A beginner's guide to photographing wild places

First published:
April 28, 2021
July 28, 2023

A beginner's guide to photographing wild places

First published:
April 28, 2021
July 28, 2023

Cover image by Jaromir Chalabala

Capturing wild places is one of the most enjoyable photography experiences you can have

Whether you are going on a day hike in the the great outdoors or spending a few nights camping under the stars, you will want to take your camera and capture your adventures. It can be a hugely rewarding experience to photograph somewhere in challenging conditions–and those hard to reach locations make great subjects for wall art and editorial photography.

‘Wild places’
is a broad term used to describe a whole range of environments in the natural world. It can include anything from plains and plateaus to vast deserts, raw landscapes like open moorlands and mountain ranges, and extremities such as tundra and rainforest. You may be wondering, how you can do these amazing locations justice with your camera? Well here are our top tips for getting those stunning photos of wild places.

Do your research 

To get the most out of a visit to a wild place is to plan your trip effectively beforehand. First, decide where you want to go (more on that below) and for how long. I recommend you do your research based on the type of shots you want to photograph.

For example, if photographing mountain landscapes is your subject of choice, research places where the mountains are accessible, and also the practicalities of getting there and staying there. Sites like Skyscanner are excellent for seeing where you can get to from your area.

Driving around the Petrified Forest National Park in New Mexico
If you're looking to venture somewhere closer to home for your trip into the wild - try planning a route with Google Maps. Image by Sarah Hardy
f7 | 1/800s | 16mm

Consider the seasons 

You will also want to consider the time of year as the seasons can dramatically change the look and feel of a wild place. For example, if you want to capture snow-capped mountains, then the preferred time of year to visit that location might be during the Winter or early Spring. However, bear in mind this could also be a challenging time to wild camp (if you were planning on doing that too), so again, make sure you’ve thoroughly researched the destination before heading out.

If you are looking to shoot in warmer weather, generally the Summer season will be a safe bet. And getting to some of the more remote places is easier in the Summer, as some locations can be inaccessible in Winter. You’ll also have the added bonus of visiting when vegetation is in full bloom.

Light shining through the trees in Winter at Yosemite National Park, USA
The seasons will play a big role in where and what you want to photograph - so pay attention to this when planning your trip
f8 | 1/40 sec | ISO 100

Pinpointing locations

When considering locations for your photographs, there are some incredible destinations to visit. And even just looking for places to photograph can be an enjoyable part of the process. Google Maps and traditional maps (like OS maps in the UK) are ideal tools to scout out wild places. And you can even use Google Street View to get a closer look at what somewhere looks like without even being there.

A lot of inspiration can also be found in literature, such as in magazines like National Geographic, in travel writing journals and also from TV documentaries and nature programmes like Natural World.

Map view of the Lake District, England
Street view of the Lake District, England
Use Google Maps and Google Street View to find locations that you want to photograph. The level of information provided can be incredible–as seen here with these screenshots when using Maps to explore England's Lake District

Sample subjects 

The natural beauty of the earth is breathtaking and offers a plethora of wonderful landscapes for a photographer to indulge in. Popular subjects include forests, wildflowers, mountains, rivers, lakes, wetlands and swamps. Even desert and vast open tundra or savannah–depending on where you are in the world.

Hidden waterfall in County Wicklow, Ireland
Remote, untamed regions offer a whole range of natural subjects to shoot that have largely been untouched by human activity. 'The hidden waterfall in County Wicklow' by Derek O Bryan

For more inspiration, head over to the dedicated Nature Category in Picfair's Marketplace to see thousands of beautiful shots.

Examples of wild places to photograph 

Where you choose to visit will mainly depend on your interests and what you enjoy photographing. But no matter what you're looking to photograph, there are a host of incredible wild places for it. In the UK, destinations such as the Scottish Highlands, Lake District and Snowdonia are highly appealing wild places offering many photographic opportunities.

View of lakes and mountains in the Lake District, England
England's Lake District is a great place to take your first venture into the wild - it offers a spectacular range of scenery but is also easily accessible
f16 | 1/50 sec | ISO 200

Europe has some great wild places too, you could visit the Alps in France, Italy or Switzerland. You could even venture into the Arctic Circle in northern Scandinavia. 

An incredible wild, untamed place in North America is the Columbia Plateau that stretches across parts of Washington, Oregon and Idaho. There is also the Rocky Mountains and its natural paradise of mountain ranges. Oceania is home to some extremely photogenic locations including Uluru and Ayers Rock in the Northern Territory of Australia and Mount Cook and the Southern Alps in New Zealand, for example.

View over Lake Bled, Slovenia
The Julian Alps, which include Lake Bled and its surrounding mountains in Slovenia are a spectacular place to discover wild locations
f8 1/45s | ISO 100
Editor's Tip:

For a truly wild and less-visited location in the UK, head to the North Pennines - dubbed as ‘England’s Last Wilderness'.

Tap into your own (local) knowledge 

Wild places don’t have to be exotic or faraway locations. Take advantage of the fact you may know an area nearby particularly well. Is there a wild place close to home that you can go and photograph? This could somewhere you frequently visit or a short drive away such as a nearby woodland or coastline.

Going into the wild

When going into the wild make sure you have a plan for how long your trip will be, and how much time you'll have to take photos. You may prefer to do day hikes, for example, or spend several nights in the wilderness. If you decide to pitch a tent, check in advance that wild camping is allowed in the place you intend to visit and make sure you prepare well for overnight camping trips.

While wild camping involves more planning and equipment, it’ll open up a greater range of photographic opportunities. It means you’ll be there as the light changes, and you’ll be able to capture sunrises and sunsets and the magical Blue Hour on location. As wild locations are naturally further away from artificial light sources, they can make incredible spots for astrophotography too.

Wild camping in the Peak District, England
When staying overnight think about the different environments you may encounter and make sure you have sufficient ways to pitch your tent. Pegs will work well on soft ground but these will be less effective on hard surfaces in wild places. Image by Kieran Metcalfe
f10 | 30s | 11mm

Be prepared for all weathers

When venturing into the wild you will need to be ready for all weathers as any eventuality can occur when you are out and about in wild places. I found myself out hiking in the Swiss Alps a few years ago where I experienced four seasons in one day with rain, snow, fog and sunshine in the space of a few hours.

Young photographer holding camera against Lake Braies and mountains during sunrise. Dolomites, Italy
The weather can be hugely unpredictable out in the wild, so it is important to have enough supplies, such as food food and water with you in case you get caught out by adverse weather changes. Image by Jaromir Chalabala
f10 | 1/320s | 23mm

You will feel more comfortable in the knowledge you have enough supplies in worst-case scenarios, for example that you get stranded on a mountain if thick fog were to roll in and you were unable to descend. Also, be sure to check the weather before you set off, just in case there are any extreme weather warnings in place.

Dress appropriately & be safe

Always dress appropriately if you’re photographing wild places. Wear layers and take extra layers (tops and trousers) with you to adapt to the changing conditions. Being able to adjust your layering system accordingly will make you feel much more comfortable when out in the field.

Be aware that you are likely to be photographing in a remote location when photographing wild places so you will need to ensure your safety is paramount. Make sure you tell people where you are going and how long you plan to be so they are in the know of your whereabouts and expected return times. If you are out in the wild for long periods, make sure you bring a portable phone charger, flash light, head lamp and a first aid kit.

Camera protection

To capture the best photos when in the wild, you will need to make sure your camera is protected from the elements. Good camera weather sealing is important to prevent water from leaking inside your camera in rainy conditions. Canon and Nikon cameras are particularly well-known for their built in weather sealing. Also, you will need a waterproof bag or container to carry and store your camera gear when you are out and about. I would advise bringing plenty of microfibre cloths to wipe the lens, and a spare battery as battery performance can be affected by continued use and extreme temperatures - particularly cold weather.

Equipment & camera settings

Travel light, especially if you are going long distances. Only take the kit you think you will need, which will usually just be your a camera and lens. A long zoom lens will be useful for shooting mountain tops from a distance while a wide angle lens will be a great choice for capturing a wider expanse of the dramatic scenery around you.

Another consideration when capturing wild places is the camera settings to use. There is no set formula, but as a general rule, you will want to use a relatively small aperture (such as f8 or above) in order to get most of the elements of your frame into focus. A shutter speed of 1/100 second or more will be necessary to achieve a sharp shot if you're handholding the camera. Learn more about shutter speeds with our dedicated guide here.

Editor's tip:

If you have the space and are happy to carry a bulkier item, consider bringing a compact tripod with you. Carrying a tripod will open up more photographic opportunities, as you'll be able to take longer exposure shots on location (see image below).

Read our guide to long exposure photography here.

Long Exposure at Wast Water in the Lake District England
1st January 2021, long exposure at Wastwater, Lake District, England
Image by Philip Mowbray
f16 | 30s | 15mm

Next steps

When adventuring in the wild, make sure you plan well and are prepared for the experience. Remember, to pack enough sustenance for your journey, bring appropriate clothing, and protect yourself and your camera. But above all–enjoy getting out there and photographing these wild places!

All images by Jeremy Flint unless otherwise stated.

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