On Nature’s Trail
Ambarin Afsar helps you make great pictures in your friendly, neighbourhood nature park and even in a forest.
This article was originally published in April 2010.
Most of you must have gone for walks early in the morning. Remember feeling refreshed and rejuvenated? Nature has that calming effect on you. Simply walking around and taking in nature is a wonderful, soothing experience. Interestingly, there is a great photo opportunity lurking in every walk too.
Photographing nature is a wonderful antidote for all kinds of stress, as we hurry through our fast-paced lives. Regardless of whether you are in a neighbourhood park or in a thousand-acre forest, you will see a number of wondrous subjects. The magic of being on nature’s trail is that nature is always available—it is outside your home right now! Simply pick up your camera and step outside.
Walk Around and Observe
While walking, take your time and move slowly. Open your senses to your surroundings and observe each element in your path minutely. Do not be hurried or rushed. Treat this is as a meditative, focused activity that reconnects you to the natural landscape. Observe how a stream bends around a corner. Notice the manner in which the branches of a tree curve and twist to capture more light. If you closely inspect your immediate surroundings and pay attention to distant elements, you will see great photo opportunities.
You can find every possible colour of the spectrum in nature. Each colour is a strong compositional tool and can be used to convey different moods and emotions. Any shade of green—a colour predominant in nature—is pleasing to the eye. Vivid blues are soothing and calming. Reds, browns and oranges found in fruits, dry leaves and tree barks are warm and earthy shades. Look for a combination of colours to create depth or let one colour dominate the image.
Streams of Light
Visit the same place at different times of the day. You will be able to familiarise yourself with the manner in which the light interacts with natural forms. For instance, harshly backlit leaves will appear translucent. Eventually, you will learn how to creatively use the direction, quality, strength and colour of light—sidelighting is wonderful for bringing out textures and a sense of depth. Also, backlit trees, flowers and foliage make for dramatic pictures and silhouettes.
A velvety soft flower, a coarse tree trunk and a deeply veined leaf are a few of the innumerable textures found in nature. Most often, textures are depicted in closeups. You can move in close to magnify the surface irregularities of a subject like the rugged bark of a tree or the pitted surface of a rock.
However, when texture is a part of a broader scene, like the textures formed by many large, smooth rocks on the bank of a stream, it is better to go wide and capture an expanse in the frame.
If you observe closely, you will find patterns all around you—dry, cracked earth, ripples on a pond or lake, the rings on a tree stump, or the spiral tendrils of flowers. Very often, these natural objects contain patterns within patterns like the petals and stamen of a flower. These patterns are only revealed by observing the subject in great detail. You will come across patterns that occur repeatedly like cobwebs.
Irrespective of the kind of pattern you are shooting, remember that colours and reflections change dramatically with changing light, times of day and weather conditions. These changes make similar patterns look very different. For instance, a cobweb looks different when sidelit and when backlit. So make it a point to visit the same place again. It will always provide something new and fresh to challenge the mind.
Geometry in Shapes
A keen eye will help you spot forms and shapes everywhere. Vertical lines made by a clump of trees, the circles and spheres of rocks, the triangles made by anthills and mounds of earth are common sightings on nature trails. There is great symmetry in nature and you can explore this symmetry endlessly. You can even combine two or more shapes, like the curves made by the rocks in a stream or the horizontal lines made by water, to make striking images.
Think, Compose, Shoot
Many times, you end up with pictures where you feel, “If only there was a little more light…” or “If only I could have been a little closer…” To avoid this, first compose the shot in your mind. Then look at the corners of the frame through the viewfinder. Check whether any element can be added or subtracted to make the image work better. It is equally crucial to have a good overall knowledge of plants and animals. They follow seasonal patterns and once you tune into these patterns, discovering subjects and shooting opportunities will become a lot easier.
Nature photography is a rewarding and satisfying hobby, especially when it goes hand in hand with other outdoor activities. So, next time you go for a morning or evening walk, take your camera along and capture nature’s everlasting beauty.