Picture this: you’re hiking across, say, Yosemite and you see this really awesome view of the granite cliffs. You whip out your camera, snap a photo, and excitedly review your image…only to find that it’s absolutely nothing like the stunning view in front of you!
What could possibly be wrong?
Lots of outdoorsmen love to hike and take photos at the same time. The only problem is that a lot of them also have a hard time capturing great images. Thankfully, there are a lot of ways to improve when it comes to outdoor photography.
Check out these tried and tested tips on how to shoot great images while enjoying your hike:
What’s Your Weapon Of Choice?
Meaning, what kind of camera will you bring on the trail? Often a really great phone camera is enough to do the trick. Lots of smartphones offer impressive image quality and come with convenient features. They’re also lightweight and don’t need additional gear. Lastly, if you’re fond of sharing stuff on social media, your phone can let you do that without a hitch…as soon as you find reception, that is.
Other hikers and hardcore photography hobbyists might prefer a digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera. These cameras come with gear like lenses and tripods and are therefore much heavier than your phone cam. DSLRs also require a certain level of skill— they can be a bit complicated to use in the beginning. They can, however, take your photography up a notch in terms of quality and customization.
The middle ground between your phone and a DSLR is a mirrorless camera. These cameras have the best qualities of a DSLR without the added bulk. Still, if you’re into a bit of adventure and wont to do other activities like rock-climbing or canyoning on top of your hike, an action cam like a GoPro could be your camera of choice. Action cams usually have shatter and waterproof cases and helmet attachments that make them perfect for these types of adventures.
Consider The Weight Of Your Camera Gear
A lot of people think that in order to achieve a great picture, you’d have to carry everything but the kitchen sink…which isn’t really true. As long as you have the right tools, you don’t have to have a heavy pack for great photography.
Once you’ve decided on what kind of camera you’ll bring, you can then pick out everything else. If you’re carrying a DSLR or mirrorless camera, you have to choose one or two lenses that can do the job. For landscape photography, wide-angle lenses are the way to go. They don’t weigh that much and can capture awesome terrain.
Up next, batteries. Will you be bringing spares? If so, how many? Are you going to bring a solar charger or power bank with you?
Then there’s the tripod. Tripods are essential for capturing sharp images. You can either carry the affordable, bulky ones or invest in the lightweight but pricey variety. If you’re not fond of bringing either, there’s always your trekking pole. Turns out, it works as a pretty decent monopod.
These are the bare bones of your outdoor photography gear. You can always add more, depending on your level of comfort and the kind of images you want to capture but often, these are enough for outdoor photography.
Keep Your Gear Dry and Safe
Photography isn’t the cheapest hobby out there, so it’s important to protect your gear from the elements. A waterproof and shockproof case for your gear can offer protection against cold, moisture and condensation. A well-fitting backpack is also a good alternative. Batteries can also discharge faster in the cold, so make sure they stay dry and warm.
Observe Your Surroundings
Now, let’s take pictures! When spending time outdoors, it’s vital that you observe your surroundings. It’s kind of a given, but one can’t stress it enough.
Take the scenery in. Admire it. Go the extra mile and scout for the best spot to take photos. Capture the view in its entirety by using a wide depth of field. Get everything— your foreground, middle, and background— in focus.
On the other hand, don’t forget to look out for little details that a lot of people might miss, like a path less taken (or photographed, for that matter), a different angle of a particularly popular spot, or flora and fauna that grow on the trail. For this purpose, you might want to switch over to a more narrow depth of field, where you focus on the subject and blur out the rest.
Compose Your Photo Well
Composition can make or break your photo. It’s important to have a mental picture of the photo you want to achieve.
Photography enthusiasts often use the Rule of Thirds to compose their photos. In the Rule of Thirds, you imagine a grid with two horizontal and vertical lines. The points where the lines intersect are ideally where you should put your subject, and the horizontal lines are where you’d place the horizon.
Speaking of horizons, make sure to keep them straight. You can always edit this in post-processing but getting it right the first time saves you a lot of time and makes for really stunning photos.
Landscape photography is oftentimes about waiting for the right moment, like shooting multiple frames of rapids until you get the right shot, or waiting for the perfect slant of light to hit the foliage.
A lot of outdoor photographers wait for the Golden Hour or the moments right before sunset or sunrise. The Golden Hour is when the sky comes alive with magnificent colors, which really makes everything more dramatic and photogenic. In Yosemite National Park, people even wait around Horseshoe Falls for hours in February to witness the annual “firefall”, a phenomenon where the sunset hits the falls in just the right angle, making it glow as if on fire.
When taking photographs outdoors, patience truly is a virtue.
Outdoor photography isn’t something you learn overnight. You’ll encounter a lot of rookie mistakes. You might struggle a bit with your camera’s settings or have warring thoughts on what gear you’d bring. Don’t stress— all you need is some practice. Keep shooting, even if things don’t come out perfect at first. Just keep at it, and expand your knowledge by watching photography courses and getting out there and capturing awesome views!
Anything else we missed? Let us know in the comments below!