The Benefits of Nature and Photography

by Curt Remington

Spending time in nature, keenly aware of your environment, can give you a whole new perspective on life. You might get caught up in a stunningly beautiful scene or the details of a flower or bug. If you go out in pursuit of nature photography, you’re likely to pay more attention to the details. As a bonus, you can capture an image to experience and share again and again.

Dragonfly on Flowers

Dragonfly on Flowers

Arctic Wolf

Arctic Wolf

I had a new perspective, after a day at the Vancouver, BC Zoo, which is spread out and more like a wild animal park. I visited on midweek, in the middle of winter and saw only a handful of other visitors. At the Arctic Wolf display, the dominant wolf walked laps around the enclosure. Once he noticed me, he walked over and looked up, holding my gaze. I felt an incredible connection, as we psychically communicated. He posed for a few pictures, then trotted 50 feet away and began howling. Soon, the other Arctic Wolves joined in. Shortly after that, another group of wolves (Vancouver Island Wolves) joined in the chorus from a quarter mile away. They all continued with their song, as if they were sharing their love and longing for the outdoors, especially the wild places. Not only did I have an incredibly memorable moment, but I got some great pictures, one of which is on the back of my business card.

Howling Arctic Wolf

Howling Arctic Wolf

Spending time seeking photos in nature is a wonderful form of mindfulness or meditation, which basically means to reach a calm state as you find something in the present to gently focus on, letting all those other thoughts go. This can help you relax, think more clearly, let go of stress, improve your health, have fun and create artistic photos. With all those benefits, you’d think everyone would be outdoors with their camera.

Of course, you can get a lot of these benefits by just going out and tuning into the details of nature. But, if you do so with a camera in hand, it may be a more focused experience, and you can come home with beautiful images.

With a camera you may work harder to find beautiful places and go when the lighting is best. Early or late in the day tends to have warm, soft light and saturated colors. Mid-day light can be harsh with washed out colors and difficult highlights and shadows. It also makes people squint.  The soft diffused light of a partly cloudy day works well for people, flowers, wildlife and many other subject’s. If you find a good subject, consider returning when the lighting is ideal. Sitting and waiting patiently for the changing light of a sunset can pay off in the meditative state you reach and in the images you capture.

Matia Island Dock, Washington

Matia Island Dock, Washington

Composition can dramatically affect a picture’s impact. Simple is usually better, so try zooming or changing angles to eliminate clutter. Be sure to scan the viewfinder for unwanted items and to check that the horizon is level, especially with pictures of water. Some pictures look best in a vertical format, so try turning the camera sideways.

Balance is an important element of composition, one which I look for in nature when taking pictures. In the photo of the dock and island, the two subjects balance each other. That photo is also an example of the rule-of-thirds. By placing your subject(s) a third of the way over from center, and a third of the way up, you have a more dynamic picture. When you offset your subject, your eye tends to travel around the picture.

Park Butte Trail, Washington

Park Butte Trail, Washington

To add depth to a picture, you can include foreground details. A path, road or creek that lead your eye into a picture also give a sense of depth. This is especially effective if you find one with s-bends.

Father & Son at Sunset

Father & Son at Sunset

The absolutely best pictures capture a feeling or tell a story, so watch for such opportunities. Pictures of people or animals work well for this.

There are great subjects for pictures all around us. If we pay close attention to our environment, we can find beautiful pictures that we might have walked right by. You might get creative and try a close-up of pebbles or insects, maybe try night photography, clouds or fascinating patterns. And of course, there’s landscapes, seascapes, wildlife and flowers.

As to gear, there are a lot of good cameras out there, depending on your needs. If you’re not making big enlargements, a point and shoot digital might be best. They’re very compact and lightweight. I carry heavier Nikon digital single lens reflex gear, like the Nikon d5100, with an 18-200 has excellent reviews on a variety of cameras and lenses. Digital editing software, like Photoshop, can vastly improve photos. You can adjust contrast or color, darken a sky, sharpen a photo or remove imperfections. There is reasonably good software on the internet for free.

The best piece of advice is carry a camera often. The more pictures you shoot, the more instinctive it becomes. This makes it easier to let go of your thoughts and really get into the moment. Using some simple techniques, you may come home with some spectacular photos. Please be sure to visit my photo gallery for picture ideas.

7 thoughts on “The Zen of Nature Photography

  1. Chris James

    What a wonderful way to encourage people to get outside and take a good look at what is around them. Once you that you’ll be amazed at what you’ll see. Great article Curt Thanks.

  2. Lori

    Just Beautiful, Curt, breathtakingly beautiful! I love your artwork and meditations. You are very precious indeed. Peace, Love and Namaste’

    Lori Boatman
    2012 Ascension: The Coming Good

  3. Patrick

    Hello Curt,

    Great to connect with you on Twitter and Facebook. I look forward to reading your blog and looking at your photography. You do great work. The dragonfly amidst the flowers is stunning. Respect!

    Thanks for the tips on taking good nature photos. I appreciate the bit about offsetting the subject by a third to one side. That’s a good one. My digital camera is in pretty sad shape, a wonderful opportunity to get another one. I’ll look over the website you suggested to get some ideas for which brands and models to look into.

    Have a great day and keep up the great work.

  4. Kris Ganas

    Those are some great photographs, wish mine were that competent!

  5. Amy

    Curt — I also really enjoy your beautiful photos. Each one here was special and for different reasons. They really do each tell a story — yours but also ours in how we see them. I’ve read about photography, how to improve your pictures and I think you really honed it down to the best suggestions. It= can be hard to identify just what to do to make photos you’ll love in the first place. Your suggestions will make that more likely. But I really loved how you presented it as a form of meditation or of being mindful. I’d never looked at it that way before and it makes me value my own attempts that much more. Thank you!

  6. Leila

    Hi Curt, thanks for this inspiration! I love nature and I love photography. Too often, I forget my camera at home, but when I have it with me, I definately notice more around me and seem to be more in the moment. There is something special about capturing a moment or a look. No two moments are ever alike, nor is the way the perceiver views them.

  7. linda

    wow….spectacular photos and a lovely article. Photography, for me was a life changer and a life savior….The Park Butte Trail photo is really beautiful. thanks for sharing it with us. Linda

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