5 Tips for Taking Your Outdoor Photography to the Next Level

By Peter Brandon
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5 Tips for Taking Your Outdoor Photography to the Next Level

Peter Brandon
 
 
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Photography and adventure go hand in hand.  Your hikes and climbs take you to some of the most beautiful places on Earth, and there’s nothing better than a good picture to capture the memories of those amazing landscapes.  Sometimes, though, you feel like you just can’t manage to capture the scene the way you want to, and your photos come out dull and unexciting. No matter what camera you’re using, consider trying these five tips to improve your photos and take your outdoor photography to the next level.

1. Implement Basic Rules of Composition

One of the fastest ways to improve your outdoor photos is to take a moment to consider some basic rules of composition as you line up for a shot rather than just pointing the camera in any direction and pressing the shutter button.  Composition is something that has been studied by painters and artists of all kinds since the days of the renaissance, and it is simply a matter of deciding how to position the various elements in the scene within the frame of your photo.

One of the most popular rules of composition is referred to as the “Rule of Thirds”. Basically, this rule teaches us to avoid the natural tendency to center the main subject in the frame. It’s simply too ordinary, and too boring. Instead, what you want to try to do is divide your photo frame into an imaginary grid, with 2 equally spaced horizontal lines, and 2 equally spaced vertical lines that create 3 distinct rows and columns.

 

Now, as you frame your shot, try positioning your subject on these lines, especially at their intersections.  Typically, positioning your subject using the “Rule of Thirds” creates a more interesting photograph, because it creates some dynamic tension between the negative space in the photograph and your subject.

For landscapes, you might position the horizon on one horizontal line of your grid, and the top of a mountain range on the other. This divides the image well and makes it more interesting to the viewer. For other scenes, like those with people in them, try placing them in the bottom corner at the intersection of your grid lines, and leave some negative space in the direction that they’re looking, to convey the idea that they are looking at into the distance.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with positioning your subject in different places within your frame, and remember that sometimes it’s OK to break the “rules’ and center your subject if that’s the composition that looks best for you.

 

Notice how the hiker isn’t placed right in the center of the frame, but rather off to the left side as he gazes right into the distance.
Notice how the hiker isn’t placed right in the center of the frame, but rather off to the left side as he gazes right into the distance.

2. Seek the Best Lighting Possible

You would be absolutely amazed to see the difference between two pictures of the same exact scene taken at sunset vs noon time.  Photos taken in the midday sun often have harsh shadows, with extremely bright highlights that make for very challenging lighting conditions even for the most experienced photographers.  While outdoor photographers don’t always have a choice of what time of day to take photos, there are a few things to keep in mind to get the best lighting for your photos.

First of all, if possible, make the effort to take your most desired photos during the “golden hour”, which occurs an hour after sunrise and an hour before sunset. During these time periods, the sun is low on the horizon and casts a unique golden glow of light which creates long and interesting shadows.  Anyone, no matter their level of photography experience can drastically improve the quality of their photos by shooting during the golden hour, regardless of the subject they happen to be shooting.

 

However, sometimes you may be going for a casual hike where it isn’t really feasible to be on the trail an hour after sunrise or an hour before sunset. Don’t worry, there’s still a few things you can keep in mind to get the best light possible for your shot.

If you’re shooting photos of friends, whether their hiking, biking, or climbing, try to wait until they’re in an area of even lighting. Shade is often best, but even if their in the sun it’s OK. What you want to avoid is getting photos of your subject when it’s in a combination of super bright sunlight as well as splotches of shadows, such as when the sun shines through tree branches.

 

Golden light can turn an ordinary scene into an incredible photo.
Golden light can turn an ordinary scene into an incredible photo.

 

This creates a really difficult scenario for the camera, and it either under exposes to compensate for the highlights, or overexposes to compensate for the shadows. Either way, if you have to take photos in these types of lighting conditions, you’ll probably find that the photos don’t turn out as well as you were hoping. However, if you take a moment to try to make sure your subject in is even lighting, your camera has a better chance of exposing properly and taking a better photo as a result.

 

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3. Add Foreground Elements

Sometimes as we stare out into the distance at far away mountain ranges and the setting sun on the horizon, it’s easy to point the camera in that direction and snap a picture, ignoring what’s right in front of us.

There’s nothing wrong with taking a photo of distant landscapes, but to make a potentially more interesting composition, consider combining background elements with foreground elements in a single shot.

 

For instance, you might take a picture of the sunset with your hiking partner sitting on a ledge looking out at it. This foreground element works to draw the viewer into the photo and creates a perspective similar to if the viewer was standing in the scene, looking out at the same view that you are.

 

Notice how the stream in the foreground leads the viewers eyes into the waterfall in the background.
Notice how the stream in the foreground leads the viewers eyes into the waterfall in the background.

 

2. Experiment with Post-Processing

For professional photographers, taking the photo is only half of the artistic process. Just like in the days of film, photographers go through a modern-day equivalent of “developing” their photos after they take them, though instead of a darkroom, they use various post processing software packages.

 

If you’re looking to improve your outdoor photography, focus first on improving your composition and technique when taking the photo, but don’t be afraid to experiment with post processing, too. Though the most popular software for professionals is the Adobe suite, there are some free alternatives like GIMP for your desktop or Snapseed for your mobile device that work great for getting started.

 

Post processing is an essential part of every photographers workflow.
Post processing is an essential part of every photographers workflow.

These software packages let you change things like brightness, color saturation, and white balance, to help you make sure that the photo you took lines up with your overall artistic vision for the shot.

5. Print Your Photos

The final tip for improving your outdoor photography is to remember to print your favorite photos!  There’s something really special about framing a print of you and your friends hiking during your summer getaway, or giving out some prints of an incredible sunset you saw from the summit to your family.  The digital world is great, but don’t lose sight of the fact that one of the greatest features of photography is that it can be transformed into a tangible object that can be shared by hand, not just on social media.

 

Bring your photos to life, and get your favorites printed!
Bring your photos to life, and get your favorites printed!

 

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