With wild critters, unspoiled mountain views and historic buildings everywhere you look, it’s hard to take a bad photo at Philmont Scout Ranch.
Taking a truly great photo, though? That requires more than simply opening the camera app and tapping your screen.
Moose Peterson knows the landscape of wildlife photography well. The Nikon Ambassador has been taking exceptional photos of natural places and wild creatures for more than 40 years. His work has appeared in more than 140 magazines, and he has published 29 books.
He’s also an accomplished instructor, eager to share what he’s learned as a professional photographer with skilled amateurs who can spot the critical differences between a good and a great photo.
We asked Moose to share five ways that anyone can elevate their wildlife photography game. One of those tips: attend Moose’s photo workshop this fall at the Philmont Training Center in New Mexico.
The course, called “Scouting the New Mexico Landscape with Your Camera: History, Lands, & Wildlife with Moose Peterson,” features immersive classroom sessions and exciting backcountry photo safaris at one of the most photogenic places on the planet.
“Scouting the New Mexico Landscape with Your Camera” will be held from Sept. 19 to 25, and registration is now open.
Tip 1: Get the light right.
“It’s all about light, but that’s the challenge, right?” Moose says. “Using light to improve your photography is every photographer’s quest.”
Seeing the light in a new way requires practice, but you don’t need a fancy light meter to do it well. Moose says you have everything you need in the palm of your hand.
“That’s right, just start looking at your hand in every light you see,” he says. “You know your hand. You know its cuts, scratches, lines, every inch of it. How does the story of your hand play out in the light you’re seeing it in?”
By starting there and applying what you see to your scene, you’ll notice a rapid improvement in your photography.
Tip 2: Stay focused.
Most people think of depth of field when considering which f-stop to use. Photographers know that a smaller f-stop number results in a shallower depth of field, typically meaning the background is blurred and the foreground is sharp.
But Moose likes to think of depth of field as “depth of focus.”
“That really helps me, because it causes me to ask the question of myself, ‘Just how much do I need in focus to visually tell my story?’” he says. “Try changing up the question and then answer it for your story, and you’ll quickly find the best f-stop for that moment.”
Tip 3: Set your alarm clock.
Waking up early is for the birds — and the photographers.
“Greeting the sun doesn’t guarantee a great photograph, but it will put a song in your heart at the very least,” Moose says. “Nine times out of 10, greeting the sun will bring back a photograph all the rest of the photographers won’t have.”
Grabbing that early morning photo requires planning your time — time to get up, get coffee, get gear, get in the car, drive and walk to be in place “before the sun thinks about showing itself,” Moose says.
“Yes, it’s zero-dark 30, but the reward of that marvelous photograph over a great breakfast? Nothing beats it,” Moose says.
Tip 4: Simple is best.
Moose believes the acronym KISS — “Keep It Simple, Stupid” — was written for photographers.
“KISS applies to every aspect of our photography,” he says. “From adventures to gear to post-processing.”
When you keep it simple, it’s easy to identify and remember both the failures and the successes. As you ramp up the complexity, it becomes increasingly harder to pick out what went right (and wrong).
“With KISS, we can avoid the failures, though we learn from them, and repeat the successes,” Moose says. “It’s one of the best ways to improve your photography.”
Tip 5: Join Moose this September.
Moose looks forward to meeting other photographers at the Philmont Training Center this September.
The course costs $995, which includes course materials and fees, canvas terrace tent housing, meals and evening programs.
Through excursions into the backcountry, participants will enjoy expert, personalized instruction as they photograph the amazing scenery and wildlife of Philmont.
“The No. 1 way to improve your photography is to always have fun, and that’s what we’re going to have,” Moose says. “At the same time, we are going to cover basic to advanced behind-the-camera skills and the computer tools and techniques to help you along your photographic path.”
And because the workshop is being held at Philmont, you’ll never run out of incredible sights in your viewfinder.
“With amazing subjects, you will play with light and tell stories you might not thought possible,” Moose says. “So come and join us!”