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Nature photography hacks with Robert Llewellyn

by Timber Press on October 9, 2017

in Design, Natural History

All images by the author.

“If it looks familiar, it is not new.” —Robert Llewellyn

What time of day is best for photographing outdoors?

I don’t think there is a best time. You can make a photograph no matter the time of day or the weather. Some say you cannot make good photographs at noon on a clear day, but if you look straight up, you can find, say, an awesome backlit forest canopy. Some photographers only go out in first light or last light. I like to go out in what people call “bad” weather—rain, snow, freezing rain, fog, wind, clouds, whatever. The landscape changes with the weather and seasons. The Norwegians say, “There is no bad weather, only bad clothes.”

What kinds of tips and tricks can I use to protect my expensive camera from the elements?

I use an umbrella. I have many. All different sizes. I can put them on a stand or over my shoulder or down my coat in the back so my hands are free. I almost always use a tripod. In case of wind, don’t tie your umbrella to a tripod. I also bring lots of towels. They make cases to go on cameras and lenses that are waterproof, but I change lenses so often they are not good for me.

How do I capture photographs of wildlife?

Sit in the rain all day and wait for wildlife to appear. Actually, except for puppy dogs and kitty cats (although I am not sure about all the cats), animals do not like humans and will run away or bite you. Real wildlife photography is an enormous skill that I greatly admire. It usually requires thousands of dollars’ worth of big telephoto lenses. (Remember, they don’t like you, so you need to be far away.) You may have to wait days to get the image you want. You may wait days and get nothing. I have done some images of animals in captivity. Try getting really close to a wood mouse. Having said all that, go into the wild and see what happens. What finds you. And be ready—you may only have a moment.

Are there photo composition strategies that are especially good for landscapes?

I have heard there are rules of composition. My personality does not resonate with rules. Go out and see what calls to you. It will wave, “Over here!” The test is, would it hurt if you left it? Then explore it with your camera, with no idea what the image will look like. Take lots of images. You learn from each one, and you grow. The one you will like the most is the one you could not have possibly imagined. Be wild. Be bold. Lie on your back. Crawl on you belly. A photograph has a frame with things inside and outside. Make sure there is nothing inside you do not want. Things at the edge create tension. Things in the middle create calm. As Ansel Adams said, “There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.”

What should I take with me for a day of shooting in nature?

A camera. Actually, any camera will do. You can make great photographs with your telephone. The iPhone has a great camera for the size of the sensor. In fact, the small sensor gives you amazing depth of field. Depending on where I am going, I bring a wide selection of lenses, from 14mm to 1000mm. I shoot most photographs with a good tripod, which is two-edged sword. It does steady the camera for sharp images. I even make several frames at different distances and stitch them together in the computer for more sharpness and depth. I handhold the camera to frame what I want, and then I move the tripod under it. There is a school of thought that handholding a camera gives you way more freedom to explore and see new things. It is also good if you like backgrounds out of focus. The downside is that your photographs may not be the sharpest. Most unsharp images come from camera movement during exposure. Human error. Oh, that beating heart.

Finally, bring more batteries, water, food, towels, and clothes than you think you will need. Bring a phone for emergencies. And actually, there is one animal in the forest that really likes humans. Ticks. They will bite you. Very, very dangerous wildlife. Wear repellent. Put it on everything, even clothes. I have a small blanket treated with permethrin that I use when I want to be on the ground.

How do you make your images stand out?

Do not make any photographs that look like everyone else’s. If it looks familiar, it is not new. “Wow” is the word that humans utter when they see something new. Go for “wow.”


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