Useful Tips for the Hiking Photographer

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It’s summer here in the northern hemisphere and high season for hiking! There are many good reasons to leave home for a few days (or weeks) of trekking through beautiful scenery. One reason is the natural landscape itself, of course, to see something different, something inspiring. Other reasons are the exercise, a change in rhythm and priorities, the company, or the adventure; often it’s a combination of many things.

Useful Tips for the Hiking Photographer

Halfway through a 10-day hike in the remote wilderness of the Swedish mountains – heaven for a photographer!

For us photo enthusiasts, hiking presents both a fantastic opportunity and a great challenge. It’s an activity that usually takes place in areas of some degree of wilderness, away from cities and farmland (although hikes in these environments have their own charm and challenges), where the photographic opportunities are innumerable. What better place to capture stunning landscapes, awesome night skies, the coziness of illuminated tents in the dark, the smiles and frustrations on the faces of your fellow hikers?

Useful Tips for the Hiking Photographer

Hiking through a beautiful landscape, it’s easy to miss that there might be a lot of other things to photograph too, such as details or people.

But what about the challenges? There are quite a few of them, but do not despair. By reserving enough time to plan and prepare, you’ll be sure to have an exciting and creative time as a comfortable hiker and fulfilled photographer. So let’s have a look at the essentials to remember before, during, and after the hike!

Useful Tips for the Hiking Photographer

1. Before the hike – less is more-ish

To get the most out of your hike, you need to pack light, and bring things other than just photo gear – it’s sad, but true. Depending on your inclinations, the length of the hike, and the kind of photography you expect to do, you need to make a selection of what you bring along on your hike.

It’s impossible to know what’s too much and too little beforehand. So something I like doing to tip the balance in favor of packing “just right” is to write down, in a place I will remember, everything I put in my bag as I’m packing. Then I go through the list after the hike and note down what I did and didn’t need or use. Learning from past experience – it’s a classic!

Useful Tips for the Hiking Photographer

As you’re packing, try to imagine carrying everything for hours on end every day, for many days, while making sure you bring what you need for both easy times as well as emergencies. Yes, it’s tricky!

Bring the essentials

In terms of lenses, you shouldn’t necessarily bring all of the ones you own. What are the most likely photos you’re going to take? Is there a lot of overlap between your lenses? Try to account for all possibilities, but be ruthless. Lenses are heavy and will add extra weight that you won’t want to carry.

Without a working battery you won’t be doing any photography at all, so pay a lot of attention to this part of your packing. Should you bring several batteries? How many? Do you have a way to charge your batteries at some point?

How many batteries you need to bring depends on how long you’ll be without access to electricity and the condition of your batteries. It also depends on the weather – will it be cold at any point? You’ll probably need to bring more than one battery then. So if you only have one, this might be the time to get more. Alternatively (or complementarily) you can bring a battery- or solar-powered charger, if you have one.

Useful Tips for the Hiking Photographer

If it’s likely to get cold during your hike, you’ll need to take that into account when you pack batteries.

Another small but essential part of your packing is memory cards. Take many – you don’t want to run out of space! Fortunately these days, storage space is pretty cheap. Some people prefer using many smaller cards instead of one huge one, to minimize the risk of losing all their files if the card is damaged or lost, but it’s really up to you. Fortunately, memory cards weigh very little.

Other items

What about a tripod? Many would claim it’s essential. There are very light tripods available, and if you’re willing to pay for one of those, it’s very likely that you’ll be happy you brought it along. If not, it’s a weight you can choose to leave at home – you are likely to miss some good shots, though.

Also remember to bring essential cleaning gear, such as an air blower and a lens cleaning cloth.

Last but not least, don’t forget your camera body! When you pack, make sure everything is waterproof and padded. There are many reviews of camera bags here on Digital Photography School, and many more solutions can be found. Just remember that the camera bag you use in daily life might not work, especially if you’re carrying a huge backpack with a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, camping kitchen, as well as food and clothing for a week on your back.

Useful Tips for the Hiking Photographer

Carrying your camera gear on your belly is an alternative, and not a bad one as it also gives you easy access to your equipment while walking.

2. During the hike – maintenance is of the essence

When going on a long hike, it’s important to keep things dry, clean, and from getting cold. As long as you’ve packed properly, your gear should stay dry no matter what the weather is like, and with an air blower and cleaning cloth you’ll be able to keep your sensor and lenses clean.

The cold and power

But why do you need to keep things warm? And how do you do it? If you’re at a location where night temperatures may drop below freezing, or even daytime temperatures, it’s especially important to keep your batteries warm as using and leaving them in cold temperatures will make them run out of power more quickly.

Keep them working for longer by carrying extra batteries in your inside pockets where your body warmth will keep them from getting cold. What I usually do at night (when the temperatures are at their lowest) is I keep the batteries with me in my sleeping bag, for instance inside a sock. It works surprisingly well!

Useful Tips for the Hiking Photographer

This photo was taken during an ice-climbing adventure, where day temperatures would drop as low as -30°C (-22°F). I kept my camera battery in an inside pocket and only put it in the camera when I wanted to take a picture.

There is also a lot you can do to save power just by using your camera differently. Modern cameras come with a lot of great features that help you get the shot you want, but many of those features require a lot of power and are not actually necessary, such as image stabilization, Live View, and even autofocus. It’s always really tempting to look through your photos on the camera at the end of the day, but be aware that this will significantly decrease the usage time for your batteries.

This article is a good introduction to what features use a lot of power. If you don’t like turning off the review feature (because seeing the histogram is important to you), it’s possible to turn the brightness down which saves a lot of power.

Useful Tips for the Hiking Photographer

Different environments pose different challenges. Sand can cause a lot of problems if you don’t protect your gear.

3. After the hike – save and savor

A beautiful, tiring, and eventful hike is over, and you’re back home. Now it’s time to make sure your photos don’t get lost! Whether you’re a person who likes to unpack first thing or if it’s something that happens over time, make sure you copy your pictures over and make a back-up immediately. There might be time to give your partner or dog a hug first, but that’s it – get those files copied! It’s easy and quick, and means that you don’t have to worry about it later. At the same time, it’s the first step toward starting the exciting process of looking through and developing your photos.

Useful Tips for the Hiking Photographer

Your photos are precious – prioritize backing them up as soon as possible.

As you’re unpacking, remember to write down the items you didn’t use at all, the things you used but didn’t need, and the things you used a lot. This will help you pack more efficiently next time. Also remember to check your photo gear and make sure it’s clean and unharmed.

Conclusion

And always – enjoy the experience, enjoy taking the photos, and enjoy reliving the adventure while you sort through and process your creations!

Useful Tips for the Hiking Photographer

What photographic challenges have you encountered out there in the wilderness, and what are your best tips? Are you planning a trek this season? I’d love to hear about your experiences and exciting plans in the comments below!

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Hannele Luhtasela-el Showk photographs weddings professionally and nature passionately. Based in Finland and Morocco, they love going on adventures, learning, teaching, reading, science, and finding new perspectives. Hannele's photos can be found on their wedding website, blog and Facebook page.

  • Six Strakowsky

    Thanks for your informative article. I’m a long-time photographer and day hiker, not a long range hiker. If I can offer a bit of advice here it is: I’ve always gone with an inexpensive, makeshift, over shoulder sling pack. The kind students might use to carry books to classes. It was never solid on my shoulders and constantly shifted and moved around. I typically don’t stick with assigned trails often going off path for scenes that haven’t already been photographed to death. Last fall I was photographing a boulder filled stream. As I was doing my best to navigate to a shot I wanted I had my camera slung over one shoulder and my sling pack over the other. My camera and the pack shifted in an unexpected manner which knocked off my center of gravity and I lost my balance falling backward into a space between two large boulders. Thankfully I nor my camera gear was not seriously injured but I was very sore and stiff for about two weeks. It could have been much worse. To be honest with everyone, it seriously scared me into a life-changing experience. It took me several months before I regained my confidence to hit the trails again. Before my next excursion I purchased a properly fitted backpack and that made all the difference in the world. Weights are evenly distributed, the load is solid and doesn’t move and I can move with much more confidence. My advice is to get fitted for a proper backpack. If you don’t have experience in fitting go to a store that specializes in such gear and have their staff fit you and suggest the proper pack for your needs. Most of the time it is a free service.

  • Sandy van Malden

    I had the same experience in Alaska, wished I had a better pack. It limited me as I was off balance.

  • Oh yes, a good backpack and reliable shoes are so very important! I’m happy to hear you weren’t harmed and that nothing bad happened to your gear.

    I’m glad you made it out again — I wish you many beautiful, and safe, hikes! Thanks a lot for your comment.

  • SteveR

    I always take a walking stick with me. It helps me keep my balance, can be used to fish items from the water, and can be used as a monopod for stability when taking a picture. A walking stick has saved me from many falls.

  • Six Strakowsky

    Great suggestion! Had one Steve. A nifty stick that can be uses as a monopod. It didn’t do much to correct my balance on the wet boulders but it was great aid to help me drag myself off the rocks back to the established trail.

  • Six Strakowsky

    Thank you for the well wishes and the great article.

  • Walking sticks are essential. Thanks for bringing this up!

  • paul

    I’ve become a huge fan of of this clip-on device by Peak Design to carry my camera while on day hikes. I attach it to the front strap of my back pack so the camera is always in front of me and ready to go – the higher up the better. It does take getting use to, especially when putting on and taking off your pack. Very well made and designed.
    https://www.peakdesign.com/product/clips/capture/

  • Looks interesting, I’ve never tried! For some kinds of hiking, it’s useful to keep the camera in protective covering, but I can definitely see how this would be useful for relatively easy day hikes. Thanks for your comment! 🙂

  • Skip Spitzer

    Great stuff. There is nothing like being fluent in both landscape photography and how to be in the backcountry. For a more detailed treatment my online class covers quite a lot (pretty much a labor of love): http://www.udemy.com/getting-to-the-great-landscape.

  • Yes, it’s a really satisfying combination! 🙂 Thanks a lot for your comment; based on the curriculum, the course looks really useful.

  • Paul Lehman

    Have it – use it – love it. Big benefit is that the camera is at the ready while you can still use both hands to navigate tough territory or just one while the other has a walking stick.

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