Very few images inspire sheer awe and amazement like great nature photography. Professional nature photographers go to great lengths and remote locations to bring back images of wild animals, untouched ecosystems, and rarely seen landscapes. So when I embarked on 26-mile-round-trip backpacking excursion to the Enchanted Valley, back in May, I fully expected to return with my memory cards brimming with mind-blowing images of God’s magnificent creation. The reality of the results, however, were decidedly more disappointing.
I’m not trying to throw myself a photo pity party. But through the shortcomings of my photographs, I learned a few significant lessons on this excursion about nature photography (lessons that experienced nature photographers probably already know).
- Magic Hour – A lot of photographers know that magic hour (or hours) is the time when natural light is just right – typically around sunrise and sunset. It can be important for many different types of photography, but it is extremely important in nature photography. I didn’t take this concept seriously, so I didn’t wake up early enough for the dawn light or focus my efforts in the evening, leaving me with lots of washed-out daytime shots. The forest, in particular, is a difficult shooting environment during the brightest parts of the day – the shadows and bright beams of sunlight make it nearly impossible to create a tonally balanced image. Incidentally, magic hour is also when a lot of wild animals tend to be most active. Next time, I’ll respect the importance of the magic hours in the great outdoors.
- Nature Is On Her Own Schedule – The vast majority of my shots were taken while hiking, with the same spontaneity and rhythm that I would use for street, travel, or candid portrait photography. However, thinking back on everything I’ve read or heard about the great wildlife and landscape photographers, I recall that good nature photography usually involves waiting…and waiting…and waiting for just the right light or for a certain animal to enter their view, and then springing into action to capture those few precious seconds for which you’ve been patiently waiting. The wait-and-watch style of nature photography is almost the antithesis of the run-and-gun style of street photography. Wildlife and a wild environment move at a non-human pace, and it must be approached slowly, carefully, and quietly. I was mistaken in thinking that I could just tromp through the Olympic National Forest, hastily snapping great photos along the way. Next time, I’ll try to slow down to meet nature’s pace and wait for wild scenarios to unfold.
Half of the Enchanted Valley was a mountain wall striped by a dozen or so alpine waterfalls. None of my photographs did justice to the scale and beauty of these falls.
Little streams and rivers crisscrossed the valley. It was almost like having running water in our campsite…almost…
After crossing the Pyrite Creek, we were rarely very far from a black bear. While we were in the valley, at least one bear could be seen at all times of the day. But since I was restricted by my 24-105mm lens and my distaste for being mauled, the bears in my photos are barely identifiable.
In the background, you can see the lighting problems that come from shooting at midday in the forest. Fortunately, there was enough tree cover to even out the lighting around this gigantic rock.