Two of my biggest influences in terms of photography are Ansel Adams and the photographers and editors of National Geographic magazine. If you're unfamiliar, do me a favor and hit up google and search for either. Next, click on the "images" tab and you'll be amazed at what you see. Whether we're talking landscapes, animals, insects, flowers, or almost anything you'd see outside, there are several things that make for great nature-based photographs. First, lets talk preparation. Preparation is extremely important when shooting nature photography. If you want to shoot a particular animal in the wild, do a little research. Figure out it's habitat, what it eats, whatever information you can find that might help you find it in the wild. Make sure if you go out into the wild and "shoot" animals (not in the hunting sense), don't disturb anything more than you have to in order to get the shot and most importantly, as an Eagle scout I feel it's my duty to say, leave everything not like you found it, but better than you found it. If you aim to shoot landscapes, do some recon on a resource like google earth where you can view different vantage points without even physically being there. Look at flickr and google images to see what other vantage points people have taken pics from to get an idea of not only what you want to go shoot, but an idea of what people haven't shot so you can make your shots your own. When you get to the location, look around and scout it out...do some recon. Check out the trajectory of the sun and look how the light falls at different times of day. If sightseeing, not all of this is possible, so I'd recommend having a strong knowledge of how to use and get the most out of your camera before going to a location you think will be worthwhile to shoot. The second point I want to make is when you shoot nature and landscapes, 99 times out of 100 you are going to need a great deal of patience in order to get the shot you want. For example, check out this article (the inspiration for this post) about Anton Jankovoy of Ukraine shooting stairs trails in the Himalayas. Practiced and honed his skills before he got there, lived in Nepal 6 months out of the year for three years shooting, and even practiced meditation to sooth his nerves when shooting the hours-long exposures he did. That's a LOT of patience, but his shots with star trails above Mt. Everest are stunning. If you watch the behind the scenes of the videographers for BBC's Planet Earth documentary, you'll see similar stories. Sometimes you're gonna have to wait for everything to be "just right" in order to hit the shutter, and that can take time once you get to your vantage point. Not everyone has this kind of patience, but the pay off in terms of the images you can get can be worth it and then some.
Last, sometimes outdoors when you have no control over the variables involved in what you are shooting, luck can play a huge part in your shots. Sometimes you can plain just get lucky. This isn't a bad thing. As long as you are out shooting and doing something you enjoy, don't ever take "you got lucky" as an insult. Some of the best photographers out there have taken some of their best shots simply by getting lucky. That being said, get out there and shoot....when shooting nature or anything outdoors, you'd be surprised what you can find and shoot with a little preparation, patience, and luck if you just take a closer look...sometimes even in your own backyard.
As a shameless PSA, remember that shooting outdoors is a privilege. The subjects we shoot may not be around forever, and while I'm not here to extoll the virtues of "being green" (I'm certainly not the greenest in real life nor do I strive to be), it is our duty as photographers to at least minimize our impact during a shoot. Be mindful of your surroundings and when you pack your gear up, take an extra second to look around and make sure you leave everything as you found it. Simple steps like these will help ensure that our subjects will be around to shoot and will ensure our ability to shoot them for years to come.