There’s something about being surrounding by the breathtaking beauty of the NC Smokies that makes you want to attempt to capture it. Maybe you added photography to your list of hobbies after being quarantined for months. Or maybe you upgraded from a phone-tographer to a DSLR but found outdoor lighting to be more complex than it seemed with your phone. We’re here to help you navigate the sometimes tricky world of outdoor photography so that you can capture the beauty that you see!
Settings are a wormhole that you will definitely find yourself diving into as you get more into photography but for now we’ll just focus on the overall helpful basics. First – make sure you are shooting in RAW format. This gives you more flexibility when editing the photos with software like Lightroom or Photoshop and will take up less space on your SD card than including JPEGs as well.
In general – you want to be shooting with a low ISO. ISO is your camera’s sensitivity to light. Shooting with a low ISO will provide the cleanest images with the least grainy effect (“noise”), typically between 100-400 ISO. Of course, if you are shooting at night or in very low light settings you will need to increase your ISO to effectively capture what you are shooting. When shooting a sunrise or sunset your ISO could go up to 800 but you can keep the ISO low by using a tripod and long exposure (shutter) setting.
Another setting that makes a huge difference is white balance. This can be found in different areas depending on your camera but you should be looking for an AWB icon. The Auto White Balance may struggle to get the colors correct when you are shooting outdoor landscapes especially on overcast days or around sunset and “golden hour” time frames – more on that below. Just remember Higher Kelvin = colder tones and Lower Kelvin = warmer tones.
2. Lighting / Time of Day
Outdoor photography depends a lot on lighting. On sunny days with none or very few clouds, we suggest you avoid shooting during the midday sun aka about 11am – 3pm. This lighting is harsh on landscapes, creates odd shadows on people or animals, and makes it difficult for your camera to register details due to the extremes between light and dark.
“Golden Hour” refers to the time right after sunrise or just before sunset. This will give the subject in your shots a nice warm glow because the sun is emitting a softer and more red/orange glow than the harsh direct light during the day.
Purchasing ND filters will help with sunset and sunrise shots so that your images are not blown out and overexposed in the light areas of the sky. You can also blend images in post-processing in an editor such as lightroom. To do this, take at least one photo where your foreground is correctly exposed, and then without moving the camera, take a second shot where the sky and background are properly exposed. Later in Lightroom, you will select the two images, right-click, select “Photo Merge” then “HDR” to create a more balanced and evenly exposed image. A tripod will significantly help with keeping your differently exposed images aligned properly.
In general, if you shoot slightly darker, you can save and correct the exposure post-processing but if you over-expose an image, it will be very difficult for your computer to create those details since it didn’t record them in the photo.
3. Move your feet
Different angles and perspectives will help you find which compositions you like instead of returning home to find you only have about one or two shots from the same angles. Play around with having flowers and fauna in the foreground, getting a high perspective or more wide-open perspective, and then some shots zoomed in. Creating variety will give you more to explore which styles of shooting you like and you may find more unique shots. If you’re looking to get a classic sunset shot, spend the time scouting locations so you won’t frantically be running around when the colors begin.
4. Clean your lenses
Seems obvious but it can easily be overlooked and is a PAIN to clean up when editing. If you forget to clean your lens you might have spots in your sky or a fingerprint blurring the views!
5. Be patient
The thing with the outdoors is, it’s always changing! You may have an amazing sunset one day and then rain the next. Do not be discouraged if you didn’t “get the shot” on the first go. If you are editing and notice a lot of your shots have the sky blown out with no details, make a note to lower your exposure next time you’re out. Photography is a lifelong hobby, don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t perfectly nail every shot on your first few tries.
6. Meet other photographers
Meeting others with the same interests is the best way to share knowledge and improve your skills. Instagram is a great way to meet other photographers in your area or simply follow them for inspiration. Search your local hashtags to see who’s posting in your area and take mental notes of their composition of locations you’d like to shoot. Use social media as inspiration, not comparison. Youtube is a great resource for building your skillset.