Nature and Landscape Photography: 71 Tips from the Top

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What happens when you bring two of your passions together? Magic, of course. Photography offers a perfect outlet for creativity and emotions. Nature provides peace, serenity, and a wellspring of energy. To combine both—to photograph nature—is a unique and fulfilling experience.

In this book, renowned Swedish nature photographer Martin Borg shares his experience and insight along with 71 of his beautiful images that illustrate each point. He offers helpful advice for beginning to intermediate photographers, ranging from technical tips, to aesthetics, to philosophical thoughts on the essence of being a nature photographer.

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CHAPTER 1: THOUGHTFUL PHOTOGRAPHY

ePub

Nature photography can’t be rushed. With a little technical know-how, some preparation, and a touch of patience, you’ll be able to seize the right moment when it arises. The trick is to know where to look.

To capture truly enthralling nature and landscape images, there’s no avoiding it: you’ve got to beat the sun out of bed. This photo, for example, was taken in the middle of the night, at 2:15 a.m. (in Norway). Hard though it may be, if you can shake off your weaker self and pull yourself from your warm bed, you won’t regret it. Morning twilight brings out the best of the natural world—early morning fog, moonlight reflecting on calm waters—and makes every landscape shimmer in its fullest glory. Even if it means missing out on a few hours of sleep, it is well worth it to get an early start to a day of shooting.

On the Lofoten archipelago, Norway

* HBL 500 C/M,
50MM, F/22,
2 SEC., GRADUATED
ND FILTER

Stenshuvud National Park, Skåne, southern Sweden

HBL 500 C/M,
150MM, F/8,
SEC.

Nature is teeming with patterns and lines—the fundamental elements of a photograph. As photographers, we attempt to bring order to the chaos and present our subject in a pleasant or engaging manner. To do this, we must determine the right amount of information to include in our images. If we cram too much in, the image loses its form, and busyness overwhelms the viewer. Because of this, it’s important to edit out anything that isn’t essential to your subject. This idea applies to all images, regardless of whether there are physical lines and patterns in the image. A grove of trees, an assortment of stones, a tuft of grass—whatever the case, arrange the content of your image so that it works harmonically and effectively.

 

CHAPTER 2: FINDING THE RHYTHM

ePub

Landscape and nature photography provides the rare opportunity to consider image composition at length. There are only a few rules, but the list of potential subjects is endless.

Good photographers know how to create a pleasant rhythm in their images by ensuring that everything contributes to the image’s overall feel. Every detail won’t be an eye-catcher, but all of the elements should have meaning. There are some tried and true methods when it comes to setting up landscape photos.

An engaging foreground directs the viewer to the middle part of the image and finally to the background. This theory suggests that the foreground, middle, and background of an image each makes up about one third of the image’s total area—an idea that works pretty well in practice. First, find the right foreground; a logical middle section usually follows and a fitting background makes the image complete. As you set up your photograph according to this guideline, you can think about any number of details. How should the camera be positioned to get the best angle? How high should the camera be? How much of the image should the sky occupy? All of these questions—plus many more—have an impact on the final result. If you’re using a wide-angle lens, shifting the camera even half an inch can have a drastic effect on the photo angle. If the effect is successful you will create a smooth flow from the foreground to the background of your image, and beyond.

 

CHAPTER 3: CAPTURING LIGHT

ePub

Without light, there’d be no photography. But some of the best images are created in diminished light, like twilight. If you’ve heeded the weather forecast and watched the time of day closely, all you need are some snacks while you wait for the perfect moment.

The sun has decided to call it a day and disappears beyond the horizon. Time to pack up your camera and head home? Not so fast—you’ve still got one good hour of inspired photography left. The blue hour, or this window of twilight so named because the light creates a distinctively bluish cast, is a rewarding time for taking photos. The final rays of the setting sun create breathtaking effects by lighting up the clouds in the sky, and everywhere you look you’ll see something worth capturing. You’ll have to use a slower shutter speed, of course, and it’s also wise to keep your compositions on the simpler side because dark objects, like large areas of the ground, can appear black even though there’s still some light in the sky. During summer, the blue hour can melt unnoticed into morning’s twilight in some places, like the north of Europe.

 

CHAPTER 4: LANDSCAPES

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Broad viewpoints either require expansive vision or, just the opposite, a narrowed perspective. It depends entirely on what type of photograph you’d like to take. One thing is for sure—landscape photos have a special allure.

Special attention must be devoted to depth of field for landscape photos. To ensure that the foreground and the background of your image are in focus, select an aperture on the smaller side (f/22, for example). This will cause the shutter speed to slow down to allow enough light to reach the sensor (making a tripod indispensible). Using the autofocus in this situation can be difficult too; if the point of focus is too far away, the foreground of your image may be blurry, even with the restricted aperture. Setting the focus manually and using the distance markers on the lens is usually a better way to go. The rule of thumb here states that one third of your image should be in front of the point of focus and two thirds should be beyond it, so position the focus a little closer to the camera than to the object of your image to make sure that your foreground will be crisp. Do this precisely—nothing is more frustrating than opening up one of your images on your computer only to discover that part of it is blurry.

 

CHAPTER 5: THE DETAILS OF NATURE

ePub

If capturing the grand landscape is too daunting, turn instead to the trivial. The attentive eye is sure to find countless details and small surprises in the natural world. Go and stumble upon them.

How exciting is an image of a single pinecone? Not terribly. Detail photographs have the potential to impress, but you need to ensure that they don’t come off as documentary. One way around this is to focus on a whole heap of details instead of just one. I found the pinecones in this photo in a small sand pit at the foot of a pine tree and I wanted to create an image that conveyed their multiplicity. This is a simple but effective trick: a photo of many things can be more stimulating than a photo of one thing. A sort of graphic pattern of repetitions and reflections is achieved, but the pinecones are also still individual objects. As with all photographs of details in nature, you must be precise. I took special care to make sure the corners and border of this photo were relatively quiet. I also changed the way a few of the pinecones were positioned so that they pointed upward. It’s always a balancing act—if you alter the scene with too strong a hand, the results will appear contrived. I achieved the soft-focus effect with double exposure.

 

CHAPTER 6: WATER

ePub

Water can be placid, but it can also be forceful. It can be rapid or frozen, rushing or reflective. Few natural phenomena are as multifaceted. It’s no wonder there are so many tricks for exposing water effectively.

Stormy weather at the beach provides tempting conditions for photographers. Images collected here are astonishing because so much happens in them. Make sure you find stable footing when taking photos, though. Every seventh wave is larger than the six that came before it, as they say.

I didn’t want to focus exclusively on the foaming waves and bubbling cascades in this image, so I hopped up on a perch that was two or three yards tall to include some of the craggy coastline as well. I also used a telephoto lens to compress the elements in this shot. Here it looks as though the surges are crashing on top of one another. Try taking a whole series of photographs to capture the tide in its various forms and experiment with a variety of shutter speeds. Generally, an exposure time of ¼ second is a good starting point for moving water.

 

CHAPTER 7: UNLEASH YOUR CREATIVITY

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Preconceived notions or prejudices about what nature or landscape photography is can be limiting. Take it to the edge and beyond. Don’t worry about the rules.

If you come across something unusual in your endeavors, your imagination is bound to figure into your photography. You’ll see things that aren’t really there. At moments like these, the goal is to make the image in your camera’s viewfinder match the image that forms in your head. It’s easy to reflect on the supernatural when documenting the wonders of the natural. Just think about the conceptions people used to have about seemingly inexplicable natural events: thunder was the anger of the gods and floods were punishment for moral wrongs. Nature photographs belong to this world of superstitions—if magic exists in anything at all, it exists in nature. These rock formations on Sweden’s island of Gotland were somewhat removed from a limestone area eroded by strong winds. I sensed right away that these fascinating forms had a mysterious charm to them. My dreamlike image depicts a scant two meters and thereby causes all sense of proportion to melt away. Whenever someone asks me about this image, I say, “It must be the fossil of a dinosaur foot!”

 

CHAPTER 8: TAKING THE NEXT STEPS

ePub

Nature photographers often toil under the burden of reproducing the wonder of nature in their images, but only rarely will photographs recreate the feeling inspired by an actual landscape. Are you really sure of what you see? If not, use this mystery to your advantage and make it a part of your images.

“Dead End”

Do nature photos always have to be attractive? Other forms of art attempt to stir up a wide range of emotions that extend well beyond aesthetic appreciation. Nature photos often seem to be considered a genre with the exclusive purpose of pleasing the viewer. And it’s no wonder; nature is beautiful and people are drawn to beauty. Breaking this convention comes with the risk that your images won’t be perceived as nature photography.

This image is anything but beautiful; however, it won’t leave a viewer unaffected. The image prods us and forces us to reflect on what we see.

Nedra Wannborga, Öland, Sweden

HBL 500 C/M, 150MM,
EXTENSION TUBE 55,
F/8, SEC.

Egby, Öland, Sweden

HBL 500 C/M,
50MM, F/8,
SEC.

 

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