Five Techniques That Will Improve Your Outdoor Photography

Words and photos by Coalatree Ambassador Eric Bennett

It seems like most of us these days can’t go anywhere without bringing a camera along to document the places we visit. And I am a big supporter of that. I believe that the first step to caring about our wilderness usually begins with seeing a photograph of a beautiful place, which then sparks the interest to visit. From that we begin to build an intimate and caring relationship for the land. I’ve come up with five simple yet powerful techniques that will help you to better portray the beauty of the places you visit and impact your viewers on a deeper level.

1. Choose Your Subject. Every photograph has the power to tell a message, but you can only tell a story if you make the photo about something. You need to choose a main character for your image, the one thing that you want people to pay the most attention to, what you want it to be about. Photographs that lack subjects can either be too chaotic to understand or too boring to care. Just the simple act of choosing one object to use as the central focus of your photographs will make your scenes much more powerful.

2. Use the Rule of Thirds. “Rule of thirds” is an old photographic technique or rule that was created based on the way our eyes look at images. Studies show that our eyes usually move from the bottom to the top. In the Western world, we also look from left to right, just like how we read. On most DSLR cameras you can turn on the Rule of Thirds grid in your live view mode which can help you can compose using the lines while you are shooting your scene. The Rule of Thirds grid will divide your image into nine equal rectangles. In your image you will want your subject in a good place, where viewers will notice and it will stand out the most. You can do this by placing it in the vertical center of the frame, or by placing it on one of the thirds, the two vertical lines or the two horizontal lines intersecting the screen. This will make the focus and central message of your image come across a lot clearer.

3. Balance Your Scene. Now, after you have decided on where and what you will shoot, you will want to balance out the scene so that none of the edges feel too heavy. If you have a mountain in the image, for example, on the upper, right third, you will want to place your friend, or the mountain goat, or whatever you subject is, on the lower left third, to add counterweight to the scene. If you have two strong subjects on the right side of the frame, the left side will feel empty. Or if you have everything near the top, it will feel too top heavy. Everything in the center will make the image less interesting as well. I always like to stagger my main subjects in order to balance the scene while making the arrangement more interesting. Just make sure your main subject still stands out from the other supporting subjects you chose to include.

4. Use Contrasting Colors. If you are shooting a picture of a person in a dark, green forest, you can make them stand out by giving them a bright red or warm-colored jacket. If you are in a snowy alpine area, include some bright colors like blue or orange. In the desert with red canyon walls? Light blue or green will look great. In a bright place? Black looks good, and if the scene is dark, then white. If your subject is wearing drab clothing they will blend in too much with the scene. If the scene is very colorful and dynamic, then maybe more neutral colors would be best. Just paying attention and being mindful to where you are shooting and what your model is wearing or what colors are around you can make a huge difference in bringing the attention on them. Of course this principle applies to any subject, not just people. Isolating a vibrant autumn tree amongst a snowy landscape is a great example.

5. Shoot in Complementing Light. Another thing that will bring out your subject from a scene is utilizing the right light. Whatever is brightest in your scene will most likely call all of the attention. Make sure you have your main subject in the spotlight, per say, and not in the dark somewhere. Sidelight usually makes anything and everything look awesome! As it adds nice contrast and makes the details pop more. Backlight (behind the subject) can work in certain scenarios like when shooting portraits as it can make the edges of a person’s hair or body glow. I usually avoid front light as it takes out all of the contrast and just adds flat lighting, but in certain cases when you have a very dark, shaded background, it can really complement the scene.

Remember, less is more. The less someone has to think about what the main idea or purpose of your photograph is, the more of an impact it will have on them. Now go have some fun shooting on your next adventure!

If you’d like to learn even more techniques in order to enhance your photography, check out Eric's photoshop tutorials on his website. 

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