6 Ways to Prepare for Your Next Photo Hike (or Run)
If you want to get those eye-watering, amazing landscape photos – perspectives that you don’t see anywhere else – you usually have to work for it. That means hoofing it to far-reaching corners of the earth, away from the tour buses, away from the selfie sticks, away from the norm.
So what’s the best way to get geared up for that next photo hike? Through years living, hiking and camping in Southeast Alaska, and now traveling in South America, I’ve hiked and photographed through snow, wind, rain, dark of night, steep grades and open oceans. Here’s what I’ve learned.
Get your gear sorted and batteries charged the night before
If you’re hunting for amazing landscape photos, that means getting up before the sun or staying out long past sunset. For early mornings, give yourself less excuses to stay in bed. Lay out your clothes for the morning on top of your bag, already filled with your lenses, tripod, snacks, etc (see my packing list below), and put that bag underneath a power outlet that’s charging your camera battery(ies).
Wake up/start hiking an hour earlier than you think is necessary
Build in some extra time to your photo hike so that you’re ready when the light is just right. Whether it’s a little more time in case you sleep past your alarm, or to scout the perfect location for your shot, you don’t want to be rushing to set up your tripod as the sun is going down.
If sunrise is at 7 am, and it takes an hour to hike to where you want to photograph, plan to arrive by 5:30 am, which means leaving at 4:30 am, which means you plan to be at the trailhead at 4 am. Wow, I’m tired just thinking about getting up that early, and I’m the one advocating for it.
DON’T FORGET YOUR MEMORY CARD
Lordy, lordy, I’ve forgotten my memory card so many times, I would’ve thought I’d learn my lesson by now. Nothing makes a camera feel heavier in your bag than when it’s completely useless (sans battery or memory card). Either (a) just remember it, dammit, or (b) Have extras that you always keep in your bag.
The 4 most dreaded words for a landscape photographer: “No card in camera”. AAAGHH. Had a hike planned to the top of mt Juneau, but this just took the wind right out of my sails. A beer at @alaskafishchips will have to suffice. #Alaska #landscapephotography #nocard #nocardio #travelalaska #traveljuneau #jkevphoto
Pack warmer clothes than the forecast predicts.
If you’re heading up to a mountain ridge, waiting for sunrise, sunset, or for that lone wild animal to return to where you can capture it (in a photo, not literally capture it), you’re most likely going to be sedentary for a while, and exposed to the elements. Plan to be a little chillier than expected. You can always take a layer off, but you can’t put on layers that you don’t have.
Here’s what went into my bag for my hike up to photograph sunrise at the Torres Del Paine in the southern Patagonia.
- Wool hat
- base layer Icebreaker short sleeve
- mid-layer Icebreaker hoodie
- Puffy jacket
- Rain shell (doubles as windbreaker)
- Wool socks
- trail sneakers
- running tights
- rain pants (windbreaker as well)
- Native sunglasses
- Garmin Forerunner 225 watch (tracking hike time and elevation)
- extra socks (you never know when you might need socks)
- Sleeping pad (for sitting on while photographing, awesome for early mornings or night photo)
- Sleeping bag (same reason as sleeping pad above)
- Headlamp (hiking up in the dark or down after sunset)
Go with a buddy
I usually prefer to go alone, as I’m usually the only photographer in the group and end up taking lots of time setting up a shot and holding up the hike. But if you can find a fellow photographer who has the same photography goals as you, it helps to have someone (a) will help get you out of bed, for guilt of leaving them behind if nothing else, (b) it’s always safer to hike with a buddy, (c) to bounce photo ideas and perspectives off of, and (d) someone that might have an extra battery or memory card if you forget (see number 1 & 2).
Take a moment to enjoy it for yourself
Take some time to NOT photograph and enjoy what’s in front of you and not just in your viewfinder. If you’re reading this, you’re probably already someone who enjoys taking photos, so consciously not doing so may be difficult. I think it’s important to take some time away from the camera: to sit and absorb not just the visual beauty of whatever place you may be, but all the other senses as well.