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Ten Tips for Outdoor Photography

Even though Washington's backcountry is filled with awesome scenery, sometimes it's not so easy translate that beauty into an awesome photo. To help you with your outdoor photography, professional photographer Mike Matson shares his top ten tips for good outdoor photos.

Dave Hogan's photo of a crab on the Olympic wilderness Coast won a first prize in WTA's 2009 Northwest Exposure photo contest.
First Place Flora and Fauna, 2010 Northwest Exposure Photo Contest. Fern macro taken in Olympic National Park by Kathy Fournier.
Even though Washington's backcountry is filled with awesome scenery, sometimes it's not so easy translate that beauty into an awesome photo. Getting a good outdoor shot requires practice and patience. You might get lucky and snap an award-winning photo, but more often than not, a great photo is a combination of careful planning and good timing.

>> Got a great photo? Submit it to Washington Trails Association's Northwest Exposure Photo Contest - accepting entries from mid-August to mid-October each year.

To help you with your outdoor photography, professional photographer Mike Matson shares his Top Ten Tips:

  1. Carry a tripod. The easiest way to improve your photographs is to use a tripod. You'll get clearer photos, and a slower shutter speed can allow you to take a deeper depth of focus.
  2. Shoot during the "magic hour." Plan your hikes around good light. The hours at the beginning and end of the day will yield exceptional photos. The rest of the day pales in comparison.
  3. Use supplemental lighting. Sometimes nature's lighting isn't the best for photography. Simple, supplemental lighting from fill-flash, reflectors, and even strobes can do wonders for your photos.
    Rule of Thirds
    An example of composing a photo using the 'rule of thirds.'
  4. Avoid the "bullseye." When composing your photo, throw things off center on purpose. Use the "rule of thirds," which imagines your photo divided into a three-by-three grid, with the horizon and important elements of the photo found within or along the lines of that grid.
  5. Less is more. Simplify your photos. Pick out the most important element you see and focus in on it.
  6. Add a human touch. Humans are part of the landscape, so don't be afraid to include them in your outdoor photos. People add scale, personality, and interest to landscape photography. Run ahead on trail and take photos of hikers facing the camera rather than walking away.
  7. Catch the action. Try techniques such as panning with a moving subject, slow shutter speeds, fast shutter speeds, or moving the camera on purpose. These can all add the perception of dynamic action to your outdoor photos.
  8. Watch the water. The Cascades and much of the Northwest are defined by moving water. Use a tripod and slow shutter speeds to capture the beautiful, blurred motion of moving water.
  9. Change your point of view. Galen Rowell called this "participatory photography." Finding new perspectives is one way to boost the creativity of your photos. Try a chest harness, an extension arm, or helmet cam to get a different point of view. Or simply crouch low or stand on a rock for a different perspective on a familiar subject.
  10. Add a filter. Two simple, inexpensive filters can often improve your photos. A polarizing filter can deepen the color of the sky and allow you to see into lakes and streams. A graduated neutral density filter, when used properly, can help you avoid the common problem of underexposed forest and overexposed white mountains in the same photo.
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