Tip # 1 – Shoot during early morning and later afternoon
You may have heard, nature and natural light photographers often say this – you must head out at least an hour before the sun peeks behind the trees. These photographers who have made a career out of shooting in natural light understand the tremendous significance of the early morning light. The early morning light (and for that matter the late afternoon light as well) is slanted, it comes at an angle that is almost parallel to the surface of the earth. What it does is it highlights textures, brings to life details like no other light can.
This is a magical time of the day, also known as the golden hour. The soft warm glowing light is good for most types of photography. This amazing hue casts a color tone that is beyond compare. Never mind the tint slider of your photo editing software, this one’s natural and therefore sublime.
Tip # 2 – Use a tripod whenever you can
The tripod isn’t a gear used only by professionals. Tripods are useful even for an amateur like yourself. A tripod allows you to negate any accidental movement of the camera due to your hands shaking when an exposure is being made. This is useful when you are trying to shoot with a slow shutter speed, such as when you are trying to capture motion blur at the beach or trying to capture light trails or making an exposure in low light etc.
There are plenty of good quality tripods that are made of aluminum and can be used in outdoor locations. One thing though, never trade quality for price. A good tripod will serve you well for years to come.
Tip # 3 – Carry a white balance card
Photographers are often guilty of neglecting this aspect of their images. This is a critical mistake because the right white balance brings the best out of a scene. Regardless of the fact that you may have shot in RAW and that means you can pretty much tweak the white balance as you think fit, you still need a point of reference. If you get it right or close to right in camera, and you have a reference at hand, it becomes easier for you to tweak your images during post-processing.
Again, shooting in natural light, the light changes frequently. It is sunny one moment, around 5500 ° kelvin. All of a sudden you have cloud cover which means the light changes to something like 7000 ° kelvin. Imagine you are shooting an outdoor wedding. How would you tally color correct those five hundred photos while figuring out how the light was at a certain point in time? Again, unless you have a reference point this is going to be extremely difficult.
This is why professionals use a white balance card and take a photo of the card each time the light changes. They do this before carrying on shooting the main event. When they are post-processing this gives them a reference as to what the light was at the given moment and thereby color correct the rest of the images shot in that light. It is that simple.
You’d think that colors are what makes an image and this should be common knowledge. You would be hard-pressed how some photographers would do the exact opposite. That is, shoot in bland neutral hues. While that has some applications, such as when you are trying to imitate the less contrasty movie look, or a washed out neutral appearance, and is not entirely discounted, but nature photos are best shot when they are vibrant. E.g., autumn hues of a forest, reflections in the water of the morning sunrise, a mountain top lit in golden hues etc. However, having said that, keep the hues and saturation down to acceptable limits and never ever go overboard with them. So, ideally shoot in neutral and then adjust the saturation later in post processing.
Tip # 5 – Process in black and white
Processing colorful photos in black and white? Definitely sounds like an oxymoron, especially after reading the previous paragraph. But check some of master photographer Ansel Adams’ photos of the Yosemite and you will be forced to rethink your game. I love color nature photos and I love black and white compositions of them as well. They all have their own place under the sun. One of the things that amateurs ought to do a bit more is shoot or, better still, post-process in black and white.
Black and white photos are often pushed into the domain of artistic photos. Amateurs cite this reason as an excuse to never try shooting in B&W. The fact is to successfully make great black and white photos you will need to perfect the art of metering as well as dodging and burning. With digital technology however, there are several other options that you have apart from dodging and burning, thanks to powerful software like Photoshop and Lightroom. But metering is something that you still have to master. You see black and white photos require a lot of contrast and that is only possible when you use contrasting colors in your composition. If you use colors that are similar in hue such as white, yellow and light pink or blue, green and red, they will all appear the same in the final image.