So, You Want To Photograph Your Thru Hike

It makes sense to want to capture awesome pictures of your hike. After all, spending any considerable amount of time on the trail is sure to be a life changing experience, and one that you are going to want to look back on through photos.

Many people opt for the good ol’ cell phone camera, which honestly isn’t a bad idea. The cameras in cell phones have gotten unbelievably good and for the majority of people, the quality and resolution are more than enough to document the trip. Not carrying an additional camera can also shave anywhere between a few ounces to a few pounds off your back.

For the select group of people who want to have the creative freedom and photo quality that a DSLR camera can produce and are willing to increase their pack weight to do so: figuring out exactly how to go about bringing your really expensive and somewhat fragile camera on the trail for 6 months can be somewhat daunting.

At the end of the day, bringing a professional grade camera on the trail adds a significant amount of weight, can cause additional headaches while planning before the trip, and gives you one more thing to worry about while getting caught in a thunderstorm. With that being said, if getting good pictures is an important part of your hike, then it is 100% worth it.

The Bigelows of Maine looking extra pretty

I took my camera with me on my hike, and continue to bring it with me every time I go both on day hikes or into the backcountry. Below are a few things I have learned along the way:

Upgrade Your Camera and Get A Protection Plan

Dropping money on a new camera is probably one of the last things you want to do while saving up for your thru hike. However, if you are able to upgrade then I would recommend going for a mirrorless camera. These new breeds of cameras are smaller, lighter, and take up less space in your pack. The best part is that the mirrorless technology and size difference doesn’t sacrifice image quality in the slightest. In addition to upgrading, getting an accident/ drop protection plan on your camera will save you the extra stress when you inevitably hit that 10 day stretch of pouring rain, or trip while walking to the overlook.

Sunset at Maxpatch

 

Bring Only The Lenses That You Need

This will be different for every person depending on your style of photography and the type of things you like to shoot, however try to bring the least amount of lenses possible to save on weight. When deciding what to bring, choose a lens that can work well in a vary of situations, and (if at all possible) is on the lighter side! Keep in mind that you won’t feel like changing your lens out 10 times a day. I find that I really only stick with one lens and change out every once in a while when in backpacking.

Plan Out Your Batteries / Charging Capabilities

This is a big one because there is no sense in carrying an extra pound or more in camera equipment if you can’t use your camera because the battery is dead. Personally, I bring along an Antec Life Bar and it works great. I am able to charge my camera batteries, and my cell phone multiple times each and I am never left without battery life in the woods. However, there are a variety of power bars that come in a lot of different power levels and sizes. If going the power bar route, make sure that the charger for your camera batteries supports being charged by a USB cable. Bringing along an extra battery or 2 might not be the worst thing either.

Shenandoah

Don’t Hike With Your Camera In Your Pack

Admittedly, I used my camera very little the first few weeks of my hike. I traveled with my camera at the very top of my pack, but I rarely felt like taking my pack off to take my camera out. I did start using my camera without hesitation though after I bite the bullet and bought a Peak Design Capture Clip. The clip attaches right onto the front strap of your pack so it’s easy to grab your camera when you need it, but your camera is still out of the way when you’re in the middle of your big climb of the day. Having your camera out undoubtedly makes you use it more, and if you’re carrying the extra weight of your camera equipment already, then it’s worth it. I also purchased the Ultralight Camera Shell by Peak Design to protect my camera against abrasions from branches and light precipitation.

It’s Not All About Those Dreamy Mountain Views

When I look back at pictures from past hikes, I can still tell you exactly which mountain I was on, which state I was in, what happened that day, how many miles I did, etc. However, I often find myself wishing I took more photographs of people I hiked with, the shelters and hostels I slept in, and how gross we all looked on day 8 without a shower. Your pictures don’t always have to be National Geographic worthy – photograph the entire experience. You will be really happy that you did.

Siler Bald in North Carolina on a beautiful summer day

My biggest piece of advice to photographing your hike? Just take the picture. There are going to be more than a few times that you see something beautiful that you want to photograph, but maybe you are too tired, running low on day light, or trying to catch a group of hikers. It doesn’t matter. You never know when you are going to be in that particular spot at that time of day ever again, so just suck it up and take 5 seconds to take the picture.

Happy Hiking!

Bear Fence Mountain at sunset is a must see when in Shenandoah!

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Comments 5

  • Pierre-Yves : Jan 6th

    Those Peak Design clip are so worth it, when your camera is in your bag you simply don’t take pictures. Won’t protect your camera from rain, I use a plastic bag when the rain is light otherwise I put the camera in my backpack.

    Reply
  • Mark Stanavage : Jan 7th

    I have a Fujifilm Finepix ax550, and love most of my pictures, but I am ready for the next level. Bought an Olympus TG-4, but it takes horrible panoramas. Thinking of returning and getting Sony Cyber-shot RX 100 or Sony a6000. Any thoughts? Any advice would be helpful and really appreciated!

    Reply
    • Ioanna : Jan 9th

      Mark, I consider buying Sony rx100 m3 one of the best decisions I made last year before hiking. It’s tiny enough to hide in my backpack’s belt pocket – so very easy to reach. The photos quality are amazing! Not just “for a compact camera”. I love it!

      Great points, Coleen! To make more memorable photos, I also started to take more selfies – as I wanted to have more memories with me in it – not just, as you said it – National Geographic quality photos (or what I call postcards). I used to take only “views”, which was nice, but my Mom always complained… and with time I also wanted to have my own self in them 😉 I also second the need to take the daily fun/pain of hiking – including muddy boots, blisters, weird unwashed hairdo’s etc.

      Thanks!
      Ioanna (A Woman Afoot)

      Reply
  • Kestrelchick : Jan 11th

    thanks so much for this – I am a photography freak – I am the one who everyone hates to hike with because I am fascinated with looking at everything. I have a very heavy Nikon D7000 – I love my camera but just can’t see how to make it work and have been agonizing over what camera to purchase for my thru-hike – I love my Tokina wide-angle lens and I have not found a camera that will take awesome panos as well as regular shots without having to carry 2 lenses…..it is driving me bonkers 🙂

    Reply
  • Ed Matthews : Jan 13th

    Here’s a few things I’ve learned:

    Leave the big body at home. I bring an old Nikon D80 with me always. The bigger, heavier F bodies stay at home.

    Pick a single lens for the trip: Changing lenses in the field is nice in theory but practically something I never do. I use an 18-300 telephoto or an 18-135 depending on my mood. They aren’t great lenses but if they’re damaged in the field, they aren’t great lenses. But they are good enough. I wish at times for a wider field of view for landscapes, but more often I find myself trying to shoot a bear at 100 yards.

    Faster lenses are better. To a point. Faster is longer and heavier, but I find many of my best photo ops are in marginal light requiring a faster lens. I find that f/5.6 is almost always too slow. f/4 seems to be a good speed/weight point for me. Faster than this is awesome but I’m not willing to carry the extra weight.

    Regardless of your opinion of clear UV filters, I recommend using them on hikes to keep your lens clean and dry. I always bring along a single 4-stop polarizing filter as well and I keep it in my hip belt pocket. It’s no good if buried in my pack.

    Op/Tech makes neat little inexpensive straps that clip onto your shoulder straps or around the load lifters. They quick connect to the straps on the camera and are compatible with all my other Op/Tech slings and straps. This leaves my camera always on my chest ready for action. The downside is that I have to unclip the camera before I can take my pack off, but how many times a day do I take my pack off? Not often. The camera does swing a bit if I am really hoofing it, but not so bad that it bothers me.

    Always take plenty of memory cards; they weigh next to nothing. I shoot about 350 frames a day so I use that to determine how many cards to bring, plus a spare. Save some time by preformatting them at home, if necessary. After the day’s hike is done, I make a quick pass through the day’s frames on the camera and delete any obvious garbage to free space.

    For light rain, I use a T-shirt shopping bag draped around the camera on my chest, looking just like hiker trash. For insistent rain I dismount the camera and pack it in a small dry bag and stow it in my pack.

    I don’t bring a tripod. I’m a big fan of leaning on trees (that backfired once in a gale!) or rocks or using one of my trekking poles. Also, I use image-stabilized lenses which really helps.

    The single biggest piece of advice I can give is to shoot a lot of candids. When looking back at my photos of trips, while the bald eagle by the river is cool and that sunset is stunning, it’s the pictures of friends and people met on the trail that bring me the consistently best memories.

    Reply

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