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James’ Top Tips for Nature Photography

Did you know Topargee’s very own Sales Manager, James Bush, is also an avid photographer? Known to some as Mr JD Bush, he will often pack up his camera gear and camping equipment, hike to a beautiful location and patiently work out how best to capture it. Since many of our customers are big fans of exploring the great outdoors, we thought we’d ask James for some of his top nature photography tips.

What inspired you to become a nature photographer and how did you get started?

I was more into sports at school but there was a pretty girl doing art and I decided to give it a go. It turned out I was actually quite good at it!

From there, I started taking photos of people. I had a bit of a knack for building rapport and getting people to relax in front of the camera. I really enjoyed it. People have a strange idea of what they should do in a photo. Posing with a duckface doesn’t actually make you look cute, no matter what you think! I find if you ask questions, listen carefully and get people talking, they start to feel a bit more comfortable and their personalities start to shine through. That’s when you get the best photos, when a person is just being themselves more naturally.

I then started taking my camera with me when I went on hikes, bike rides and on boats. It allowed me to explore different techniques a little more.

What camera equipment do you use and what advice would you give to someone just starting out in terms of equipment?

Get something you will use and use what you already have. A lot of people go out and buy an expensive camera and then it sits in a bag at home because it’s too heavy or you can’t be bothered to take it out with you. You don’t need an expensive camera if a smartphone will serve your needs.

I use a Nikon camera because it’s what I’m familiar with. It’s a bit like phones, if you have an iPhone you aren’t great at operating an Android phone.

I also think about the kinds of photos I want to take and then research the gear I will need. I use GoPros, drones, the Nikon mirrorless camera and different lenses depending on the location.

When I go hiking, I have to think carefully about what I pack. I set myself a limit of 25 kg. My camera gear already weighs quite a lot so I don’t want to be carrying bulky camping gear too. I sourced a lot of the products we sell at Topargee based on this need for lightweight equipment. Normal camping gear is just too heavy. For example, a North Face tent weighs 2 kg but the Swammock weighs 1.3 kg and I can sleep in it perfectly. If I pack all of the Topargee gear it weighs under 4 kg, which makes all the difference.

How do you find the best locations and times to capture your nature photographs, and what factors do you consider when selecting your subject matter?

When I first started, I would turn up at the destination and work it out from there but now with the internet, you can plan more easily. I look the location up online and try to understand what the best time of day or night might be.

It’s all about location. Go where it’s beautiful. Go where the lighting is good. Keep in mind that when you take photos you’re painting with light. I went to Coffs Harbour last weekend and the people I was with were asking me why I wasn’t taking photos at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. The light wasn’t good so the photos wouldn’t have been great and the location wasn’t very inspiring. I would have just ended up with photos that weren’t unique in any way.

I love to shoot the stars and I am always seeking out dark skies away from light pollution. Light pollution is unbelievably prolific. I loved travelling to Tassie because there were no street lights! You could actually see the stars and the Milky Way at night.

Can you talk about your creative process when shooting in nature and how you decide on the composition and framing of your shots?

One of the most important things is that you need to tell a story about where you are in the moment. Anyone can snap a photo of the ocean. You need to foreground it with something to give it depth. Pick a mountain range, landmark, group of rocks or breakwall. Ideally include something local in the frame.

What are some common mistakes that you see beginners make in nature photography and how can they be avoided?

A lot of people don’t think too much about what they are photographing. They don’t consider the timing and the lighting. You have to really think about when a location might look its best.

However, sometimes when I arrive at a location, I only have an hour and the light isn’t great. Instead of throwing my hands up in the air, turning around and going home, I experiment with techniques to make the photos more interesting. For example, I might use a long exposure to make the clouds sharper.

To increase your ability to experiment in these types of situations, I highly recommend choosing one technique you’re interested in and practising it over and over again. Then once you feel like you’ve got a good handle on it, choose another technique and refine that. That way, when you are out and about taking photos you have a few different skills in your tool box that you can draw on in the moment. You’re more likely to capture something interesting. It’s like cooking, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes your muffins come out of the oven perfectly baked and other times they come out a little dry, even though you didn’t change a thing.

My last tip is to photograph for you, not for everybody else. Don’t worry about what will look good on Instagram.

How do you handle challenging weather conditions or unexpected events that may occur during a shoot?

If something is going differently to what you expected, run with it. Use it.

For example, if you’re out shooting a portrait and a storm rolls in, think about what it’s bringing you. The puddles will create really interesting reflective surfaces or maybe the subject will get a little wet and that will make for a fun photo.

Look around and see what you can use. This is when it helps to have a host of different techniques in your toolbox that you can whip out at any time.

What post-processing techniques do you use to enhance your nature photographs and how do you strike a balance between maintaining the authenticity of the scene and creating a visually compelling image?

One of my pet hates is over-processed images. We seem to be attracted to what is unreal and alter images until they no longer look authentic.

I like to be able to go to a location and photograph it at its best. I shoot using raw files as this captures more information. The raw file is like a negative that needs to be processed and I can adjust it so the scene appears as I remember it. A jpeg file taken on your phone has been modified automatically and may not accurately reflect what you saw at the time.

I don’t use Photoshop as I prefer Lightroom.

How do you stay motivated and inspired to continue exploring and capturing the natural world through your photography?

I lean on other photographers. I watch mini-series documentaries, like SmugMug Films, and tutorials.

What is your favourite photograph you have taken in nature, and what is the story behind it?

A mate and I were hiking the Whitsunday Cairn and it was about 3.5 hours to the top. At the summit there is a beautiful view of the rolling mountains. I decided I wanted to stay for the blue hour (the hour after sunset) and took a panorama shot. We had to hike 2.5 hours downhill in the dark afterwards but it was worth it.

You can see more of James’ photography on Instagram, Youtube and his website.

What are you waiting for? Get out there and start capturing the beauty of nature! Be sure to check out our Adventure Range available online for lightweight camping equipment you can take with you.

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