This fall we're collaborating with several photographers in our hunting, fishing and outdoor community to bring you their insights for taking better images in the field.Taking photos that capture the spirit of our public lands and waters - and the experiences we have on them - is essential in communicating the value of our wild landscapes and the richness of our outdoor pursuits to the greater public. Whether you choose to publish your images in your own channels or support BHA's mission by submitting them to the 2020 Public Land Owner Photo Contest, we hope you enjoy this series. In this installment we hear from Sam Soholt, a Colorado-based professional outdoor photographer, videographer and public lands advocate. He has worked with and produced content for some of hunting's biggest brands including BHA partners Gerber and onX.
Photo and article by Sam Soholt
I have been lucky enough to be a freelance photographer for almost a decade. The career has taken me to some of the most gorgeous places on the planet, including a decent swath of our American public lands. There is little doubt that my time spent on public lands led me to life of activism promoting the importance of protecting and improving these lands for generations to come.
Over the years, as I’ve striven to hone my craft and become a better photographer, there are a few common themes that prove themselves consistent in the making of a good photo. I will do my best to cover some of those here, and hopefully you can take some of those insights and create some amazing imagery of your own.
I have broken the approach down into five tips and tactics to keep in mind while you’re in the field and searching for that next great photo.
1) Tell the story
In my mind, this is the most important, and the most challenging tip. I may have an unfair advantage, because I started out as a videographer and transitioned to almost all photography. My time shooting video forced me to always be thinking about the story I was trying to tell and all of the shots I needed to make that happen. Well, if you think about it, you are trying to do the same thing with a photo, but you only get one frame to make it happen.
That is where the challenge comes in. You could take a whole series of photos to tell the story, but if you truly want to pull someone in to the photo and elicit an emotional response, the photo needs to tell the story or open up the imagination of the viewer to fill in the rest of the gaps to finish their own version of the story.
2) Gear isn’t everything
Full frame or cropped sensor? DSLR or mirrorless? Sony or Canon or Nikon? How many megapixels? F stop? Wide angle or telephoto? You could spend the rest of your life just researching camera gear and which body and lens combo is best for each situation. But I’m here to tell you that I have spent thousands and thousands of dollars on equipment, and it is not the gear that takes a good photo. Some of the best photos I’ve taken to this day are not with my most expensive gear. Sure, having nicer gear may help you shoot better in certain situations, but even entry level cameras are so nice at this point relative to anything that was on the market even 10 years ago that it is up to the photographer to create a great photo.
3) Keep the basics in mind
A great photo doesn’t necessarily mean reinventing the wheel. If you keep a few basic photo “rules” (I put that in quotations because I encourage breaking the rules in the name of a creative shot) in mind, it will allow you to focus on really creating a great image. Two of the most important basics to always be aware of are composition and exposure.
Composition includes things like the rule of thirds and deciding which elements of the scene to keep in frame and which ones to exclude. Here is a great video on the rule of thirds.
And when it comes to deciding which elements of a photo to include and which to leave up, that is entirely up to the photographer. My goal is always to capture or create an image as I see it through my own eyes. I may leave some of the scene in front of me out of the actual photo, because it is irrelevant to the story I’m trying to tell with the photo. Or I may shift the location from where I’m shooting the photo just to make sure I can include something that is imperative to the story.
When it comes to exposure of an image, you can play around with this a lot. Of course, there is a meter in the camera and for the most part simply adjusting f-stop, shutter speed, and ISO to properly expose the photo will work the majority of the time, but I like to mess around with different exposures, which allows me to change the feeling of the image just based on how the light works into the photo. By being comfortable messing around with the settings, you also will better understand shooting photos in super low light, or super high light, and you'll make more of your shots come together the way you want.
4) See the shot without the camera
The camera is just a tool. A camera no more takes a photo than a hammer builds a house. What I mean is that before you just keep that view finder glued to your eye and press down on the trigger until the SD card can’t keep up any more, have a little intention in the photos you’re trying to take. Look at the scene in front of you. Is it a landscape? Is it a wall tent camp setting? Is it your best friend ripping streamers through a fast patch of water? Now really take a look around and think about angles, which lens to use, what camera settings, etc. etc. before ever shooting a shot. If you can start to see the image before making it happen, I promise it will make you a better photographer. So just get out there and keep shooting until the photo you see in your mind is the photo you see in your view finder.
5) Right place, right time
Most of the time, and there are exceptions to this, a good photo opportunity doesn’t come to you. You need to go out and find it. Above and beyond that, you need to be ready to capture it. So it might be annoying to have a heavy camera in your hand all day when you are out there enjoying our public lands, but you never know when the moment you’ve been waiting for will come along. A break in the clouds illuminating a certain peak, or an elk cresting the ridge line, or a pair of bull canvasback breaking into the decoys all happen in a split second, and it’s hard to take much more than a mental image if your camera is jammed in your pack.
With any luck, a few of these tips will resonate with you when you’re out in the woods, and I can’t wait to see some of the images you all capture for this photo contest.
If we can collectively continue to promote the importance and beauty of our public lands through the medium of photography, I have no doubt in my mind that we can protect them for generations to come.
*To see more of Sam's work follow him on Instagram at @samsoholt.