Taking Your Best Pictures Outdoors

Posted by Chuck on August 20th, 2015 — Posted in Photography

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As with most outdoor photography, you’ll find the most dramatic lighting first thing in the morning or in the late afternoon, when the sun is low in the sky. If the day is very hazy or windy, don’t bother going up–haze makes for murky photos, and strong winds cause turbulence and image blur due to camera movement. Shoot with the lens wide open in aperture-priority AE to get the fastest possible shutter speed, and lock focus at infinity (over populated areas, regulations require you to be at least 1000 feet above the highest building within 2000 feet of your flight path).

From an Office Window

tybpoIf you work in a high-rise office building (or can visit someone who does), you have a great vantage point for photography. It’s even a great way to get “aerial” photos without leaving the ground. We’re on the 18th floor of a 20-story building, and it’s amazing the scenes we see out the windows as the weather and time of day change. When shooting through windows, watch out for reflections (although you can use reflections creatively, having a light fixture appear hovering outside, for example). It’s best to use a rubber lens hood and rest it against the window. In lieu of that, you can darken the room and drape a dark cloth over you, and shoot with the lens as close to the glass as possible. It’s best not to shoot at an angle to the glass with long lenses, because sharpness will suffer.

The Local Wildlife Area

You don’t have to go on safari to get outdoor photos. Even the biggest cities often have “natural” areas set aside for the benefit of both nature and man. These are great places to get away from the city hustle and bustle for a while, and they provide great opportunities to photograph both animals and landscapes. These photos were all shot in the Sepulveda Flood Basin in the south-central San Fernando Valley just north of Los Angeles.

The Local Air Show

Summer is air-show season, and an airport in your area will probably host one in the several few months. You can get shots of the fair-like atmosphere, the static displays and, of course, of the flying events. A wide-to-tele zoom, such as a 28-200mm or 28-300mm, is a great one-lens airshow package, or you can take a wide-angle lens and a telephoto. For the flying acts, you can record smoke trails with the wide-angle, and tighter shots of the performers’ aircraft with the tele. Something to think about: a fast shutter speed will freeze the action sharply, but will also make propellers and rotors appear to have stopped. Experiment with different shutter speeds, and see which produce the effects you like best.

City Streets at Night

The night offers lots of photo potential. Colorful night lights–either as the subjects, or reflected in wet streets–make great subjects. A long exposure will blur moving traffic into streaks of white headlights and red taillights. Shoot at dusk, when there’s still a little light in the sky, and you can capture detail throughout the photo–lights and unlit areas. Some color film, a tripod and a camera capable of making long exposures are all that’s required.

At the Seashore

If you live on the East or West Coast, you can take pictures at the beach. If you live inland, the beach is a good site for a future vacation–or you can go to a closer large lake. Photo possibilities are numerous: coastlines, sand castles, footprints, beachgoers, sea birds, seals, sunsets and rises, shells, piers, boats and more. Protect your gear from sand and spray (change film and lenses in your car, or under a beach towel), and yourself from the sun (wear a bat and sunscreen), and go beachcombing with your camera.

On The Road

Lonely roads make good photo subjects. When you’re on a driving trip, keep an eye out for interesting sections of road. You’ll find use for all your lens focal lengths here–wide-angles will emphasize the loneliness by making the road appear small, while telephotos will make a series of dips seem to “stack up” close together. You can photograph the road alone, or include your strategically posed vehicle.

At the Zoo

Kids of all ages–from toddler to retiree!–love the zoo. Zoos and wild-animal parks allow you to photograph all kinds of beasts you’d never see otherwise. For photos, try to go when it’s least crowded–usually early mornings on weekdays (check with the specific zoo to find out for sure). A wide-to-tele zoom lens, or several fixed-focal-length lenses including a moderate telephoto, will have you ready to shoot just about anything.

Naturally, you’ll want to choose shooting angles and focal lengths that eliminate evidence that it’s a zoo–cage bars, sprinklers, feeding doors and the like. Look for exciting lighting–high noon generally isn’t a great time for outdoor shooting. Once you’ve got your fill of animal portraits, look for kids’ reactions to animals, and record those.

At the Aquarium

You can photograph underwater creatures–with no special equipment, and without even getting wet. Just go to the nearest aquarium. Fast film will let you shoot by available light. If flash is allowed, aim the camera and flash at an angle to the glass to avoid glare. Experiment with different shutter speeds–sharp sea-critter shots are great, but you can also get some neat abstract images at slower shutter speeds.

Scenic Spots

Of course, there are always the famous photo locations–national parks, familiar landmarks, caverns, forests in fall, etc. Just because these have been photographed thousands and thousands of times doesn’t mean you should ignore them. They’ve been photographed so much because they make for great photos. So by all means, if you’re in the vicinity, visit and take some pictures.

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