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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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