In which case:
By removing distractions, you’ll make your photo stronger overall. You should also crop to improve your composition. For instance, you might crop slightly to place your main subject on a rule of thirds gridline.
Or you might crop to place a symmetrical subject smack-dab in the middle of the frame, like this:
Basically, just think of cropping as a second, more measured chance at composing.
Use it to nail the perfect final composition. But don’t think that you need to crop each time a photo comes up. And try to get the composition right in-camera.
After all, crops automatically reduce resolution!
2. Drop the blacks and up the whites to add interest
If you think that your nature photos are looking a little flat, then you might be suffering from a common problem:
Low-contrast photos generally lack interest. There’s not a clear difference between the subject and the background, so the whole shot just seems to blend together.
Fortunately, this can be fixed pretty easily with a bit of post-processing!
First, basically, every photo editing program offers a contrast slider. For a quick-and-dirty edit, go ahead and boost up this slider.
However, I’d go for something a bit more controlled.
In Lightroom, for instance, I like to use the adjustment sliders to drop the blacks and increase the whites, like I did for this photo:
You can also use the tone curve function to create a nice s-shape, which will give you the same effect.
If my image is fairly low contrast to start with, I’ll add a touch of contrast and then leave things be.
But if my image already has a lot of light and dark tones, I like to push the contrast further. This is especially the case if I’m taking photos in black and white.
Therefore, I’ll add to the blacks until the deepest shadows are close to losing detail. And I’ll increase the whites until the brightest parts of the photo are almost clipped.
3. Clean up your subject with a bit of Healing or Cloning
Now it’s time for some careful adjustments.
You see, many subjects in nature photography could use a bit of cleaning up. Because they tend to have dirt or blemishes that interfere with the overall look of the photo.
For instance, I often clean up my flower photos. Insects chew holes in the petals, or the tips of the flowers start to wither. And if I were to leave these elements in, they would simply distract from the overall shot.
If you’re a bird photographer, think about cleaning up the bird’s surroundings. There are often stray branches in photos of woodland birds. There is often dirty sand and distracting shells in photos of shorebirds.
On the other hand, I would not advocate making extensive modifications to your subject. I like to portray nature as close to reality as possible. And that means holding myself back from altering my subject in any deep way.
I generally use Lightroom’s excellent healing tool to remove these blemishes. But any clone tool will do the job. It’ll just require a bit more work.