Outdoor Photography

With summer fast approaching many of us will be taking more outdoor pictures than normal. I know my proximity to the Cascade and Olympic mountain ranges will certainly mean I’m spending more time away from my monitor’s glow this summer. Shooting photos outdoors is similar to indoor photography, but the sun creates lighting hazards not faced during indoor shooting.

Bring a tripod or create a substitute. Nothing ruins great shots like a shaky hand. I’m not known for being steady after hiking up a steep incline or trying to balance on a precarious rock for the perfect shot; chances are you’re not either. A light weight tripod or monopod slung on your back can make all the difference in shooting scenic shots, especially if you require some longer exposure times as suggested below. Leaning against a tree and using both hands sometimes makes an effective substitute, but if you’re winded, the only real solution is to let something else hold the camera steady.

Savor sunsets by enhancing them with alternate while balance settings. While a sunset is technically still daylight, the light tends to be a different hue than when the sun remains high overhead. Back off of the white balance and set it to the cloudy setting to bring out the truer colors of the sky.

From some angles, the snowy peak of nearby Mt. Rainer blends with the sky. While this is partially a product of low clouds, the snow cap can stand out more with a white balance tweak to give the snow a bluish cast, creating a more foreboding feel to the snow. Apply this technique on mountain tops anywhere in the world for snow that tells a better story when you return from your outdoor adventure.

If your blue skies start looking a little gray or white, it’s time to take control of the cameras exposure settings. While most cameras do an admirable job of automatically setting exposure just right, there are times when a manual setting tweak produces markedly better results. Back the exposure setting off by dialing back to -1 or -2 until the blues look blue again. Alternatively, if your picture is too dark due to forest shadows, crank the exposure up +1 or +2 to lighten things up just a bit.

When camping is part of the outdoor adventure, there’s plenty of temptation to take a few shots from inside your tent, aiming at something outside the tent. Tent material is notorious for throwing off the white balance meter on cameras. Instead of using auto white balance, make manual adjustments until you get a light color more closely matching your surroundings. If the digital camera you are using has a shade setting, try that first, but if you lack that setting, you may need to try several settings before arriving at one close to what you need. Many cameras let you create a custom white balance setting; a tent setting might make a good choice for frequent camping excursions.

Don’t forget:

Pack an extra memory card. You never know when a random encounter with nature might result in dozens more pictures than you planned on taking. Better to have a backup when that bear makes an arboreal play for your camp rations or when the Orcas are more active than normal during a whale watching excursion.

Bring more batteries. Even though my digital cameras both use rechargeables, I bring a backup just in case. The more pictures you take, the more likely you are to run out of juice. And just because the camera manual says you need to buy the camera branded battery doesn’t mean a third party doesn’t make a comparable (and often better) replacemet. If it’s cold out, keep these spare in an inside pocket so they stay warm.

Carry a lens cloth in your camera bag. This is good advice in general, but if you are hiking, biking, boating, or doing anything else away from the confines of the city, cleaning the lens may be more crucial. On a recent trip to Snoqualmie Falls, I noticed the mist occasionally leaving some moisture on my camera lens. A minor detail as long as you’re prepared, but forgetting might mean ruining your photos.