Wilderness Underfoot: Taking nature photos, part 1: Getting started

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Today, it’s easier than ever before to get remarkable nature images.

Whether you’ve scored a new digital camera as a holiday gift, or you’re itching to finally use the one you bought last summer for vacation, this is a great time to learn nature photography.

If you’re not technically inclined, if poring over a manual bores you stiff, and if you would really rather jump right into shooting pictures, then the modern digital camera is made for you. Take a moment to check your camera’s quick-start guide, and then begin shooting. Shoot pictures by the hundreds. Go outside and shoot everything in sight. Hit the nature trail. Look for creepy crawlies in your basement. Turn over rocks. Bring in a pile of cold dirt, lay it on an old sheet to warm up, and see if anything crawls out. Look in places where you don’t normally look. Shoot in good light and bad. Shoot, shoot, shoot.

Professional photographers may bristle at this advice, but the fact is, anyone can get a prize photo by simply taking lots and lots of pictures. And it’s a great way to learn photography. In the days of shooting film, checking proofs and processing in a photo lab, it was quite expensive to do this, but modern photography has changed the way we take pictures. You can now blast off hundreds of digital images, review them with simple software, and (hopefully) toss most of them out with a discerning eye. Just remember, if you’re using this method, most of your images won’t be worth keeping, and it’s unnecessarily cruel to force some poor wretch to suffer through 57 views of an oak tree when you show off your work.

Sooner or later, you’ll probably feel the urge to take more control over your photography. Wildly firing off the camera doesn’t work if you’re trying to get a special shot of a bird poised on your windowsill, or a squirrel on your deck. Often, the mere sound of the camera click, or your movements, are enough to spook the creature. You might only have one good shot.

This is when it pays to understand your camera’s features. One word of warning: this is also where obsession starts. Like any new hobby, one of the funnest things is learning all about tricks, product features, and the new things you can buy to help you along. But if you’re not careful, you can be drawn in by feature-itis and feature-envy. Do your best to avoid it. You can’t simply buy your way into great photography.

Next week: Taking nature photos, part 2: Camera tips

From the Dec. 27, 2006-Jan. 2, 2007, issue

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