Hiking with Your Camera: Tips to Help You Get Great Photos

Kim hiking in the Italian Dolomites with only a camera body and a single lens.

Hiking in the Italian Dolomites with only my camera body and a single lens.

One of my most favoritest things to do is go hiking. There’s almost nothing better than being outside, breathing in the crisp air surrounded by beautiful scenery, and possibly spotting wildlife, if you’re lucky.

I always like to bring my camera with me just in case there’s something amazing I want to capture on the hike. But a lot of times I also want to enjoy myself and not worry so much about having to lug around a lot of gear or switch lenses (especially if the terrain is sketchy or the weather’s bad).

What Photo Gear I Bring

I often bring only my camera body and a single lens with me when I hike. As you probably know already, I like to stay super lean and when I’m hiking for hours I typically like to keep the load as light as possible.

Sometimes I’ll opt for my wide zoom (like in the image above, where I’m using Canon’s 17-40mm f/4.0) and other times I’ll grab only the Canon 50mm f/1.8.

If I bring the wide, I’ll usually have my circular polarizing filter, too. If it’s a bluebird day the filter really helps pop that amazing sky.

Polarizers also help with reflections, so if I’ll be passing by a lake or stream, the filter helps cut down on glare and you can straight through the water if it’s clear enough. Sometimes I’ll even spot little fishies swimmin’ around.

Since I usually just bring my camera body and a single lens, I don’t always bring along a backpack. But if I do, I’ll have room for things like extra jackets, food and water.

Hiking in the Dolomite Mountains in Italy.

Hiking in the Dolomite Mountains in Italy.

Other than that, I’ll probably only have a few extra memory cards and possibly an extra battery (though most times I’ll probably be starting out with a fresh battery so that won’t be necessary).

Tips to Help You Never Miss a Shot

1. If you see something you want to shoot, shoot it NOW

One of the things I think is helpful to remember is that if you find something you want to take a photo of as you’re walking along, go ahead and take a photo of it now. There’s a good chance that otherwise you’ll

1) forget it was there,

2) not be able to find the same spot on the return trip or

3) the weather conditions will have changed and it now the scene as pretty as it was

The thing about hiking is that you’re not always returning along the same route you hiked in on. And even if you did, it never looks the same when you’re moving in the opposite direction.

2. Turn around and look behind you.

This is kinda like the tip above but not quite the same.

When you’re hiking along, try to take quick peeks behind you to check out the view. Oftentimes you’ll find that that perspective is way better than the one you see while trekking forward.

When we visited the Cinque Terre in Italy, we stayed in Vernazza (where we ate possibly the best pesto pizza ever). As most people do when they visit the region, we hiked the trail connecting all 5 towns. And as we left Vernazza and started on the trail, had I not looked backwards as we were leaving town, I would’ve missed this shot of the colorful buildings.

The town of Vernazza in the Cinque Terre, Italy. (Photo: Kim Olson)

The town of Vernazza in the Cinque Terre, Italy.

If you think you can always get the shot some other time or possibly just take a photo of it when you are heading back down again, it usually doesn’t end up working that way. So just keep an eye over your shoulder for that shot you don’t want to miss.

3. Pay keen attention to everything around you.

I’ve talked about learning to be an excellent observer and it’s even more important when you’re out hiking around.

Your view is constantly changing with every step you make and you never know when inspiration will strike you. It’s definitely a great idea to keep your eyes open for the good stuff.

As a photographer you’ll want to be looking for the right moment, the right light, the right perspective, and keeping your eyes open for when all these things come together is what helps you get the shot.

When you’re hiking, you can start to become focused on each step and forget to pay attention to the scenery around you. Without falling off any cliffs, try to remember to look around you. There are times when the trees clear and you’ll get stunning views of the vistas beyond.

I could’ve easily walked right on by this shot of the cliffside town of Corniglia in the Cinque Terre, Italy, had I not being paying attention.

Cornigla in the Cinque Terre, Italy. (Photo: Kim Olson)

Cornigla in the Cinque Terre, Italy.

4. Make sure you protect your gear.

If you do decide you want to carry along a lot of other gear on your hike, be sure to pack it well.

Depending on how tough the terrain is that you’ll be trekking through, you’ll want to be sure your lenses have enough padding and that if you’ll be caught in rain, you have something to protect your equipment from getting too wet.

If you have higher quality professional lenses, you’ll have to worry less about water or even blowing dust or sand, but you’ll still want to be sure you keep your stuff safe. Foggy or gritty lenses and bodies are no fun.

5. Keep your camera accessible.

Not everybody will agree with me, but I like to sling my camera across my shoulder and leave my lens cap off.

I know it can get dusty on the trail but I’d rather have my camera primed and ready to shoot at any given moment than miss the shot because I’m struggling to get the cap off in time.

If you have lens hoods for your lenses, I’d highly recommend leaving them on whenever you have the lens caps off (and you can also use UV/haze filters for more protection, too). It provides a little extra layer of protection in case you happen to swing your camera and accidentally bump your lens against something hard (not that I’ve ever done that of course).

This gentleman below appeared suddenly in our view as we were hiking in the Dolomite Mountains in Italy. He was moving along at a fast pace and I loved how little he looked when compared to the huge mountains in the background. Had I not been ready at that precise moment he rounded the corner, I would’ve missed my shot.

Guy running with his bike in the Dolomite Mountains of Italy. (Photo: Kim Olson)

Guy running with his bike in the Dolomite Mountains of Italy.

To Sum Up

Even though these tips are geared towards hikers, they also apply if you’re out on a photo walk in your city. Or in the countryside. Or wherever you’re walking around with your camera, really.

It’s always a good idea to keep these things in mind so that you never miss a shot that you could’ve had.

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One Response to Hiking with Your Camera: Tips to Help You Get Great Photos

  1. Carol May 25, 2013 at 2:34 pm #

    wow! what great photos!