Since I moved to Colorado almost two years ago (has it already been that long?!), I’ve done a lot of hiking. Its one of my favorite feelings in the world–standing above everything else, taking in the fresh air, and knowing that you’ve just climbed a mountain. And I’ve learned a couple things along the way when it comes to taking better photos when you hike.
Firstly, every single hike is different. There is a variety of environments, altitudes, or seasons to be hiking in, and they all create something beautiful in their own way. One of the best tips I can give to you is something you’ll have to learn yourself–the hike. I’ve done the same hike numerous times and now know the best time to shoot, the best location to be at, and the best photography opportunity spots. Its all about prior knowledge.
Know your hike before you try to photograph it.
You aren’t always going to be able to get the weather you want, or the light you want, especially at the top of a summit. On today’s hike, we had gotten where we wanted to be, but the way the sun was positioned at that time behind another ridge, led the valley below us to be dark and have a lack of color. I pulled out as much of the green as I could using my Canon RebelT5 with manual settings. For landscapes, I like to use F22, ISO 1600, and then I change the exposure compensation (usually I use 2/3 to 1 ), but today was closer to 0 since the sky appeared fully white.
Keep it natural or keep it in thirds.
One of the best thing about hiking photography is that its all up to you–you can shoot people, landscapes, microphotography. You have all the options in the world so you can make each hike exactly what you want.
As for candids, you can definitely get them and always try to–they are my favorite. But if you are having trouble getting a subject in your photo, ask their movements to be as natural as possible (if you’re looking for a candid-esque picture). Tell them to turn their heads, to keep moving, to walk a few steps. If I want to get someone walking down a trail, I don’t tell them to stop mid-walk, I shoot consistently until I get a shot I like.
If you are shooting them in the shot, but they are facing the camera try out different angles, different heights, and different frames. There is so much to capture on a mountain its hard to get it all, but I definitely live by the photography rule of thirds. Its a great way to not only include your subject, but the scenery as well, I mean you need to see all that you’ve accomplished! (I’ll have a new blog post up soon about shooting portraits and the settings I use for those!)
Be ready with your camera.
Another factor of shooting hiking photography is that you are hiking. You are going to want to be as lightweight as possible for the day, so having a camera strap or bag that won’t make your shoulder sore or your neck ache is what you want. I would also suggest something easily accessible and quiet. Accessible for quick photos on the trip up or down that you don’t have to take extra time to pull out the camera for, and in a way you can do quietly to capture wildlife (no zippers or shuffling) because they won’t stick around to find out if you are friend or foe. If I had a nickel for every time a deer or elk crossed my path, but I couldn’t get to camera fast enough before they saw me…Ahhh!
Early bird or night owl?
Hiking during the sunset or sunrise is definitely worth it, but not always possible. I love hiking in the morning, even if it means being up at 4. I don’t realize how much I climb until it starts getting light out and by then I’m near the summit. You’ll get an array of colors and settings as the sun comes up, and on the way down you get to photograph all that you might’ve missed going up in the dark.
Sunset also has some amazing qualities–its perfect with a touch of water around, and even better with clouds to reflect the color all the more and make it pop. If you know where you’re going and what to expect, definitely plan on trying this once or twice.
Weather, weather, weather…
Weather will affect your hiking photography and light, hence the “magic hours” that I stated above. You have to factor in wind (think of your subject’s hair blowing), rain (cool, but is it worth it?), snow (this WILL affect exposure). Be aware of the weather you may encounter and the best way you can either avoid it or use it to your advantage. Although sunsets on a mountain look amazing, your photo can be amazing in other ways.
Less is more.
When it comes to hiking photography, or really any landscape photography, less is definitely more. Keep it simple; its easy to look at and for the eyes to find the center of the photo. This can go for any type of photography really, but is most appealing for landscapes.
Stay safe, bring a buddy, tell somewhere when you should be back. Don’t get off the trails, don’t feed the wildlife, and don’t climb where you aren’t supposed to.
Get out there, get hiking, get happy.