I’m a nature and landscape photographer. It’s what I most enjoy photographing, it’s what I’m most comfortable with, it’s what I think I’m pretty good at. I rely on pretty much one light source, the sun. I’ve never staged my photos or manipulated the light in any way other than maybe the removal of an errant twig or leaf, relying solely on what Mother Nature had given me at the time. Also, in the past I have generally avoided having people in my photos in any way. I’ve walked away from some very nice scenery because there was no way to photograph it without people in the frame.
Basically, I stuck with what I knew because I didn’t want to make bad photos of something I didn’t usually photograph.
However, one of the things that I feel has helped me become a better at nature and landscape photography is that over the last year or so I have decided to step outside that landscape comfort zone and photograph subjects that I’m not readily familiar with, or have never really enjoyed photographing. Facing my photographic fears has taught me a valuable lesson, too. Photographing subjects outside of my normal nature photography has made me not just a better nature photographer, but a better all-around photographer in general.
Step out of your photography comfort zone with these different subjects
Include people in your landscapes
Let’s start with baby steps when it comes to stepping outside your comfort zone by simply including a person or two into your landscape photos. For the longest time I would have passed up a shot like this simply because there was a person in the frame. I’ve finally come around to realize that having this woman in my photo makes for a better photo by giving the image a sense of scale.
Architecture is another way for a nature photographer to challenge their skills. Finding shapes, patterns and textures is relatively easy, and by following the basic rules of composition like the rule of thirds, making good photos should be a snap without a tree or mountain in sight.
Head to a car show, and bring your camera. Even if you’re not much of a car person, there is a lot to see and photograph. If it helps, don’t treat the vehicles as such, as with architecture, look for pleasing shapes, lines and color when composing your photos. Get more tips for car photography here.
Staged photos or controlling light
Normally the only photography lighting I worry about is the sun and how it’s effecting the landscape as I’m photographing. As I like to say, the light “is what it is.” I either work with the natural light that’s there, or I go home empty handed.
For this next shot, an urban legend/Halloween themed photo for a photo project I was working on, from concept to execution, I staged the scene and manipulated the light to truly create an image. This is something my nature and landscape photographer self would never have considered before.
The best part about this rather creepy shot is that I didn’t need any special, or expensive, lighting equipment or other props to make it. Just a black T-shirt for a backdrop, a desk lamp with a daylight balanced compact florescent bulb and a little imagination.
Lastly, portraits are way outside my comfort zone as a nature photographer. I have absolutely no desire whatsoever to photograph people. I much prefer my subjects to sit still, like a mountain. However, I’ve found that because I’ve been spending more time photographing some non-nature subjects, and including people into some of the photos I do like to make, when I want to take a photo of my daughter, I’m confident I will be able to do a halfway descent job.
Since the basics of good photography apply across all genres, if you’re good at photographing one, you can become good at so much more with a little effort. I’m not suggesting you give up photographing whatever subject you’re passionate about, just that experimenting with other forms of photography can make you better at what you prefer to photograph.