Finding a balance between outdoor recreation and capturing awe-inspiring outdoor photos is harder than it would first appear. That boundary between participant and photographer can be a hard one to straddle, whether you are an aspiring professional photographer or simply wanting a killer image to show off to friends after a bucket-list ski trip. Thanks to social media, it “only happened if you have the photo,” and the fact most outdoor-lovers have a smartphone (and therefore a reasonably viable camera) in their pocket, it’s now easier than ever to capture envy-inducing images of your outdoor adventures.
Let’s pretend you’re out on that bucket-list trip, and your mission is to capture the sheer awesomeness of the destination. Here are a few tips to help you do your adventures justice from behind the lens, without interrupting your time on the water, the mountain, or the road.
1. Get Out
No matter how long or rough the day was, get outside. Great pictures are made when we step outside the front door, out of our comfort zones. Grab a cup of coffee and load the gear and the camera up. Even if the weather is terrible or your travel buddy is less-than-cooperative, there are photos to be made and your mental state will benefit from the simple act of getting out. Take a stroll around the block, hike a mile up the trail, or stroll a city block. You’ll be surprised at what you find.
2. Consider Positioning
OK, so you've made it outside. Congratulations. But don't just stand there and shoot from eye-level. Kneel. Climb something. Change the perspective. Stuck in the car for a road trip or a long ride up the ski lift? Stick the camera out the car window (make sure you have your camera strap looped around your arm first!). Squeeze onto the floor and take photos of your seat-mates. Do something different. The eye gets tired of seeing the same thing from the same angle. You'll be amazed at what a little positioning can do to spice up an image.
3. Think Happy Hour
Nope, not the celebratory, “we survived the day” one—I’d recommend leaving the camera at home if you're heading there. Think about timing when you are trying to capture strong images. The best photographers spend most of their working time between pre-dawn and 10 am or so, and then from several hours before sunset until dark. Midday light is harsh. Instead, get out and shoot early and late. Your images will be better for it.
4. Polarizing Filters
A neutral density (ND) filter works well in bright light, modifying the intensity of all light wavelengths and colors equally while giving no changes in hue of color rendition. If you’re outside in conditions not conducive to changing filters, just leave on a protective UV filter as protection. But if the light is beautiful and you’re looking for some enhancement, an ND filter or even a circular polarizer offers an instant boost. Pay attention to circular polarizers in bright, midday light—they can overly enhance contrast and work against you.
5. Keep the Camera Accessible
The most important of the five. You can be in the most incredible environment, seeing the most amazing things, but if your camera is tucked in the bottom of your bag and not in your hand, it might as well be on the kitchen counter at home.
Some will argue that keeping gear out, instead of tucked away nicely in a bag, is harder on it. It's true. But with a little love (and proper maintenance) your gear will keep up and get the job done. Keep a waterproof bag nearby in case conditions go south, but otherwise, keep it on your shoulder. Or on the campsite table. Or slung across your chest. Whatever. Good images never come from inside the bag.
Notes on Gear
Camera equipment preferences vary widely from person-to-person. It’s possible to shoot creative, quality images on an iPhone, though advancing to an entry-level DSLR camera will provide much more creative freedom. Don’t let the lack of fancy equipment hamper you from getting outside and shooting.
If you do choose to invest in camera gear, lens choice will have the most impact on your outdoor photography experience. Look at purchasing a quality wide-angle lens, as well as a 100mm+ lens. Wide-angle lenses (anything wider than 50mm on a full-frame system, or 35mm on an APS-C system) are a photographer’s best friend, encouraging new shooters to get up close and personal with their subject. Again, don’t be afraid to move your feet (or lie on the ground or climb the tree). Have fun with it and experiment with placing your camera nice and tight to your subject.
A lens with a bit longer “reach” (think 100mm+) will allow you to photograph subjects from a further distance, making it a valuable tool for outdoor athletes and adventurers. Many of the outdoor sports we love are not conducive to having a second person right alongside the first during activity. Longer lenses allow photographers to capture tighter images from further away and can provide a valuable tool for learning how to frame tighter shots.
Above all, just get outside. Bringing a camera into the field is an excellent way to share your stories, capture memories, and document adventures. And with a little creativity, it’s an exciting challenge all on its own
Written by Jess McGlothlin for Matcha in partnership with Gear:30.