An Expert’s Tips: How to Make Better Nature Photos

photography tips, photo tips, nature photography, Rob Sheppard, ladybird beetle
Rob Sheppard took this image of a California ladybird beetle on Cleveland sage in Southern California using extension tubes, a cheaper alternative to an expensive close-up, or macro, lens. For more information on this cost saver, see Rob's article, "How to Make Better Nature Photos," in the June/July 2012 issue of National Wildlife magazine, or use the link at the bottom of the blog text.
You’ve probably seen photographer Rob Sheppard’s images in National Wildlife magazine. Based in Southern California, he’s worked as a nature photographer for nearly 30 years. In addition to shooting photos for magazines, he offers nature photography workshops in which he shares his skills. Here are four tips from Rob that you’ll find useful as you head outdoors with your camera:

Get out of the middle: Many photographers tend to put their subjects right in the middle of the frame. But moving subjects to one side can make a photo more interesting and compel viewers to look at it more carefully. Consider a technique called the “rule of thirds,” which simply means that you divide your image into thirds horizontally and vertically. Line up horizons on the horizontal thirds, and put strong vertical subject matter, such as trees, on the verticals. You can also put subjects where these lines intersect.

Get sharper photos without buying a new camera or lens: The number one cause of poor sharpness is camera movement during exposure, particularly when using the slow shutter speeds required in low light. If you don’t have access to a tripod—the best means for getting around this problem—then hold the camera with two hands and bring your elbows into the sides of your chest. Be sure your feet are in a stable position, then press—don’t punch!—the shutter button. If your camera allows you to set the shutter, avoid speeds slower than 1/60 second (or 1/500 when using a telephoto).

Turn on your flash outdoors: That built-in flash on your camera is a great resource to use outside, but many people never turn it on outdoors. Flash can fill in dark shadows and brighten subjects on cloudy days.

Shoot lots of pictures: You will learn more about your camera, as well as about what makes a good picture, by going beyond your first approach to photographing a subject. Experiment with different angles and focal lengths, and have fun taking more pictures!


This text is adapted from Rob Sheppard’s article, “How to Make Better Nature Photos,” in the June/July 2012 issue of National Wildlife magazine. See the original, longer article for more tips on photography, or visit Rob’s informative website.

If you love wildlife photography, you’ll want to see the new slide show of National Wildlife magazine’s best photos from the past half century, a special feature in honor of National Wildlife’s fiftieth birthday.

PLUS:  If taking wildlife photos is an enthusiasm of yours, whether in the far reaches of distant wilderness or in your own backyard, then submit your favorite images to National Wildlife’s 42nd Annual Photo Contest. The deadline is July 16, so there’s still plenty of time to enter. This year’s competition features some great prizes, including a $5,000 grand prize, and you can submit photos in seven categories, including one devoted just to backyard wildlife and natural gardening.