Tunnels Beach, Dunedin
Image: Mikail McVerry | ©


Use our beginners’ guide to capture what you love most about nature and find fresh ways to experiment for the perfect shot.

From delicate grass to rugged peaks, a single image can reflect the diverse nature in our world. Taking nature photos also supports your wellbeing. Studies show viewing these images improves your mood and helps you relax.

Most people use their smartphone or a digital camera to take their photos. So we asked photographers around DOC for their tips on how to get the best shots from any device:

Tip 1: Select, position and frame your subject

Select your subject

Start by selecting a specific plant, animal or flower that you want to capture. In photography this is known as the ‘subject’ of the image. Having a subject will help your image become more engaging by offering a clear point of focus (or ‘focal point’) of your picture.

Many smartphones and some cameras will automatically adjust to suit your focal point if you tap it when using your camera app. Next time you’re trying to take a photo test if your phone or camera offers this function with a gentle tap.

Position and frame your subject

Rule of thirds grid over photo of a harlequin gecko

Position your subject by using the elements of your image to complement or contrast with its shape or colours. Use your nature, background and colours so you can enhance your subject to draw the viewer’s attention.

The further away the background seems in your image, the more focus you can create on your subject. Some devices have settings can change the focus to make the background appear more or less in focus to create this effect.

The ‘rule of thirds’ is something all beginners are taught as it helps to keep your image balanced. Many smartphones have a setting that will place a grid overlay on your screen to help you capture a well laid out image.

Tip 2: Take a series of images

Try different amounts of light

Some say lighting is the most important part of photography. As a basic rule, you want your subject lit with a light source facing it. Explore fresh ways of viewing of your subject by playing with angles that cast shadow and using natural light to create contrasts.

Dull days can help to balance images and capture natural details and textures

Experiment using different amounts of light by:

  • taking photos from different angles,
  • planning when you’ll take your photos, and
  • using your device’s in-built settings.

Move around your subject and see how the lighting affects the shot from different positions. You can also try using the settings on your device to control the brightness of your picture.

Being mindful of natural changes such as the position of the sun and clouds can help you find the best light for your images and is good for your wellbeing too. These variations in light can create a unique mood for each image, making each shot unique.

Many wildlife photographers work before sunrise or just as the sun sets for the best light. Dull days can also help you get balanced images, as colours are less contrasted by one another in this light.

Using light and your device functions can also balance of colour in your images. You can do this using the flash, filters and white-balance functions. Learn how to do this in tip 3.

Use ‘burst’ capture

Using burst mode on your device will capture multiple shots as your subject moves. Using this mode increases the chance of capturing great shots of fast-moving wildlife, wind-blown plants and trees or running water.

Many devices come with an automatic ‘burst’ mode. On smartphones, you can often use this function by holding down the shutter button. Your phone will take pictures quickly one after another until you release the button.

Burst mode images are sometimes kept in a separate location in your gallery or camera app. You may need to find these in a different area to than your usual photos.

Tip 3: Experiment with your settings

Balance colours in a fresh way

See and capture different colour temperatures when the sun rises and sets

Compared to what you see through your eyes, you might find photos you take on a sunny beach seem more orange, while one taken in the shade is tinted blue. This is because our brains automatically adjust our view of the colour hues the different types of light create, and we’re not always aware of them.

In photography, this is known as the colour temperature of the image. Your device’s flash can adapt your photos as the white light it creates helps to neutralise the temperature for balance.

You can also use your device’s in-built filters and white-balance settings.

Use filters to adapt or influence the colour temperature of your image to find the best option for your picture. Your smartphone or social media apps may already have plenty of filters for you to use.

Many cameras have white balance options that you can choose from to match your environment, such as "incandescent" and "direct sunlight". You may also be able to set your own white balance settings.

Change your size settings

Use your device settings to change the size ratio for your images and increase the quality of their capture. Taking high quality images will give you options to crop and zoom in on the best parts of your pictures. Remember to use the rule of thirds while cropping images to maintain their balance.

Different ratios can help you change up the framing of your subject or plan for social media size settings like Instagram. Larger images taken in landscape are best for other web uses.

To make sure your pictures look great on and off your device, set your device to take at least 1200 pixel (or ‘px’) in width and height. Many devices will capture above this size by default.

A good idea is to try not to squeeze the greatest number of images out of your available memory card or phone space. Go for the least number of images and take a bigger card or increase your available space.

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