Nature photography

Nature Photography Courses

The beauty, movement, and form of a plant can be preserved and interpreted by a photographer's inspiration and skill. Would you enjoy being that photographer?

While we do still offer classes in this certificate, as of June 2014, we are not accepting new enrollments in the Nature Photography Certificate. If there are specific subjects you are interested in, please check out the current classes in this program to see if there is an offering that is right for you.


Nature Photography Certificate

Use light, composition, and an array of specialized techniques to capture the natural world with your camera. Work with nature photography experts to hone your artistic skill and technique to create nature photographs worthy of framing.
During classroom study and field experience, you will:

  • Develop and expand your potential as a photographer.
  • Master a range of photographic skills and techniques.
  • Gain knowledge of photography as a tool for biological and environmental documentation and awareness.
  • Share experiences with people of similar interests.
  • Meet professional photographers from a variety of disciplines.
  • Expand your appreciation and understanding of the natural world.


The Nature Photography Certificate has three core photography courses, three core natural history courses, forty-five contact hours of electives, and a juried nature photography projects.


Intro to Nature Photography

Through nature photography you may express your delight in a particular season, the beauty of a flower or insect, or document an item for scientific purposes. In this class you will learn the full range of uses for nature photography, and be introduced to equipment basics, field notes, exposure, light, and compositional strategies. Class will include hands-on practice in the field and classroom reviews. 
P001. 17 hours. Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall

Light and Exposure

Photographs are stories of a subject painted with light. The dramatic impact of the story is greatly influenced by the photographer's use of light and exposure. Discuss the various qualities of light that photographers encounter in shooting the natural landscape, and examine the quantity, color, and quality of light found during the course of the day and the seasons. Through practice in the field and classroom reviews, learn how to use different natural lighting creatively and effectively, what filters to use, and how to get correct exposures in each light quality.
Prerequisite: Introduction to Nature Photography
P100. 15 hours. Spring, Fall

Composition in Nature

How do you capture the "physicality" of a scene – its shapes, textures, and forms? Composition is a fundamental cornerstone of photography. Learn photographic techniques for composing and capturing natural scenes in photographs by combining the physical elements and colors you observe in nature. Through practice in the field and classroom reviews, translate design principles, subjects, and prevailing light into appealing, expressive photographs.
Prerequisite: Introduction to Nature Photography
P110. 15 hours. Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall


Three of the following courses are required to complete the Nature Photography Certificate:

Introduction to Botany

Study the structure of plants, including their flowers, leaves, roots, and stems, and learn how plant structure is related to plant function. Class includes both lectures and lab sessions.
N234. 18 hours. Fall, Winter

Spring, Summer, OR Fall Local Flora

Learn to identify native and introduced plants in our forests, prairies, and wetlands by both common and scientific names. Only one class in this series is required.
N315, N316, N317. 15 hours. Spring, Summer, Fall

Tree Identification and Ecology

Learn to recognize plants of the Chicago region and their preferred plant community, including both native and commonly planted woody plants. You will examine 70 – 80 trees, develop the skills to identify them, and discuss relevant aspects of tree biology and ecology.
N242. 16 hours. Summer, Fall

Winter, Spring, Summer, OR Fall Field Ecology

Study the ecology of Illinois as it unfolds throughout the four seasons. You will practice data-gathering methods used by professional biologists while you explore the relationships between plants, animals, and their environment.
N011, N012, N013, N014. 12 hours. Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall


Elective courses change from season to season, expanding the certificate with new information and responding to student evaluations and requests. Elective courses may include courses, such as:

  • Black and White Photography
  • Photographing Water
  • Nighttime Photography
  • Photographing Trees
  • Plants in the Landscape
  • Plants in Close Up
  • Abstracts in Nature
  • Wildlife Photography
  • Adobe Photoshop and other courses in the digital processing and manipulation of photographs


To obtain maximum benefit, participants should have, at a minimum, a basic 35mm single-lens reflex (SLR or DSLR) camera with adjustable aperture and shutter speeds. Elective courses may recommend or require other specialized equipment.

Frequently asked questions about nature photography courses. [pdf]


Please contact the Registrars' Office at Registrar-ed@mortonarb.org or 630-719-2468 to enroll in the Nature Photography Certificate Program.


Morton Arboretum Photographic Society

The Morton Arboretum Photographic Society (MAPS) is a photography society whose focus is nature as inspired by the mission of The Morton Arboretum.
Meetings are held year-round on the second Monday of each month (excepting holidays) in the Morton Arboretum’s Thornhill Education Center – The Arbor Room. Meetings start at 7:00 p.m., and guests are always welcome.
For the latest information and events, please visit the MAPS Blog. (Offsite link)