Outdoor Photography Tips

The season of summer is perhaps nearly everyone’s favorite; the sun is shining, people go on vacation, and most simply spend more time enjoying the outdoors. Don’t limit yourself by thinking that summertime is the only opportunity for photos of nature. Grab your camera to capture any of the seasons, and have unforgettable adventures along the way. When it comes to outdoor photography, any time of the year can yield fantastic and dynamic photos.


While Hiking

Outdoor Photography of a Hiker

When camping and hiking, you may be surrounded by beautiful views. If you are out hiking on a mountain trail with a bright overhead sun, then you’ll want to underexpose the images by maybe 1 or 1 ½ stops, plus you’ll want to use a polarizer filter (which eliminates water reflections and enhances the contrast of the clouds) and a lens hood to prevent flares. If you’re hiking or camping in the woods or forest, then you need to be mindful of the overhead canopy… it is diffusing the sunlight, which will provide a blanket level of illumination, but it won’t be that bright. In these situations, you’ll want to overexpose your images by 1 to 1 ½ stops to ensure that colors are more vibrant.



Outdoor Photography Campfire

When photographing a campfire, a 10-42mm wide-angle lens or a 50mm standard lens is fine. Use a sturdy tripod if you have one, as this will prevent camera shake. If you do not have a tripod, use your bag or another steady surface to support the camera for the photo. Open the aperture wide, around f/2 – f/8 to allow enough light in. Choosing aperture priority (AV) is a great way to take this kind of shot as the camera will choose its own shutter speed. Use your camera’s self-timer or a cable release to take the photo with absolutely no blurring. Don’t use flash because it will ruin the natural glow of the fire.


Night Portraits

Outdoor Photograph of a Boy in red and night camp

When taking a night portrait outdoors, you may be lacking in light sources. If you have a campfire, then you can take advantage of this but it may leave a strong orange cast to the photo. Instead, use the on-camera or an external flash, making sure your subject is not too close or too far away. Many cameras have a “night time flash” option which will keep the picture evenly balanced. To capture some truly unique night portraits, you should use the smallest aperture possible (f/1.4-f/4) and set the ISO of your camera to 400 or higher.


National Parks

Outdoor Photography Two middle aged hikers

Visiting national parks can give you spectacular views of nature. A wide-angle lens is a must for capturing vast landscapes or big mountains. For memorable portraits, be sure to incorporate the natural scenery into the photograph, especially if it’s a famous landscape. If it’s bright and sunny, remember to underexpose and use a polarizer filter. If your subject is dark because of a shadow, use fill-in flash.


Exploring Caves

Outdoor Photograph of a Man exiting cave

Taking photographs in very dark caves is a challenge, especially if you can’t see a thing. Photographing people in the entrance or exit of the cave is a good way to use the existing light to create a dramatic silhouetted image. Place the camera on a tripod and turn the mode dial to AV (Aperture Priority) mode and let the camera choose the shutter speed. Remember to turn off the flash and use spot metering mode. Take a light reading of just the bright area and then point your camera at your subject and take the photo. If you want to shoot deep within the cave, where there’s no light, you’ll want to protect your camera from dust and humidity. To see what you’re shooting, you’ll need to use a flashlight or a helmet-light (it will barely provide adequate illumination). You’ll need to bring flash units that probably can only be used on the designated trails. The only shutter settings of much use in dark cave photography are 1/125s, 1/30s and B(ulb), 1/125s is for synching your flash, 1/30s if you want to use flash bulbs, and B for keeping the shutter open for extended periods (4, 8, 30 seconds). Use your helmet-light (or a flashlight) to scan around and “paint” the cave formations with the light, and hopefully provide enough for the camera. You might want a cable release to aid with this because to take a good photo using long exposure times, you must not allow any camera shake. You’ll have to experiment a bit to see what works best. One last thing, don’t ever touch the cave formations as this can degrade these natural works of art.


Look for Wildlife

Outdoor Photography - Large bull elk with velvet covered antlers standing in meadow of lush grass and wild flowers.

If you’re photographing wild animals, then you need a fast telephoto zoom lens (100mm to 300mm) to zoom in close on the creatures. Try to capture them in some sort of action to create interest. Choose a small aperture f/11-f/22 for a deep DOF (depth of field) to capture the details. For the blurred background effect, choose a shallow depth of field from f/2.8-f/8. However, with shallow depth of field, you’ll have to increase your shutter speed, so as not to underexpose the image and mute the colors.


Recommended Settings

If you are photographing on a bright day, use a wide-angle lens at f/16 or higher to achieve a sharp image – useful for landscapes. Remember, if it’s very bright you may need to underexpose the photograph by up to 2 stops to retain all the details in the shadows and highlights.


Recommended Equipment

Outdoors in the summer, you can be very flexible with your subject matter because there are so many possibilities. In bright light you should always carry a lens hood to prevent flaring, and use an ND (neutral density) filter and a polarizer to reduce reflections and bring out the sky. A tripod is useful if you want to take sharp photographs in low-light, and if you want to capture movement you must use one. A flash is needed to illuminate people or dark spots in an image. If you have a removable flash device, you can direct it at a specific area. A wide-angle lens is recommended to capture panoramic views and dramatic clouds. A standard lens, such as a 50mm f/1.8 or f/2 is also useful because it can take good portraits and can work quickly in low light conditions without resorting to flash. A telephoto lens is useful if you need to capture animals from far away, especially one with I.S. (Image stabilization) for when they are in action.



Photographing the outdoors is extremely enjoyable, but requires you to keep a few things in mind. Use any natural light sources to your advantage (the bright sun, camp fires, etc.) in order to keep the aperture as small as permissible (so you can get as much as possible in focus). Remember that good weather doesn’t necessarily equal good photographs; a bright day equals shadows and high contrast shots. But a rainy day offers its own unique features. When shooting in caves or in low-light, use a cable release for the steadiest of shots and experiment with the exposure setting to get exactly what you want. One of the keys to successful outdoor photography is being prepared; use accessories like a lens hood, polarizer filter, tripod, and an ND (or a graduated ND) filter when the sun is out in force. Always carry an extra memory card and batteries for your camera whenever you are outside taking photographs away from easy access to supplies.

Attila Kun

Attila is the founder and editor-in-chief of Exposure Guide. He is an avid photographer, graphic designer, bedroom DJ and devoted Mac addict. Attila got his first DSLR camera, a Canon 10D, back in 2003 and he has been hooked on photography ever since.