THE GREAT OUTDOORS: Learn about these basic nature photography skills | Lifestyles

Last week we discussed the importance of lighting and a good working knowledge of your camera when shooting scenes in nature. Today I would like to jump into stabilization because no matter how good your camera and lens are, without a stable rig you will always get poor footage. Today, most lenses are equipped with ‘image stabilization’, electronic techniques that help reduce lens and camera shake and thus result in sharper images. It’s a big step up for the nature photographer who often needs to shoot quickly from unstable situations. However, that is not the whole answer.

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For sharp images, the best stabilization is a solid and stable tripod. Light and flimsy tripods are really useless, especially with the longer and heavier lenses used in nature photography. A sturdy tripod can be a pain to carry and use, but if you’re using an awning or staying in one place for a while, it’s worth it. I shoot a lot from my vehicle and I use a special sandbag I designed that hangs over my driver’s side window when it’s partially up. There are special tripods that attach to the window, but they are slower and harder to use than my sandbag.

There are some really good tripod heads out there and generally you get what you pay for, so don’t pinch pennies on one. Get what you can afford, keeping in mind that a good camera and lens setup is only as good as its stabilization. In addition to this sturdy tripod and head setup, a cable release to trigger the shutter is a cheap and excellent tool. It allows you to take photos without touching or disturbing the camera. When the action gets fast, like a bird entering a nest, your excitement can negatively affect your stabilization. When using slower shutter speeds, this cable release will prevent camera shake that typically goes unnoticed when shooting but shows up in the image when processed.

If you can’t use a tripod or sandbag, you should use the fastest shutter speed possible to avoid camera shake, even with image stabilization. I like to use at least 1/800 of a second and much faster if possible.

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Another very important thing that will help you get the images you want is a solid understanding of wildlife habits. You need to know what kind of habitat a creature likes and how it acts in its daily activities. This is where I had a real advantage; having been an extreme hunter and trapper most of my life has given me great insight into the habits of wildlife. Knowing where to look and having a pretty good idea of ​​what that creature is going to do next gives you a head start on the game. How do you get that knowledge? This comes from the fact that we spend a lot of time in the field observing.

Here’s another very important thing you need to do: not be noticed by the creatures you’re trying to photograph, or at least allow them to get used to you gradually. The biggest mistake I see people make is jumping out of their vehicle to take a shot, which is fine if you like shots of the southern end of a creature heading north. You really don’t gain anything by getting a few feet closer and the wildlife are quite aware of the ‘predators’ sneaking up on them. Just walking around without trying to miss the wildlife can ruin many opportunities that you often don’t know exist.

If you want to walk around to photograph, you should wear camouflage clothing, including a face covering, and spend more time looking than moving. A blind of some type is a real benefit if you’re working on a location-specific creature, and there are plenty of lightweight pop-up blinds available. A vehicle can be a great blind if you use it correctly. By this I mean: no fast movements inside the vehicle and a very slow approach to wildlife.

If you approach and the creature starts to worry, it’s time for you to stop and wait for it to resume its activities. I often spend more time discussing the subject than taking pictures. Sometimes individual creatures get so used to me that they practically ignore me the next time I show up (until a “stranger” appears and makes a quick approach or plays jack-in-the -box by jumping from their vehicle).

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There are other things that can improve your wildlife photos, such as using good composition (balance of the subject in the image). Learning how to use a photo editing program to adjust your images is another important skill. Most people don’t realize that years ago those who developed their own photos could actually adjust contrast, saturation, color balance, and cropping. It’s just a lot easier now with computers and without all the chemicals and a darkroom. Just like the camera itself, you don’t need the most expensive photo editing program to do a good job, just learn to use what you can afford. I use a simple old program that is no longer available, and it still works well because I learned how to use it.

When it comes to the best camera and lens combination for good nature photography, I’ll mention again that the person behind the gear is more important than the gear itself. Learn the basics and you’ll get better images. Remember: it’s not the race car, it’s the driver.

Outdoor enthusiast and nature photographer Doug Domedion resides in Medina. Contact him at (585) 798-4022 or

Stewart C. Hartline