20 tips for capturing memorable photographs in wilderness

flickr, wstryder

That part of us that seeks the beauty and wonder that wilderness offers often also wants to take a piece of wilderness home with us. But if we vow to leave no trace, then we know we can only take photographs.

Here's some tips that may help improve the likelihood that what you take offers you a unique glimpse of your adventure, whether you are looking for a shot of the mountains, a flock of birds or a rafter braving white waters.

As with all things wilderness, these are the overall keys to a wonderful experience:

  • Preparation
  • Persistence
  • Patience
  • Practice! 


View a stunning photographic tour of 12 wild places under threat


Landscape Photography

  1. Equipment: Use a wide angle lens for wide open spaces. A tripod is absolutely necessary if you use longer shutter speeds, and will also force you be more thoughtful about your shot. If you want most of the scene to be in focus, use a small Aperture setting (a large number) - and a larger ISO and/or longer shutter speed (to compensate for less light hitting the sensor. 
  2. Composition: Great landscape shots often have a background and foreground as well as a middle ground. Try changing your point of view if you want to capture a popular landscape but also have a unique image. Follow the “rule of thirds”. Consider how you will direct the viewer's eye through the image. A tree branch, winding trail, or moving stream, for example, may guide a viewer to notice another subject in the frame. Look for details and keep in mind that often less is more.
  3. Sky: If the sky isn't interesting, place the horizon in the upper third of your shot, but if it's dramatic, let it take up most of the frame. You may want to consider using filters (Polarizing ones darken the sky and Neutral Density (ND) filters prevent too much light from entering the camera). If you are up for a challenge, you can try to capture starry nights!
  4. Water: If you use a longer shutter speed (and a smaller Aperture), you can capture the effect of moving water. A tripod is crucial here to maintain some focus. If you want to get a shot of water acting as a mirror for the environment, use a higher ISO.
  5. Explore: Keep an eye out for the best locations and think about when will they receive the best light and how you might be able to capture them differently. Allow yourself to be immersed in your surroundings so you can choose the composition, angle, light and even weather that best reflects the unique qualities of your destination. 

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Wildlife Photography

  1. Equipment: Having a telephoto lens and a tripod can be invaluable. Make sure you feel comfortable being able to quickly move between focus modes or points. Know the minimum shutter speed that still captures a sharp image with your desired lens.
  2. Subject: If you know its typical behavior, you can better anticipate good shots. This means spending time sitting still observing them, often for long lengths of time. If you can get multiples of a species, it can make for interesting stories of interaction.
  3. Light: Great photographer's know that the best shots occur during what's called "golden light": early in the morning and during the last hours of sunlight. Overcast days can soften intense light, allowing for nice midday shots, just be sure you and your equipment are prepared for the elements. 
  4. Proximity: Either get a landscape in the shot or get an intimate shot. You can use a remote trigger to get your camera closer to your subject, or binoculars to magnify your view.
  5. Point-of-view: It's best if you can get eye-level, which may require you to get on your belly.

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Recreation Photography

  1. People: They are not prohibited for Wilderness shots, they just need to be off-center in your composition. Be sure to include the eyes of the subject. 
  2. Equipment: You will want it to be a Image Stabilizer Lens (use mode two). Keep shutter speed high - generally, at a minimum of 1/500th of a second - and a wide-open aperture.
  3. Plenty: If you use continuous or burst mode, the camera will continue to fire until you take your finger off the shutter. You will need to shoot in jpeg mode rather than RAW to keep your memory from overloading. 
  4. Position: Keep your back to the sun for the best lighting. Put yourself in a location where the action is coming toward you.
  5. Timing: Know the activity and be ready to move or adjust quickly with the action. 

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iPhone Photography

  1. Focus: The camera shutter isn’t released until you take your thumb off of the shutter button on the touch screen, so use two hands to be sure you get a clearer picture.
  2. Limits: While this type of camera may be good for detailed stills of plant life, avoid using it to shoot high-speed action in recreation and wildlife. The digital zoom is also not advisable.
  3. Simplicity: Since these photos will likely be viewed at small dimensions, focus on very simple compositions. 
  4. Weather: The small sensor handles light best when it is bright but overcast. Invest in a waterproof carrying case!
  5. Scale: Try to include a person or object in your shot so that large magnificent beauties are not minimized by the small screen.

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Photos from flickr (in sequential order): slalit, Holger Wirth, rickz, Evan Wathington.