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Nature photography could be your next quarantine hobby — this is why

monarch butterfly on a sunflower

Most of us are beyond fatigued by the effects of COVID precautions and social distancing. We’ve done a great job of converting closets into home offices, learning proper Zoom etiquette, and video-calling with family and friends to stay in touch. But cabin fever is real. The weather is changing, and we’re looking for changes, too. A new hobby may be just the thing to help us destress, refocus, and channel our creative energy.

A valuable lesson from the pandemic is that the great outdoors is one of the healthiest places to be. Clear skies and fresh air can boost your mental and physical health after days pent up behind a computer screen in the home office. And it’s still safer to be outside than inside due to the lingering questions over community spread, variants, and herd immunity. So if you would like to spend more time in nature in order to stay a step ahead of COVID, nature photography could be your next hobby.

With so many active outdoor pursuits like running, biking, hiking, and camping, it may seem odd that photography would get a mention. But nature photography is actually one of the best outdoor hobbies for social distancing because it can be done alone. Virtually anyone can do it, regardless of physical condition or ability. And the skills that are required, namely patience, silence, and stillness, make the process something like meditation.

Where to take photos

Nature is everywhere, including right outside your door. There is no need to travel hours into the wilderness to take up this hobby. Plants provide a wide range of opportunities because they don’t run away. Flowers, foliage, and even tree bark can all make amazing images. Birds at your backyard feeder or in the city park make outstanding photography subjects. Or, if you have a garden, consider honing your macro photography skills on bees, butterflies, spiders, and other tiny garden visitors. 

three raccoons in a tree

If you travel, be safe

If you do venture farther into the wild, it’s always best to take a friend. Traveling alone in the woods is fun until you twist an ankle or kick up a yellowjacket nest. If you crave solitude, go with a buddy who thinks likewise. You can visit the same place at the same time but go in different directions. Just be sure to have your phone in case one of you has an emergency.

Be prepared for the elements, too. Dress for the weather and wear proper footwear for the terrain. Bring water, a snack, and a small first aid kit to patch up stings, splinters, and scrapes. And protect your gear as well. Carry your equipment in a protective case or backpack. You won’t want to slip on a wet tree root and accidentally smash an expensive camera.

Start with the gear you have

Taking great photos requires more than just an interest in the outdoors and the ability to be patient. A photographer needs equipment. Luckily, contemporary smartphones feature onboard cameras with amazingly robust capabilities. Just take a look at the captures under the Instagram hashtag #naturephotography, and you’ll witness some of the amazing work that can be done with just a phone. You’ll also see photos that reveal the vast difference between a person with a phone and a skilled photographer with a real camera. 

Upgrade your gear as your skills improve

If you want to improve your photography skills, a camera will be a wise purchase. There is a wide variety of options, from fully automated point-and-shoot models that remove all the guesswork to fully manual digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras that give the photographer total control. Most serious hobbyists start out with something in between. For example, the Nikon D750 features a 24-megapixel sensor with a shooting speed of 6.5 frames per second. It records full HD video and is popular among action photographers of all types. This kit has all you’ll need to transition from basic functionality to artistic control.

hovering hummingbird
Fiona M. Donnelly/Shutterstock

Tips for taking great wildlife photos

Here are a few wildlife photography tips to help you get started:

  • Exposure: Choose a fast shutter speed, 1/250 or faster, to freeze motion.
  • Depth: Use aperture priority mode, and select a smaller f stop for tight focal depth.
  • Sensitivity: Select a mid-range ISO, 400 to 800. For moving subjects, adjust up.
  • Lens: Get physically close and use the lens to isolate the subject. 400mm is the sweet spot.
  • Focus: Use autofocus to maximize efficiency, eliminate human error, and get sharper images.
  • Support: Use a tripod or monopod to steady the camera.
  • Composition: Learn and practice the rule of thirds, and eliminate visual clutter.
  • Practice: Take lots of pictures!

If you’ve made the switch to a DSLR or mirrorless camera, it can be confusing and a bit intimidating. Unlike a cell phone or point-and-shoot camera, you have tons of settings and adjustments to choose from. Of course, you can use post-processing software to improve your work, but you will be much happier if the image is good to begin with.

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