Carry That Camera!

Sorry for the lapse in posts. ‘Tis the season for getting ready for upcoming Farmers Markets and Art Shows, not to mention getting out to photograph nature’s spring revival. I do have a couple more entries in the works on Yosemite, and more from this winters trip through parks such as Death Valley, Bryce Canyon and Arches. In the meantime, however, I thought I’d share something a bit different. The following is a piece I wrote over a year ago at the request of another blogger. It was meant to be run as a guest post on their blog, but as far as I know never appeared. This was a little disappointing, as it was something I took the time to write when really I didn’t have many minutes to spare; so when I came across the saved file this morning I figured why not show it the light of day.

To set the stage, this was meant to run in late February or early March, and intended for long distance hikers who have little or no photographic experience. While the advice isn’t particularly technical, and this years class of thru-hikers are already past such decisions and well on their way, I think the content translates to other outdoor pursuits. So rather you’re hiking cross-country or just walking across town, grab your camera and keep these things in mind…


It seems about this time every year, as people begin to prep for the hiking season ahead, that the same recurring topics fill online discussion boards. One common question, especially when you get into longer distance hikes, is rather carrying a camera is worth the extra weight…

Absolutely it is! First of all, unless you’re a fanatical ultra light enthusiast, the weight is really pretty insignificant. (I know- it all adds up; but for the chance to capture moments to last a lifetime, it’s worth the trade.)  And unless you have professional aspirations, you really don’t need to carry an SLR. Advancements in technology make today’s pocket sized point and shoot cameras capable of taking some really nice photographs, and without the weight or worry of their bulky counterparts. (I don’t have experience, nor am I a particular advocate of carrying a phone on the trail; but if you do, there seems to be tremendous potential there as well.)

Of course, regardless of equipment weight, the real consideration is rather photography can in some way enhance your experience. The most obvious benefit is in the preservation of memories. As many of us quickly realize, time spent on the trail can produce some of the most rewarding experiences in life. The well-timed click of a shutter can leave you with a visual memento to compliment your reflections for years to come. Furthermore, photography is a means by which we can share what we’ve seen with others. As hikers, we are very fortunate to travel to places and take in sights most will never encounter. With its power to inspire, a photograph can convince people of the need to preserve our wild spaces, and perhaps encourage them to set out on adventures of their own.

Personally, I feel one of the greatest assets of photography is the opportunity it offers to immerse yourself in your surroundings. Too often, especially as thru hikers, we get caught up in mileage. Unintentionally, we place destination over journey. Photography can help you to get the most out of your experience by forcing you to take the time to stop and look around. It provides the distraction sometimes needed to pause and tune in to the ambiance of the trail.  The physical achievement of a completed hike is compelling, but the true reward is found in those moments of wonder that allow us to appreciate where we are.

With that in mind, here are a few simple photo tips for your next backcountry excursion…

Practical Stuff-


Always Keep Your Camera Handy: You never know what’s around the corner, and you won’t have time to dig through your pack when the sun breaks just right or a Sasquatch peeks out from behind a tree. Carry your camera in a front pocket or attached to your hip belt. Also, use a small resealable plastic bag to protect it from the elements.

Conserve Power: Unless you carry a solar charger, electronic devices and extended spells in the wilderness don’t mix. Save juice by resisting the temptation to repeatedly scan through your images, and do the bulk of your deleting in town. The cold will also zap your battery, so keep electronics warm by sleeping with them in your bag at night. The photo-op of a lifetime always comes moments after your battery dies.

Increase Capacity: I always carry a spare, fully charged battery, as well as an extra memory card. Even though you can now get cards that hold thousands of pictures (I recommend setting your camera to the highest resolution, by the way) it’s always good to have a backup in case something goes wrong.

Optimize Town Stops: If your hike includes town resupply, take the opportunity to address photo needs for the stretch ahead. Charge both batteries (you can either carry or bounce your charger, but be sure it’s available at every stop.) Review your photos and delete the unwanted.  It’s also a good idea to back your images up. If you come across a store with one hour photo, have your files copied to a disc and sent home. This of course assumes you’re shooting digital. If you’re using a film camera, bless your soul; but the advantages of digital when it comes to hiking are considerable.


Take Advantage of Complimentary Light: Often, the best photo ops come during the “magic hour”- the period of soft light that occurs around sunrise or sunset. With the sun closer to the horizons, light travels further through the atmosphere and decreases in intensity, casting the landscape in a golden glow.  Storm clouds and water vapor can also have a filtering effect, so pay close attention, especially when the sun emerges as bad weather breaks.


Shoot from Different Perspectives:  Capture the true essence of a moment by shooting from different angles to punctuate the setting. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Try shots while kneeling down, vertical and horizontal compositions, looking through vegetation- the possibilities are endless. Use unique vantages to make your photos more interesting.


Catch Hikers Being Hikers: Cowboy camping, stream crossings, hitch hiking, and definitely town stops; hikers march to the beat of their own drum. Though we might not be quick to notice, we often exhibit behavior or find ourselves in scenarios that would seem downright bizarre to the general public.  Have the awareness to step outside of your hiker mindset from time to time, recognize those out of the ordinary moments, and click away.


Tell the Whole Story: Those pretty sunsets and mountain vistas are great, but don’t limit your photos to scenery. Some of the most noteworthy experiences can happen during resupply trips or through the antics of other hikers. Take a journalistic approach, and capture the entire story.

I hope this has been helpful. For additional discussion on photography and hiking, please follow my blog- There you can find links to my website and Facebook page, where you can view samples of my work. And if you have any specific questions, just shoot me an email-  I’d be more than happy to offer advice.

Thanks for your time, and I’ll see you on the trail…


3 thoughts on “Carry That Camera!

    • Thanks! … I suspect it was just one of those cases where the person let their blog slip for a little while- and I’ve certainly been guilty of that- then never got around to posting this. Regardeless, it seemed worth getting out there.

  1. Nicely written, and covers good points, I esp liked the bit about photographing hikers being hikers 🙂

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