HOW TO TAKE GREAT HIKING PHOTOS
By adventurer photographer, Kat Carney.
If you love to get outside and go hiking, chances are you also like to take hiking photos to capture your adventures and share them with friends, family, or the social media world. However, often during a long day of hiking many people decide that getting their camera out poses too much of a challenge, the light isn’t good anyway, and there are a bunch of other people in the way ruining their perfect shot. Those people walk away with no memories captured as images and often wish they had mementos of their adventures.
After photographing people living life outside professionally for several years I’ve learned a thing or two about best practices for taking great hiking shots. Follow these tips for taking great hiking photos to avoid the aforementioned scenario and end up with fantastic memories of your hike.
Like Kat’s work? Check out her adventure wedding photography business, Swell and Stone.
Make sure your camera is accessible
Bringing your camera along is the first step to taking hiking photos, but make sure it functions as more than a really expensive training weight and actually take it out and use it. Find a setup that allows you to comfortably hike with your camera. That usually means keeping it at the top of your pack or in a case or holder outside of your bag instead of burying it under your lunch at the bottom. I have a neoprene sleeve for my camera, and I usually sling it around one shoulder and wrap it in the sleeve in case it bumps into anything when I’m hiking.
Get more tips for carrying a camera while you hike
Hit the trail early
By early, I mean before sunrise (trust me, it’s worth it!). Not only will you get to capture people on the trail in beautiful golden hour light, you will see way fewer people along the way. Last year when my husband and I rolled into Banff National Park in Canada we were overwhelmed by more than just the beauty of the park, there were thousands of people walking around some of the lakes. We easily got away from the crowds by waking up early and doing more difficult hikes during the day, or backpacking trips on the weekend, and then checking out the viewpoints and well-known spots for sunrise and sunset. That is a win-win because the light is great for hiking photos at that time as well. Most people are asleep when the sun rises and eating dinner when the sun sets, so if you adjust your schedule a little bit you can enjoy beautiful spots without the crowds.
Place your subject in the “empty space”
When taking hiking photos, the person or subject you are photographing can easily get lost in the background noise of the photo. Place them over a solid colored background or in an empty space in the shot instead of over a busy backdrop. This way they really pop off the photo and draw your eye around the image accordingly.
Tell your friends to wear bright colors
Along the same vein as the last tip, you want your hiking subject to pop out of the scene. Tell them to wear bright colors, or think about where you are hiking and if possible put them in colors that complement the background. For example, if you are hiking around a blue glacial lake have your subject wear red, and if you are hiking through the red rock desert have your subject wear blue.
Capture people actually hiking
That’s right; don’t just have your friends stand at overlooks staring off into the distance without their pack for the gram. I personally find images where people are actually doing things so much more interesting. Aim to capture people while hiking along. If you see a beautiful backdrop get into a position to capture it as people walk through the scene. Sometimes this means running ahead to get the shot, other times this means lagging behind to photograph.
As a photographer you always seem to be running, keep that in mind, as you are not only doing all the hiking that everyone else is doing, but you’re also taking time to capture shots. This means that you need to be at least as fast, if not faster than others in your group.
Tell the story of your journey
Going on a 3-day backcountry adventure? Make sure you capture all the styles of shots that effectively tell a story. That includes detail shots, wide landscapes, and hero or action shots. Detail shots might include something like close-ups of setting up the tent. The wide landscape shots will be your friends at that gorgeous viewpoint, and the action or hero shot can be an emotional portrait of the hiking uphill struggle or your friend’s jubilant reaction to making it to the camp spot for the evening.
Going on a smaller day hike? You can tell that story in a slightly different way. Show packing your bags with headlamps on before sunrise, get the shot of hiking along as the sun rises, and of course the obligatory viewpoint or summit shot. Don’t forget to capture the small things, too; animals on the trail, snack breaks, and filtering water all make for great detail shots and pieces to fill in the story puzzle.
Basic Camera Settings for Taking Hiking Photos
Understanding the basics of your camera, as well as basic camera settings, will allow you to move away from shooting in auto mode and will give you more control over your photos. Here is a basic intro to camera settings, as well as some things to keep in mind when manually selecting your camera settings for taking hiking photos.
Intro to Camera Settings
There are three factors that affect exposure: shutter speed, aperture (or f-stop), and ISO. Get a handle of what each of these things do, and you’ll be more able to create the type of image you see in your mind.
- Shutter speed is the length of time the shutter is open. The longer the shutter is open, the more movement the camera will capture.
- Aperture refers to the size of the opening of the lens’s diaphragm through which the light passes. A smaller f-stop, which is confusingly a larger number like f22, lets less light into the camera. This is what you should use if you want your entire photo in focus. A larger opening, like f2.8, lets more light into the camera and will result a greater depth of field, meaning your subject will be in focus with the rest of the background blurry.
- ISO sensitivity is simply how sensitive the sensor is to light. A general rule of thumb here is to use the lowest ISO possible in a given situation. For most cameras, the lowest option is ISO 100, but if you’re in a low light situation you might have to bump it up to something like ISO 1600 in order to have a fast enough shutter speed to create a sharp image. The higher the ISO, the more grainy the photo will be.
It can be a bit tough to get these three settings to work in unison to achieve the image in your mind, but the more you practice the more it will become second nature and you will grasp a total understanding of what each setting does.
Tips for Taking Hiking Photos When Shooting in Manual
If you’re trying to learn how to gain better knowledge and control of your camera, shooting in manual when you’re out hiking is a great way to practice.
Most of the time you will be photographing people in landscapes. Think about the style and feeling you would like to convey and find the most interesting composition. After you know where you want to place your subject you have a few choices to make on your camera settings:
- You’ll want to choose a shutter speed fast enough that the image is not blurry. If your hiking subject is blurry in your photos, you shutter speed could be too slow (meaning your shutter is open too long). As a rule of thumb, if you are shooting handheld and want a crisp photo with no movement, you want your shutter speed to be faster than 1/30 of a second.
- Next, set your aperture or f-stop. If you would like your subject in focus and the background out of focus, use a wide-open aperture, such as f2.8 (depending on your lens). If you would like as much of the image as possible to be in focus (both the foreground and the background), choose a smaller aperture (higher f-stop number), like f8 or higher.
- And finally, set your ISO, which you generally want to set to the lowest number possible based on your aperture and shutter speed settings.
While applying these tips will add a little more effort to your next hike, the added work will result in more interesting and beautiful photos of your adventure. Now get out there and shoot!