Tips for Taking Great Outdoor Photos

Branch out from selfies

photo by ernie mills
The right light, like on the Mt. Washington Auto Road, makes a good shot great.

Majestic mountains. Cascading waterfalls. Sublime sunsets and sunrises. Wondrous wildlife and waterways. Bucolic towns. New Hampshire’s outdoor landscape is rich with plenty of opportunities for both professional and casual photographers. 

Whether with a solid digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera with its myriad of lens options or with a handy smartphone, you can take great photos in the Granite State.

Gorham outdoor photographer Ernie Mills offers sage advice for shutterbugs — be patient and wait for the right light.

“It’s not and never will be about the gear that gets you a great shot,” he says. “Learn to shoot in your backyard. If you can capture the beauty and compose amazing pictures there, it’ll make you appreciate and be more prepared to shoot the many wonders of this state.”

Mills often shoots in his backyard, the White Mountains and the Great North Woods. He lives and works there, often driving a Mt. Washington Auto Road guided tour van. Mount Washington, as you might imagine, makes for a great neighborhood.

“I see the most amazing views in New England from sunup to sundown and beyond,” he says, readily recommending Pinkham, Dixville, Crawford, Jefferson and Evans notches for the photo-minded.

Waterfalls are another draw.

Glen Ellis Falls near Jackson is an easy walk from Route 16. Beaver Brook Falls in Clarksville on Route 145 is even easier, while Arethusa Falls in Hart’s Location is reached by a 1.5-mile long hike from Route 302.

Travel the state for more opportunities. For those who love the sea, Portsmouth Harbor with its boats and landmarks provides fodder, as does the rocky shore of Rye’s Odiorne Point State Park. The flat ledges on Mount Kearsarge in Warner serve up a 360-degree stage (a half-mile hike using the toll road) while lake serenity is found in Sunapee Harbor.

Photographing the rocky spire of Mount Chocorua from Chocorua Lake in Tamworth makes nearly anyone look good, while the shores of Crystal Lake in Eaton are enchanting with the white church on the horizon.

“Understand your surroundings and pay attention to weather and forecasts,” advises Mills.

The more aware you are, the better the photos will be.

Expert Q&A

Gorham’s Ernie Mills captures spectacular moments through the lens in all aspects of life, including the natural world. With extensive photography experience including four years as a US Army photojournalist, Mills has a penchant for shooting on and around Mount Washington.

How do you find great places to shoot?
Get off the beaten path and explore. From farm fields and rivers to falls and landscapes above the tree line. Talk to locals — they know the local gems. 

What’s it take to capture that perfect shot?
I love early morning, late afternoon and early evening light. Sometimes that means I’m up at 3 a.m. to be out and on location when the sun rises. I am constantly checking weather updates.

Always keep a pack with all kinds of extras such as jackets, snacks and water. Expect to always change plans. Prepare like you would for a hike and you should be good. Keep an extra SD (Secure Digital storage) card in the pack too.

Any suggestions for shooting at sunrise and sunset?
To me, clouds and weather make the shot more often than not — they help define and expand the depth. Open fields can sometimes work, especially if there’s something in bloom. Always look behind you no matter whether it’s sunrise or sunset. Sometimes the most amazing color, shades or shadows are behind you. Be patient and wait it out.

There’s an art to getting that great shot of a waterfall in motion. How is it done?
A tripod is helpful, but it’s not always necessary. I’m not the guy that spends a ton of time setting up. The best shot often has nothing to do with standing on solid dry ground either — sometimes you have to get into the water. If I see the light’s right and I need to wade in, then I do.

How do I blend in when stalking wildlife?
It is their territory and their turf. Being at a distance is the way the relationship between photographer and wildlife works best. So that means a long lens, 200mm plus. Animals, for the most part, are spooked easily, so staying low and quiet is helpful. Some, such as bear or moose, have their regular routines and routes. I watch for tracks, but to be honest, almost always, getting good shots is based on luck. You have to be ready to take the shot and not be jacking around with settings on your camera.

What about gear?
Go and demo gear at a pro shop. Ask questions. Quit thinking that the most expensive is the best — that just isn’t true today. Your eye defines the images, not the camera or phone. Find a good camera and lens and start shooting. Clean it once in a while. Know it inside and out.

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