Last week I briefly introduced the concepts of basic photography and how to integrate them into your hikes and camping sessions. I mentioned a few cell phones that were pretty impressive for photography as well but for the focus of my blogs, I’ll be directing the attention to DSLR cameras and interchangeable lenses. As a suggestion from one of my readers, I did want to mention the Sony RX100 and its competitor, Ricoh GR II. I would highly recommend these over cell phones for photography as they both have much higher megapixels and have manual settings like most DSLR cameras have. Loaded with many auto presets, these cameras are great for beginners. They are essentially beefed up, point-and-shoot cameras. The manual options work great for more experienced photographers but anyone can truly benefit from the lightweight and portable size. The real disadvantage is lacking the ability to change out the lenses. As we move through these guides and tips, I want to point out that you don’t necessarily need the best equipment out there to enjoy hiking, camping, be a good photographer, or even get excellent shots. There are definitely areas that you don’t want to cut corners but for the most part, make the best with what you have and have some fun.
For most of you that are not familiar with or haven’t experienced much nature and landscape photography, I’ll let you in on the biggest secret right off the bat. You have to be in it to win it! At some point, you will have to hike long distances and more than likely have to hike through and over rough terrain in poor weather conditions. You are going to have to pack a lot of gear as well. With that being said, I don’t want you to feel discouraged or think that this limits your photography opportunities while out on the trail. The main focus of this week’s blog is to briefly touch on packing your hiking and camping essentials while also packing enough camera gear to get some great shots. Once you decide what camera gear you want to take, we will be referring back to the basic concepts and will continue to build on them as we go. So if you haven’t practiced those using the manual settings on your camera, I suggest you go check out that blog and spend some time playing around with your camera before taking off and planning to get those ‘money shots’.
The main thing that you are going to need for these adventures is going to be a solid and well-made pack. Let’s assume that you are going to be camping at least one night. With that in mind, you’re definitely going to need enough space in your pack for food, sleeping gear, and your camera gear. This can easily get into a minimalism vs comfort debate. From my personal experience, I recommend nothing less than a 50L pack or something near that range. I use a Kelty Redwing 50L pack and I have plenty of room for packing everything I need. I’m not saying there is much room leftover but it works well for me and the fit in super comfortable. I’m 5’8″, 143lbs, lean/fit build just to give you an idea. Just to make a note, you will need a rain cover for your pack, especially for your camera gear. Although I’d recommend it for all your gear, you can always compartmentalize your things into ziploc slider freezer bags as well. This helps ensure extra clothes, socks, phone, lighter/matches, first aid kit, and whatever else you have all stays completely dry. It also keeps things very organized inside your pack which is very convenient when you need something specific. One box of these should do everything in you need in your pack. Unfortunately, the camera probably isn’t going to fit well in a freezer bag so I rely on the rain cover for the larger items especially my lightweight down sleeping bag. An extra lens should fit fine in a large freezer bag depending on the size of the lens. I forgot to mention this before but also make sure to pack a small compass. This guy is going to be your best friend if you’re not good with spatial recognition or direction. This one clips almost anywhere and most importantly, it has a safety whistle, a thermometer, and an LED light that comes in more handy than you’d ever think. Of course, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. These are great pointers to keep you somewhat oriented. For tips on lightweight camping and sleeping gear, make sure to check out my hiking and backcountry essentials blog that lays out a nice setup for a comfortable overnighter while leaving just enough room for your camera gear.
Now, let’s talk about packing the camera. There are several different ways that I have found to do this but it will ultimately depend on your specific pack and what you plan to photograph. Small packs devoted just for camera gear are great for short trips or car camping trips but if you’re out in the wilderness for an extended amount of time, you are going to need a much larger pack for all the necessities that go along with hiking and camping and trust me, you don’t want to pack two bags. I’m no minimalist but the less weight I have to pack, the more comfortable I am especially when the mountains come into play. You can always try to pack your camera bag inside your larger pack but I don’t recommend that as you ending up wasting most of your space. So, let’s narrow what you might need for your photography. You are definitely going to need your camera body. You can separate it from the lens if you don’t plan to take any images until you have found a spot to unload and setup your gear but make sure you have a cap for your camera body. I personally find it uncomfortable carrying the camera around my neck for long distances and more than likely you will scare off most wildlife and won’t see any worthy shots on your way to your destination unless you are traveling at high altitudes. Therefore, I’d plan to pack it away mostly just to keep it out of the way. One easy way to pack it inside your pack is to leave a small space on top of your pack with easy access to the camera. A padded case works nicely for your camera body but wrapped in a lightweight fleece works just as well to provide cushion and protection as long as it is snug in the pack.
As a landscape photographer, I love using wide lenses! The Nikon 24mm f2.8 AIS is my go-to lens for hiking and camping. Never underestimate these old lenses. They are built like tanks and the glass is excellent. Of course, it lacks autofocus and stabilization but with a tripod, there are no issues. And as much as I like autofocus, it isn’t really needed when focusing to infinity (distant objects). The best things about these lenses are that they’re small, lightweight, and relatively cheap if you can find them. If you do, I highly recommend you snatch them up. Speaking of tripods, you will definitely have to invest in one of these at some point. Handheld shots are going to get pretty blurry after you slow your shutter speed down past 1/30of a sec. Even with a cheap tripod, you are still going to get much better shots using long exposure times than handheld. Do be skeptical of dirt cheap tripods as they tend to be made with very flimsy material. Not only do they have a better chance of breaking or bending, they are quick to induce vibrations due to lack of stability. Not completely necessary but a wireless remote control can also reduce any shakiness in your setup due to touching the camera. If you don’t have a remote, your camera should have some kind of timer built-in depending on the model. Another super small, lightweight lens and probably one of my most-used lenses is the nifty fifty, a 50mm f1.8 lens. Both the 24mm and 50mm prime lenses are awesome for video as well. If you plan to shoot things at a closer range or just want to bring distant views closer, you can make the image a bit more dramatic using a good mid-range telescopic lens. There are many options out for these and prices can get really ridiculous. The 24-70mm f2.8 is a highly desirable professional lens and can give excellent all around results for many kinds of photography. This alone would be an excellent lens to have on the trail but they are significantly heavier than the prime lenses. Another desired lens, the 70-200mm f2.8, is a beast as well but will give you absolutely stunning shots with the constant f2.8 aperture throughout the entire focal length. You will see plenty of zoom lenses out there but beware, the aperture is only going to go to f4.5 or even f5.6 when zoomed in at the max focal length, ultimately resulting in significantly lesser quality images. Only using a tripod and/in good lighting will you get decent results out of lenses with this range of aperture.
So, there it is. A few easy options for packing camera gear. I would love to get into greater detail and actually show some comparisons on the lenses and their competitors. If interested, Ken Rockwell has an extensive collection of lens and camera comparisons and reviews. Definitely, check out his site for specs and tech info. Thomas Heaton has an awesome youtube channel devoted to landscape photography as well so go follow him for awesome tips and ideas. Of course, don’t forget to follow my blog in the upper right corner of the page. Follow me on Ig to keep up with cool new shots of mine. All of the photography in all of my blogs are mine as well so if interested in buying custom prints or if you just want to share stuff around, check out my portfolio here or at the photography link in the header options. I hope these tips and links helps to steer you in a forward direction for getting some gear, getting it packed up, and getting out on the trail! Questions, comments, and feedback are welcome and encouraged!