through the freshly planted flower meadows, there is enough supply for the insects. This is visibly reflected in a large number of insects and butterflies this year.

This specimen of a lemon butterfly took a long rest at one of the flower calyxes and obviously enjoyed the midday sun while it was feasting on the nectar.

Dipsacus strigosus

Day 115 of my 365 Photo Challenge.

Today’s photo shows a Dipsacus.
The cardoon (Dipsacus) is a plant genus in the subfamily of the cardoon family (Dipsacoideae) within the family of honeysuckle plants (Caprifoliaceae).

The approximately 20 species are widely distributed in Eurasia and North Africa.

This photo was also taken freehand with my Nikkor 70-200 mm telephoto lens.

Cypripedium formosanum

Day 108 of my 365 Photo Challenge.

Today I accidentally saw this Formosan lady’s slipper in front of my lens.

Totally hidden, in the back garden area, it looked out under a thick roof of leaves.

Luckily, a thick band of clouds was passing through, creating a diffuse soft light—the ideal starting point for a natural light photo.

Argynnis aglaja

Day 107 of my 365 Photo Challenge.

After the announced rain did not come, I took the opportunity to take pictures of insects today.

My photo of the day shows a large mother-of-pearl butterfly, which had just settled on a flower of the weed to eat.

Butterflies are merely beautiful creatures, which I always enjoy watching.

Hope you enjoy it too!

Dimorphotheca ecklonis

Day 106 of my 365 Photo Challenge.

The sun shone mercilessly today. I was quite happy when I discovered this Bornholm daisy in a shady place.

This time I used my Nikkor 70-200mm f.2.8 VR2 lens again to photograph this beautiful flower.

Although I set an aperture of f8, only the centre of the flower is in focus, and the edges of the petals are softly falling off.

The completely out of focus background isolates the flower from distracting image elements.

I hope you like it!

Rubus Ulmifolius

Day 104 of my 365 Photo Challenge.

Today’s photo is dedicated to blackberries.
I found this specimen on one of my morning tours along the local lakes.

The rising sun caressed the unripe fruits of the blackberry and separated them from the background.

The lens I used was my Nikkor 70-200 mm F5.6 VR. This time again, I did not use a tripod, because there was enough light available and I could concentrate on choosing the ideal shooting angle.

Hope you like the photo!

Lilium Candidum

Day 103 of my 365 Photo Challenge.

I just love to photograph flowers. They are a wonder of nature. So diverse, no two are alike, and one is more beautiful than the other. Some bloom wild, others were planted for a specific purpose.

But in the end, all flowers have one thing in common, they enrich our lives with cheerfulness, bliss and joy!

I discovered this specimen of a lily on my way home from a photo tour to the nearby fields. It stood all alone in a garden near the road.

I immediately stopped with my bike and took my Nikkor 200-500mm F5.6 VR and photographed it freehand. I was lucky that the rising sun was at the ideal angle at Zenit and illuminated the flower fantastically.

Especially the slight shadow cast gives the picture the necessary depth.

I hope you like the photo as well!