Photographing Nature Using Your Digital SLR - dummies

Photographing Nature Using Your Digital SLR

By Doug Sahlin

Whether you’re surrounded by desert or forest, you and your digital SLR camera can capture great nature shots. The trick is to find the detail that makes the picture pop.

Choosing camera settings for nature photos

When you photograph a beautiful desert scene or lush forest vista, you want the largest depth of field possible, so you use Aperture Priority mode and a small aperture (a large f/stop number — f/16 is good). A low ISO setting — 100 or the lowest setting that gives you a shutter speed of 1/20 of a second or faster — ensures that you get an image that’s sharp and has little or no digital noise.

In the bright sunlight of the desert or the more subdued light of the forest, use multiple auto-focus points to give the camera more options for finding areas of contrast to focus on. Just make sure the camera doesn’t focus on a piece of tumbleweed 10 feet in front of the camera.

Both deserts and forests offer wide expanses of real estate, so always use a wide-angle focal length to capture the vastness of the landscape. You probably don’t need to use image stabilization, but you can set up a tripod if you like — the only movement will come from the breeze.

Taking pictures of nature

Find something interesting to draw your viewer into the picture. Look for patterns in the sand or a large curving dune, colors that contrast with the forest green, or rays of sunlight creating an interesting aura. Repeating patterns and color or tone contrasts are ideal ways to get your viewer to spend some time with the image.

[Credit: Corbis Digital Stock]
Credit: Corbis Digital Stock

When you photograph a landscape such as a desert and have nothing but blue skies overhead, position the horizon line in the upper third of the image.

If you’re photographing a scene that includes tall trees and a narrow path, rotate the camera 90 degrees for a more interesting composition.


After you compose the scene, press the shutter button halfway to achieve focus. Several auto-focus points should illuminate. If an auto-focus point illuminates on an object that’s close to you, release the shutter button, move the camera slightly, and press the shutter button halfway again.

Avoiding trouble when shooting nature photos

Protect your camera in the desert. Make sure that the camera strap is secured to your camera, and keep that strap around your neck at all times. Dropping your camera in the desert sand is the last thing you want to do. Never change the lens when photographing in the desert unless you’re in a building or closed vehicle. If sand blows into the lens or the camera body, your camera will probably need expensive repairs. Other than avoiding sand damage and a possible encounter with a scorpion, taking photographs in the desert is a breeze.

If your desert photos look harsh, try taking pictures in the early morning or late afternoon when the sun isn’t directly overhead. Likewise, the sun can cause problems in forest scenes if you photograph in bright sunlight and have areas of deep shade where the sun can’t penetrate the dense foliage. Your camera can’t handle this dynamic range. Move to a slightly different position where the sun isn’t shining directly at the camera and take another picture.

The atmosphere can distort distant objects in the desert. Placing a UV (ultraviolet) filter on your camera lens absorbs the UV rays, which gets rid of some of the haze in the image. This filter works its magic without affecting the color of the image.