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Seven tips for shooting nature photos with your smartphone camera

By Stan Horaczek

Make every day Nature Photography Day!

Leaning outside the viewing window on this Alaskan train allowed me to include some of the cars in the photo to give context to the rest of the scene. Shot with a Nokia Lumia 910.

National Geographic photographer Jim Richardson is responsible for some of the best photography advice ever given: “If you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of more interesting stuff.” Nature is full of interesting stuff, and, thanks to smartphones, we’re almost never without a pretty-good-quality camera.

But even the most-beautiful, surprising location won’t be very photogenic in the wrong circumstances. Below, a few quick tips to help you get the most out of your next nature photography adventure.

Straighten out your horizon

A crooked horizon can ruin any landscape shot. It’s not always possible to get it exactly right when you shoot it, but take the time to straighten things up before sharing.

Use HDR mode, or shoot in raw if you're feeling ambitious

Landscape photos are a great opportunity to leverage the HDR setting in your camera app. It may be enabled by default, but you can turn it on from your camera app settings, if not. When enabled, HDR mode will take several photos in rapid succession and then combine the image data into one photo. As a result, it will preserve more details that might otherwise get blown out or lost in dark shadows. This is especially handy in high-contrast scenes like bright daylight. Be sure to check your results after shooting, though, because HDR can sometimes make a scene look unnaturally flat in tone.

If you're feeling ambitious, you can also try shooting in raw mode, which is a capability most smartphones attained just recently (your best bet to enable this is to use an advanced camera app like Camera+). When the camera creates a JPEG version of the image, it clips off image information in the darkest and brightest parts of the photo. You'll need to use a more advanced editing app like Adobe’s Lightroom Mobile to take advantage of that extra data, but it can provide a lot more flexibility in terms of the overall look of the finished product.

Pick the perfect time of day to go shooting

Just before sunrise and just after sunset is a timeframe called blue hour, which can sometimes make for even more spectacular skies than the typical golden hour. This shot was taken on an iPhone 7 Plus in the early morning hours in Cape Cod, MA. It's totally unedited.

The definition of “good” light can vary from person to person depending on their tastes, but even a truly majestic view can be ruined by harsh overhead light. If you want warm, magical illumination, plan to get to your location around the start of golden hour, which is roughly an hour before sunrise and then again before sunset. Using an app like the awesome Photo Pills will let you know exactly what to expect from the sun at any given time. If you don’t want to spend the money on Photo Pills, you can use other free golden hour apps or even web-based utilities like golden-hour.com.

Don’t forget the details

Epic scenery can be hypnotizing in its beauty, but once you’ve got your wide shots, look around for smaller features and details that can help set the scene. Find some leaves bathed in sweet golden hour light or get a close-up of the texture of some particularly interesting rocks. The detail shots will be pretty on their own, but they will also give context to the landscape photos when you share them online, especially in a series.

Be careful where you place the sun

Placing the sun in the frame often creates flare, which can create streaks across the frame, introduce odd light objects, and wash out the contrast in your image. Shot with an iPhone 7 Plus.

Putting the sun within the frame of your picture can be tricky business. The intense brightness will often cause the rest of the image to darken, and flare from the rays can spread across the image, washing out contrast and introducing odd-looking blobs of color—typically purple, green, or sometimes white. Flare can happen even if the sun is just outside your frame, so try shading the lens of your camera, using your hand like the brim of a hat to keep the sun from directly hitting the lens.

Use the rule of thirds with caution

Many phone apps have a built-in grid that splits the frame into thirds vertically and horizontally. This is a nod to a basic composition tip called the “rule of thirds.” The idea is that putting the horizon of your landscape photo on one of the two horizontal lines will create a photo that feels balanced. Sometimes, this is true. Other times, this leads you to sacrifice a third of your image to boring, featureless blue sky at the top or nearly texture-free sand at the bottom. Fill your frame with the most interesting parts of the scene and try different compositions until things feel balanced. Don’t let an on-screen grid dictate what looks good to you. (Jim Richardson's photo above was likely not shot with a smartphone, but expertly uses a split frame composition that defies the rule of thirds.)

Give your image scale

The camera has a way of making spectacular things look less impressive. Trails don’t look as steep, mountains don’t look as tall, and forests don’t look quite as majestic. The wide-angle lens on your smartphone is partially to blame, but you can combat this by looking for ways to add scale. Conservation photographer Cristina Mittermeier masterfully uses humans for scale by making them small in the frame. Birds are another great option for giving scale, but you might have to wait for some to fly by.


我从阿拉斯加专列的观景窗探出身去,把几节车厢框进照片,作为其余场景的背景。用诺基亚Lumia 910拍摄。

《国家地理》杂志摄影师Jim Richardson道出了史上最佳的摄影诀窍之一:“如果想成为更好的摄影师,那就站到更有意思的景物前。”大自然意趣盎然,现在有了智能手机,我们几乎从不缺一架质量不错的相机。

译者配图。这张照片很好地例证了上述原则:无论装备和技术如何,在大自然的鬼斧神工前,人人都可以成为好摄影师。“我们不拍照片,我们只做大自然的记录师。” 所以,带上手机说走就走吧!Shot with a K-Touch T60.






如果你觉得不过瘾,还可以尝试用raw模式拍摄,这是大多数智能相机最近才有的一项功能(使用Camera+这样高级的照相机app时最有可能启用这项功能)。照相机创建JPEG版的图像时,把照片最暗处和最亮处的图像信息裁剪掉。需要用Adobe的Lightroom Mobile这样更高级的编辑app才能利用那些额外数据,但它能使最终成品的总体观感灵活得多。


刚刚日出前和刚刚日落后是称为“蓝色时段”的时间窗,它有时能捕捉到比典型的黄金时段更壮丽的天空。这张照片是用iPhone 7 Plus拍摄到的马萨诸塞州科德角的清晨。它未经任何编辑。

“好”光线的定义因各人口味而异,但即使是再壮观的景色也可能毁于刺眼的顶光。如果想要神奇的暖色光照,计划到达拍摄点的时间应在黄金时段开始时,也就是日出前一小时左右,以及日落前一小时左右。Photo Pills是一款极棒的app,它将让你确切知道任意时刻阳光的预期效果。如果不想花钱下载Photo Pills,可以用其它免费的黄金小时app,甚至还可以用基于网站的应用程序,如golden-hour.com。




把太阳框进照片中常常形成耀斑,进而形成整张图片里的光带,还带来奇怪的发光物,并冲淡图像的对比度。用iPhone 7 Plus拍摄。



许多手机app自带网格,把取景框水平和垂直分成三等份。这肯定了一项称为“三分法则”的基本构图法门。其理念是,把风景照的地平线放在两条水平线之一上将构成一幅平衡的照片。这有时成立。另外一些情况下,这会让你牺牲掉图像的三分之一,让位给顶部乏味、无特征的蓝天或底部几乎无纹理的沙子。让取景框中充满最有趣的那部分场景,并尝试不同的构图,直到景物看上去均衡。切勿让屏上的网格主导你的审美。(上面Jim Richardson的照片可能不是用智能手机拍的,但娴熟地运用了与三分法则相悖的等分框构图法)


照相机有办法使宏伟的事物看上去不那么抢眼。小径看上去不那么陡,大山看上去不那么高,森林看上去不那么壮观。智能手机上的广角镜头是部分原因,但通过想办法引入比例尺就能克服这一点。保护区摄影师Cristina Mittermeier就娴熟地把人当成比例尺,方法是使他们在图中显得小。鸟是赋予尺度的另一个好选择,但你也许不得不等它们飞过。