Nature photography basic tips and tricks

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BIGHORN SHEEP crossing Highway 200, past Paradise. Bighorn Sheep can stand on a ledge less than 1 inch in width, and can jump nearly 20 feet. (John Dowd/Clark Fork Valley Press)

When living in a such a beautiful place as Northwestern Montana it is hard to resist the urge to try to take some of it with you to show your friends.

Specifically, I am talking about photography. The ability to record an image of what we see for future reference is possibly one of the most incredible feats of invention man has ever come up with. Great photography takes years of practice and a whole lot of luck.

Photographers are always learning new tips and tricks to make things easier, and getting that great shot often means simply being in the right place at the right time and doing the right thing. And here, in the west, it is far easier to do those three things. Whether one is just walking out onto the back porch or driving down the road, any time a person steps outside they can put themselves directly into the middle of an outdoors magazine cover.

This is what most people fall in love with here in Montana. It is hard to go anywhere here without finding a great shot to take. This being said, there are several ways to improve one’s chances of successfully capturing a picture of a majestic bull elk, or the steam coming out of a bison’s nose.

The first simple trick I can recommend is as I stated up above: be in the right place at the right time doing the right thing.

Get out there and explore, drive a little and see what new things you can find. A good time to go out, especially for wildlife, is just after it rains, or a break in the weather.

Because the grazers and herbivores are out at this time, so too are the predators, who go where their food goes.

The last part of this tip is to be doing the right thing; i.e. a person looking to take a great photo needs to learn how to use their camera. No matter how many bells and whistles a piece of gear comes with, the bottom line is that it is a human being behind that gear pushing the button, and again following that first all-important step: being in the right place at the right time.

The more one knows about how to use their gear the better the photograph will be.

Another key trick to photography, especially when nature is concerned, is to understand movement. To take a great “critter pic” a photographer needs to know how his or her camera will act with motion. Most of the time animals will not just walk up and stand in the perfect pose until a person is ready to take a picture. If one possesses a DSLR camera it is a good idea to understand the relationship between shutter speed, ISO and aperture. These are the basic elements of photography. The higher the shutter speed the more detail the camera can capture. The lower the aperture the more light the camera can let in per shutter.

The higher the ISO the more sensitive the overall camera will be to the given light. This all being said, the most important piece for capturing motion is basically the shutter speed. The higher the shutter speed the clearer the motion.

Even phones can download apps allowing their users to control these elements within the phone’s camera, manually.

This trick can allow a person using their smart phone to control every aspect of their photos. Even knowing this, phones are still, on their own, able to capture some incredible pictures without any help from the person.

Finally, the greatest piece of beginner advice for wilderness photography I can dole out is to be patient.

Many times, that great shot must be waited for. I myself have sat for an hour, or two, waiting for an animal to stand in just the right way, and have taken a thousand pictures just to choose the one that looks good.

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