11 Techniques for Capturing Great Nature Photos in a City

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Cities may not seem like the ideal place to go to photograph nature, but you can find a surprising amount of flora, fauna, and incredible views in any urban landscape. You just have to know where to look.

1. Become an Early Riser

Sunrise is the best time to capture nature. Photographers often call this period the “golden hour” because it yields the best light. Animals are more active in the early hours before the city wakes up, so you can capture them with the best possible light. The morning dew on the grass is also definitely a plus when capturing plant life.

2. Always Keep Your Camera Ready

You never know when the perfect opportunity will arise. A squirrel can pop out of a recycling bin, or a flower will be perfectly in bloom on your walk home. Take advantage of these fleeting moments by always carrying your camera with you.

3. Look to the Sky

Even if you don’t have any animals or plants handy, you can always check out the skyline. If you find a good vantage point on a bridge or rooftop, you can capture a great shot of the sun setting over your city. Try to photograph the sky at different times of day and different seasons to get a good variety of colors.

4. Buy a Ticket for the Botanical Gardens

The best place to photograph exotic flowers is at your local botanical garden. Most large cities have at least one that is open to tourists, and you can spend an entire day snapping amazing shots of varied flora. Visit year-round to take advantage of the different flowers in bloom as the seasons change.

5. Look for Bird Nests

Unless there is one outside your window, finding a bird’s nest can take a lot of time and patience. A common practice for discovering these avian structures is to first find the mother bird. Females can usually be identified by their less flashy appearance and smaller size. Watch out for birds collecting twigs, leaves and litter in the early morning, because this indicates they are building a nest.

If you can’t catch any birds in the act, you can always find a nest that has already been built. Common city birds like pigeons like to nest on cliff-like structures like on ledges, under bridges, or on top of air conditioners. Or keep your eyes open for more exotic species – Brooklyn, Austin, and Miami are all home to feral parrot populations.

6. Pay Attention to Your Surroundings

When photographing the perfect sparrow or flower, remember that the background is important too. Make sure the area surrounding your subject does not distract the eye or conflict with the focus of the picture.

7. Anticipate Your Subject’s Movements

Sometimes it’s difficult to photograph animals when they won’t stop moving. Wild animals are likely to be scared of you, so it’s best to move slowly and quietly. You can learn a lot about an animal just by observing it. If you know how an animal moves, you can anticipate where it’s going to go, and be ready for the best possible picture. Bribery also helps—if you’re observing ducks in a park, bring some breadcrumbs to lure your subject in.

8. Visit the Zoo

It’s a shortcut, but like a botanical garden, the zoo is a great place to capture things that you otherwise would not be able to see in the city. Pick your favorite animal and get a feel for your surroundings. Common obstacles include glass, cages, distance, and the sun. A tripod and proper lens go a long way and help you overcome these problems. Besides the animals in the enclosure, also check out the visiting wild animals, like squirrels and ducks.

9. Check Out Neighborhood Gardens

Explore your neighborhood to see if there are any gardens nearby. The perfect flowers to photograph could be just down the block from you. The flowers adjacent to apartment buildings and gates will give your pictures a great contrast. There are also community gardens in many neighborhoods where you can volunteer.

10. Go to the Dogs

If you have a dog, or know of one you can borrow, take it to the dog park. It’s great practice for shooting less domesticated animals. You can get some great pictures of your dog interacting with canine peers. Try to go on a sunny day so you can use a fast shutter speed to really catch the pups in action.

11. Practice at Home

If you have pets or houseplants, take pictures of them. Things in your own home are great to photograph because you can alter the surroundings for your shot. When photographing animals, focus on capturing their personality. The best way to showcase the uniqueness of your pet is to capture them when they are displaying their most dominant traits. Once you’ve mastered that, your photos will really show what makes your pet so special.

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