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5 tips for taking better nature photos

Dec 26, 2019 03:20PM ● By Editor

All photos: Steve Kohls


By Steve Hoffman from The Brainerd Dispatch - December 26, 2019 

Steve Kohls has worked as a photographer at the Brainerd Dispatch for 44 years. That kind of tenure is rare in the newspaper business, but Kohls said the area provides so much variety that he’s never been bored.

“I do something different every day,” Kohls said. “I shoot underwater video at the mine pits during summer, shoot swans in the open water above the Gull Dam in the winter and everything in between. I love the seasons, the variety of landscapes and, of course, all the water.”


 Including people in a landscape shot makes the image more interesting. Steve Kohls said it helps viewers identify with the subject and imagine themselves in the scene. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Include people in outdoor photos

“I capture people in landscape images whenever I can,” Kohls said. “People make almost any image more interesting and allow viewers to identify with your subject. Even if they aren't a cross-country skier, they can imagine themselves in the scene. 

“My favorite images capture a slice of Americana. A group of people fishing from the river bank. Kids splashing in the lake. Those kinds of images tell a story and take me back to my own childhood on a farm in western Minnesota.”

Strive to show viewers an unexpected perspective of your subject Steve Kohls shot this macro-style photo of an ice formation with a long telephoto lens Steve Kohls  Brainerd Dispatch
Strive to show viewers an unexpected perspective of your subject. Steve Kohls shot this macro-style photo of an ice formation with a long telephoto lens. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Cultivate sources

“Maybe it’s my newspaper background, but I’m always looking to connect with people who can offer tips about unique photo opportunities,” Kohls said. “I’ve gotten to know all of the conservation officers in my area, for example, and asked them to let me know if they come across something unusual.

“When someone does offer you a tip, share a few of your photos with them. If a neighbor calls to alert you to the awesome sunset over the lake, send them an image or two. Most people will appreciate the gesture and look for more opportunities to share.”

Take advantage of extremes

“I try to be outside on the coldest day of the year,” Kohls said. “I love photographing frosty mornings. Same when a storm is rolling in. Get up early and get outside. Don’t think about it — just get up and get out. You might be amazed at what you see.

Steve Kohls recommends photographers have an idea of what they want to shoot when they arrive at their destination but to not get locked in You never know what opportunities will arise in the outdoors Steve Kohls  Brainerd Dispatch
Steve Kohls recommends photographers have an idea of what they want to shoot when they arrive at their destination, but to not get locked in. You never know what opportunities will arise in the outdoors. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

“I take a similar approach with lenses. I don’t own a 50 mm lens. I like long telephoto lenses. I like wide-angle lenses. I like macro lenses for close-up photography. I try hard not to take ordinary photos — I want to show viewers something unexpected.”

Spend money on your equipment

“No photographer regrets buying the best gear they can afford,” Kohls said. “Good camera bodies are a pleasure to use. Good lenses capture sharper images than poor lenses. The old adage ‘you get what you pay for’ definitely applies to camera gear.

“But that doesn’t mean the most expensive gear is the best. I used a 500 mm f/4 prime lens for many years — until the manufacturer could no longer repair it. I replaced it with a 500 mm f/5.6 (slower) lens that is much lighter and shoots amazingly sharp images. It’s still expensive at $3,400, but much less than the $9,000 lens it replaced.”

Experiment with your lenses to discover the kind of scenic images you find pleasing Steve Kohls took this photo of the upper Mississippi River with a wide-angle lens Steve Kohls  Brainerd Dispatch
Experiment with your lenses to discover the kind of scenic images you find pleasing. Steve Kohls took this photo of the upper Mississippi River with a wide-angle lens. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Read photography magazines

“I read a variety of magazines, but generally not the mainstream titles,” Kohls said. “A German magazine, one devoted to black-and-white photography and other offbeat titles. It’s a great way to build new perspectives and find inspiration in the work of other photographers.

“And speaking of black and white, many of my images are processed in black and white with a bit of color, especially during winter. An image with proper contrast and tone will look good in black and white. Work on the fundamentals before fine-tuning color.”


To read the original article and see related reporting, follow this link to The Brainerd Dispatch website. https://www.brainerddispatch.com/sports/outdoors/4832010-5-tips-for-taking-better-nature-photos

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