Nature photography is amazing. It’s an art, a science, and a hobby all rolled into one. But if you want to take great shots of the outdoors, there are a few things that will make it a lot easier.
First and foremost is your gear. Whether you’re an amateur or pro, you’ll need just the right equipment to get the best pictures possible. It can be daunting to think about getting started with nature photography, especially if you don’t know where to start. Here, we’ll go over everything you’ll need to get started.
Nature Gear Essentials
Most nature photographers will want to use a DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera. These cameras are designed for precision and quality, and they allow you some great freedom with your shots. But it is perfectly possible to take great pictures without a DSLR camera. If you’re still learning the ropes, an ordinary point-and-shoot digital camera will work just fine. These cameras produce good images and are easy to use. Of course, using the right lenses can make a big difference in your shots, but that’s part of the DSLR’s allure.
Many nature photographers recommend Canon or Nikon brand DSLRs for beginners because you can buy lenses for these cameras anywhere, whereas some of their competitors have their own system of lenses that can only be used with that brand. But Sony also has a number of great DSLR cameras and a wide variety of lenses. Either way, you’ll get high-quality shots.
Lens choices are vast for the average nature photographer. The sky is the limit for lenses in terms of price and quality, and as you move up in price, you’ll get sharper images, which is a necessity for professional nature photography. But even a wide-angle lens can help you capture different angles of your subject and capture subjects that would be too far away for your usual shots. For many shots a telephoto lens is necessary, but for other shots you’ll want to use a longer focal length like a medium telephoto or an ultra-wide.
Remember that the focal length of your lens can have an effect on the perspective of your shots. A wider focal length will exaggerate the distance between objects in your shot, and a longer focal length will reduce the distance between objects in your shot. Learning how to use this properly is one of the keys to great nature photography.
Not all lenses are made equally, though. The best lens for nature photography will be as sharp as possible and have a wide angle of view. If it has image stabilization, that’s also a bonus. Nature photographers will usually want to use fast lenses so they can use a lower ISO setting and capture less-grainy shots in low light.
Binoculars are an essential tool for nature photography, but they don’t have to be high-end or expensive. A basic pair of binoculars can be a great shot-maker for some shots.
Just like you wouldn’t use the zoom feature on your camera when you’re taking a shot of a close subject, you won’t need binoculars for every shot. For some shots, you may want to move in closer or use a wide-angle lens. But binoculars are great when you’re trying to capture a birds-eye view of the outdoors, or when you want to get close to an animal or bird without scaring it away.
A good pair of binoculars will have good magnification and a wide field of view. You also want light weight binoculars that are comfortable and easy to hold onto for long periods of time. Lower magnification means the binoculars will be lighter, but there is a point of diminishing returns. Beyond a certain point, there’s not much advantage in terms of magnification. If you’re getting binoculars with more than fifteen times magnification, you won’t get much additional benefit.
Tripods and Monopod
For many nature photographers, tripods are a must-have piece of gear. The good news is they’re not expensive. A decent tripod will run you less than $100. Camera tripods are great for getting your camera into the perfect position, and some tripods also have a ballhead for added control and precision when you’re framing your shot. You can even use a tripod to support your binoculars if you’re watching an animal that may move out of view if it senses you have binoculars on it. A monopod is also a great way to stabilize your camera at a low angle for better perspective.
For nature photographers who want to get into macro work, a tripod is more vital. They will be able to focus on specific areas of microscopic subjects like pollen and seeds. A good extra lens can be used for macro work, but some people choose to go with a special macro lens specifically for that application.
One thing to note about tripods: Some are better suited for vertical balance than others, so it’s a good idea to go with a brand that has settings for your model. The same goes for monopods, which can also be expensive.
A pair of sturdy hiking boots is another must-have piece of gear for nature photographers. It’s a good idea to wear different kinds of footwear when hiking. Your hiking boots should have a solid sole and grip for the rocks you’ll come across. You don’t want your toes to be crushed by sharp rocks or sticks in the woods.
If you need to shoot from higher up, a pair of crampons can also help you climb up steep hills that are too steep to walk on normally.
If you’re going to be carrying a large number of pieces of equipment, it may be a good idea to invest in a photography vest.
A good photography vest should have several pockets, at least one large pocket for your camera body and lenses, and a couple smaller pockets for extra memory cards and batteries. One thing to consider when choosing a photography vest is how it fits. Some people prefer vests with no padding rather than padded ones, which can also get hot and uncomfortable.
Camera Bag or Backpack
A camera bag or backpack is another essential piece of gear for nature photographers. It’s also a good idea to look into buying one that has multiple straps. You can attach other straps to it if you need to strap additional equipment, like tripod legs, monopods, telephoto lenses, or a laptop computer.
The best bags have plenty of pockets and compartments. They should be able to hold enough gear so it doesn’t get jumbled up when you put it down in the woods.
Other Odds and Ends
There are plenty of other accessories that can help nature photographers, but they don’t lend any specific technical advantage to your photography. They’re just nice to have around to make things easier. One of these is a compass, which comes in handy if you’re trying to locate water sources or high vantage points for your shots. A GPS is also a good addition if you’re trying to get precise coordinates for your shots.
One of the best parts about nature photography is that it doesn’t require a lot of gear to start out. As you get more experienced, though, it makes sense to invest in the right equipment for your needs.
A sun protection factor (SPF) calculator is another nifty piece of gear. It tells you how much sun protection you need to meet the legal requirements for the type of photography you’re doing. There are different types of sunlight that photographers need to avoid, such as solar eclipse photography and long exposure photography that requires very high ISO settings.