Hiking Ireland’s green valleys, scrambling up mountainsides, walking along the coastal ledge, AND capturing the moment. How do you balance photography and hiking? Hiking photography is a fantastic opportunity of capturing landscapes and sweeping views, but it is also a great challenge. Your first hiking priority should always be safety, and doing photography while hiking can become a lot to juggle; not to mention it’s also a lot of extra weight to carry in an already heavy pack. Plus, when you’re hiking (especially with a group) you don’t have the luxury of hanging out until the light or scene is ‘just right’ for the photograph, you have to keep going along the trail to reach your destination.
These hiking photography tips are primarily for photo enthusiasts and amateurs carrying a DSLR or mirrorless camera; one that has interchangeable lenses. However, these tips and techniques can apply to smart phones and compact cameras too!
Hiking Photography Tips
It all starts with packing – what should you bring with you? Of course you have to bring all the hiking necessities like layers, rain gear, water, food, and anything else your guide tells you to include. However, you’ll also want to bring your camera and a couple of lenses. Before you know it, you’ve got a really heavy backpack.
If you have an interchangeable lens camera – then you have the luxury of bringing multiple lenses. However you don’t want to fill your whole trekking backpack with lenses, so choose wisely to maximize your focal range but minimize your weight. Consider a zoom lens that will give you a telephoto option and landscape option; something like a 24mm to 240mm.
If you have a camera with multiple lenses, then you’ll want to protect those lenses well. Most camera backpacks are for professional photographers carrying large amounts of gear and leave no room for other hiking items you need. You’ll need to look for a backpack that will carry both your necessary gear and your camera lenses and accessories, like this Lowepro Photo Sport .
Go Hands Free with a Harness
You will likely be hiking with poles, so consider getting a camera harness that will allow you to keep your hands free while you hike, but also ensure your camera is easily accessible. Cotton Carrier makes camera harnesses perfect for hiking photography. If you are carrying a phone camera or smaller camera, just make sure you secure it with a carabineer hooked somewhere to your backpack just in case you drop it.
Batteries and Cards
Make sure you have more than enough battery power as batteries die fast in the colder weather! Bring double what you think you need in batteries and put them in pockets close to your body to keep them warm and fully charged. You’ll also want to bring double the amount of storage that you think you need as you don’t want to run out of SD card space in the middle of a hike!
Rain Gear and Protection from the Elements
Just like you pack quality rain gear for yourself on the trail, you’ll also want to make sure you are protecting your camera. To protect it in your backpack, Bring a dry sack or some sort of waterproof bag to put your camera in while it’s inside your backpack in case your backpack gets wet. To protect your camera while you are shooting in the rain get a LensCoat RainCoat.
This is personal preference. Tripods are bulky and don’t easily fit in hiking backpacks, so really consider if you NEED to bring it. If you’re shooting during daylight hours, you should have enough light to use a fast enough shutter speed and simply handhold the camera for a sharp shot.
Taking Photos On the Hiking Trail
Time of day
Photographers always talk about how important time of day is when it comes to shooting. They tell you to go out at dusk and dawn and shoot with the favorable light. However, when you hike, you have a schedule to keep and typically a group to follow. The idea of putting yourself in the right place at the exact right time/light for photography isn’t always possible; you have to take what Mother Nature gives to you and work with it the best you can.
If you come across a great scene in the mid day harsh light, don’t skip the photo, take it and consider these tips:
- Underexpose the image a bit, you may be able to edit those dark areas in post processing.
- Use a polarizing filter to help filter the light and reduce lens flare
- Compose the shot so there is not as much sky in the photo, cropping in and filing the frame with more mountain or tree details instead of the bright contrasting sky.
- If you are photographing a person, see if you can move them into the shadows or under a tree to diffuse the harsh midday light.
When hiking you have to be ready for the scene and be able to pick up your camera and shoot quick before the object or opportunity passes. This normally means that you don’t want to be fumbling around trying to get your camera out of your pack as the bird flies off or the interesting person hikes past you. When possible on the trail, have your camera out and ready, with the appropriate settings (ISO, aperture, and shutter) for the mountain scene. This is where a camera harness comes in really handy!
Composition in Hiking Photography
All of these hiking photography tips are great, however the easiest things you can do to improve your hiking pictures is to work on your photo composition.
Rule of Thirds
The simplest thing you can do to change a picture from ok to great is don’t put your subject (mountain peak, tree, trail) in the center of the picture. The concept is called Rule of Thirds:
“An image should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts by two equally-spaced horizontal lines and two equally-spaced vertical lines, and that important composition elements should be placed along these lines or their intersections. It is believed that by aligning a subject with these points creates more tension, energy and interest in the composition than simply centering the subject would.”
This rule applies to your horizon line too! Avoid putting your horizon in the middle of the photo and follow the rule of thirds instead.
Mountains are steep, and daunting; however, if you just take a typical landscape only photo you may look at it and think, “It felt bigger in person”. Often what we see is different than what the camera sees. To help show perspective, or steepness, include a person in your photograph. A person provides a better perspective of the size of the landscape. In addition, adding people to your pictures gives the trail more life and transports the viewer to the scene. Finally, try to find people who are wearing bright colors who will show up in the scene.
Get Low to the Ground
Most of us see something we want to photograph, put the camera up to our eye level and click. However, photography is about moving; crouching, standing on things, putting your camera on the ground and changing perspectives.
When you put the camera close to the ground you create interesting perspectives. You’ll get bolder lines and compositions with objects in the foreground appearing bigger and more dynamic.
The Perfect Hiking Landscape
Landscape isn’t just about a big, wide shot of land and sky, the best landscape shots normally have an object or something in the foreground that it interesting too. Choosing a foreground object, like the beautiful Irish Wildflowers , is maybe the most creatively important part of taking a great landscape shot.
Use these hiking photography tips when you come with us on your Ireland hiking adventure and you’ll come home with photos you’ll be proud of.