Photography

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A woman takes a photograph in a field in autumn.
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Photo by MDC Staff, courtesy Missouri Department of Conservation.
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Nature photography generally falls into two categories: landscape and wildlife. Both require different equipment and involve different techniques.

While you don't need thousands of dollars of equipment to take decent nature photos, equipment does matter. It is unlikely that you will be able to take great nature photos, particularly wildlife photos, with your smartphone.

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Commercial Photography/Videography Permits
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Photography/Filming on Conservation Areas

Many of the Missouri Department of Conservation’s more than 1,000 conservation and natural areas around the state are popular sites for photographers and videographers. Whether getting a great shot of area wildlife, taking pictures of the landscape, or taking a family photo, conservation areas can offer great places to practice your skills.

Know before you go: In some cases, photography and filming on conservation areas requires a permit.

Do I Need a Commercial Photography Permit?

A Commercial Photography Permit is required for commercial photographers on department areas with an associated fee of $100 annually (expires June 30 each year). Commercial photography is defined as any photography activity that directly or indirectly results in financial benefit or gain, or where money is exchanged in connection with the activity, including professional photography. A Commercial Photography Permit is NOT required for news agencies.

Commercial photographers will also need a no-cost Special Use Permit in certain situations:

  • Special accommodations requested (activities normally not allowed on conservation areas such as after-hour access, vehicles on non-public roads, etc.);
  • Use of a drone;
  • Use of props (larger than an average person could carry);
  • When more than ten (10) people are involved;
  • On MDC areas associated with nature and education centers, staffed ranges, offices, and on the following department areas:
    • Burr Oak Woods Conservation Area
    • Busch (August A.) Memorial Conservation Area
    • Reed (James A.) Memorial Wildlife Area
    • Rockwoods Reservation

Commercial Photography Permit (please allow 10 business days for processing).

Do I Need a Commercial Videography Permit?

A Commercial Videography Permit will be required for all commercial videography on department areas with an associated fee of $500 per day. Commercial videography is defined as any filming activity that directly or indirectly results in financial benefit or gain, or where money is exchanged in connection with the activity, including, but not limited to promotional efforts, television, or documentaries. A Commercial Videography Permit is NOT required for news agencies.

Commercial Videography Permit (please allow 30 days for processing).

Do I Need a Special Use Permit?

  • For non-commercial photography/videography only if seeking to do something not normally allowed on conservation areas (such as after-hours use, large props, vehicles on service roads, etc.).
  • For commercial photography, an additional Special Use Permit is needed in these cases:
    • Special accommodations requested (activities normally not allowed on conservation areas such as after-hour access, vehicles on non-public roads, etc.);
    • Use of an unmanned aerial system (UAS) or drone; o Use of props (larger than an average person could carry);
    • When more than ten (10) people are involved;
    • On department lands associated with nature and education centers, staffed ranges, offices, and on the following department areas:
      • Burr Oak Woods Conservation Area
      • Busch (August A.) Memorial Conservation Area
      • Reed (James A.) Memorial Wildlife Area
      • Rockwoods Reservation
  • There is no fee for a Special Use Permit.
  • Not all requests for special use permits will be granted. Conservation areas are primarily for fishing, hunting, nature observation, and conservation education.
  • More details and to apply for a Special Use Permit (please allow 30 days for processing).
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Landscape Photography
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This category is probably the most accessible to the amateur photographer. It doesn’t require as much specialized equipment as wildlife photography, and landscapes don’t move around, so they are much easier to catch!

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To take a good landscape photo, the only equipment you need is a decent camera with good resolution and a good lens. While it is possible to capture good landscape photos with a point-and-shoot camera, it is important to have a camera with adjustable settings, such as shutter speed and aperture, to improve your chances of success. Adjustable settings allow you to select a small aperture to maximize your depth of field, or select a fast shutter speed to minimize wind movement, or slow shutter speed to emphasize the movement of water in the scene or similar effects.

Cameras with interchangeable lenses or zoom lenses are also helpful, but if you only have one lens, the best choice is a wide-angle lens. The only other piece of equipment that is very helpful, though not essential, is a tripod, which will help you increase your shutter speed and aperture options.

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Two key elements to a successful landscape photo are an interesting scene and light. The first is obvious. Presumably, you are taking the photo because you see a particularly special or beautiful scene that you want to capture. Light is less obvious but equally important. In fact, with the right light, a scene that is somewhat ordinary and mundane can be transformed into something special and beautiful.

Most of the best landscape photos are taken within an hour or less before or after sunrise or sunset. Photographers call this the golden time, and the quality of light created by these times of day greatly enhances a scene's drama and detail. The interplay between light and shadow becomes richer, textures are enhanced, and the light takes on an inviting golden quality.

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Composition — what to include in the frame, and where to position it — can be tricky.

We tend to concentrate on just the center of the frame, and we often overlook what is going on around the edges, which can include distracting details. An important rule of photography is to “fill the frame,” to include only that which is important.

For example, if you are shooting a portrait, you want to get close and fill the frame with the subject's face. You don’t want to shoot so loosely that extraneous objects become a distraction. The same thing applies to landscape photography. Look over the whole scene captured in your viewfinder. If you see something that detracts from the scene and the feeling and mood you are trying to convey, crop it out. Change your shooting angle or the focal length of the lens.

Many of the most successful landscape photos include a strong foreground element that guides the eye into the scene but doesn't dominate it. This could be a flower, or a small waterfall, or any number of other things. The wide-angle lens helps with this, as it tends to emphasize things in the foreground.

Use the rule of thirds when composing a landscape shot with a strong foreground element. Imagine your frame is divided into thirds both horizontally and vertically. The best place to position strong foreground elements and other key elements is at the four intersections created by those imaginary lines. In other words, you don’t want your strong anchoring elements to be centered in the frame.

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Wildlife Photography
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Good wildlife photography requires equal bits of luck and preparation. You don’t need a lot of specialized equipment, but it is really essential that you have one good, big, telephoto lens. Most wildlife is shy and will not allow you to get very close to it.

Even with a long lens, many people are surprised at how close they still have to get to their subject in order to “fill the frame.” Using a blind, vehicle, or some other kind of cover to hide yourself, and keeping as still as possible will improve your chances of getting close to your subject matter.

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Long telephoto lenses and long zoom lenses can vary widely in price and size. You can have two lenses that are identical in focal length (magnification factor) but one of them may be three times the size and three or more times the cost of the other. This is because of two main things.

  • The larger lens has a larger maximum aperture, which will allow you to shoot in lower light conditions and/or use a faster shutter speed, which is important for stopping the movement of wildlife subjects.
  • The larger lens also likely has better optical quality.

There may be nothing wrong with the smaller, cheaper lens, but you just need to understand its limitations. Using a tripod can help.

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While luck plays a large role in wildlife photography, most successful wildlife photographers spend a lot of time researching their subjects. They learn the habits and behaviors of their subjects, including preferred habitats and foods. This helps them maximize their chances of success by putting themselves in the right places and at the right times. They also network with other nature photographers and enthusiasts who share notes about sightings of certain wildlife.

Events

Find events near you.
Date: Tuesday, June 8, 2021 8:00 am - Wednesday, June 30, 2021 8:00 am
Location: Powder Valley Conservation Nature Center

The Powder Valley Conservation Nature Center Artist Hallway Monthly Exhibits are back!

For June 2021: Marian Brickner, a whimsical wildlife photographer who captures the many moods of animals, has traveled worldwide, has produced 60 books on various animals and people, and has currently focused her photography skills around the St. Louis area, including Powder Valley Conservation Nature Center. You can visit her website at www.marianbricknerphotrapher.com, and her books can be found on Amazon.
Registration period: June 2 - June 25
Date: Saturday, June 26, 2021 8:00 am - Saturday, June 26, 2021 10:00 am
Location: Powder Valley Conservation Nature Center

Butterflies are essential pollinators and beautiful creatures. Join us in-person at Claire Gempp Davidson Memorial Conservation Area to search for and view butterflies in the wild. Participants will also learn how to catch and release butterflies, as well as use basic photography skills to capture the experience.

Nets will be provided. Please bring a digital camera or smart phone, if you have one, for the photography section. We will be outside in full-sun; please bring sunscreen, a water bottle, and wear appropriate clothing.