Hiking trails offer many wonderful opportunities for photographers: wildlife, scenic views, waterfalls, strange plants and beautiful flowers. This article shares tips to help you take the best pictures possible along the way.
Be aware of light, or its lack thereof
As always, light should be the first thing to be aware of when taking pictures along the trail. And lighting can become very tricky…
First, even if the sun is shining above the trees, the shade provided by a canopy can be significant, and you will often find yourself in a low light situation. When also considering that you will probably be breathing hard from the effort of hiking, one conclusion is straightforward: brace yourself when taking a photo.
Brace yourself against a tree, a rock wall, anything that will provide support. If possible, use the camera viewfinder instead of the LCD, and take a few seconds to control your breathing before taking a shot.
Another lighting problem is that holes in the canopy can create patches of very bright light next to shadow areas. This can be a tricky situation for a camera to meter, leading to under-exposure of some zones, especially faces.
Using a flash
One obvious solution to lighting problems is to use the flash. This can work very well, but the photographer should be aware of the limitations of his/her flash. A built-in digital camera flash can reach, at most, around 12 feet, sometimes less, rarely more. Subjects are often much farther away than this, so a flash is useless in many situations.
Also, if the background is darker than the subject, or some distance away, it will probably not be correctly lit, delivering a picture with a clear subject with a dark or even black background. To help avoid this use the Fill Flash option, also known as Forced Flash, available on most cameras.
For waterfalls, a slow shutter speed is preferable, but this can easily lead to motion blur. Experiment a lot to get the results you want.
Digital camera accessories to take on a hike
Some hikers will choose to carry a tripod with them even though the total carried weight increases. Others select a sturdy monopod and use it as a walking stick, though not all monopods are sturdy enough.
Another solution is to carry a mini-tripod and find a relatively flat surface to use it. A tripod of any kind will often be very useful for waterfalls, group pictures and low light. Photographers who enjoy taking multiple pictures of a panorama and stitch them with a computer will find that using a tripod with a good swiveling head will dramatically improve the final result.
Many backpacks have straps and external pockets that can be used to carry a tripod. Some bags have fastening on the front straps to carry walking sticks that can easily accommodate a monopod.
Always carry a set of spare batteries. If you’re leaving for more than one day, bring more than one set. I once lost a battery down a cliff when trying to replace my set and lost another on a patch of white snow. I never found it.
You can loose a battery in bushes, under fallen leaves, almost anywhere. Proprietary batteries (usually Li-Ion) are generally larger and harder to loose, but they’re also difficult to replace on the fly than standard batteries.
If your camera supports them, filters can be a good accessory to carry. An Ultra Violet (UV) filter helps protect your lens from the various hazards you’re likely to encounter, but cheap filters can cripple the final results. Neutral Density (ND) filters can help achieve creative effects, especially with waterfalls and flowing water. A polarizing filter can enhance the sky’s color and improve the look of foliage. Be aware that a polarizer cuts the amount of light entering your lens by about 50%, so its use can be tricky in low light.
At the end of the trail
When you reach that amazing panorama at the end of a trail, you will know that you earned it and that is a wonderful feeling. Make sure you don’t forget your digital camera the next time you take a hike!