How To

    The Art of the Shot

    Idaho photographer and outdoorswoman Megan Johnson envisioned this shot and set everything up with her self-timer to get it. After about ten tries, focusing on a stick that she placed where she would stand, she got it. Image courtesy Megan Johnson.

    Lights, camera…action! Getting a great photo when enjoying the outdoors while fishing, hunting, or hiking isn’t just icing on the cake, a great photo is something we share with family and friends. It engages our memory of a special day for years to come—sometimes a lifetime.

    Think about that favorite photo you have: the sunrise that glistens on the water as you head out for a day of fishing with your dad, or the vista with snow-capped peaks at the end of a perfect hike. Maybe it is the biggest bass of the week or your first elk, ever.

    The right photo is a prized possession on your desk at work or becomes your cover photo or profile pic on Facebook. Great photos have stories behind them, and through their stories they keep the outdoor moment alive.

    Meet Megan Johnson, a photographer from Idaho and an all-around outdoors girl. She captured the amazing shot show above with her compound bow and her Canon 5D Mark II camera on a tripod with a 10-second timer.

    “It took about ten tries to get the focus and framing just right,” shared Megan, who has been shooting professional photos for about three years. “But I had an idea in my head of the shot. Getting the focus and perspective I envisioned was the biggest challenge.” Megan believes the right photo can give a moment justice, whether that moment is time at the range for archery practice or with game or fish afield. “All the hard work for a few seconds, having quality photos or video is the only way to memorialize the experience.”

    Fellow professional photographer Randy Hoepner of Minnesota is also skilled at getting just the right shot outdoors. “I find as most people are leaving due to losing light or bad weather, I’m heading outdoors for the shot.” Randy dons his hunting gear—not just camo but rattling antlers and scent control—with camera. “I love getting out there and having the chance to maybe see something,” shared Randy. “Probably three-quarters of the time you don’t. And it is fleeting when you do. But I love to capture the shot.”

    Randy Hoepner was at Yellowstone National Park’s Washburn Peak looking for bears when he watched some cows come in just as the snow started falling. Soon a bull elk showed up and gave Randy this shot. Good thing he got it when he did, as the Park Rangers closed the road shortly thereafter due to the snowy conditions. Image courtesy Randy Hoepner.

    Randy’s passion comes full circle in a few of his wildlife photos shown here and on his website: the Elk in a snowstorm at Yellowstone National Park, the Trumpeter Swan on a -14 degrees Fahrenheit morning, and other stunning outdoor images (see more at

    Megan and Randy have a few pointers for those of us that want to improve our outdoor photos.

    • Avoid harsh, bright sunlight. Try early morning or just before dusk for softer, warmer light.
    • If it can’t be helped to take the shot in the middle of the day during bright sun, use shade if at all possible and add flash or reflective light on the face.
    • Get low—down at the same angle—on the water or down on the ground. Or try unique angles. Place the shot looking through or around something—a branch or a leaf—for depth and perspective.
    • Be ready. When the shot is there you have to take it quickly. Have your camera with you. If all else fails, use the camera on your phone.
    • Weather elements—especially snow—can magnify the artistry of your shot.

    It was -14 degrees Fahrenheit in the early morning when Randy captured this Trumpeter Swan in motion. It was so cold Randy couldn’t stand it. The dramatic light with steam off the water and capturing the action with a super-fast shutter speed was quite the reward. Image courtesy Randy Hoepner.

    The biggest key is being there, having the right equipment with you and taking a moment to prepare.

    “Spend three minutes rather than thirty seconds and you will see a big difference in your outdoor photography,” shared Randy. “Even spending a little more time organizing or planning your shot with your cell phone camera is better than nothing. Be mindful of what is in the background. Move it or adjust your angle. And when taking shots with dead animals, be sure to wipe away any blood and put the tongue back in. You won’t be happy with anything else later on.”

    With no fancy camera nearby, Megan used her iPhone for capturing this largemouth bass. There is little else in the background to distract from Megan and her bass and the diagonal composition adds a little pizzazz. Image courtesy Megan Johnson.

    When it comes to gear, Randy and Megan both believe the camera’s lens makes all the difference.

    “Buy the most expensive lens that you can afford,” advised Randy. His lens runs about $1,500-1,600 price range. There are some good ones for $300 to $400. Of course, you could drop several thousand dollars, too.

    Most importantly, take a little time and plan your shots carefully. We can’t all be professional photographers, but we can take better outdoor photos, ones we will treasure for a lifetime and enjoy sharing. Let’s see if you don’t start seeing a few more Facebook likes from your family and friends for the photos you post with these great photography tips. And speaking of likes, how about a few for Megan and Randy’s art.

    K.J. Houtman is author of the award-winning Fish On Kids Books series, chapter books for 8-12 year olds with adventures based around fishing, camping, and hunting. Her work is available at Amazon and local bookstores. Find out more at

    Images courtesy Megan Johnson and Randy Hoepner

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