The longer I’ve been a fine art nature and landscape photographer, the more I hear the same statement. “All the good places are overrun with photographers and Instagrammers”. While it’s true for many locations accessible by car and short walk like Horseshoe Bend, many locations are still out of reach for the average person. If you put in the work to get on location, the rewards are stunning scenery and very few people.
Backpacking and photography go hand in hand as they both provide an opportunity for adventure and self-discovery. Whether you're hiking through scenic mountain ranges or exploring new cities, backpacking allows you to get up close and personal with the world around you. Photography is the perfect way to capture those moments and preserve them for a lifetime. View some images of my backpacking trips in the Mountains and the Night Sky gallery.
What Camera Gear Should You Take?
During my initial backpacking trips, I made the mistake of carrying unnecessary gear, resulting in a hefty load. Upon reflection, I realized that out of my 15-pound camera gear, I primarily used the following items: a 16-35 lens, a 100-400 lens, a tripod, 6 batteries, 6 filters, a remote shutter, and a few other accessories. However, upon closer examination, I discovered that the 16-35 lens, 3 batteries, tripod, polarizer, remote shutter, and the light pollution filter for astro photography were the gear I actually utilized. This realization made me appreciate how little gear is truly necessary for a successful backpacking photography expedition.
Minimizing Weight without Sacrificing Functionality
It's crucial to strike a balance between having the necessary gear and minimizing weight. The weight becomes particularly noticeable during longer hikes, where even a 55-pound backpack can become burdensome by mile 10. Since our backpacking trips often span 15 to 20 miles a day, it's essential to make every effort to reduce excess weight. While certain gear is undoubtedly required, it's wise to be selective in what you bring along.
On my most recent backpacking trip, I decided to streamline my camera gear. I packed my camera with the 16-35 lens, tripod, remote shutter, 3 filters (a light pollution filter, polarizer, and a 10-stop ND filter), and 3 SD cards. Opting for a smaller camera kit significantly reduced the weight on my back, making those extra miles much more manageable. Moreover, the smaller camera setup didn't compromise the quality of my photographs, as the essential equipment was still intact.
Choosing the Right Lens for the Journey
One of the key dilemmas I faced was deciding between the 16-35 and 24-70 lenses, both boasting an impressive f/2.8 aperture. While the 24-70 lens offers more versatility, the 16-35 lens excels in astrophotography. Given that most of my backpacking trips revolve around the new moon, the 16-35 lens emerged as the preferred choice for capturing stunning celestial vistas. However, it's crucial to note that your requirements may vary depending on your photographic preferences. To find the ideal lens for your backpacking adventures, I recommend embarking on shorter trips to experiment with different options and discover what works best for you.
A little trick I've learned when shooting the Milky Way is to carry a shower cap on your trips. After I get the blue hour foreground shot, I cover the camera with the shower cap. This keeps the moisture off when the temperature cools down and creates condensation. I also don't move my camera between the blue hour shot and Milky Way shots so the shower cap works best for me.
Reality of How Many Photos You Take
I bring my gear thinking about the images I want to make. But, reality differs greatly from your plan. Fine art nature and landscape photographers don’t take photos just to hear the shutter click or to fill up the memory card. Our images have a purpose. From the parking lot to camp, you may shoot 2 images. It’s the middle of the day, the light is harsh, surrounded by trees, what's the point of taking a photograph. If I want to take a photo, I will use my phone with the gaiagps.com app so I remember the location for later. Once you get to camp, set up the tent, eat some food, and get ready to shoot sunset. Unless you planned your trip around the new moon, you’re not shooting the Milky Way, so go to bed and get up for sunrise. This is how it goes every day during the backpacking trip. In recent years, there has been a lot of smoke in the air, so shooting sunrise and sunset may not be an option. Like I said, you planned on shooting lots of photos, but you have a few from sunset and sunrise. But maybe you want to document the trip and make a slide show for friends and family. Well, think about taking a GoPro for those images. They won't be large, gallery style prints so using a camera with large file sizes isn't the best option.
On a recent trip to the Wind River Range, I actually took lots of photos. We're working a photo book of the trip. Throughout the days I was capturing images of the group hiking, the scenery, and anything else I thought was interesting. These were daytime photos so the light was harsh but that's ok. The images are for a book of our trip, not fine art prints. The downside to the Wind River Range, is we don't think we can top the scenery. All of our trips in recent years have been amazing. But the Wind River Range is absolutely stunning. I think everything will be downhill from here.
Carrying Your Camera Gear
Every time I’m out hiking or backpacking, I see people carrying a camera with the strap around their neck. The camera’s swinging so one hand is used to stabilize it. Not very practical, since people want to use trekking poles. But everyone does this when starting out hiking and backpacking with a camera. At least the camera is easy to use but annoying as it swings. You can carry it in the backpack. Oh wait, I want to get a shot. Stop, take your pack off, dig around inside for the camera, take the shot, now reverse the process to get moving again. Not practical if friends are with you and there’s a destination in mind. So what are the options for carrying the camera while hiking and backpacking? Let me introduce you to the Peak Designs Capture clip. I found it to be the best camera carrying clip made. It’s small, lightweight, easy to use, and has an Arca Style plate for most tripod mounts. The Capture clip fits on the shoulder strap of your pack and the plate mounts to the bottom of your camera or L-bracket. You then attach the camera to the clip on the shoulder strap. Your camera is always in the front ready to use and doesn’t swing. The issue I have is with the camera mounted to one side. Any backpacking trip over 10 miles a day, make sure you carry something of similar weight on the other side to balance the pack. I put my camera on the left shoulder strap and the tripod in right side pocket. Otherwise, the shoulder with the camera gets tired and sore.
Storing Your Camera at Night
When embarking on backpacking adventures, it's crucial to take proper care of your camera gear, especially considering the unpredictable nature of weather conditions. To ensure the safety and functionality of your equipment, here are some tips on how to protect your camera gear during your journey.
Understanding the expected weather conditions is essential for safeguarding your camera gear. If you anticipate warm temperatures during the night, storing your camera inside your backpack should be sufficient. However, when temperatures are expected to drop, it's advisable to keep your gear inside your tent. Notably, your tripod can handle cold temperatures without any issues. To preserve battery performance in chilly conditions, consider keeping your batteries inside your sleeping bag to maintain warmth. This is particularly important if you're using batteries notorious for their sensitivity to cold, such as those found in the Sony A7Rii.
While spare lenses may be part of your camera gear, they don't necessarily need to be kept inside the tent. Only components that contain batteries should be brought inside for protection. Other gear, including spare lenses, can be stored in a separate location, ensuring they remain safe and accessible when needed.
If you choose to keep your gear inside your backpack, it's highly recommended to line the bag with a 3 mil garbage bag. This simple yet effective measure is a standard practice among backpackers in the Pacific Northwest, where rain can be unpredictable. By using a garbage bag as a protective barrier, you can safeguard your gear against moisture and potential water damage. Remember, this precaution extends to all your camping gear, ensuring that everything remains dry and functional.
From Heavy Boots to Trail Running Shoes: Lessons Learned in Hiking Footwear
When I first started hiking and backpacking, I thought wearing heavy Goretex boots was the way to go. But as I've gained more experience on the trails, I've learned a few valuable lessons about footwear that I wish I had known from the start.
One of the biggest things I've learned is that the weight of your shoes can really add up over miles and miles of hiking. While many hikers focus on the weight of their backpacks, it's important to also consider the weight of your shoes. With every step, you're lifting the weight of the boot, which can quickly wear out your legs. That's why I now prefer to wear lighter trail running shoes instead of heavy boots.
Waterproof Boots vs. Goretex Socks
While waterproof boots may be great for day hikes, I'm not a big fan of them for overnight trips. That's because while Goretex keeps water out, it also keeps it in, and the boots can take a long time to dry out. Instead, I recommend trying a pair of Goretex socks if you're concerned about water on the trail. They can keep your feet dry without the added weight and stiffness of waterproof boots. Of course, if you're hiking in the snow, then you'll need a different type of boot altogether. In those conditions, Goretex and stiff boots are the way to go.
The Bottom Line
Ultimately, the type of footwear you choose for hiking and backpacking will depend on a variety of factors, including the length and difficulty of the trail, weather conditions, and personal preference. However, I've found that trail running shoes are a great all-around choice for most hikes, as they offer a good balance of comfort, support, and weight. Whatever footwear you choose, just remember to break them in before hitting the trails and to always prioritize comfort and safety over style.
Why Camera Bags Don't Make Great Backpacking Bags
If you're planning to take your camera gear on a backpacking trip, you might be tempted to just throw it all in a camera bag and hit the trail. However, this can be a mistake. While camera bags are designed to carry camera gear, they're not necessarily ideal for long days in the backcountry.
First of all, camera bags tend to be too small to carry all the gear you'll need for a multi-day backpacking trip. When you're out on the trail, you'll need to bring a lot of essentials like food, water, shelter, and clothing, and your camera gear will need to fit in with all of that. A camera bag might be fine for a day hike or a short outing, but it won't be big enough for a longer trip.
Fit is Key
Another problem with camera bags is that they're not designed to fit your body well. Backpacking backpacks, on the other hand, have many straps that you can adjust to get the right fit for your body. This is important for comfort and to prevent injury or discomfort on long hikes. A camera bag might be fine for short walks, but it won't be comfortable for extended periods of time.
Choosing the Right Backpack
When it comes to backpacking backpacks, there are many options to choose from. Some people prefer frameless packs like the Hilltop Packs Raven UL or something from Zpacks.com, while others like more traditional packs with internal frames like the Osprey Exos 58. Ultimately, the choice will come down to personal preference and the specific needs of your trip.
The Bottom Line
If you're planning a backpacking trip and want to bring your camera gear along, it's best to invest in a backpacking backpack rather than relying on a camera bag. Look for a backpack that fits your body well and has enough space to accommodate all of your gear and essentials. Don't hesitate to seek the advice of a professional at a quality store to help with the fit. With the right backpack, you can enjoy the beauty of the backcountry and capture stunning photos along the way.
Minimize Our Impact on the Environment
As photographers, we have a responsibility to minimize our impact on the environment while we capture stunning images of nature and wildlife. While it's easy to get caught up in the excitement of capturing the perfect shot, it's important to remember that our actions can have lasting effects on the natural world around us. Here are some tips for minimizing your impact on the environment during photography.
Stick to designated trails and areas: When exploring natural areas, be sure to stick to designated trails and areas. This helps protect fragile ecosystems and prevents soil erosion.
Keep your distance from wildlife: It's important to give wildlife plenty of space and not interfere with their natural behavior. Use a zoom lens or binoculars to get a closer look and avoid disturbing the animals.
Avoid disturbing plants and other wildlife: Be mindful of where you step and avoid disturbing plants or other wildlife. This helps preserve the natural beauty of the environment you're photographing.
Practice Leave No Trace principles: Pack out all trash and leave the environment as you found it. This means leaving behind no food, trash, or other items that could harm the environment.
Be mindful of your equipment: When changing lenses or adjusting your camera settings, be sure to do so in a way that won't disturb the environment or other visitors. Avoid laying your equipment on fragile plants or disturbing the ground.
Starting the journey into backpacking with photography will be a learning experience. What gear do you need, what can be left behind, what do I want to photograph? It will require a few trips into the backcountry to get this dialed in. You may need a long telephoto lens and not a wide angle like I use. It’s all about what you like to shoot. At least most of the places you backpack into will have very few people and not the crowds of Tik Tokkers and Istagrammers. Every image in this blog post was taken while on a multi-day backpacking trip. Some of the images were taken after a 20 mile, one way trip to camp. But, we were the only ones in the area for multiple days. Well worth the effort. Check out my Mountains Gallery to see some of the backpacking areas I have been to.
Despite these challenges, the benefits of backpacking and photography are clear. They allow you to experience the world in a new way, connect with nature and local cultures, and preserve memories for a lifetime. So, pack your bags, grab your camera, and start exploring the world today!