Top 15 Tips for Capturing Great Outdoor Shots

Top 15 Outdoor Photography Tips

Epic scenery, majestic landscapes, wildlife, seas, skies and inhabited or deserted places are a photographer’s perfect environments to convey his talent and skills in order to capture the beauty, mystery, and fascination of the great outdoors.

With today’s performant cameras and complex photography editing tools, one might think that amazing outdoor shots can be captured by anyone. However, if you want to follow in the footsteps of some brilliant outdoor photographers, you still need to master skills and knowledge.

Today we rounded up 15 outdoor photography tips from professional photographers and artists on how to capture outstanding outdoor shots.

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15 outdoor photography tips - Go Above the Landscape

1. Go Above the Landscape

Aerial photography, made easy with the use of drones, represents a whole new way of shooting outdoor scenes, angles, places, life and movement that couldn’t be otherwise captured from the ground level. The use of drones still needs plenty of regulation and a lot of skills, but drone-based aerial photography is all the rage right now to offer your viewers scenes as they have never been seen before.

Before attempting your own out worldly shots, take your time to master the secrets of aerial photography.

2. Be Ready to Move

Some photographers love the comfort brought by their nearby surroundings, but others are true adventurers when it comes to outdoor shootings. Outdoor photography requires a lot of travel and exploring, together with the desire of capturing a specific scene in an original manner. While we all know the same old famous pics of the Grand Canyon, adventure photographers take their artistic talent beyond, trying to find new angles, lights, and techniques to offer something completely new.

In the words of photographer James Kay, you need to do whatever it takes to bypass the ordinary to get something extraordinary.

3. Select Your Scene

Photographer Eric Lindberg advises us first to choose the scene we want to build our composition on. He recommends us to first online research the place we want to capture by looking at maps, Google Earth images, guidebooks, stock photos, tourism websites and so on. Knowing what to expect and looking at so many different perspectives a scene has been already captured gives you better chances to add your unique touch to the composition.

The expert photographer insists on offering your own perspective to a place, especially in travel photography.

Top 15 Outdoor Photography Tips - Select Your Scene

4. Create a Sense of Place

Picking a breathtaking scenery should always be followed by adding personality and (a touch of) dramatics to it. Professional photographers want to give the landscape a sense of place by trying to figure out what parts of that scenery are the most appealing, what story can that scenery tell, what feelings it may sparkle in peoples’ hearts, what is unique about that place and so on.

5. Mix Stunning Foreground with Compelling Background

Foregrounds add depth to a photographed scenery, helping the viewers immerse into the scene Ian Plant tells us. It also connects the bottom of the photo to the top creating a complex composition. If you want to achieve a truly dramatic effect, use a wide-angle lens to achieve perspective distortion to maximize the importance of the foreground, capturing it from a very short distance.

6. Use Near-Far Focus for Sharp Images

Achieving brilliant, sharp near-far focus landscape shots means to master plane of focus, depth of field and hyperfocal distance. According to Ian Plant, the rule of thumb to create amazing wide-angle, near-far landscape compositions is to approximate the distance between the camera and the foreground, and then focusing on a point that’s around twice that distance.

Top 15 Outdoor Photography Tips - Choose Your Best Light - Use Near-Far Focus for Sharp Images

7. Expand the Depth of Field

In order to extend your depth of field to ensure that your entire composition from near to far is sharp, you should stop down the aperture. While tweaking the ISO and shutter speed is quite easy, changing the f-stop/aperture may not be intuitive, especially if you are not yet fully familiar with your camera. If you are working with a wide-angle lens, a ƒ/11 aperture is usually enough to get sharpness and dramatism.

If you want to capture extreme near-far compositions, you can stop down even more. Make sure not to use your lenses' smallest apertures to avoid diffraction.

8. Choose Your Best Light

Expert photographers advise capturing your selected scene and compositions at sunrise, twilight, and sunset to capture the best color and light. Of course, overcast and midday sunlight also make good moments to capture landscapes, especially if you want to play with depth and shadows.

Top 15 Outdoor Photography Tips - Choose Your Best Light

9. Low Lit/Dark Landscapes

Dusk and dawn can be two magical moments if you capture them not looking for skies on fire but for obtaining eerie, mysterious and breathtaking images of natural landscapes. And speaking about skies, they are seldom completely lacking cloud formations. Instead of avoiding the clouds, achieve dramatic sky effects by embracing and highlighting their presence. Try locating interest points in the scenery that line up with the clouds and be ready to move, as the moment passes by in a heartbeat.

A tripod, zoom, and polarizer come in handy, but keep your ISO low and keep your eyes on the red channel of the histogram to make sure you capture the warm yet surreal colors of a dusk/dawn natural scenery.

10. Use Sidelight and Backlight for Color and Texture

Sidelight is an exceptional choice when you want to capture definition and texture of a landscape. However, backlight works amazingly great for autumn landscapes, for instance, as light passes through the red, yellow and orange foliage of trees, creating a true explosion of luminescent colors and hues.

Top 15 Outdoor Photography Tips - Choose Your Best Light - Use Sidelight and Backlight for Color and Texture

For backlit shots, you need to manage lens flare and use a lens hood to shade the lens’s front element. Also, use exposure compensation to widen your exposure, especially if you take the shots in aperture priority.

11. Isolate Color with Long Focal Length Lenses

If you want to capture the amazing color and texture of a scene, use longer focal-length lenses to draw the viewer’s attention towards some particularly intense colors of the scenery. Focal lengths of around 200–400mm are good to optically enhance specific elements of the composition. However, to get sharp images, you also need to use a tripod with long lenses, a mirror lock, and a cable release. At this point, it is important to maximize shutter speed and avoid vibrations on windy days.

12. Master Exposure Compensation

Getting the right exposure can be difficult for many new photographers but specialists in the field explain it is not that difficult to achieve. In outdoor photography, good exposure is of the essence. Ian Plant advises us to mix the exposure compensation feature with aperture-priority mode to adjust the images to our sense of aesthetics. Use the histogram after you decided the appropriate aperture for the desired field depth.

Evaluate the dynamic range of a scene and decide if you need to use an ND filter or you need to make manual blends in postproduction.

13. Stack Focus

Focus stacking is a postproduction technique helping you achieve outstanding near-far focus without relying your depth of field on small, diffraction-limited apertures. Focus stacking means, in fact, to blend in multiple exposures of the same scene – of course, each shot should be taken with the focus set on a different point. Adobe Photoshop or Helicon Focus can help you create breathtaking shots going beyond what depth of field can offer.

14. Use 500mm ƒ/4 and 600mm ƒ/4 Super Telephoto Lenses to Capture Life

Outdoor shots are not all about still images of fall forests, majestic mountains or glowing deserts. Nature, landscape and travel photography usually involves life and movement, especially wildlife if you are into nature photography. Expert photographer Tin Man Lee advocates for the use of 500mm ƒ/4 and 600mm ƒ/4 super telephoto lenses mixed with a 1.4x teleconverter, high ISO, high frame rates and image stabilization.

Understanding the critical elements in wildlife photography will help you capture more than amazing landscapes, but also offer something to move your viewers.

15. Use the Tilt Shift Technique for Urban Landscapes

Outdoor photography can take many shapes and sizes, one of them being urban landscapes. An interesting and creative technique to capture urban landscapes (especially in travel photography) is the tilt shift – a great way of blurring the edges of the picture in order to focus on a central piece of interest. While you can get the blurring effect in postproduction, expert photographers use tilt shift lenses for a more natural, breathtaking effect.

These were just a few tips on outdoor photography, but one can write dozens of pages on how to capture the wonders that surround us. What of these tips or techniques did you already use and which ones would you like to try?

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Richard Pinches

Richard is the owner of Meadows Farm Studios, having started his photography career after graduating Art College in 1985. Now, more than 30 years later, he and Meadows Farm Studios are still going strong.

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  • Derek Dewitt says:

    I have been wanting to learn photography in school, so thanks for these tips. I like your point about using the tilt shift for an urban landscape. I can see how this might help with focusing the picture and blurring out city lights at night.

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