As an avid filmmaker and photographer with 30 years of experience behind the lens, Dudley has worked with everything from grizzly bears and sequoia trees to water quality scientists and cowboys. Along the way, he’s written a few books as well, including Black and Brown Faces in America’s Wild Places and What’s That Wildflower? A Beginner’s Guide to Wildflowers.
Check out Dudley’s tips to capture better photos when you’re outside, no matter what kind of camera you have:
Feel the photo
I’m always mindful of the need to have an emotional response to some of the images I’m taking. If I feel nothing when I click the shutter, I can’t really expect the viewer to feel anything either. Photos that feature inclement weather are a strong one… snow storms, raging rain storms on water… there is natural power in those events, and I try to capture that.
Be prepared to get very dirty
Where public land regulations allow, I like to go where the animals go, sometimes even following wild game trails. I like immersive perspectives. Sometimes that means rolling in the dirt, laying on my belly, or being knee deep in a river. Embrace the space, and be prepared to see better photos.
Slow down your body and mind, and tune into nature on nature’s time. When you’re out there, listen and look closely. That’s when the great photos start. You’ll notice the way light falls on things, textures of plants, smaller insects, shapes, and natural patterns. For me it’s all so therapeutic. Going birding, sitting by the water, or on a slow hike in the woods are good ways to practice patience. They force you to slow down and be present.
A camera is a camera
A camera is nothing more than a tool to show others how you see the world around you. Don’t think you have to buy the latest mirrorless camera and expensive lenses. If you do, be prepared to sell your photos to pay off that gear. Seriously, though, the best camera is the one you have at the time. For many of us, that’s a phone.
Over my three decades of shooting, I’ve used just about every camera manufacturer out there. In 2016, I switched from Canon to Sony. I think Sony is leading the way with their mirrorless cameras. For stills, I shoot the Sony A7 III. For video, I shoot the Sony FX6 cinema camera. I prefer Sony glass but would have no problem picking up Sigma or Tamron glass.
Don’t look through the lens
Sometimes I don’t look through the lens when I click the shutter. I learned this when I was an embedded photographer. I had a 15–30mm lens I later called “The Magic Lens.” I would set it around 15 to 20mm, hold it in front of me, and click the shutter. It didn’t matter how high or low I held it. I’d click the shutter and preview the shot. It was a way to surprise myself.
Bonus tip: Getting started with photography
The easiest way to get into photography is to spend time photographing things you love or are passionate about. Your skills will improve much faster that way. I got into nature photography by way of birds because I’m an avid birder. You could use your phone, an old flea market film camera, or whatever you can find that fits your budget.