Ten Rad Nature Outdoor Phone Photography Tips For Social Media

 New Zealand Wildflowers by Aaron Courter

New Zealand Wildflowers by Aaron Courter

If you've been following my Instagram for a while then you know that one of my favorite things to do is escape to nature. I'm lucky that I live in an area of the country where amazing hikes are only a quick drive away.  While I was hiking around Banff I realized that a photo can never do justice to all the amazingness that Banff National Park is in person.  It prompted me to think about how I can take better photos with my phone in an attempt to capture the majesty of Mother Nature. 

My brand photographer's husband always takes these beautiful nature photos on their hikes so I asked him if he would be interested in offering some of his tips to my readers.

Without further ado, here is Aaron Courter of Aaron Courter Photography.

If you want an incredible outdoorsy Instagram feed, you may need to break a sweat!  Walking out to a visitors platform or designated lookout point is a great start but some of the most incredible things to experience will have you walking a bit deeper into the forest. 

Let’s take the Oneonta Gorge for example. To get to this magical spot you have to scramble an obstacle course of tangled logs and then wade through an ice cold waist-deep river. Worth it? Totally, even if you accidentally drop your phone in the water. 

Here are a few tips you can take with you on your adventure:

1. Lighting is one of the most important things to consider what chasing that scenery. Nature doesn’t sleep in like we do and rarely does the magic happen at noon. In the early morning or evening, the colors get soft, vibrant and more even for your photo. 

2. Leave Early. Not only will you get better light but you will also beat crowds of people, especially if you are doing a popular hike. Be selfish and the first one to drink it all in!

3. Take the iPhone photo now, edit it later. There are so many apps out there, and so many options. Get the exposure right, snap the photo, and then just be present in the moment. You don’t need to upload it right away.

4. Get lower, get higher. 99% of the Instagram photos you’ll see from a specific vantage point will be 5-6 feet high. Get on the ground and see how the perspective is different. Climb a tree, walk backward up the hill, or dip it in the water if your phone is water-resistant.

5. Prepare for the trip. Check your sunrise and sunset times on your weather app for the light. There are also some great apps that get more specific for weather, shadows and light (Lightrac, Goldenhour, Dark Skies) that are very precise.

6. Don’t be afraid of weather. Sometimes there’s drama in rain or snow that you don’t see when everything is just right. Nature is rugged and powerful so embrace her dark side.

7. If you saw it on Instagram already, do something different. Anything.

8. Shoot through something. Put a branch a foot away from your phone camera when you’re photographing the mountain. Vignette the waterfall with a fern. Use the side mirror on your car. Get the mountain reflection on the lake without the mountain. 

9. Get to know your camera app. For the iPhone, single tap for your on what you want in focus, then press and hold to adjust the exposure and lock it in. iPhone cameras are smart but we are smarter, so learn how to boss it around. 

10.  Rules are meant to be broken occasionally, but for the love of all that is holy in nature, don’t zoom in. The photo quality degrades quickly. Force yourself to learn good composition instead and move with your feet. 



What is your favorite hike in Oregon?

I won’t tell you my favorite, but my second favorite hike is probably Mt. Thielson in the Umpqua National Forest. The trail takes you up to a mountain peak that feels about 30 feet wide and breathtaking views of the Cascades. The Rowena Crest area is also beautiful in April and May with wildflowers and views of the mountains.

I know that you recently went to Patagonia, as a bucket list item, why was Patagonia a place that you wanted to go? 

I always knew their jackets were warm so I wanted to see where they were made. I was severely disappointed when I found that Patagonia was just a region in Argentina & Chile filled with rugged, remote mountains, incredible wildlife and delicious food.

What is a good family friendly hike in the Portland Metro area that still has excellent Instagramability?

I’m not sure about Instagramability, but there is so much to see in Forest Park, from the Washington Park side to the far end past Germantown road. Also, the book Portland Hill Walks, by Laura Foster is fantastic, with great hikes close in and up the west hills.

Do you ever shoot hiking photos with your iPhone or just with your fancy cameras?

I’m very particular and I love my Fujifilm X series cameras that are always with me. They are small, light, simple and do exactly what I want them to. I would rather be happy with the image quality and have the experience of a real camera than just using an iPhone. I’m used to looking at photos close up, and iPhone photos don’t usually cut it for me. I always admire what people can do with iPhones. The same photo principles apply!

What’s one hike you’ve seen on Instagram that you now want to do?

If I’ve seen it on Instagram, I probably don’t want to do it that much. But I do use Instagram to see what other people have seen, and what the light may look like at certain times of day or weather.

How do you find out about hiking spots? 

Recommendations from friends are helpful or if I'm looking for a new hike, or www.oregonhikers.org always has good info!

After you've edited your rad photos don't forget to add the location tags when you post them to your social media.