In landscape photography the focus is usually on photographing grand scenic landscapes, wide mountain vistas, dramatic seascapes, or brilliant sunrises. The focus is on “The Big Picture,” so to speak.
Nature photography is a little bit different. When making nature photographs the opposite is usually true. The focus is usually on the little things, the interesting details, rich textures, and vibrant colors that abound in nature and make nature photos so interesting.
The trick to finding these details is to open your eyes.
I don’t usually set out with the intention of photographing nature. I’m primarily a landscape photographer, though I stay open to all the possibilities I may encounter along the trail to whereever I may be headed with my camera. My nature photos are quite often the result of the things I see, little bursts of color, or an interesting pattern that catches my eye while I’m out with my camera and on my way to the coast for a sunrise, or walking along a stream on the way to photograph a waterfall.
An example of what you can see if you’re paying attention occurred while I was setting up my tripod to get the above photo of Glen Ellis Falls in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. I looked down to see these wonderfully intricate patterns in the ice (below) along the side of the stream.
Had I not been paying attention, I may very well have taken a few photos of the waterfall and simply moved on, completely missing the intricate geometric patterns delicately created within the ice.
How to find nature photo ideas
Take in textures
It was well into autumn here in New Hampshire and I was photographing along the seacoast. After the sun was up, I started to wander around looking for inspiration. When I happened to look down, I saw this jumble of multi-colored maple leaves that were lightly coated in frost. The texture of the dried leaves as well as the delicate frost crystals immediately caught my eye. I set my tripod low to the ground and experimented with a few compositions until I settled on the one above.
Pay attention to patterns
The patterns found in nature are almost limitless.
To find early spring plants covered in rain drops or frozen crystal jewels along the banks of a mountain stream, keep your eyes open. No matter where I’m going or what I intend to photograph, I’m always looking around for interesting patterns on the way to and from my intended destination.
Look for light
Yes, light. As simple as it sounds, in the right light almost anything can make a decent photograph. While walking through the woods near my house late one evening, this backlit fern leaf jumped out at me from among the more subdued leaves on the forest floor. Being late in the day, the sun was low on the horizon and filtering beautifully through the woods, making the fern glow with wonderful warm light.
When looking for details, try to look beyond the obvious. For instance, when presented with a large field of wildflowers, the purple lupine for example, try isolating a single flower after you’ve photographed the entire field. By focusing in close and perhaps using a larger aperture to create a shallow depth of field, you can capture the vibrant colors and great detail that is lacking when trying to take in the entire field of flowers all at once.
Note: No special gear is required. This could very well be the best part of this article. All of these photos were taken with either my wide angle or telephoto zoom lenses. Since most people have at least a wide angle zoom, and these lenses often have a very short close focusing distance, there is no need out rush out and buy new gear. Unless of course you want to.