Nature Photography – What it is and what you should know about it

Nature photography is a wide range of the photography industry, focusing on pictures taken outdoors. Devoting time to displaying natural elements such as landscapes, wildlife, plants etc . There is a grey area between this and the fields of wildlife, underwater , botanical and other types of photography. In this article we will discuss why it is such an enticing career choice. We will then go on to things you should keep in mind if you want to do nature photography.

Some of the reasons people pursue nature photography as a career

Nature photography is a very popular field. That’s no surprise, it gets you outdoors and seeing our planet in a way that others don’t. Other perks are:

  • the street cred of being published in nature, wildlife and travel magazines
  • traveling to remote and exotic locations to take pictures
  • adrenaline of having to do extreme activities like mountain climbing, scuba-diving and hiking to get to the photograph locations
  • to address environmental issues by using their pictures to tell important stories that can only be truly appreciated visually
  • an over all love for animals and the great outdoors

Lets look at some of the most important things to keep in mind if you are looking at a career in nature photography.


Ethics is the cornerstone of a career in nature photography

No photo should come before the welfare of an animal or place. Unfortunately, this is one thing that is not adhered to by everyone who calls themselves a nature photographer. It’s as simple as this:
  • Don’t make an animal angry or scared
  • Don’t get too close, make sure both you and the animal have an escape route.
  • Learn about your subject BEFORE you go out and shoot
  • Familiarize yourself with the signs of distress in an animal. I like to use the example of a puffer fish. Many photographers will get up close to one to capture this fish inflated -but its a sign of distress!
  • Don’t leave behind any litter
Remembering these rule will help to improve your photos in the long run. Don’t cut corners. Taking photographs of animals behaving naturally is the best way to portray them accurately.

Passion is important

Luckily this isn’t a very hard thing to adhere to, but you must have a deep love for your subject. Nature photographers spend a lot of time outdoors. If you’re a landscape photographer, you’ll spend lots of your time hiking and getting up early. It can be physically and emotionally challenging so the love helps fight through the rough parts. Wildlife photographers often spend hours waiting to get a shot of a shy animal. Without strong passion, this can be mind-numbing. But passionate people hone into these challenging times and try to learn something from them. Harness the power of  your passion for nature and let it fuel your creativity and motivation.

You have to stand out

Everybody is doing it. You need to figure out how you can be different because, unfortunately, it is a bit of a popularity contest. You can achieve this by specializing on one type of animal, or brand yourself by a specific style. It’s up to you to suss-out  what you’re good at. More importantly realize when you do something well.
If you are still looking for your style then study other nature photographers. Are they using interesting/unusual angles? Which colors do they coordinate within the frame? What mood are they trying to show? How close do they get to their subject? Try to do something different. Go against the grain! Use a different angle, shoot a close-up where others would shoot wide-angle.

You have to be brave

If you don’t take risks and do things other people have not then you won’t capture those money shots. This will mean something different for everyone. You may have to bite the bullet and make some marketing investments. Or maybe put in hours of practice and planning so that you can climb a rock no one has climbed before to get the perfect angle. You have to have the gumption to do so.

Storytelling is your main job in nature photography

It’s easy to press the shutter when you finally find what you’re looking for, but these thoughtless clicks will often result in unimpressive photos. Think about what you’re trying to convey to the viewer. You want the person looking at the picture to feel like they are in your shoes, looking at the scene themselves. With wildlife photography, this comes from capturing character or behaviour.
Scale can also be a means to story telling. you can display how mighty and huge something is. You can also portray how tiny and fragile something is. Think about using objects to show scale in your photos. Like when you see a picture of a penny next to a baby mouse, you’ve managed to tell a story about size.
Use texture to communicate your personal impressions of the scene, texture is a really good way to communicate feelings. A sharp rock can interpret treacherous surroundings. Soft fluffy fur can portray innocence and warmth. Like our photography instructor likes to say “you don’t take a picture you make a picture”. You use the resources around you to sculpt something beautiful or moving. 

.. and planning that story is important

You still have to have an idea of what you want to capture. This is true with wildlife film-making too, we always have a script to use as a foundation. Have an idea of a photo you want to capture, and keep at it. Maintaining a long-term study of an area, or animal, will allow you to capture something extra special. It may be that particular shot you’ve been chasing, or something completely different. Knowing your subject’s habits will also help you predict shots. You’ll know when that swan is about to charge, or when that particular plant is in bloom. And if you find out the animal you’re photographing isn’t so dangerous or is more sociable? Then you can start capturing close-up photography.
On a side note, you should plan other things too. Make sure you have a great pair of shoes, camouflage if necessary, double-triple check your gear bag, take enough memory cards. Plan your route and pack adequate supplies. You will not catch a great picture if you have sore feet and you’re dehydrated as a raisin. Familiarize yourself with your camera – read your manual, seriously, it helps.
Plan on when you are going to shoot, you can read our blog on maximizing natural lighting at different times of the day here. In Africa, we go out early because this is when you will find the animals most active. They tend to rest when the sun is out in full force to conserve energy.

Discover wild Africa on a photojournalism safari assigment

Persistence is key

The reason there are so many people in the industry but so few people at the top is that it requires an immense amount of persistence. Results don’t come instantly , and it takes practice to achieve great images. Especially when you are adhering to the photography ethics I mentioned earlier. Since you can’t direct nature and tell it what to do, taking good photos can be a longer process, but the challenge is what keeps it interesting.
If you were curious about what equipment to take on your nature photography excursions read our blog on essential gear for wildlife photography here.

Some not so obvious tips in nature photography from NatGeo

  • Learn to appreciate overcast days. Their diffused light can make for increased color saturation in your images. Raking angles of early or late sun usually reveal texture
  • When photographing birds, try for a natural background without man-made objects. Game animals blend into the landscape, so be careful about your background. Wait to shoot a deer, for example, until it is outlined against the sky or a distant light-colored field. The best lens for bird photography is a telephoto with a focal length of 400mm or greater. A 70mm-to-300mm zoom works well for birds that can be approached closely
  • When you decide what makes you want to photograph a place, think of adjectives to describe it—and include a detail in your photograph that conveys that adjective.
  • Use a shallow depth of field when photographing wildlife for close-ups to blur out background distractions
  • Be sure to watch your step when photographing wildflowers. Some of your subjects may be endangered species. Never uproot or cut wildflowers, and be careful not to trample the plants.
  • When photographing details, try different angles—above, below, from the side—to find the most interesting composition. Don’t meter the sky. It’s usually bright and will cause you to underexpose the rest of the scene.
  • Take advantage of sunsets when photographing wildflowers. The soft, golden light will make a meadow of wildflowers glow.
  • If there is lightning in the scene, you’ll have to be patient as well as lucky: You never know where lightning is going to strike.
  • When photographing plants, look for a mass of them to add drama.

Nature photography is a dream career for many and with a little persistence, patience, passion, professionalism and pure heart you can most certainly make a living off of it.

What nature photographs are you most excited to take? Personally, Macro photos that show lots of detail in tiny spiders are my favorite. If you are considering a career in nature photography then check out our wildlife and travel photography program. It’s a great place to start because you leave with a fantastic portfolio of work that you can use to make a name for yourself.

Feel free to discuss nature photography in the comments below. I love to hear your different perspectives. Also, if you have any questions that you think I could help with let me know. I’m always happy to help where I can.

Have a happy day!

Robyn Green

Blogger Profile - Robyn Green

Robyn brings with her a serious passion for people and animals alike. She also teaches a workshop called Social Media and the Independent artist. The workshop is aimed at helping freelance photographers, writers and film makers build their online presence.