Exploring outdoors and taking photos outdoors is one of the most beautiful parts of photography for me. It is always a new challenge, especially when shooting at new and unknown places. The light is different each time, the conditions are changing fast. Outdoor photography takes it’s time, sometimes one does need to wait hours for the perfect light. The good thing about outdoor photography – everyone can create these stunning outdoor shots – with the right knowledge and some creativity.
Let’s get started. I would like to give you some insights about the lessons I’ve learned during the past couple of years as freelance outdoor photographer in order to improve your outdoor photography:
1. Maximize your Depth of Field
Some technical stuff first – the camera settings. For outdoor photography it is important to have everything focused. Having a small Aperture (a large number like for example f8 or f20) will lead to a greater depth of field. Basically the smaller the aperture the greater the depth of field. My usual approach when I’m looking forward to get a full landscape panorama shot where everything should be focused is an aperture of f8.
The tricky part is again technical – the smaller the aperture (the higher the number) the less light will hit your cameras sensor. At this point one also does need to work with the shutter and ISO in order to compensate the small aperture.
Check the different images in this article to see how the aperture, ISO and shutter values work together in terms of depth of field.
2. Look for a Focal Point – by adding a Human Element
Having a focal point is more a general advice in terms of photography. Without having something interesting your viewer can focus on their eyes will wonder around with no rest. Especially in the fast times of social media it is important to catch your viewer with something interesting – the focal point.
It basically can be everything that is eye catching, so a standalone tree, a standalone mountain hut, a boulder or rock formation but also a lake or a boat on it. My favourite element to add as a focal point – a human element. Human beings can emotionally connect with a human being in a photo.
By adding a human element you’re not only adding a focal point but you’re also adding a emotional context. Awesome! Give it a try the next time you’re shooting outdoors 🙂
3. Don’t follow the following rules
In the following points I’m going to introduce you some important outdoor photography rules. But aren’t all rules made to be broken? Yes, they are made to be broken, so don’t follow them 😉
You probably heard about the rule of thirds before. It’s a crucial rule in photography – but I’ve never used it on purpose. Follow your feelings instead of these rules, your feelings will tell you more about the foreground, the focal point, the lines and the composition than any rules. Don’t get your creativity distracted by rules, get your rules distracted by creativity.
4. Use a Tripod
My favourite rule to break – use a tripod. Don’t get me wrong, tripods are great for night photography and long exposure shots. But as I don’t use any filters (like ND filters for longer exposure) I avoid tripods whenever possible.
First they are extra weight that you need to carry around, second they distract creativity and freedom. I love it walking around a new place for a bit for trying different viewpoints. Sometimes I’m also climbing up some rocks and trees followed by laying down on the ground to get a different angle. The more one is moving the higher the chance to get a stunning shot with different view points.
Setting up a tripod each time would cost to much time, therefore I’m shooting freestyle (as you can see in the next image) 😅
5. Consider the Sky
Another element to consider in terms of outdoor photography is the sky. Instead of following any rules just follow your feelings. If the sky looks boring (blue sky can also be boring as nothing is happening there) try to work more with the foreground by placing the horizon in the upper third of your shot.
If the sky is filled with dramatic clouds and an interesting structure work with it and give it more space in your shot. There is nothing more beautiful than dramatic clouds, they create some kind of a moody atmosphere.
6. Capture Movement
Outdoor photography is also about moving elements. There is so much movement everywhere that can add drama and mood into your images. For example waves on a beach or the floating water of a waterfall do have a lot of movement – and it is a challenging process to catch them.
For catching moving elements like water one does need to work with a longer shutter speed. Remember when I talked about the tripod? Here a tripod might be useful. The longer the shutter speed the more moving, it’s easy as that. There again some technical stuff, the longer the shutter the more light will hit your cameras sensor, so set up a smaller aperture and a lower ISO.
7. Think about Horizons
The number one rule that most of the photographers are going to tell you. Usually the horizon should be attached to one of the third lines (rule of third) in an image. Your horizon should either be in the top third or the bottom third of the image, never in the middle. This rule is one of the basic rules in photography when in comes to photography.
The only thing that is important to know when it comes to the horizon: go with your own flow and your own feeling and break this rule whenever possible. The photos in this article are mostly not following this rule as I am mostly placing my focal point somewhere around the third lines instead of placing the horizon there 😉
8. Work with the Weather
There is one thing that no outdoor photographer can change at any time – the weather. Instead of complaining about it (there is nothing like “good weather”) I’ve learned to use it. Weather can change really fast, especially in the mountains.
It is important to be able to adapt fast weather changes, especially by the clothes you’re wearing. Get yourself some functional clothes when heading outdoors, it will help you immensely.
One thing to consider when it comes to weather – a sunny day is most likely the most boring time to shoot outdoors. But having a foggy, cloudy or rainy day might present you a much better opportunity to get moody and dramatic outdoor shots. Don’t be afraid of getting cold and wet, brave the elements!
And check out this article about cold weather photography 😉
9. Work the the light
When talking with experienced photographers about their key experience they refer to one specific moment – the moment when they started to understand the light. At the beginning of my photography journey I avoided to topic light for a long time. Please don’t do the same mistake, start experiencing light from the beginning.
The word “photography” says it all. The origin language is greek: Photos means light, graphe means drawing. Photography is basically just playing and drawing with light – light is everything for us as photographers. It is important to know your cameras settings, but that knowledge is useless without knowing how to hunt and get the light.
Light can basically make or break your photos. Light is the difference between a boring shot and a stunning image. The good thing about natural light: it is changing all the time (it is a good thing because it’s challenging you each time).
During the sunrise and sunset the light is filled with red and orange colours (golden hour), the time short before the sunrise and shortly after the sunset is called blue hour – because you will be able to get these stunning blue touched photos. The golden and the blue hours are great for outdoor photography – they make nature alive, they create interesting patterns, dimensions and textures. Start playing with different light situations as soon as possible.
In case you’re planning your next adventure at the moment consider areas with the northern lights, they are going to challenge your understanding of light!
10. Change your Point of View
Do everything you can do to change your point of view. Do everything that any other photographer would not do to create something unique! Jump in the air, climb some rocks, climb some trees, lay down in the mud, go climbing again, go paragliding, do everything you can do! Those are the photos you’re going to remember, those are the creative masterpieces your looking for 🙂
The shot in this section was taken while paragliding above Zermatt in Switzerland. It’s one of shots that I am going to remember for my lifetime.
11. Practicing, Practicing
Surprise, surprise. All these tips and tricks will help you to improve your own level of outdoor photography. But you need to practice and practice them again and again. Break all the rules, learn them again, break them again. Practicing is the secret key of success. The more you are going to practice the higher you’re going to push your own level of photography.
Good luck with following and breaking all of these rules! I hope that you are going to improve your outdoor photography skills by following these 11 steps. Let me know your success and your own tips in comments below.