The natural world around us is such a wondrous place full of interesting critters, beautiful vegetation, and incredible details. It’s a place of fabulous stories many will never take a pause to experience. At a time when everything is go, go, go and instant gratification, sometimes it’s difficult to “stop and smell the roses.” I’ve discovered that taking a moment to go on a walk, even if it’s just in the yard, can help bring peace to my day and remind me of all the beauty in the world. My goal in photographing nature is to do so in such an extraordinary way. I want others to be inspired to slow down and explore it on their own. With or without a camera in hand, nature can be incredibly soothing to one’s soul. I’m excited to share with you 4 ways to vary your storytelling in nature photography!
So, how do you go about documenting nature’s story, should you choose to do so? Observation and patience. Let’s say you’re walking up on a bed of Queen Anne’s Lace. You’re attracted to their intricate design. Don’t let the first shot be the only shot. Linger. Observe. Move slowly from one plant to the next. You may set your sights on an ant crawling along, get caught up in the delicately woven stems underneath, or find one unopened, tightly holding its seeds. Each moment is unique and can be documented in a variety of ways.
Slight moves of the camera up or down, left or right can add golden light or haze, sometimes flare, and change your backdrop drastically.
For both shots of heuchera shoots, I was using early morning backlight. They were taken moments apart with a simple shift of my camera from left to right. In the first shot, I was shooting with the sun camera right and the forest behind the plant. In the second shot, I was shooting with the sun directly behind the plant which darkened the backdrop and highlighted the web strands, adding more to the story.
Technically speaking, exposing for the direct backlight, I had to speed up my shutter quite drastically which allowed very little time for my camera to be able to grab any details from the backdrop and, therefore, the image has much more contrast. On the other hand, the indirect light in the first image gave me the opportunity to slow my shutter and my camera had time to read the backdrop, adding color from the forest behind the heuchera. Same plant, same time, 2 different stories.
For both petunia shots, I was using early evening back light. Again, they were taken moments apart, but this time with a simple movement of my camera from angled downward to slightly upward, toward the sky. The technicalities are somewhat the same here as with the heuchera. Shooting slightly downward toward the plant resulted in less direct back light and more vivid colors and details versus shooting more directly into the sun which preserved the beautiful rim light but added a bit of haze.
Observe the plant(s) as you move and, also, check your viewfinder. Sometimes, what our eyes see isn’t exactly what our camera sees. Don’t discount harsh light (but definitely meter for it). This can create beautiful contrast and personality, as with some angle changes.
Both fleabane images were shot in the same location with the sun almost directly overhead. The first image was composed with a strip of grass and the street behind the flowers, creating a pretty neutral backdrop and minimalistic scene. Then, I moved about a quarter way clockwise around the fleabane for the second image which has a lot more depth due to additional flowers behind the main subject and tonal differences with dirt in the backdrop, as well.
Both zinnia images are of the exact same flower. The first one had the sun located camera left, and slightly behind with other plants in the backdrop. This added some lovely color bokeh. For the second image, I moved about a quarter way counterclockwise around the flower so that it became completely backlit with plants and sky in the backdrop creating wispy light bokeh.
You don’t always need the nearest thing to you to be in focus. Travel through the frame and decide which story you prefer to tell in that moment.
For the images of Queen Anne’s lace, I first focused on the area closest to me and then added depth and layering by focusing further into the frame.
For the images of the coral cactus, again, I focused on the area closest to me. Then chose another area of the plant and focused further into the scene. This time, framing it with other parts of the cactus, blurred in the foreground.
It can be difficult to appreciate the beauty of nature when plants are in transition. If you take a moment to really observe them, though, you will find that the perfect light or backdrop can show off their details in the most stunning way. Consider all those fluffy dandelions, milkweed pod seeds, the texture in wilting petals, or branches leaf-bare but covered in frost, for example. Take advantage of ALL the moments… their stories are important, too!
Telling the story of nature through photography can be extremely rewarding. It not only offers you some peace in slowing down and having quiet time for a moment. But it gives you the gift of encountering beauty you may not otherwise notice quickly passing by. My hope now is that you are encouraged and inspired to go exploring the natural world. And I also hope that you’ll be able to use these simple pointers to make your storytelling adventure an extraordinary one!
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