Hiking, camping, and wildlife watching all offer incredible opportunities for amazing photographs of the great outdoors. Try these tips from pros as they share how they carry and protect their most important gear from the elements.
Image by Brian Wolski. Gear: Sony a230 camera, Sony 55-300mm lens. Settings: Focal length 55mm; exposure 1/400 sec; f10; ISO 100.
As the public becomes more aware of the threats facing our planet, from climate change to deforestation, we’ve seen a significant transformation in the way people travel. The trend towards environmentally-sustainable tourism is catching on, with more and more people longing to explore the world in a way that leaves a minimal footprint.
Campers and hikers have long been ahead of the curve. Outdoor photographers understand that sleeping in a tent beneath a blanket of stars can be far more satisfying than staying in a five-star hotel. They also know that you can’t bring nearly as much luggage with you when you’re trekking.
“When you are in the mountains, every 100 grams in your backpack turns into an extra kilogram,” Shutterstock contributor Melnikov Sergey explains.“That’s why it’s important to pack your gear thoughtfully. Imagine that your life depends on the weight you are carrying. I can remember tearing pages from my notebook or breaking my toothbrush in half just to save a couple more grams of weight in my backpack.”
We interviewed a group of outstanding nature photographers to get their input on hiking and camping with bulky gear. Read on to learn their seventeen best tips.
1. Do your research.
Image by Lukas Hodon. Gear: Nikon D700 camera, Sigma 24-70 f2.8 lens. Settings: Focal length 24mm; exposure 1/100 sec; f8; ISO 1000.
Before embarking on a hiking or camping trip, get to know your location. Your gear and schedule will depend heavily on the place as well as the time of year. “Hiking and camping in the mountains is an integral element in my life, so it’s very important to have a good sense of the environment in advance,” Lukas Hodon tells us.
“Take a look at the work of other photographers who went there before you,” Antonio Salaverry suggests. “And take a look at Google Street View because nowadays you can even do a virtual hike sitting at your computer. That way, you’ll know what kind of images you can shoot in any given place then cut some gear from your packing list.”
2. Dress appropriately.
Image by Olga Kulakova. Gear: Sony a99m2 camera, Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* 16-35mm /f2.8 ZA SSM lens. Settings: Focal length 16mm; exposure 15 sec; f2,8; ISO 12800. Two-frame vertical panorama, stacked for noise reduction.
“Good shoes and clothes are necessary, especially a good windbreaker,” Kovop58 advises. “The weather in the mountains can be very unpredictable.” Olga Kulakova concurs, adding “The most important things are proper boots for mountain trekking, as well as good, comfortable, and warm outdoor clothing.”
When it comes to clothing, the key is quality, not quantity. Hodon says, “Suitable clothing and quality hiking shoes not only keep you comfortable, but it can even save the day in cases of unpredictable weather changes.”
3. Choose lenses wisely…
Image by Claudiu Maxim. Gear: Canon 6D camera, Canon EF 17-40 F4 L USM lens. Settings: Focal length 17mm; exposure 1/350 sec; f4; ISO 400.
“Choose only those lenses which you are sure you will use,” Kulakova adds. The number is different for everyone; while Brian Wolski is content to bring a full range of lenses, and Melnikov travels with a minimum of three, Claudiu Maxim limits himself to just two. Maxim tells us, “Usually, I have a wide-angle lens, which allows me to capture scenic landscapes and a 70-200mm lens for close range wildlife photography or landscapes when I want to use a shallow depth of field.”
4. …and select a reliable camera body.
Hodon explains, “For staying at higher altitudes, I would definitely recommend choosing a camera body that is comfortable to operate in gloves and is weather sealed, because setting up a camera in crazy wind blowing at -20 degrees Celsius without hand protection is an impossible task.”
5. Invest in a great backpack.
Image by Mathias Sunke. Gear: Canon 5D IV camera, Walimex pro 14/2,8 IF lens. Settings: Focal length 14mm; exposure 1/6 sec; ISO 100.
“In most cases, I can’t resist taking more lenses than I should,” Mathias Sunke admits. “So, in my opinion, it is helpful to invest money in a high-quality camera backpack that fits your body well, has enough storage space, and is weather-proof! Your body will thank you for it when you are on longer trips.”
“I always keep my gear inside my regular camera bag, which fits nicely into my 55L backpack and goes with me on every single hike,” Wolski tells us. “This way, the gear is always safe from rain, branches, rocks, or even the (hopefully rare) slip and fall.”
Image by Thomas Brissiaud. Gear: Nikon 1v1 camera, 1 Nikkor VR 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 lens. Settings: Focal length 10mm; exposure 1/2500 sec; f3,5; ISO 100.
Hodon tells us, “I prefer small camera bags over the camera backpacks. Mainly because all the stuff in a small camera bag can be easily and instantly accessible when it’s hanging over your shoulder. And when is not needed, it can be safely stored in your main dedicated hiking backpack.”
Speaking of convenience and accessibility, Thomas Brissiaud adds, “My limit is that all my photo equipment must fit in a harnessed toploader camera bag that I carry at the front. This is the most effective way to have access to my gear but also be able to store it away quickly and get it protected when needed.”
6. Bring the right tripod.
Image by Antonio Salaverry. Gear: Nikon D7200 camera, Nikon 18-300mm lens. Settings: Focal length 22mm; exposure 1/400 sec; f8; ISO 100.
“A tripod can be a nuisance, but I recommend bringing one to shoot long exposure or low light/night images,” Salaverry admits. “I use the Manfrotto Befree, and I feel free to move around when it’s attached to my backpack. Sometimes I even forget that I’m carrying a tripod.”
In some cases, Salaverry adds, you might actually need a heavy tripod, especially where there’s wind or water, but not always.
Kulakova tells us, “I used to carry a 3-kg tripod on mountaineering trips, but it was quite heavy, so I tried a new, smaller, lighter tripod to can save some weight and space.”
7. Pack extra batteries.
“One important thing is camera batteries,” Kulakova tells us. “In cold conditions, batteries get exhausted very quickly, and it’s better to make sure that you have enough batteries. Carry them in the internal pocket of your jacket so that they don’t freeze.”
“Traveling to remote areas where there is usually no power source, I bring enough charged batteries to last for the whole trip,” Brissiaud says.
Sunke agrees. “It is essential that you are not reliant on external sockets to charge your batteries,” he advises. “Be independent and bring along different possibilities like a 12V car charger, a powerful battery bank, or even a small solar panel. I bought charging adapters for all of my camera types (DSLR, GoPro, Drone). It would be a disaster if your perfect shot failed due to an empty battery.”
8. Stock up on lightweight tools.
It’s okay to stock up on gear that is easy to carry. Salaverry usually packs some small objects, including “polarizers, ND filters, adaptor rings, and extra memory cards.” Kovop58 elaborates, “Filters are great tools for landscape photography–especially circular polarizing filters and graduated ND Filters.”
9. Watch the temperature.
Image by Andre Gie. Gear: Sony a7II camera, Canon 17-40mm F4 lens. Settings: Focal length 40mm; exposure 1/200 sec; f11; ISO 250.
“When shooting in the cold, beware of condensation,” Andre Gie cautions. “If you escape to a warmer place, be it a tent or cabin, wrap your camera in a jacket, and keep it in your bag to slowly warm up. If you bring your camera straight into a warm place, it will get covered in condensation that could potentially destroy the electronics.” The same holds true for lenses and polarizers, Salaverry reminds us.
10. You’ll need a headlamp.
This item is at the top of Gie’s packing list. “If you can’t see, you’re not going anywhere,” he reminds us.
11. Don’t forget your flash.
Image by Creaturart Images. Gear: Fujifilm X-E1 camera, Fujinon 18-55 2.8-4 LM OIS lens. Settings: Focal length 31mm; exposure 1/40 sec; f/18; ISO 200.
“If I want to take pictures at night, a flash, a wireless remote trigger, and a few colored filters can come in handy,” Creaturart Images explains.
12. Double check everything.
Salaverry explains, “There are small items that you simply can’t forget—like that small base that connects your camera to the tripod. Forgetting it makes the tripod you’re carrying totally useless. Make a checklist and double check it. A shutter release remote/cable is critical too when shooting long exposures because some cameras won’t let you expose for more than 30 seconds without it.”
Maxim echoes this sentiment, telling us, “This might sound like silly advice, but before leaving the house, double check your gear. That means checking if your batteries (and extra batteries) are charged and if your camera has a memory card (or two).”
13. Understand your gear.
All these tips won’t help if you don’t know your gear like the back of your hand, especially since you’ll be limited on what you can bring. “Know what works and how to squeeze the most out of your gear,” Gie emphasizes.
14. Be deliberate about the shots you take.
“Since I don’t carry my camera in hand while hiking, I had to practice removing gear from my back as quickly as possible, and I’ll admit this has burned me a few times when I’ve rounded a corner on a trail and found myself suddenly face-to-face with a moose, elk, or bear,” Wolski tells us. “Especially for landscapes, I’ve had to adjust and be much more intentional with my shots. Since it usually takes a minute or two to get set up, I can’t just be pointing my camera at every flower, stream, or mountain I see. My biggest tip is to be deliberate, start a hike with a specific location in mind, and enjoy most of the hike knowing that your camera is tucked away safe and warm.”
15. Stay safe.
Image by Melnikov Sergey. Gear: Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II camera, Olympus 12-40mm f2,8 lens. Settings: Focal length 16mm; exposure 1/500 sec; ISO 500.
One time, Melnikov found himself on a spontaneous hike in the mountains, only he didn’t pack much food. For two days, he ate dried fruit and got his water from a glacier. The photos were terrific, but we’re sure he was hungry! Gie tells us, “Bring snacks—some food goes a long way toward restoring your psyche—along with suncream and electrolyte tablets if it’s hot, and dry socks and a t-shirt if it’s cold.”
Staying safe also means taking the necessary precautions. “Before starting your hike, tell someone where you plan to go,” Maxim suggests. “If you change your plans, write a short text, just in case something happens to you.”
16. Travel with friends.
Image by Kovop58. Gear: Nikon D7000 camera, Nikon 18-140mm f/3,5-5,6G lens. Settings: Focal length 18.3mm; exposure 1/250 sec; f10.0; ISO 200.
“In most cases, I travel with my wife Linda,” Sunke tells us. “Try to inspire your fellow travelers to assist you in difficult situations and motivate them with the expectation of wonderful pictures. It is quite hard to manage all the equipment in harsh environments and weather conditions by yourself, and others can help with changing lenses, preparing the tripod, or just holding an umbrella over you and the camera. Work as a team, and have fun!”
Kovop58 agrees, adding, “During photo trips in the mountains, it’s really important for me not to be alone. In groups of two (or more), even a hard climb seems easier and waiting for good light doesn’t last so long. We can discuss the light, composition, or points of view. Your traveling companion can also be a model in your photos and make mountain scenery more attractive. The ‘small man and big landscape’ motif is always impressive.”
Top Image by Claudiu Maxim
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