I enjoy exploring the woods for pictures with no particular subject or destination in mind. It's a great way to hone your craft and also connect with the slower pace of nature. Making my way along the trail, I observe the way light and shadows play off of each other. Finding a subject is important, but the background is equally critical. When Paul McCartney sang "I'm looking through you" for the Beatles, he wasn't talking about photography, but it's a melodic reminder to keep an eye on whatever lies behind your subject.
ABOVE: The photo on the left is the scene that first caught my attention. For the middle shot I moved in closer, making better use of the shaded background. For the third image, I opted for a macro approach to bring attention to the intricate details of the flower.
I'm fond of the contrast that takes place when a subject is in the sun, and the background is in deep shade. At first glance it's easy to miss this, but the more you take these photo hunts, the better trained your eye becomes. Soon you'll have a keen sense and can almost smell the photo opportunities as you near them. Looking through the viewfinder I check all four corners of the frame to eliminate any bright spots or distractions, shifting a few inches in each direction until the scene looks right.
At this point I set up the tripod and start asking the important questions. What kind of depth of field do I want? In order to keep the entire flower sharp I needed great depth of field and opted for f16. The next consideration is the shutter, but there was little wind and the flower remains fairly motionless. This allowed me to use a longer exposure time with sharp results. The ISO (also referred to as I'm Still Off) is the last consideration. I typically start low at 100 and then work my way up as needed. With the technical details covered, my thoughts are on composition and here the long stem seems like it works better as a vertical frame.
Later on the walk I come across a grouping of colorful flowers and pause to enjoy them. They are quite lovely but lacking visual impact. I allow my imagination to wander and ask "what if?" This is an important exercise to help pre-visualize a scene. What if a dragonfly or a butterfly lands on these flowers? And then I wait...and watch...and allow myself to just enjoy the quiet space. Birds chirping in the trees above, chipmunks rustle the underbrush, and a tiny lizard scurries along the path, and then a butterfly lands on the flowers directly in front of me just long enough to make the shot.
There is no doubt that online research, photography books, and videos will all help strengthen your technical understanding. Yet, none of this is a substitute for routinely heading out with your camera for a Photo Hunt.