How to capture memorable moments in the outdoors
March 29, 2021 • Viktoria Steinhaus
7 min read
A photographer's guide to snapping your favourite views.
There’s something magical about waking up before the world around you. To climb out of bed on a cold, dark morning, layer up and head out to capture the natural beauty of a sunrise. Something that happens every morning yet it’s a beautiful thing to witness and in my opinion one of the best ways to start your day.
I’ve never been one to love waking up early. A sleep in and a slow morning is more my thing, but a few years back my partner and I started chasing scenic landscapes all across New Zealand and taking photos of our adventures became our new passion. Great photos can be snapped at any point of the day, but certain times are better. There are ways to pick out a composition, line up a shot and I’m going to share these tips in the following paragraphs.
Call it an **adventure photography tips and tricks guide**for those who love the outdoors and want to learn how to capture their favourite moments on film_._
Quick tips to take your best shot
Regardless of your view, the time of day and the type of moment you are trying to capture, there are ways to best line up your shot.
Composition is key
This describes the elements in your photo. How you put them together in a cohesive look that makes the viewer stop and take it in. In the outdoors, take a full 360 look around you. See the foreground, the middle and the background. Use flowers, tall grass, rocks, whatever is close to you in your foreground. Try to line up the horizon as straight as possible (you can always fix this in editing) and find an angle that shows off the beauty of the landscape. Use trails, roads, or anything other leading lines to allow the eye to follow. Capture light hitting the mountains, pop in a person for the middle ground or a backcountry hut. Move around the area, crouch down, get high, whatever necessary to frame your photo.
Play with scale
Scale is my favourite to play with when shooting landscape scenes. Mountain scenes are always best for this. Put a subject in the photo like a person or hut to show off the grand scale of your moment. Long lenses like a 70-200m are helpful in this situation to make the background (the mountains) appear closer and therefore bigger.
Experiment with focus
Where do you want to draw the viewer? To the mountain peak, to the delicate flower in the foreground or maybe to the subject? Shoot all three to get unique perspectives from the same view. If you want to focus on the subject and blur out the background shoot at a lower f-stop such as f/2.8.
Use manual settings
It’s easy to snap away in auto mode, but I urge you to learn the different settings on your camera.
- Always shoot in rawin order to capture as much information on the photo for editing purposes.
- If you are shooting handheld, make sure your shutter speed is fast enough to minimise camera shake in your images. Even the steadiest hands struggle to hold a camera perfectly still especially when using a large lens. To ensure your photos are as crisp as possible, use shutter speeds of 1/100 or faster.
- Keep your ISO as low as possible to reduce grain.
- The trick is to balance your main three settings: ISO, shutter speed and aperture. When you adjust one of these, the rest will need to be adjusted accordingly. It’s a fine balancing act that will take time to learn.
When to shoot
Light is your new best friend. There is a reason we get up for sunrise shoots and stay out until the last light disappears beyond the horizon. The magical times around sunrise and sunset provide the best light for capturing the beauty. To save yourself from an early wake up, choose a scenic campground on your Campermate app so you can roll out of your campervan or tent to shoot.
The hour before sunrise and the hour after sunset is called blue hour. If there are high clouds, this is when you’ll see dramatic colourful skies as long as there is a gap in the horizon. It’s beneficial to use a tripod during blue hour as there is less light in the scene.
The hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset is called golden hour. This is when you’ll find golden hues stretching across the landscape creating soft light and warm orange tones. It’s my favourite time to take photographs.
Don’t be deterred by cloudy days, these can work well for portrait shooting and dramatic scenery. Do avoid shooting in the middle of the day during harsh, bright light. Photographing at this time can create dark shadows and make the images look flat.
If there isn’t enough available light and you can’t drop your shutter speed too low, a tripod may be needed.
What are you shooting on? Newly released smartphones have the capabilities of taking incredible photos and allow you to change camera settings as we talked about above. If you are shooting on your phone, play around with the different settings in different light scenarios. Low light and using your zoom often produce lesser quality photos.
Shooting on a digital or film camera? Get to know your exact camera. I highly recommend checking out Youtube videos to learn the in’s and out’s of your specific camera. If you’re looking to purchase a decent camera for your outdoor adventures, a mirrorless option is a great choice for its lightweight body. Sony, Canon, Nikon and Fuji all produce incredible options for all skill levels and budgets. If the price tag is too high, try buying secondhand just make sure to ask for the shutter count and make sure the camera has been well looked after. Most cameras can shoot well above 250,000 images, but you can start experiencing issues at higher shutter counts.
New camera toys like GoPros and drones are always fun to play with and shoot on. If you love extreme outdoor sports and you want to video or take photos on the go, then GoPros are a great option. These gadgets also have their own editing software and easy to use bluetooth setups to get your images straight on to your phones (most cameras have this as well). Drones are a great way to capture aerial scenes, however, they come with many more restrictions. Always check out drone laws in your area and never fly them near an airport. Many New Zealand National Parks restrict drones due to the bird life.
Other handy accessories to have to support your new hobby are SD cards (where your photos are stored), a laptop to edit your photos, access Adobe Lightroom (free desktop version for Australian and NZ users) to edit your photos and an external hard drive for storage and backup. For those without a desktop or laptop, find free smartphone apps for editing such as Snapseed or the free mobile Lightroom.
You have your gear, you’ve got a stronger understanding of your camera settings and you know when and how to shoot. Next step is go practice!
Play outside during different times of the day to learn how to use light to your advantage. Practice with friends and family and use online tutorials to expand your knowledge. Join local photography facebook groups to find others to go shooting with or to simply learn from. Practice brand photography with your campervan hire or try shooting unique angles from your tent.
Wake up early to shoot sunrise and stay out late to shoot sunsets. The more you practice, the better you’ll get and soon you’ll be sharing your favourite moments with people around the world.
For more photo inspiration, head to the Stories section and hear from fellow outdoor enthusiasts.