6 Top Tips for Hiking Photography

hiking photography tips

Hiking and photography go hand in hand. After all, why wouldn’t you want to photograph the landscapes that you enjoy hiking within? Hiking photography is filled with a world of opportunities.

However, the logistics of undertaking a hike with a bag full of camera gear can make planning this kind of photography trip tricky.

Travel photography
The summer months can be particularly rewarding for hiking and photography with the longer hours of sunlight allowing more time to slowly explore the landscape which is often transformed through the warmer months.

Yet, the advantages of combining hiking and photography far outweigh the disadvantages, so in this article, I am going to share a few ways you can overcome these hurdles and maximize your potential to be a successful and efficient hiking photographer.

Read more: 8 Ways to Improve Your Landscape Photography Workflow

1. Travel light

This first tip is probably the most important. As a photographer, it can be quite tempting to carry more gear than you really need ‘just in case’. However, if you are already a hiker, you will understand the importance of walking with a lighter load.

A lighter backpack will not only make your hike far more enjoyable, but it will also allow you to cover more miles with less fatigue. This means you must think very carefully about what camera gear you want to take.

How much gear you can carry may well depend on the format of your camera system.

Micro Four Thirds based systems can offer some distinct space and weight savings over full-frame gear, although these are not always as large as you may expect (for example, the micro four-thirds-based Panasonic Lumix GH6 is actually larger and heavier than the full-frame-based Panasonic Lumix S5).

hiking photography
When hiking, I prefer to use a one-lens solution, such as with this shot of heavy snowfall in the North Pennines in the UK, where I used the Panasonic 24-105 on my Lumix S5 Camera. Changing lenses wouldn’t have been suitable in this situation as it would have meant exposing my camera sensor to the elements.

For me, what is more of a concern is the construction and durability of a camera (including the degree of its weatherproofing), so keep these factors in mind when choosing a camera if you know you’re going to be doing a lot of hiking.

Suggesting a camera system format can be a controversial subject, but I am happy to say that after years of hiking photography using several different-sized camera sensors, ultimately any camera currently on the market will be suitable from an image quality point of view.

Whatever your choice of sensor format, I would recommend that you try and keep your lens choices as simple as possible. I personally find a 24-105mm (full-frame equivalent) lens is the ideal one-lens solution for hiking and photography.

In addition to a camera and lens, I would suggest that you carry at least one filter (which should be the polarizing filter, as it is about the only filter that can’t be replicated digitally) and a couple of spare batteries, memory cards, and two cleaning cloths (one for the lens and another for the camera).

Hiking photography
Choosing to carry a tripod is entirely a personal choice. However, it can be extremely useful for photographing waterfalls in low light levels, such as this photograph of Dawson Fall in New Zealand photographed on a particularly wet day. Make the decision based on what you are hoping to photograph in the landscape, how far you’ll need to walk, your own personal fitness, and whether you are traveling solo or in a group.

Finally, a tripod is an accessory you may want to carry, but I would stress that you think carefully before deciding to take one. Personally, I nearly always carry a lightweight carbon-fibre tripod with me if I am hiking alone.

However, if hiking in a group, I tend to rely on my camera’s IBIS and shoot entirely handheld, so as not to slow the group down too much.

If you do decide not to bring a tripod on your hike, when composing your images, try to find a suitable rock or post to balance your camera on and ensure that your camera’s IBIS is switched on (if available).

Read more: Mirrorless vs DSLR Cameras for Nature Photography

2. Keep your camera handy

Something I have learned over the last twenty odd years of combining hiking and photography is that keeping your camera in a backpack is a guaranteed way to miss photographic opportunities.

If you are walking any kind of distance, constantly stopping to remove your backpack to access your camera will start to distract from the actual hiking, and over time, you will find it harder and harder to justify stopping to take any photos.

Of course, the answer to this dilemma is to have your camera to hand and not stowed away in your bag.

hiking photography tips
Keeping your camera on hand at all times will allow you to quickly capture fleeting moments such as this rainbow over the Cheviot Hills in Northumberland near the Scottish Border.

One solution is to simply use your camera strap and carry the camera around your neck.

Keep in mind, however, that your camera does need to be secure, as if it is swinging around, it can make your hike extremely unenjoyable, as well as being a potential safety hazard if it happened to get hooked around something. It is also more prone to damage.

hiking photography tips

I find that having your camera strap over one shoulder and under the opposite armpit to try and restrict the camera swinging is quite an effective method.

My favorite method to keep my camera on hand and secure is to use a Peak Design Capture Clip attached to my camera and backpack; this ensures that it is always safe and reachable.

Read more: Taking Your Camera on Expedition? Here’s Some Crucial Advice

3. Remember to wear and pack the essentials

The key to becoming a productive hiking photographer is ensuring that you have packed the right gear and know how, or when, to use it. This gear may be non-camera related, but will make the difference between an enjoyable or disastrous photography hike.

The first consideration is how to carry your gear. For these kinds of trips, a good quality backpack is essential if you plan to walk any kind of distance. I personally tend to find dedicated hiking backpacks can be more suitable than a camera-dedicated backpack.

hiking photography
A superzoom, such as the Nikon Z 24-200mm lens used here, can be an ideal one lens solution for hiking and photography.

For times when you do plan to travel with your camera inside the backpack, a holster-style camera case will be perfect for protecting your camera in transit. If you are planning to take a tripod, check out if there is any way to attach your tripod to the side of the backpack.

The essentials for any hike you undertake are as follows:

  • Waterproof, sturdy footwear with adequate ankle support
  • Suitable breathable, quick-drying clothing (jeans are entirely unsuitable)
  • A waterproof rain jacket and trousers
  • Plenty of food and drink, including a packed lunch, high-energy food (such as nuts and chocolate), and emergency supplies
  • An adequate first aid kit
  • Paper map and compass, even if you are planning to use a dedicated hiking map and navigation app on your phone
  • Head torch to allow you to walk hands-free in the dark – your mobile phone torch will never be adequate if you should miscalculate time resulting in hiking in the dark

4. Study your maps and plan your route before leaving home

You can’t underestimate just how important maps are for the photographer planning a hike. It is essential that you have a basic idea of the route you wish to take and also a good idea of how long the route will take.

During the planning stage, keep in mind that you will be able to cover a larger distance on a low-level walk as opposed to a high-level route.

Ensure that you also know what time sunset and sunrise are for when you plan to walk and adjust your start time accordingly to ensure you have finished the walk well before nightfall.

sunrise sunset hiking photography

Maps are also an essential tool to identify potential photographic subjects on your hike.

Try to plan your walk so that you reach your desired subjects at the optimal time of day for photography.

However, always prioritize safety over photography and avoid the temptation to try to photograph a subject well off the beaten track at sunset as this could mean you are not able to safely finish your hike.

hiking photography
This shot was taken whilst walking the Dusky Track – A challenging hiking track in the New Zealand Wilderness covering over 80 kilometres.

Top Tip: If you do plan to stay out and photograph a sunset on your hike, make sure you have a head torch to hand just in case you misjudge just how long it will take to finish the hike. Always make your safety the main consideration when undertaking a hike.

Read more: How to Plan a Landscape Shoot and Nail the Shot

5. Consider staying overnight

Wild camping can be a great way to undertake multiple-day hikes, or to ensure you can be at a specific spot for golden hour photography. The only downside really is that you will have to carry even more non-photography-based gear!

If you are planning to stay out overnight, you will need a larger backpack to accommodate the carriage of your tent, sleeping bag, camping mat, camping stove & utensils, and even more food and water.

hiking photography tips

The upside is that you can choose to camp near your preferred subject which allows you to be there for the perfect light. And if the light doesn’t play ball, you can always take a night shot of your tent pitch using your head torch to illuminate your tent!

Make sure you read up on protecting your camera during cold temperatures and in humidity too.

Multiple-day hikes can be particularly rewarding for photography although you do have to be conservative with the amount of gear you carry.

Don’t be afraid to stray from a more ‘traditional’ landscape image when hiking to try to capture your experience. If you are hiking with a friend or in a group, you will have access to an incredibly effective way to convey a sense of scale within a landscape.

sunrise sunset hiking photography

This simple technique is to place a human figure within your landscape image, such as with this shot (where it would have been quite hard to judge the size of the huge rock features of the landscape without the figure included).

Not only does the addition of a figure within your frame add a sense of scale to a landscape but can also introduce a natural focal point for your image.

If you are walking alone and carrying a tripod, the same technique can be employed by simply using your camera’s self-timer and placing yourself within your image. This method may require a degree of trial and error to get yourself positioned in the optimum point within the frame.

6. Go with the flow

Combining hiking and photography can be an extremely rewarding pastime, but it can also be quite frustrating, especially photographically. Sometimes the conditions will simply not be favorable for photography, but that doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy the actual hike.

hiking photography tips

Conversely, on other trips, you may find the hike to be arduous and perhaps not as enjoyable as possible – however, the photography may be amazing! Essentially, the key is to go with the flow to enjoy the complete experience and learn from your mistakes.

Don’t forget to cherish the highlights of any walk – as there will be plenty along the way. And if you decide to stay the night to get an even longer hike in, remember to get up for the sunrise photography opportunities!

hiking photography tips
Wild camping in the mountains can be a memorable way to spend the night. The possibility of a great sunrise to photograph is an added bonus.

Caption: Wild camping in the mountains can be a memorable way to spend the night. The possibility of a great sunrise to photograph is an added bonus.

In conclusion

There are many things you can do to prepare to get the best out of your next hiking photography trip.

Careful planning will ensure you optimize your chances of success. Pack only what you need, but don’t skimp on the essentials for safety. In time, you will work out your own methods for choosing the most important equipment for your particular photography style.

Don’t forget to enjoy being out in nature, getting some exercise, and potentially walking away with some great images too!

Visit Jason's website

Based in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, UK, Jason Friend is a professional travel and landscape photographer. For Jason, photography is more than a job: it is an opportunity to inspire. National Geographic, British Airways and Rough Guides represent some of the many high-profile clients Jason has inspired and worked with along his journey. Recently, Jason founded ‘The Legacy Project’, a fascinating not-for-profit endeavor to capture the mystifying stone remains of prehistoric sites scattered across the British Isles.

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