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A Guide to Nature Photography

September 28th 2018

Catching a glimpse of Hilton Head Island’s wildlife is one of the most exciting things about exploring the great outdoors with Hilton Head Outfitters! Whether it’s a deer resting in the shade, an egret grazing at the shore, or even just a stunning vista of lush Lowcountry greenery, Hilton Head’s natural beauty is just begging to be photographed.

To help you capture all of the natural sights you’ll see on your Hilton Head Outfitters adventure, we’ve put together some of our top tips for nature photography, so grab your smartphone or camera and get out to the great outdoors!

Tools you’ll need:

Of course, many of our guests take and share stunning nature photos with us on Instagram using just their smartphone! To take your nature photography to the next level, consider these tools:

  • A tripod – you can even get tripods for your mobile phones to help hold them steady
  • A digital camera
  • A wide angle lens
  • A zoom lens
  • Patience (mastering the art of nature photography, and getting that perfect shot, takes time!)

Use natural light to your advantage.

Times of day when the sun is at an angle often make for more interesting photographs. If you’ve ever visited Palmetto Dunes, you know that the sunrises at Palmetto Dunes Beach are worth getting up for! The sun setting over the marina at Shelter Cove Harbour & Marina makes for wonderful shadows and reflections of the boats on the water.

The hour just after sunrise and just before sunset is commonly called “Golden Hour” and it’s a photography favorite. The natural light is bright enough to create stunning images but softer, creating an overall more beautiful photo.

If you’re taking a portrait, or photo of your family, backlighting is generally not advised, but if you’re looking for a nature photo that pops, experiment with backlighting—when the light comes from directly behind whatever you’re photographing. It can be especially effective for foliage and greenery, as the light shining from behind the tree helps each individual leaf to stand out.

Exposure time makes a difference.

If you’re trying to capture a photo of Hilton Head’s wildlife, like a fish, bird, or dolphin, a quick exposure can help you take multiple photos in a short period of time, capturing the animal’s movement. (The burst function on your smartphone camera is great for this, too).

For a smooth, ethereal effect of movement, like the gentle current of the lagoon at Palmetto Dunes, a long exposure and a steady hand are key. Want to take a photo of the Lowcountry stars at night? Or really showcase the colors of a South Carolina sunset? A long exposure lets more light into your photo, so stars, moons, and objects in low light really come through.

Play with depth of field.

Depth of field is the distance between the closest and furthest objects in your photo, and the focus or sharpness of these objects. Make an object in your nature photo stand out by creating a shallow depth of field—focusing on the object (flower, frog, bird, gator) and blurring the background. Many smartphone cameras have a portrait or focus mode that helps to achieve this effect.

Taking a photo of the beach? A deep depth of field can blur the beach grass up close and focus on the beach waves and horizon in the distance.

Try different angles.

Want to make that palm tree look as tall in your photo as it feels in real life? Get low and shoot upwards from the base of the tree. Want to make that budding flower as small and delicate as it appears? Shoot from above. You’ll be amazed at how different you can make the same subject look by taking photos from different angles.

Also, pay attention to where in the frame your subject is—it doesn't always have to be centered in the middle! Moving so that the main focal point of your photograph is off-center is very common in photography and often makes a photograph more interesting.

Take multiple photos, and have fun!

With a little planning, a tripod, and some patience, you can capture the beautiful landscapes of Hilton Head Island just like a professional photographer! Sometimes though, the best nature photographs come down to luck. You might be biking along one of Palmetto Dunes’ bike paths, or canoeing along the lagoon, come upon a beautiful natural scene and grab your camera or smartphone just in time.

Whether you're surprised by a scene that you just have to capture or set up your tripod to take a photo of your favorite Palmetto Dunes view, it always helps to take more than one photo. You can review them later and pick the best one, to print or to share. You’ll be left with a beautiful memento of Hilton Head’s natural beauty and fond memory of your time at Palmetto Dunes.

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