Guest Post: Four Outdoor Photography Tips for Better Adventure Shots

One of the coolest things about living in Alaska for almost two years is the fact that it's just about impossible to take an awful picture. It really is just that beautiful. But when I look at the photos I took there almost five years ago and compare them to those taken by photographers that knew what they were doing, the differences are obvious. I did my best to capture what my eyes saw with the (lack of) skills I had, but I wish I'd known more about how to do it. In today's guest post, Seattle-based photog James Daugherty shares a few secrets about how to capture better outdoor shots. 

(J. Daugherty, Shutterstock)
Shoot During the "Magic Hours," or the Change Camera Settings: During the first and last few hours of daylight, the lighting is softer, more diffused, and warmer, which makes shadows less prominent and direct light less intense. This type of lighting allows for the best portraits and close up shots. The photo on the right shows how soft and warm light during the magic hour can be. But getting the perfect exposure on a bright day can be tricky.

Generally, getting a good shot in the middle of the day boils down to creating the right balance between ISO/film speed, shutter speed, and aperture. The best way to learn is just to practice. A large factor in being successful in outdoor photography is knowing how to use your camera on a manual setting—even the smallest manipulation can make a huge difference. In impossibly bright situations, the first thing you want to do is lower your ISO/film speed; typically 100 or 200. Overcast days, while still being bright, will have less direct light, so aim for anywhere from 400 to 800. 

The second factor to keep in mind in bright conditions is your shutter speed (i.e. the duration of time light is allowed to hit the image sensor). A slower shutter speed creates a lag that allows for more light to enter, making it easy to overblow an image. Last, keep in mind your aperture. Aperture is the function you set to determine the depth of field of an image, but it also plays a role in getting the correct exposure. Most outdoor photography will beg for a greater (8.0 and above) depth of field; you want the trees in the foreground, as well the river in the background to both be in focus in your image as much as possible.

(J. Daugherty, Shutterstock)
Rule of Thirds: In the stock photo on the left, you will see the nine sections with the subject of the photo near two of the intersecting points, and the horizon line near the bottom third line. The idea behind the rule of thirds is that it plays into the concept that our eyes are naturally trained to move from left to right when absorbing information. By placing our subject in the quadrants instead of centering it, we create more visual interest. If you didn't happen to shoot the photo with the rule of thirds originally, you can easily crop your photo to fit the rule in a photo editing program.

Use Supplemental Lighting: Supplemental lighting refers to when a photographer intentionally adds lights to the scene. Using supplemental lighting can also help you adjust to natural lighting that is coming in at harsh angles, add shadows, or provide highlights. Add lighting to the sides of your camera, rather than right above or behind it. Your camera's flash isn't the best form of supplemental lighting, since it's a weaker light and in the wrong spot.While a simple, on-camera flash unit is typically the cheapest/easiest way to go, it does not always bode well for creating beautiful, 'natural' looking light. 

There are a ton of fancy soft-boxes and lighting units that work quite well, but really, who wants to lug those around outside? One of my favorite ways to bump in a little extra touch of light is by using a simple reflector. Look for a reflector that is gold on one side and silver on the other. The gold with create a softer, "warmer" cast of light that is great for objects or nature, but not as flattering on people (it can turn teeth yellow). The silver side is fantastic for those times when (a) you are photographing people or (b) you need a stronger sense of light. You always want to angle your reflector towards your strongest source of natural light and then place your subject in front of the reflector.. The closer you are to your subject, the stronger the light cast from the reflector will be.

(J. Daugherty, Shutterstock)
Get Close: Some of the best outdoor photos are those that bring the subject right in front of the viewer's eyes. Close up, or macro-photography, can bring details to the viewer that the naked eye cannot. Obviously your camera's zoom is one way to get close, but the best way to capture close-ups is by getting physically close to your subject. Using extension tubes is also a great way to magnify your subject. 

Also, the type of lens you use has more to do with macro ability then the actual camera itself, and you can still recreate a pretty darn good interpretation of a macro image with your regular point-and-shoot. The key factor for achieving a strong macro image with a point-and-shoot is your aperture setting. For macro, try stopping down to the lowest possible setting your camera will allow – many will go down to an f/2.8. And of course, don't be afraid to get close to your subject! The best macro images are the ones that show a different perspective of a familiar object, so don't be afraid to try different angles and play around with different aperture settings.
James Daugherty  is a writer and blogger who works alongside Stock Photography ShutterStock and BigStock.

James, thank you so much for sharing these tips and for putting up with the barrage of, "well, what about this?" questions from me! 

Photogs out there, any tips to add? Have tips like this helped you?



thanks for the nice article, I'm always taking pictures when I'm outdoors, I will give these a try next time!
christian said…
hey cool article and great pictures! I recently started a blog and today set up a tool that allows anyone to post their pictures, stories or reviews from hikes, ski trips, mountain biking, etc.. and sets it on a map of the world for everyone to see. Would love to have you or anyone else post something. click the link to view it.
Katie @advinspired said…
glad you liked it, thanks! let me know how the tips work out for you.