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Tips and Tricks
Outdoor Photography Tip #1 - Digital Camera Life Insurance
Depending upon where you are, your digital camera's worst enemy will be
dust, sand, or water (rain, snow, or a waterfall's blowing mist).
Each has a different potential impact on your digital baby, from ruined shots
to ruined camera!
Outdoor Photography Tips involving DUST:
Dust will have a tendency to get into your lens and inner electronics. The real warning here
involves using your camera in blowing dust conditions outside.
It does not pertain to having a dusty home, because keeping your camera in its case should be
sufficient for that.
If you notice a spec that is always visible when looking through the viewfinder, it could be dust
on the inside of the camera.
In most cases, it will not be visible on your photographs. If it is, do not try to clean the camera
yourself. Refer to your owner's manual for proper servicing.
Although not technically falling under outdoor photography tips, it's worth knowing that
generally, only your more expensive digital SLRs are weather-proofed.
Outdoor Photography Tips involving SAND:
There is a smaller chance that sand will get into your camera, but it is possible. Take reasonable
precautions when at the beach or any other sandy area (such as only changing batteries or
memory in an enclosed area rather than in harm's way.)
Unlike dust, sand can scratch your lens. And a scratched lens will show up on all your
Be extra careful to keep your lens cover on and always place your camera in your bag when it's
not in use. Keeping it in your camera bag will also help in lowering its temperature.
Outdoor Photography Tips involving WATER:
Water can ruin your digital camera as easily as dropping it on concrete. The good news is we're
talking about a lot of water! If you use it in the rain, you're rolling the dice. You could damage
your camera or get lucky and just wind up with some good photos in the rain.
The real impact water has if it gets on your lens is to your photographs. The water will act like a
spherical prism and cause very unusual effects. If you're the adventurous type, take a few
photos with a drop of water on the lens and see the impact. Just be sure to wipe it off before
the next shot!
Outdoor Photography Tip #2 - What Equipment Should I Have?
Before capturing that majestic shot of a bald eagle perched on a giant tree silhouetted against a setting
sun, here is the most basic of outdoor photography tips… review what photography equipment you
The type of digital camera (traditional or digital SLR), manual camera controls, telephoto capabilities,
and accessories all need to be considered.
Remember, taking a candid of Aunt Sally is pretty simple. You don’t have to be concerned that she will
spook and fly off at 40 m.p.h. if you make a sudden movement within 250 feet of her.
However, outdoor photography (or “nature photography”) is a different ballgame with different rules.
And like any other sport, to play in this game, we need to have the right equipment.
One of the best ways I have found to obtain great camera equipment at the best price is to search the
web for the gear you want and then pick someone you're comfortable with...
Outdoor Photography Tip #3 - Camera Type
Regardless of which type of camera you're using, it is quite important to be able to override the
automatic functions... easily!
If it takes 3 hands to push all the buttons and turn all the dials to perform some simple operation it's not
very useful. And, if you can't override the automatic camera settings, forget it.
Digital SLRs (dSLR) are at the top end of the digital camera spectrum. These are the digital equivalent of
the film SLRs (single lens reflex) in which the camera body is separate from the camera lens.
You don't need to start out with a digital SLR to take nature photographs. However, if you do get hooked
on the results and want to be able to take any type of glorious outdoor shot, you may want to begin
saving up now.
By the time you're ready to buy one, the price will have come down and the quality improved (that
doesn't technically fall under outdoor photography tips, but you get the point).
Rest assured that you can begin to get into nature photography with a reasonably priced digital camera
And to avoid undue frustration, these outdoor photography tips will focus on what camera features and
accessories are needed to make the most of your experience.
Your camera should allow for full manual override of most automatic functions. You must be able to use
manual focus, even though it is an auto-focus camera. You must also be able to set specific shutter
speeds and aperture values that you desire.
It's also preferred to have ISO values that go up to at least 800; exposure compensation; and the ability
to use an external shutter release.
These are not all absolutely essential, but if you have a choice, get them. You don't have to use all the
functions, but if you need one and it isn't there, you'll miss it.
Most of these functions can be found on most mid-range digital cameras. And for nature photography,
the macro and telephoto capabilities are critical for any purchasing decision.
Outdoor Photography Tip #4 - What Kind of Lens Should I Have?
Bottom line, you want your lens to cover down to at least 28mm at the wide angle end and up to at least
300mm at the telephoto extreme. For a non-digital SLR, these qualifications limit you to under a dozen
If you do opt for a digital SLR, here is something to consider.
I use someone who is beginning from scratch and wants the best "bang for the buck?"
If so, I would recommend purchasing two separate lenses... a wide angle zoom and a telephoto zoom.
The wide angle zoom should start at a maximum of 28mm and go to somewhere between 70mm and
105mm. The lower the F-stop number, the more expensive the lens.
Your maximum size for the lower F-stop number would be 3.5. A typical lens would be a 28-105/3.5-4.5
or something similar.
Of course, if your budget permits, getting a 28-105/2.8 or 2.0 would be even be better.
The second lens would be a telephoto zoom, starting out between 70mm and 105mm and going out to
at least 300mm.
For example, a 100-400/4.0-5.6 would be a good telephoto zoom to start with. Better lenses can be
quite expensive. However, there are numerous used lenses in good condition available from many
sources (I have purchased several myself through eBay and have been quite happy with the results).
As a general rule of thumb, buying lenses made by the camera manufacturer will usually result in better
quality than buying 3rd party lenses. But, like everything else, you get what you pay for. As a personal
note, if going the digital SLR route, I suggest sticking with Canon or Nikon.
Outdoor Photography Tip #5 - Tripod... Yes or No?
We have previously discussed the advantages of using a tripod. Although you can get away without one
in many areas of photography, outdoor nature photography is not one of them.
You will need to buy a tripod. If you don't have one you might as well not bother trying to do any high
quality work. Most of your images will come out too fuzzy.
For non-outdoor photography work, you can probably get by with a tripod costing less than $40. For
nature photography, if you buy one, you might as well get one that will do the job. So, in this case, plan
on spending $80-$200.
Outdoor Photography Tip #6 - Are There any Accessories that are Recommended?
If you don't own these already, consider purchasing them now...
A remote shutter release (also called a "cable release") for the camera
A Circular Polarizing Filter
A UV Filter (some filter should always be over the lens, to protect it)
A lens hood for each lens (generally included with separate lenses)
A device to tell when your tripod is level (if not integrated into the tripod)
Traditional accessories such as carrying case, rechargeable batteries soand memory cards
Tips for Outdoor Photography
With the arrival of Spring, the flowers and trees are beginning to resurface with renewed
vibrancy and life. With the return of the warm weather, I enjoy taking nature walks with my
children on nearby paths or just playing outside in the backyard. During these fun outings, I often
like to document them on film, so they may later be reminisced and remembered in detail. The
art of outdoor photography can be tricky at times, however, I’d like to provide you with a few
suggestions to help you improve you pictures in the great outdoors.
The most important factor in successful outdoor photography is lighting. When done correctly,
outdoor lighting can create dramatic effects, just as flattering as studio lighting. The time of day
is crucial for creating the best images. As a rule, dawn and dusk provide the best source of light.
On the contrary, if at all possible, you should avoid taking outdoor photographs at midday due to
the harsh overhead light it creates. Not only can it create a raccoon effect, but it can also cause
squinting. This image was taken at about 1PM on a very sunny beach. Notice how both of their
eyes have dark shadows, and they are squinting into the sun. If you cannot avoid shooting at this
time of day, it is best to find a nice shady area. Instead, the early morning and late afternoon light
is much softer and creates soft-edged, gradual shadows which are more flattering. The warm
yellow glow of the setting sun is one of the most beautiful types of light and can create a one of a
When shooting outdoors, a good location is also very significant. Open shade works best to
achieve nice, even lighting. Be sure to look all around you, as the same location can produce
completely different images by changing angles and/or getting in closer to your subject(s). You
must also be aware of what is behind your subject. It is very
easy to have trees and sticks “growing” out of someone’s head.
In this portrait, you can see how the tree is coming out from
behind the boy on the right. While it doesn’t ruin this image, it
would have looked better to adjust them before the photograph
was taken. Also watch for trees or objects which can create
Here you can see how the sun causes the ivy to create
shadows on the face. Shadows are fine to have, as long as
they are falling properly and enhance your photograph, rather
than distract. These add a little dimension, but border on
Beyond proper lighting, basic photography skills and tips
become a factor. Simplicity is visually stronger than
complexity. Light, solid colored clothing works best to keep
the focus on the subject. When subjects coordinate with one another, the outcome is a nicely
Outdoor photography lends itself well to capturing true personalities, as
it is less confined and restricted than an indoor studio. Remember to let
the subjects be themselves and don’t force them to say “cheese”. Try
different camera angles, including turning your camera vertically. Your
subjects don’t always have to be looking at the camera, or centered, for
that matter. Experiment with different types of film. Black and white
film can be fun to use outdoors as well.
Outdoor photography is not limited to ‘nature’
shots. On a recent trip out of town, I wanted to take
some studio style portraits for my sister-in-law. I bought a piece of black
velvet and taped it to the wall. Look how beautifully the natural sunlight
illuminated them and created beautiful catch lights. This is another option if
you are wanting to set up some “portrait shoots”, but don’t have a well lit
area inside your home.
The art of outdoor photography can be very rewarding and can produce
amazing images. The most essential things to remember are your lighting (time of day) and
location. Be sure to get in the photographs yourself! Try setting the camera on a rock and using
the remote feature. The more you practice, the more trained your eye will become and your
ability to create beautiful photographs will greatly improve. Get out there and have fun with it!
Outdoor Photography Tips
Outdoor photography is one of the most satisfying things you can do with a camera because you're
recording the beauty of the world around you.
You can go at this as a pro or semi-pro with all the cameras and equipment, jargon, and technical terms
or you can just skip all that and take great pictures you and your friends will oo-ahh over.
Here are some simple outdoor photography tips to follow.
What you’ll definitely need:
1. A camera!
You've probably already got one, but if you haven't, go buy one. Don't spend a fortune. The bottom of
the range Sony Cybershots are excellent little cameras for beginners that take great pictures. Since the
advent of digital the quality of images from most (not all) small, simple cameras has shot up.
We have a simple guide here at Digital Camera Reviews.
These are from a simple stick-it-in-your-pocket Sony Cybershot:
The camera doesn't see the picture – you do.
Yes, you definitely can go high-tech, get a top of the range Canon or Nikon, get a bunch of lenses, get
special filters and tripods but the photos are still only going to be as good as you are.
First get good at ‘seeing’ pictures, get some cool shots under your belt and then when your creativity
has exceeded your technical limits by all means expand them.
2. A skylight or UV (ultraviolet) filter.
These filters reduce haze caused by UV. But that's not why you buy the filter. You want this filter to
protect your lens.
Have a look at the surface of your lens – you can do this with your glasses too. The pink or green tint is
the 'anti-reflective coating'.
This coating reduces flare and glare and lets the maximum amount of light through the lens. This is a
coating. It can be rubbed off. Every time you clean the lens you're in danger of wearing off that coating –
and scratching your lens.
Outdoors you can get dust, pollen, mist, water on your lens. Lenses are expensive, filters are cheap. So
get a filter on the lens fast and if you have to clean, clean the filter while the lens stays protected.
3. Another battery.
There's nothing worse than being out somewhere with great shots all around and your camera chokes.
You can usually still squeeze a shot or two out of a digital even when it dies, by turning it on and getting
the shot fast before it shuts down again.
You can even do this a couple or even a few times but this is desperation and says your powers of
foresight suck. Just buy another battery and keep it charged.
4. Another memory stick.
It really hurts when you have to hunker down and perform triage on your shots – ‘Should I delete this
one? How about this one? Maybe this one isn't so good….’ If you follow the primary rule of all digital
photography “Blaze away! Take lots of shots!” you will get a percentage of frames that are total duds
and it's good form to do a clean up when you have time – so long as they are total duds you are
But sooner or later you will run out of storage. Just buy a second memory stick and avoid the pain.
5. A bag to carry all this stuff in.
You need a bag for two reasons. First you want something to carry the camera, any lenses you have,
spare batteries, spare memory sticks, snickers bars, manual for the camera, any filters you have, etc.
Usually the bags that come with the camera won't let you pile all this stuff in.
You also need a bag that's relatively waterproof in case of sudden downpours. Cameras don't like water
or mud. Same for your lenses and other stuff. Lash out and buy a decent camera bag.
6. Some kind of image editing software
Most cameras come with a CD of software. Usually this program is pretty minimal, and is designed for
anyone to use so it is easy to learn but will do a limited number of things.
I've tried various kinds of photo editing software but I always go back to Adobe Photoshop Elements.
Adobe Photoshop Elements is sufficient for anything you're likely to run into. It looks a little daunting
but actually it's quite easy to learn at a basic level. Almost anything you can do in the camera in terms of
exposure correction, color, tints, you can do just as easily in Photoshop.
Comparable software with a more easily learned interface is Corel Paint Shop Pro. What you can't fix is
blurred, out of focus, or seriously over-exposed (too pale or whitish) or under-exposed (too dark)
What you could need/optional extras:
7. A tripod.
Some purists say you shouldn't leave home without one. This is probably good advice for a pro or semi-
pro, but if you get a cheap flimsy tripod you will soon learn to hate it, and a decent, solid, useful, tripod
can be quite expensive and a hassle to lug around. A tripod's main purpose is to eliminate blurred
images due to camera movement.
Outdoors, your subject is usually pretty well lit, unless you're shooting sunsets, dawn or dusk scenes, or
night shots. Most digital cameras have an automatic exposure function that works just fine in low light
by slowing down the shutter speed to let in more light. However, unless you have trained as a special
forces sniper, when your shutter speed goes below 1/60th of a second, you'll probably get camera
With a telephoto zoom, any slight tremble or shake is magnified when you press the shutter. 1/125th is
about the lowest you can safely go with tele zoom without some aid like a tripod. The simple solution is
to rest the camera on something: a rock, a stump, a fence, or lean against a tree. Failing that, loop the
strap under an arm so you are holding the camera against the restraint of the strap.
You can still get movement when you depress the shutter (even with a tripod), so now set your self-
timer and use it to trigger the shutter while making sure the camera is as still as possible. Don’t breathe.
Taking pictures outside is a different ballgame than snapping shots indoors. Everything is different, from
the lighting to the backgrounds. Here are some tips to help you take beautiful shots when outdoors.
Digital cameras don’t like nature Pixels don’t treat all objects equally. One of the worst things
to photograph with a digital camera is a tree. If your camera can capture a million pixels and
your subject tree contains a few hundred thousand leaves, you’ll end up with only three or four
pixels per leaf, and the whole image will smear together in a big, gummy mess.The same goes
for lush lawns, bountiful gardens, distant mountains, hairy surfaces, and just about any other
subject with scads of intricate details. For the best results, shoot only clearly defined subjects
that have smooth, distinct outlines. People photograph well, as do cars, buildings, furniture, and
most man-made objects. In short, stick to obvious foreground subjects that stand out sharply
from their backgrounds.
Get in close Do your photos look like they were taken from a satellite in space? This can happen
if you don’t properly frame the picture. With a digital camera, the distance between the subject
of the shot and the camera means you end up taking about 15 pixels in the center of the image.
Because pixels are precious, it’s important to devote as many as possible to the picture’s
subject. When photographing a person, for example, turn on the LCD and close in until his or her
image fills the screen. Don’t take the shot until you see the whites of their eyes.
Avoid the extremes Extreme temperatures can do a real number on your digital camera and its
batteries. Don’t leave your equipment in direct sunlight for hours at a time. You can protect it by
covering it with light-colored or reflective material. If you leave the camera in your car, make
sure the sun won’t be moving into a position where it will cook your vehicle’s contents. In really
cold weather, place your camera in a large, sealed plastic bag when you head outside. The
temperature inside the bag will drop gradually, thus preventing a rapid climate change and the
ill effects of condensation and frost on the inside of your equipment. Once your camera has
cooled, pop it out of the bag and start shooting.
View to a killer shot It’s usually best to shoot with the sun behind you to make sure your subject
is well lit. The problem is that an LCD screen can be very hard to see in bright sunlight. So be
sure to purchase a camera that also includes viewfinder; otherwise, you may end up shooting
blindly. Another benefit of not relying heavily on the LCD screen: Longer battery life.
Use the flash in back lit conditions In full daylight, use the built-in flash on your camera to fill in
the shadows. When you photograph a person with back lighting present (a bright source of light
behind the subject, such as the setting sun), the result is often just a dark silhouette against a
blindingly bright background. The solution is to turn on the flash — a technique called fill-
flashing. The flash illuminates the subject’s face and also helps reduce the brightness of the sky.
Digital Photography Secrets.
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Chuck Doswell's Outdoor Photography Advice
These notes are the outcome of having been asked in an Internet newsgroup about the clarity of my
images on my photography page. First of all, I often use a polarizing filter, but not always. I am now
almost always using a "Skylight" or "UV" filter when not using a polarizer ... having damaged lenses in
various ways in the past (usually by dropping them during a lens change), plus I have noted how much
clarity my vision gets from the UV filter (the so-called "blue blocker") in my prescription sunglasses.
Image clarity depends on many factors and, of course, I am not scanning and posting images I have
taken that do not have clarity! That is, I do not show off my failures. Having been asked about factors
that produce images with high clarity ... I offer the following thoughts:
1. Use good quality lenses. For many of us using Canon (me!) or Nikon equipment, this means we
tend to stick with Canon or Nikon lenses, as opposed to buying "third-party" lenses (e.g., Sigma,
Spiratone, Cambron, etc.). It's not that those lenses are necessarily inferior, but I like to stick
with the lenses made by my camera's manufacturer.
2. Use good quality filters, but use them sparingly. A filter is another optical device between the
subject and the film (the lens is one). The more devices in the chain,the more likely you are to
3. Use a tripod for virtually every shot. If you must shoot hand-held, stick as closely as possible to
the rule that you don't hand hold any shot at a speed slower than one over the focal length.
Thus, if you are using a 50 mm lens, put anything slower than 1/30th - 1/60th of a second on a
tripod. For a 24 mm lens, you can hand-hold down to about 1/15th - 1/30th of a second. For a
200 mm lens, the break point is in the range 1/125th to 1/250th of a second. And so on.
4. Always stop and ensure that your lens is focused, usually on infinity for skyscapes. With some
zoom lenses, the focus at infinity can be tricky because it is not always at the end of the focusing
5. In cases where your shutter speed is between about 1/30th and 1/4 second, it is advisable to
lock up your mirror (in an SLR 35 mm) before you expose. In this range, the image is likely to be
affected by the vibrations caused as the mirror flips up during the exposure.
6. Long lenses used to bring distant objects up close typically will create a contrast loss, due to the
intervening distance. It's better to get closer and use a shorter lens, if possible. Although zoom
lenses have improved greatly in the last 10 years, a fixed focal length lens is almost always
sharper than a zoom lens, and usually has fewer elements inside (see #2).
7. All else being equal, use f-stops near the upper middle of the range: f /8 or f /11. Most lenses
perform best in this range in terms of sharpness and contrast. It is best to avoid the extremes of
the aperture range at either end, but especially so at the larger apertures (smaller f-numbers). A
wide-open lens typically has substantially inferior sharpness and contrast to one that is stopped
down. Thus, I assign high priority to the aperture and normally don't care much about shutter
speed. Only when dealing with high speed movement (e.g., tornadoes) is shutter speed a high
priority. Thus, a lot of images have to be shot with slow shutter speeds ... with the slow film I am
using. This reinforces the need for a tripod!
8. Depth of field for sky shots is not really an issue most of the time. However, if I am trying to get
a certain object in the foreground along with a dramatic sky, then the depth of field becomes
very important ... this also reinforces my concerns about aperture priority.
For most slide film, a slight underexposure (on the order of a half-stop) produces the best, most
saturated color. I use Fuji Velvia for most of my daylight shots and Velvia tends to be a bit
intolerant of underexposure, so I usually stick to a "normal" exposure for Velvia. I use
Kodachrome 64 for lightning shots at night .. see my lightning photo page for more discussion.
Using slow film (ISO 100 or less) means fine grain, which translates into image clarity. Since I do
not use print film for anything besides snapshots, I have nothing to recommend along that line.
9. Be aware of the sorts of situations that produce the best images. There is no way to describe
how generally to do this ... practice, practice, practice! If you can train your brain to SEE and not
just to "look" then it can help you in this directly.
The weather influences clarity a lot! In the relatively dry, clean air of the Great Plains, High
Plains, and Rocky Mountains, you are more likely to get the right sort of conditions for image
clarity than in the hazy, polluted air of the Eastern third of the country.
I can offer little or no advice to users of cameras that do exposure and/or focus automatically. I
am so old-fashioned, my cameras have a mechanical shutter! If you are using an automatic
exposure camera, as far as I'm concerned, you're on your own ... sorry. I have said some things
that are relevant for those with auto cameras operating in AE mode, and that's about as much
as I can say.
Perhaps the best advice I can give is for you to experiment until you achieve what you want. But you've
probably heard that before. Happy shooting!