Photographer and filmmaker Morgan Heim has ventured from Colorado mountaintops to Southeast Asian coastlines, capturing images that build connections between the wild and familiar. That’s why, when we started searching for tips on improving our outdoor photography skills, calling Morgan was a no-brainer. Today, she’s providing us with some tips that range from key basic photo techniques to more cause-oriented approaches to outdoor photography.
“My hope is that there’s at least one gem for everyone,” Morgan says, “No matter your skill set, camera preference, or reasons for sharing your visions of the world.”
1. Get a little bit closer now.
We’ve all done it. We’re so overwhelmed and in awe of the spectacular grandeur of nature that in our magical sunset-filled haze, our brains chant, “Take picture now. Must share awesomeness.”
When we get home though, the photo doesn’t quite measure up to what we experienced. It looks flat. Everything looks little and far away. There is simultaneously too much and not enough going on in the photo. Your eyes don’t really know where to go, except maybe to the next picture. But no, really, this was a once-in-a-lifetime view. So what’s a photographer to do?
Don’t worry, there’s an easy fix that will immediately amp up your photo appeal, and that is to simply get closer. Are there some colorful flowers, a stream, a rock or a person that can help make the scene feel not so big and distant? Crouch, kneel or lie down within a few feet of said subjects. By getting close to an element of that grandeur, you are providing depth, interest, and inviting people into your moment. It’ll hone your eye and you’ll immediately sense an improvement. You might even find that taking a photo of just one thing, or one part of something in the scene is just as beautiful.
2. Embrace bad weather.
You know what makes those spectacular sunsets or sunrises? It’s not a warm, sunny day. Those glorious color displays need something to bounce off. Clouds (of various shapes and levels), snow, mist, wind, rain and lightning all make for the kinds of photos others can’t stop talking about. These are the natural elements that bring much-coveted atmosphere to your images.
They also kind of make people think you are a daredevil because you were adventurous enough to brave the elements. Just make sure you dress accordingly and take appropriate precautions. After all, no one wants a photo to end up with a rescue effort.
3. Include people.
I know. I know. You want pure nature, right? Go for it. But don’t discount your buddy or loved one who’s taken this trek with you. Your shared experiences in nature are just as compelling as the scenery that brought you out there in the first place. Show how you are connecting actively with nature within your photography. On your next hike, try this exercise. Aim to take four types of photos:
A close-up portrait – Fill the frame with the head and shoulders; make sure the scene behind is distant and looks more like a blurred impression of color. Ask your subject to think about something, or turn their head slightly. Try to move away from the standard, direct-smile photos.
An environmental portrait – Get close to your subject, but zoom your camera all the way out so you get the person filling about a third of the frame and you get some background scenery as well. Tell them to look away, or maybe you want to try a shot that’s almost like you are looking over their shoulder.
A small subject – Make your person small, within the frame of a spectacular scene.
A candid moment – Some of the best and most telling moments are the ones no one knew you took. You’ll likely need to take a lot of these, as people can be self-conscious around the camera at first. As long as you don’t machine gun them with your camera, they’ll probably start to ignore you after a while.
4. Find your local happy place.
The best photos often come from places that photographers have come to know well. Gaining experience and learning new techniques is easier when frequenting a place you love. You can practice a lot, figure out what works and what doesn’t, or return easily to a scene when the lighting is in that magic zone. You know where all the secret photo spots are, where to find the wildlife, when the flowers bloom. Navigation is second nature, so you can concentrate on enjoying the moment and taking photos. The best part is that by photographing a place that you love, you have a deep emotional connection to your subject, and that is bound to come through in your images.
5. Make your photos count.
To ensure that we take care of the places we love to explore, why not think about putting your photos to use for a good cause? Did you know photography played a major role in establishing our first national park? Your images can make a difference. Think about working on a collection of images from someplace you care about that needs a little love and attention, then turn it into a project. It could take the form of a display in a local coffee shop to a collaboration with a local conservation effort. In any case, you’ll be doing good, and it’ll make you feel good, too.
Have any helpful tips that you’d like to add to Morgan’s list? Tell us in the comments below, and be sure to check out more of her work at morganheim.com.
This post originally appeared on trailmix: The L.L.Bean Blog on February 15, 2014.