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Beginner's guide to taking better trail shots. (Even with your smartphone)

Hello my dear friends! I really wanted to make this post for you beginners out there who would absolutely LOVE to start taking better photos in nature. Even if you only have a smartphone and no professional gear these tips will be helpful to you!

#1 Timing is everything

I personally don't see myself as that amazing of a photographer but just a guy who follows a couple of simple rules. Being in the right place at the right time is 90% of capturing amazing imagery!

As a general rule of thumb you want to go into nature early in the morning! Sorry if you aren't a morning person but this is important for a few reasons!

The first reason is the lighting is going to be very soft and flattering which is what you want in your nature photos, it's also going to be your best chance to see fog if that's what your going for.

The second reason is there will be a lot less people on the trail so you won't have to keep stopping to let people pass before you can snap away at the scene you are trying to capture.

Third reason...and i know what you might be thinking. What about taking photos around sunset? Isn't the light soft and flattering at that time as well? The answer is yes but the reason I don't recommend taking photos before sunset in the woods is primarily for safety and also the amount of people that are on the trail. If it's starting to get dark that means the trail is way harder to see and can increase your chance of injury. There's also a higher probability of crowds of people hurrying to get back to their cars before the sun sets (again people getting in the way of the shot you want).

This is why i just recommend people to go early in the morning for your best opportunity to take great photos in nature.

#2 Use a wide angle lens so you can capture the entire scene. (All photos in this post shot at 17mm)

The great thing about smartphones is they all come with a wide angle lens which is great for capturing an entire scene! If your using a DSLR or similar I recommend using 14-35mm for the vast majority of your nature photos if your main focus is going to be trail, or mostly scenery shots!

Almost all of my trail shots are portrait (vertical). The reason for this is because i want to showcase the height of the trees in the forest. Epic trail shots are almost always shot this way for that reason(take a look at the best trail shots on Instagram and you'll see what I mean). It provides more interest and more depth in the photo. Of course this isn't ALWAYS the case but it is a general rule of thumb.


You'll notice right away that the second photo was taken in landscape mode. It's still a good photo but when you compare it to the top photo it doesn't even compete, it's as if i cropped it and cut off the best parts.

Shooting vertical gets you a lot more of the trail in the photo and the leaning tree is a huge point of interest as well. This is important because the trail starts at the very bottom of the photo and leads into the woods ahead into that dreamy fog!

#3 Take your time and give your viewers something to look at.

Slow down! I am serious. Take a few steps too far and that can ruin your shot. Practice taking photos of trails at different angles. Step to your left, to your right and see which angle looks the best. Don't forget to raise your camera above your head or duck down as well!

Take your time to see where the trail ahead leads to. Is there anything of interest on the sides? A cool leaning tree or a log? Anything?

The most important part of your image is your focal point. Where is your trail leading to?

After you've decided you like where the trail leads to, now we need to decide interest.

What's around the leading line that makes the photo interesting? (Fog, sunburst, cool trees, logs, or other things of interest besides a bare trailhead with zero cool things around it..)

Curved or angled lines are almost always more interesting then a line going straight. Of course this is all depending on what else is in the photo. Is it foggy? Is it sunny or is there anything interesting at all to look at? These things all matter. An epic trail shot typically consists of a great leading line heading somewhere mysterious/magical or "interesting", some fog and some type of soft light coming through from the sun.

These things aren't needed however to get a great composed photograph. Just start off simple and work your way up, keep practicing! Here's an example of a basic leading line with fog ahead.

Nothing interesting on the sides at all. The leading line is very basic and goes right into the fog ahead. If you're already here that's GREAT. All you need to start doing now is looking for more things to add interest to your photo to make it epic.

Bonus tip:

Editing can make a very boring photo look amazing even if there isn't a whole lot going on.

Forest Park
Forest Park

more on that in another post! I hope these tips helped you out! Please feel free to message me with any questions you guys might have!

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