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The 5 P's of Nature Photography

Recently, I have been giving a number of lectures on nature photography. It seems that once Spring hits, this becomes a a pretty popular topic. Nature photography can be challenging. How can we ensure that we will give ourselves the best opportunities to get some great shots.

One thing I take about in my lecture is the 5 P's. These are:

  • Planning - research the subject, terrain, weather, tourist patterns, distances, tides, sunrise/sunset, and safety.

  • Patience - wait for the right moment, lighting, pose, lack or presence of wind, while constantly searching for the paper angle and composition.

  • Persistence - analyse your photos from a location to determine what could be improved and try again. A great image may take many many visits to the same location.

  • Preparation - ensure that your camera is "preset" for the location/subject, that you have packed essentials such as water, snacks, sunscreen, insect repellent, and that you have the equipment and accessories needed for the shoot.

  • Practice - learn how your camera responds, and performs. Find local subject matter to practice shooting. For example, bees on flowers make a great practice subject.

Why is this important? The more time spent on the above activities, the greater the chances of getting that breathtaking image. Let's look at a couple of examples:

This image was taken in February in Split Rock Lighthouse State Park in Minnesota. For planning, I needed to know where the sun was going to rise and at what time. I also needed to know what the trail conditions were going to be like.

When we arrived, there was a great deal of sea smoke on the horizon. It would have been very easy to give up on the location, and head back to the hotel. This is where patience comes into play. This was not going to be a classic sunrise right where the water meets the sky. Since I knew where the sun would rise, I could set up my camera, and get my composition just right. It was now a waiting game to see if the sun would either peek through the clouds, or appear above the clouds. While I was waiting, I used another camera to capture some other images.

Having taken many sunrise images in this park, and along the north shore of Lake Superior, I knew that I needed more than just a sunrise over water. I also knew from shooting this location the past, that in the winter, it is the island and not the lighthouse that make for the more interesting images.

Prior to leaving the hotel, I made sure that I had the right lenses mounted on my cameras. I preset the iso, aperture, and shutter speed. I also made sure that vibration reduction was turned off. I checked to make sure that the camera and remote had fully charged batteries. For safety, I made sure that I had chemical hand warmers in my coat, and that I had traction devices for my hiking boots.

This next image was taken at Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis in early March.

This photo shoot was specifically around planning for the waterfall workshop that I was going to be teaching with Alan Boucher. Even though I have photographed Minnehaha Falls many times in the past, I needed to understand the conditions around the falls, and safety of the trails.

I knew from past visits, that one of the best places to photograph the falls is the at the right hand corner of the foot bridge. This allows for a nice foreground with a little bit of a leading line.

I also knew that patience would be needed to get access to the spot where I wanted to set up my tripod, and to avoid the people climbing on the ice around the falls.

From a preparation perspective, I knew I would be mostly shooting between 24 and 70mm. I made sure that I had my 24-70mm lens mounted, along with my neutral density filters. It was a fairly warm day, so I didn't worry too much about hand warmers, but I did make sure to throw an extra fleece in the camera bag before leaving home.

Finally, this image was taken at Wood Lake Nature Center in Richfield Minnesota in July of 2016. Wood Lake Nature Center in the summer is always a great location for water fowl. With white birds you need to make sure that you have the right conditions to avoid blowing out the white and still have enough detail in the shadows. Even on overcast days this can be a challenge.

This egret was sitting on a piece of floating bog material. We didn't know if it would do anything interesting, but we had a good vantage point from the floating walkway. The plan was to sit and wait, taking various shots of the bird. All of a sudden, the bird leapt into the water. We were able to capture this image as the bird returned to the floating bog.

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