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5 Ways to improve your outdoor photography

5 Ways to improve your outdoor photography

As we launch our Beautiful Britain Photo Competition, these outdoor photography tips from seasoned photographers will help you shoot your best shot

The David Attenborough series Wild Isles is doing a supreme job of highlighting the beauty in British wildlife and the habits they live in, all across the country. There's no better time to get out there and enjoy outdoor photography; all you need is a smartphone or camera, and time to explore.

Whether you are captivated by landscapes, landmarks, or the after-effects of weather, there are photo opportunities everywhere. If you're thinking about entering our Beautiful Britain Photo Competition, here are five ways to help inspire the best outdoor photos. 

Getting to know your subject and their habits

Butterfly landing on fox's noseTake time to get to know your local wildlife before shooting, and you might just capture something truly special

All across the British Isles you will find opportunities to spot, and photograph, the large variety of wildlife that calls our shores home.

Thanks to resources from the Natural History Museum, local landowners and wildlife trusts, there’s plenty of help to inspire you to get outdoors, and safely discover what’s living in your neighbourhood and beyond. 

"Try to shoot from the perspective of the animal you are filming. This often means getting down low"

Resist the urge to just point and click—take the time to observe local wildlife and you will see the rewards in your photos.

Somerset-based ecologist and wildlife photographer Charlie Fayers suggests, “get to know your subject, you will get far better photos if you can predict what the animal you are filming is likely to do next. Also, try to shoot from the perspective of the animal you are filming. This often means getting down low.” 

Capture details in a close-up

Going in close can bring some fascinating rewards in nature photography. Zooming into frost-laden plants, picking up dew drops on a spider's web, or capturing insects larger than life can help show the beauty we might miss in everyday life.

Experiment with how close you can hold the camera. If you’re zooming in on one particular subject, such as a bee landing on a flower, you could end up with soft-focus objects in the background to create added interest.

Macro mode, a setting on many smartphones and cameras is great for extreme close-ups, where you hold the lens very close to the subject instead of zooming in. This is great if you want an interesting small object/detail to appear greater than life-size in a photo. 

Best time of day to shoot photos

Outdoor photography capturing sunset on smartphone and tripodExperiment taking photos at different times of day to see how the light affects your photographs

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to timing, and a shadow or lots of natural sunlight can produce great results—it’s just best to avoid extremes. 

"When you’ve found your ideal outdoor location why not try capturing it during a golden hour sunset?"

Too much harsh light hitting your camera lens sensor will result in an overexposed photo with little detail, while a dark sky full of stars is pretty to the naked eye, but might provide too much contrast between the background and subject you are taking pictures of.

When you’ve found your ideal outdoor location why not try capturing it during a golden hour sunset, or even in blue hour (before sunrise, and after sunset) and see what happens? 

Composing the best outdoor photo

Once you’ve found a location, think about where to place your main subject in the picture, what angle to shoot from, and the details you want to capture. It’s good to avoid too much unnecessary space or just centring your image in the frame. 

Photographer Jane Mucklow, who specialises in landscape photography of the Kent countryside suggests, “Don't just snap the first thing you see, from the first angle you look at it. Think about what has captured your attention, and find the best way to show that in your photo.”

"Keep the horizon straight! But also, if there's a beautiful sky, put the horizon one-third up the photo"

It’s also important to accurately portray the landscape you’re shooting, so she adds that it’s important to “keep the horizon straight! But also, if there's a beautiful sky, put the horizon one-third up the photo, so more sky is visible.

"If there's more to see in front of you, or a boring sky, put the horizon two-thirds up the photo or fill the photo with the landscape/whatever you're photographing.”

Capture sharp, clear images

Although the delete button can be your best friend, a few things will help you avoid unstable, out-of-focus, or blurred images the first time around.

Keeping the camera stable is key, whether that's through a solid, firm stance as you stand ready to shoot or using a tripod (smaller versions can be handheld or placed on a flat surface). A self-timer can also be a handy tool for keeping your hands away from dials and settings once you have chosen your shot. 

Learning to master shutter speed is a more advanced skill, but brings rewards if you want to capture movement in wildlife. If your “Beautiful Britain” is all about animals, then the shutter speed needs to be fast enough to stop movement in the frame as you click. 

Phone or camera functions to look out for

Leveller: A small line will appear on the screen to help you keep your horizon straight.

Assistive Grid: Divides the screen up into grid squares to help you compose your photo. Digital cameras will have more composition guides such as tunnel and diagonal lines. 

Reader's Digest Photo Competition 2023: Beautiful Britain

Submit your photo that encapsulates the beauty of Britain for your chance to win a £400 Amazon voucher and grace the back cover of the Reader's Digest July 2023 issue! 

The photo competition is open for submissions until 5pm on May 12, 2023.

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