Taking better outdoor photos

It’s that time of year when we start seeing all kinds of great photos taken of monster bucks, limits of ducks and muddy trucks. Ok, I added that bit about the trucks just because it rhymed, but you know what I mean. Taking a great outdoor photo isn’t as hard as it sounds; you just need to keep a few simple tricks up your sleeve. There are a couple of things to keep in mind. Take the photo with your audience in mind. In other words, don’t think of yourself, but what others will think of your photo. And secondly, enjoy your photos for what they are, captured memories. I once had a very accomplished professional photographer tell me, after I said something about how I looked in some of his photos, “It is what it is, man. A photo is just a moment in time.” Lights, camera, action! 2006_0115Image0103-300x225 Lighting makes all the difference when it comes to taking a good photo. Whether you’re taking a “Grip and Grin” photo, or a scenery shot, there are a few things you need to keep in mind and the most important is lighting. Ask any professional photographer and the first thing they look at is the light. I’ve been around enough of these guys to know how annoying it can be to try to squeeze in enough photos when “the light is perfect.” So when is the perfect light? Mornings and evenings make for good light. With the sun low on the horizon, it cuts down on shadows, and shadows can ruin a photo. As hunters and outdoor enthusiasts, we have seen our share of sunrises and sunsets. Have you noticed how there is that extra intensity in the light at those times? That is the kind of thing photographers crave. It is hard to duplicate, so getting the light right is important. When you’re posing a photo, always try to face your subject into the sun as much as you can. Mike-fish-225x300 If you have to position your subject to catch the light, in other words, stage the photo, do it! The flash can be your friend, but it can also be your enemy when trying to capture the perfect shot. In low light situations, you end up with a bright image, with a black border. There is also that pesky red eye thing. If there is enough light to get the picture you want, try using the flash-less setting on your camera. If you need the flash, try back lighting the image if you can. I’ve gotten away with using the headlights off the truck to back light a grip and grin before. It helps cut down on the “black hole” effect. Remember that if you’re using the flash-less setting on your camera, the shutter will often stay open longer, so if there is any movement, you’re going to end up with a blurry image. If there is going to be movement, you’re going to need a flash and a fast shutter. Stay focused Speaking of blurry images, focusing the camera can be tricky. Many of us use a camera with auto focus. Just be sure the camera is focusing on the right thing. Technology has come a long way and there are lots of cameras that have facial recognition software, meaning it automatically finds faces in the image and focuses on them. This is good, if that’s what you’re looking to take a picture of. I know some of my hunting buddies, and the last thing I want to focus on are their ugly faces. Setting, staging and more DSC_0258-300x199 Looks candid, but guess how many times I had the dog run through the grass. I wanted to get just the right amount of light on her face, but make it look like she was in full on "hunting mode." The really great photos look very candid, don’t they? Like the photographer just happened to catch things right at the perfect moment. Yeah, that can happen, but more often than not, photos are staged. Staging a photo isn’t all that hard, if you know what you want and what to look for. Keep in mind what you want to show and, of course, the lighting. Take, for example, a grip and grin of a whitetail deer and hunter. We’ve seen tons of these, right? So how do you stage a good grip and grin? I like the ones that show more deer than hunter, because let’s face it, if you’ve seen one camo’ed up guy smiling with a deer… Prop the deer so that it looks natural and so the hunter can hold the rack forward. You’ll notice most magazine shots have the deer rolled up and sitting on its legs, with the head rotated forward, making it easier to pose with the rack. Quite often they cut out the tongue before the shot and wipe off as much blood as possible. No one really wants to see blood in a photo, even though it is a fact of the hunt. Personally, I don’t mind blood, but I don’t want to see a picture of an animal and have it look like the set of a horror movie. Resting-300x199 Be sure to get a few shots of what is going on around you, not just the trophy after the hunt. An editor friend of mine told me a little while ago that her publisher was complaining about her photos because they always seemed to be of dead things. He wanted to see some more of the action. Keep that in mind too. It’s not just the gripping and the grinning that makes a trip. Take those cameras out and capture some of the rest of the hunt too. Setting out decoys, your bow hanging by the stand, the mud on the truck getting back to your spot, all of these things can make good subjects, and most of them don’t need any staging to set up a good shot. When staging a photo, try to keep that shadows off everyone’s face, but know that shadow can add depth in some cases. The great thing about today’s digital world is, you can snap hundreds of images and look at them right then and there. It’s kind of like shooting a nice buck and then getting to see what it’d look like hanging on the wall right in the field. A word on Photoshop Red-Maple-300x226 Touched up, or not? Light can be a tricky thing to capture. Far too often, we’ll see something and be amazed at how good the photo looks. If you see a huge buck on the internet, there is the chance that the image is faked via Photoshop, the most popular and useful of the image-correction software programs. Every professional photographer uses it, most to tweak images and correct color. It is one of the great things about digital photography. Tweaking the colors can make a photo really pop out on the screen. Just keep it in mind, though, that images can be faked. Don’t take it for granted that that photo of what looks like a 400lb., 30-point typical buck is real. Those kinds of images really annoy photographers and they are usually pretty quick to point out to everyone on the web that the images are fake. Now, I might have added a few bands to pictures of ducks and geese over the years just to show my buddies. That is just fine. Megapixels (mp) –n- stuff Digital images are a collection of pixels, the little points of light on a screen. The more pixels the camera collects, the sharper the images, usually. There is more to it than that. The clarity of the glass of the lens also plays a roll. I can show you a picture from a 6mp camera with good glass and compare it to a cheaper camera that has 16mp and you’ll probably like the 6mp picture better. Just because your camera has a high mp rating, that doesn’t mean you’ll automatically get a better picture. There is one thing you can do though, with a higher mp picture. A picture with a high resolution can be zoomed with more clarity, meaning you can take a picture, zoom in on something within the picture and have it still look good. DSC_0317-300x199 To zoom in any more would make these birds' feathers blurry. Some times you just have to take what you get. Having good resolution also comes from knowing the difference in zoom. Cameras usually have optical zoom and digital zoom. Optical zoom refers to the actual glass lens and the amount it will zoom in on the subject. Digital zoom uses those megapixels of your image to zoom. You’ll get much clearer images with optical zoom. Cameras in phones are improving every year too. I saw an ad recently for a phone with a 42mp camera! That is just nuts. We’re all seeing more and more photos taken with a phone these days. You’ll see some in print, but not that often. Magazine editors shy away from photos taken via phone. Buying a camera securedownload-300x224 The Pentax WG II GPS is one of my all-time favorite point-and-shoot cameras. You need one of these. I'm serious! There are two basic types of cameras. You have the smaller digital cameras that fit easily in a pocket. These are your point-and-shoot cameras. They offer great convenience and portability, and do take some great pictures. What you give up is the adjustability and optical quality of the larger cameras, your DSLRs. A DSLR looks like the older 35mm cameras you’ve seen. They have interchangeable lenses and higher price tags, but take amazing photos. The prices have come down and there are some great package deals out there too. For a DSLR, it is really hard to go wrong with any major brand. I am partial to Nikon’s and Canon cameras. Both are readily available and have a ton of accessory lenses available. If you get a DSLR, I suggest getting at least a 200mm lens. It’ll give you some zoom without breaking the bank too much. For a point-and-shoot, there are so many options out there, have at it. For us outdoor types, there is a great camera from Pentax, the WG IIIGPS. It is a 16mp camera that is water and shockproof. It takes great movies and HD video and has a fast shutter speed, similar to a DSLR. Slow shutters have traditionally been an issue with a point-and-shoot camera. Not so with the Pentax. I tested one and it quickly became my favorite camera! So in a nutshell, there is how you take a decent outdoor photo. Check your light, stage the photo if you can so you can carefully take the picture you want. Make sure the setting on the camera is allowing you to get the picture you want and by all means, show off your creation when you’re done. Cool outdoor photos are a lot of fun! I’m not trying to say I’m a great photographer. But I do know what makes for a good image and what works for me and let me tell you, It's Not Easy! Keep a few things in mind when you’re trying to get that perfect picture and it’ll turn out much better for you in the end. When you do get that shot, it’s like having a whole other kind of trophy! Feel free to share your outdoor photos with us on our Facebook and Twitter pages! Also check for contests news and more information! By Derrek Sigler All photos by author.