What is Naturalism in Photography?

Naturalism is an art movement that first developed in the realm of painting, where naturalist painters sought to make the most realistic depictions of a landscape. When the camera was invented, artistic naturalism was pushed in a new direction and sought to outdo photography; naturalist artists began creating works of hypnotically lifelike effects with paint. Photographers can also use principles of naturalism in their photography art; it is a feature of many fine art photographs.

Blazing Falls

Blazing Falls, Max Foster's limited edition photography print of Judge CR Magney State Park.

Photographic Naturalism

Naturalism in photography refers to a style of photography that seeks to capture subjects as they appear in real life, without manipulation or intervention. This often involves taking pictures of subjects in their natural environment, without the use of artificial lighting, studio lighting, or other techniques that might alter the appearance of the subject.

Naturalistic photography typically focuses on capturing the beauty and diversity of the natural world, and may also include elements of documentary photography, in which the photographer seeks to document and preserve a moment or scene for posterity.

It may also include elements of fine art photography, in which the impression or feeling of the artist is more important than capturing the exact moment in time. This element of naturalism photography really depends on what the photographer is attempting to get across with their piece.

Concealed Beauty

Concealed Beauty, a photograph taken by Max Foster in Upper Antelope Canyon in Arizona, captures the contrast between the rough texture and smooth curves of a sandstone slot canyon.

Natural Lighting in Photography

One key element of naturalism in photography is natural lighting. This means that the photographer is reliant on sunlight, which comes with a unique set of challenges. One of these is finding the golden hour, which many photographers agree is the perfect time for shooting.

The golden hour, also known as the magic hour, is a time shortly after sunrise or before sunset when the light is soft and warm, providing beautiful, natural lighting for photography. This lighting is often considered ideal for nature photography because it creates a warm, soft, and diffuse light that is flattering for many subjects.


Enlightened, Max Foster’s photograph of bald cypress at Caddo Lake, features the warm, soft light of the golden hour.

You might think that sunny days are ideal for nature photography, but it really depends on the specific scene and the look that the photographer is trying to achieve. A sunny day can create bright light that creates high contrast and can be very effective for capturing vibrant colors and details in a scene. However, this type of light can also create strong shadows and harsh highlights, which can be less than ideal for some subjects.

Still Of The Light

Still Of The Light, Max Foster’s photograph of a redwood forest in California takes advantage of strong sunlight to capture the feeling of beams of light reaching through the canopy to touch ferns on the forest floor.

On the other hand, overcast days can provide a more even, diffuse light that can be very flattering for many subjects. This type of light can also be great for capturing mood and atmosphere in a scene, as it can create a softer, more subtle look. However, an overcast day can also result in a lack of contrast and saturation in the colors, which can make the scene appear dull or flat.


Overcast clouds reflect the sunset in Resplendence, Max Foster’s sunset photograph of Schwabacher's Landing in Grand Teton National Park. The clouds help scatter the light and create soft shadows and gentle contrast on the mountains’ snowy peaks.

Is All Nature Photography Naturalistic?

Not necessarily! Remember that naturalism in nature photography refers to the practice of portraying the natural world as realistically as possible, without artificial manipulation or intervention. In this sense, not all nature photographs are necessarily naturalistic, as some may involve digital manipulation or other techniques that alter the appearance of the scene. For example, monochrome images may be beautiful– but they are not naturalistic.

Naturalistic nature photography typically aims to capture the beauty and diversity of the natural world in its unaltered state, without human intervention or manipulation. This can involve techniques such as long exposure, shallow depth of field, or other techniques that help to capture the natural qualities of the scene.

The Gathering

The Gathering captures the vivid blue of Moraine Lake in Banff National Park. No color manipulation needed here!

Naturalistic photography can capture the beauty and complexity of the natural world in a way that is difficult to achieve with other forms of art. If you want to bring the beauty of naturalistic photography into your home, look no further than Max Foster’s fine art nature photography. Enhance your home with a gorgeous piece of art, captured and lit through the power of nature.