Published on May 16, 2023
Whether you’re hiking through the wilderness or exploring urban public spaces, capturing the world through your lens provides a whole new perspective.
For some, there’s no better way to focus on nature than through the lens of a camera. Capturing nature through your camera lens allows you to slow down, observe the details and capture all the incredible moments.
While some of us may be lucky enough to have mountains or oceans in our backyard, the beauty of nature and what’s referred to as the great outdoors can be found in unexpected places — a community park, a nearby trail, or even your own balcony garden.
We reached out to a couple of our talented volunteer photographers and compiled a list of tips that you can use to make the most of your adventures in outdoor photography.
“I can’t wait for spring to roll around to look for wildlife in the city,” says Alexander Yoshiki, one of Evergreen volunteer photographers. “As we have an extensive ravine system in Toronto, I always look forward to getting pictures of herons, terns, kingfishers and beavers. They can all be found at Evergreen Brick Works.”
Whether you’re just a beginner or an experienced enthusiast, these 10 tips will help you connect with the great outdoors in your area through a different lens.
Not a seasoned shutterbug? Not a problem. Outdoor photography provides the perfect opportunity to explore and experiment with capturing the beauty of nature. As a beginner, you can start by focusing on some of the fundamentals, like composition, lighting and basic camera settings.
1. Adhere to the rule of thirds: One of the most well-known composition guidelines, the rule involves breaking down an image into thirds and positioning key elements along the left or right third of an image. You can even turn on your camera’s rule-of-thirds grid so you can see the lines while you get a feel for it.
2. Learn leading lines: Find natural lines in your image that lead the viewer’s eye from one part of a composition to another. “Leading lines always give depth to your images — it’s a feature I’m always looking for to tell the story, says Stanley Shoolman, another Evergreen volunteer photographer.”
3. Carry a tripod: Even beginners can benefit from including a tripod in their gear. Tripods provide stability, helps framing and composition, and can help you experiment with longer exposures. “I rarely go out without my tripod,” Shoolman adds. “Tripods are also extremely helpful in low light conditions where you have to shoot at longer exposures instead of using flash.”
4. Try basic retouching: Finding that your shots are suffering from overly bright skies or a lack of contrast? There are lots of free and premium programs like Adobe Lightroom that will help you check the highlights and shadows, remove the noise, increase clarity and more.
Capturing incredible outdoor photos isn’t reliant on your technical skills. Try to prioritize some practical skills, such as learning to scout locations and understanding lighting conditions. And, if all that fancy camera gear is making you feel intimidated, start with your phone camera. You might be surprised by the stunning shots you can take with your smartphone.
5. The golden hour is golden: Try to time your photos around the best light, which is typically at the beginning and end of the day. “The hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset is called the golden hour, and it always produces a nice warm glow,” Yoshiki says. “Of course, as I can’t always make it out during the golden hour, a nice cloudy day helps avoid overexposure.”
6. Be patient: You can’t rush nature. Patience plays a vital role in outdoor photography, especially if you’re waiting for the perfect moment or the best lighting conditions. “No matter what subject you are shooting, it requires patience,” Shoolman says. “Sometimes you may see a setting that simply requires something else in the image to give it a sense of balance. It may be a human or a dog or a cat, but wait until they fill that space, and your patience will pay dividends.”
7. Practice: Even if you’re just an interested hobbyist, don’t forget it takes time to learn a new skill. Each time you venture outdoors with your camera, you can refine your techniques and learn from your mistakes. “Keep the camera on a tripod in your home or office and play with it every day so that you can find all the settings without any trouble,” Shoolman adds. “Read your manual regularly and you will be amazed how much you forget from time to time.”
To ensure the preservation of all that beauty you’re trying to capture, it’s essential to prioritize environmentally friendly practices while taking photos. By being conscious of our impact and adopting eco-friendly approaches, we can aid in climate adaptation.
8. Stick to the paths: Lead by example and stay on designated trails. “The last thing I would want to do is to disturb the soil or tread on informal trails,” Yoshiki says. “That usually causes erosion or soil disturbance which provides a foothold for invasive species to grow, which can take over from the native plants and flowers that attract the local wildlife.”
9. Keep a small ecological footprint: In addition to sticking to the path and observing nature from a safe distance, make sure you pack out what you pack in. Carry a trash bag and ensure that all waste, including packaging, is properly disposed of. You can go a step further by using only rechargable batteries to reduce waste from disposable batteries.
10. Shoot local: It’s tempting to travel great distances to explore incredible landscapes and see new wildlife. But you can further reduce your footprint by photographing local areas, which helps reduce carbon emissions associated with transportation. If you do travel, consider offsetting your carbon footprint by supporting verified carbon offset projects.
Lastly, remember nature does and often will wow us more than a lens could possibly capture. In those moments, let your eyes take in and enjoy the grandeur and subtle nuances of nature that a photograph may miss.
Looking for a place to practice your outdoor photography in the Toronto area? In addition to Evergreen Brick Works, Toronto’s ravine system covers more than 11,000 hectares and offers visitors the perfect chance to connect with nature.