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Think Outside

Grab your camera and head for the outdoors to get some shots outside the box.

Story By Michaela Satterfield

Adventure is out there. See it all for yourself, then capture it with your camera so everyone else can see it, too. Underwater, night sky, wildlife and landscape photography are all excuses to get out and explore the world. These types of photography require some skill, but the payoff is worth it. Here are some tips and tricks to get started.

Under the sea

Hot spots for underwater photography include Kona, Hawaii; Monterey Bay, Calif.; Vava’u Islands, Tonga; Bimini, Bahamas; West Bay, Cayman Islands; Lembeh, Indonesia; Tulum, Mexico; Lanzarote, Spain; Bligh Water, Fiji; and Kimbe Bay, Papua New Guinea.

Underwater photography can be breathtaking – in more ways than one. Needless to say, photos this stunning take some work. The first step is learning how to navigate the water beneath the waves. It’s possible to shoot while snorkeling or freediving, but scuba diving is your best bet. Scuba diving gives you more control over your motion so you have time to get great shots. To do this, you’ll probably need training to learn how to manage the equipment. Another challenge is lighting. While other outdoor shots are taken in natural light, it’s going to get darker as you go deeper underwater. Ideally, you’ll want to use an external strobe light. Particles in the water, called backscatter, present an additional challenge. You can typically fix lighting and color post-production, but not backscatter. Using a strobe light can help, as well as getting as close as you can to the subject. A key of underwater photography is familiarity with the subject. Make sure you don’t disturb the wildlife or environment you are shooting. If you’re shooting just for fun, an underwater point-and-shoot camera, such as a GoPro, is a good option. Pros, however, will need to get what is referred to as “housing” for their camera. This is often a plastic case that protects the camera while still allowing access to the buttons.

Shot ideas: The over-under shot, in which half of the photo is above the water and the other half is below, is always a classic. Scenic shots capture a large portion of a coral reef or shipwreck to make the viewer feel as if they are really there. There are plenty of opportunities for wildlife shots underneath the water, too.

Aim for the stars

Astrophotography hots spots include Arches National Park, Utah; Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah; Headlands International Dark Sky Park, Michigan; Atacama Desert, Chile; and Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya.

Night sky photography requires some planning. Before you go to take the photo, check the moon phase. You won’t be able to see the stars if the moon is outshining them. The night of the New Moon is perfect, but the weeks before or after the New Moon are close seconds. Next, check the weather. You want as little cloud cover as possible. Finally, the darker the sky, the better. Light pollution will prevent you from seeing the stars, so this may require traveling to a remote spot. Once you find the perfect spot, scout out the Milky Way. There are apps to help you find it in case you have trouble. If you can’t see it well in person, it probably won’t show up on your camera either. Grab a camera with manual mode and a tripod. The tripod is necessary because you’ll be using long exposure, meaning the shutter will stay open for an extended amount of time. Shooting with shaky hands isn’t going to work. You want the shutter to stay open for a long time, but not too long – otherwise, the stars could look blurry. A trick is to divide 500 by the focal length you will be shooting at. This will give you the longest exposure time possible, likely somewhere between 10 and 40 seconds. The widest aperture possible is recommended because you want to let as much light in as possible. You could even use a wide-angle lens. The recommended ISO is somewhere between 2500 and 6400. Play around with focusing the camera, starting by focusing it at infinity. You may want to find the focus point during the day to make it easier.

Shot ideas: The Milky Way speaks for itself. For some variety, try taking a photo with mountains in the background or wildflowers in the foreground. A shot of the stars over water is another idea.

Into the wild

Full of natural wonders, stunning landscapes and captivating wildlife, Yellowstone National Park is a photographer’s dreamland.

Wildlife photography is for those who enjoy the adventure of finding great shots as much as they enjoy taking them. It’ll keep you on your toes as you hunt for your subjects and, once you find them, have to adapt your photography as they stay on the move in their natural habitat. Lugging camera equipment around in the wild can be a challenge. A telephoto lens is recommended, but these can get bulky. You may want to use a teleconverter to adapt a shorter lens instead. If you want to shoot small creatures, such as birds or insects, opt for a macro lens. Your camera may be exposed to the elements, so a weather-sealed camera is a good idea. Once again, you’re going to need a camera that can shoot in manual mode. A fast shutter speed is necessary to keep up with animals on the move. Focusing the camera can be a challenge, so you may want to use autofocus as it tracks movements and adjusts accordingly. You’ll probably need a tripod, but you might find something to use in your surroundings instead. A tree or rock may be able to offer all the support you need. Lastly, you’ll need lots of patience and stealth like a ninja. While you wait quietly for your chosen subject to get camera ready, pay attention. Learning about the subject and its habitat will lead to better photos.

Shot ideas: Wildlife photo opportunities look different from one day to the next. Challenge yourself to capture a bird or other fast-moving creature. Tight shots can capture personality, while wide shots can show habitat.

A sweeping view

Soaring mountains, picturesque forests and stunning waterfalls make the Blue Ridge Mountains a perfect destination for landscape photography.

Landscape photography may be one of the easier forms of nature photography to master. However, a common problem is that the photo just doesn’t do the scene justice. Bringing a nature landscape to life through photography requires knowing the settings on your camera and which effects they produce. Aperture, shutter speed and ISO are all important settings to check. A key factor is lighting, which requires shooting at the right time. Blue hour and golden hour, called the “magic hours,” are the most popular times to take photos. They occur when the sun is rising and setting. In the morning, blue hour kicks it off, followed by golden hour. In the evening, golden hour is first, then blue hour. Golden hour gives landscapes a warm hue, while blue hour gives them a cool hue. Both solve the problem of harsh lighting and strong shadows, meaning your landscape photos will be at their very best without any extra effort on your part. Another factor to consider is composition – how the subjects are arranged within the rectangle that will be the photo. For example, the “rule of thirds” is a popular composition technique, in which the photographer imagines the photo is split into thirds horizontally and vertically. Often, photos look best when the main subject is placed in the third on the far right or left, rather than the third in the middle. However, it’s not a hard-and-fast rule – use your own creativity. After all, you’re the one who gets to see the landscape in real life.

Shot ideas: Mountain, ocean, and forest landscapes are all stunning. Deserts, wildflower fields, sunrises and sunsets are other possibilities. The options are limitless.