5 Outdoor Photography Tricks Pros Learned the Hard Way

Investing in great photography gear can only take you so far; you need to know how to use it, too! Follow these tips to get the most out of outdoor photography gear essentials, including split neutral density filters, zoom lenses, and portable flashes.

1. Simplify composition. Bring greater awareness to the edges of your frame by using a mid-range zoom to simplify composition. Sometimes the biggest, most sweeping panorama is not always the best shot, especially when there are too many details competing for attention in the final image. Consider using your mid-range zoom to isolate a small portion the landscape and remove extraneous information around the frame’s edge. A tighter focus can yield a more powerful final image.

2. Stop sky over-exposure with split neutral density filters. Never again sacrifice natural clouds for foreground detail or settle for a shadowed foreground in order to see the sky. With split neutral density filters, you can have both. Position the dark segment of the split filter over the sky portion of your frame; then, set your exposure for the darker part of the image. To select the right filter, meter both the sky and the ground separately, then determine the difference in stops; this is the filter you should use. If you stack two split density filters, remember the result is additive. Square or rectangular filters can be shifted or rotated to precisely cover the sky. Opt for a hard edge filter when there is a clear horizon line and a graduated filter when the horizon line is uneven.

3. Increase portable flash output. When you’re photographing in bright daylight, your portable flash will likely end up overpowered by the sun. Concentrate the flash’s power while out in the field by using the zoom head function. This function produces a narrow beam of light that you can use to creatively highlight different elements within your frame. Direct the beam for spot lighting in outdoor action portraits. Or, use your flash at sunset to illuminate foreground images and prevent them from becoming a silhouette while still capturing the setting sun.

4. Stabilize photos with a tripod. Thanks to technology advancements like image stabilization and vibration reduction, it’s tempting to leave the tripod in the car rather than lug it along on a long hike. Keep it with you; you don’t want to miss the perfect shot because you left your gear in the car! Tripods still provide valuable image stabilization, especially in low-lighting conditions and when zooming over long distances.

5. Create depth and structure with natural contours. One of the trickiest parts of outdoor photography is capturing the awe-inspiring beauty of a majestic landscape. If your images are falling flat, re-evaluate your composition. As you frame the shot, look for naturally occurring lines and patterns that will focus your viewer’s attention. For example, can you place the lines of a dry riverbed in the foreground to lead your viewer into the scene? Look down at your feet, too. Are there abstract patterns on the ground that will add depth and structure to your image? Use a split density filter or remote flash to balance out your foreground exposure with the background.

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