HARLINGEN — The only thing better than experiencing the natural beauty of the Rio Grande Valley is capturing it through a lens.
Today is National Nature Photography Day, and many who live here or visit the Valley are drawn by our world-class birding, the National Butterfly Center in Mission or the federal wildlife refuges and want to preserve what they see.
It also draws some world-class photographers, who are willing to share tips on technique, composition and equipment.
“Any of the world birding center sites have great opportunities for photographers,” said Ruth Hoyt, who lives in San Manuel-Linn.
“They’re all across the Valley and they plant the right plants and feed and do things to attract nature.”
The 11th Annual National Nature Photography Day is the brainchild of the North American Nature Photographers Association, of which Hoyt is a charter member.
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Know your camera
Experiment with shooting angles, take pictures you wouldn’t normally take and look for the unexpected. Play around with the settings to vary resolution, brightness, shooting mode and other functions unique to your native camera app. Practice makes perfect.
Get close and fill the viewfinder
Sometimes when you try to capture the big, all-encompassing picture you miss out on a really great photo. When you’re too far away from your subject, you get a tiny, unrecognizable figure and far too much background. Instead, make sure you get close and fill the viewfinder. Avoid zoom, which can reduce the image quality.
Remember the rule of thirds
You might be inclined to place the subject in the center of the frame. As unnatural as it may feel at first, use the rule of thirds instead. The thinking behind the rule of thirds is to break the frame into three equal sections, both horizontally and vertically. Some smartphone cameras have a setting that will place these lines there for you to see as you take the picture. The points where these lines intersect are where you should place points of interest in the frame.
Get the right light
Natural lighting will almost always produce a better shot with realistic color than a photo taken with a camera flash, especially for portrait shots. If it’s cloudy or you’re taking a shot inside, look for strong artificial lights or ways to reflect what little natural light there is. Things like a large piece of white posterboard or a sunshade for your car dashboard can help illuminate your subject.
Take photos with people
A snowy forest or beach at sunset is appealing to the naked eye, but that doesn’t always translate to a great photo. Put people in your pictures. It makes photos more personal, more memorable and gives them a sense of scale and place.
Keep the lens clean
Is that a ghost you see in the picture? Chances are it’s a piece of dirt or dust on your smartphone camera lens. Make sure you keep it clean so that every shot comes out crystal-clear.
Use photo-editing tools
Many smartphones have powerful editing tools and access to apps that help you crop shots, enhance colors, add filters and more. In general, it’s better to crop than zoom and add filters after you took the shot, which all can be done on your smartphone. If you prefer editing on a computer, use a memory card to transfer the photos from your smartphone.