Tips for Adventure Photography


An excerpt from the soon to be released Day Hikes in Ontario Vol. 1

ISBN 978-0-9698297-8-2

You may just be taking a relaxing day hike around Crawford Lake or a leisurely stroll along the Cliff Top Trail at Mono Cliffs Prov. Park, but there are some great shots to be had and stories to be told from that time well-spent.

Adventure photography is almost unique in the world of photography in that it’s almost exclusively undertaken by the participant. Race car drivers don’t usually take their own photos while racing and baseballs players don’t usually get to capture themselves as they slide into third. In contrast almost every adventure photograph was taken by the person doing the activity, from climbing Half Dome to trekking the West Coast Trail. Adventure photographers are do’ers!

Being a participant in the activity puts the photographer in a unique position to cover not only the content of activity, but also the drama and back-story.

Planning.

Every trip is unique. From the first time kayak paddler to the experienced mountaineer, each person will be telling a different story. Start planning what you want to show and tell about the trip long before the trip itself. Maybe you want to capture shots of your four buddies enjoying a beer while pouring over topographical maps of the hiking trip they’re planning, then a few shots of them trying on packs at their local outfitters and a shot of the garage bill to replace the muffler on the family wagon before the trip. Don’t forget the shot of Buddy, sleeping in the back seat sleeping while his “friends” take a permanent marker to his eyebrows – you get the idea.

Environmental.

When you’re out enjoying the activity a lot of opportunities for great shots will present themselves. Sometimes you just want to jump in and “get the shot.” Often that’s OK, but weigh “getting the shot” against the safety of yourself and the person you’re trying to capture. Don’t forget about environmental hazards as it relates to your camera gear. No shot is worth endangering the safety of any member of the party.

The Gear.

I can’t begin to suggest what camera to use, as I know next to nothing about them and there are so many great resources out there. What I do know is that some great photographers, like Ansel Adams, dragged 16 stone worth of camera gear and equipment through the wilds of Yosemite Canyon, but in those days, he had to – there were no such things as a Cannon PowerShot ELPH 130 IS – a point-and-shoot camera more capable than anything Adams could have dreamed of, in a package about the size of a deck of cards. Mind you, a digital SLR sporting 20 mega-pixels of resolution is more capable still, allowing for quick lens changes, filter additions and greater control over light, but you still have to be willing to lug all that around with you – and maybe you are.

I’ll tell you I use a little Cannon , PowerShot SD1400 IS with 14.1 mega pixel resolution and that’s plenty for my type of photography. As a back-up, I have my iPhone 5 packing an 8 mega pixel auto-focus camera and as such, I have to say it’s taken a lot of great shots and while housed in an Otter Box survived a 10m bounce down the side of a steep, rocky gully. Sweet.

Recently, I've been packing along a larger, more capable, Nikon Coolpix 7000. It's larger, heavier, but it offers more manual control over the little PowerShot. Thankfully it still has an auto mode where I can just point and shoot, otherwise I'd be spending way too much time messing around with the manual controls.

I generally carry my little camera around in a shock and water resistant pouch attached to my belt. It’s easy to get to but protected against most weather. More importantly, it’s handy if I think there’s a shot to be had.

Light.

Early morning or late afternoon often presents rare lighting opportunities for interesting shots. Sometimes light fog will make familiar subjects look totally eerie and alien. If you’re above the fog with the sun behind you, try taking a shot of your shadow as it plays out across the fog! If you can protect your camera, don’t be afraid to get out into the rain where you’ll find lots of interesting shots just waiting for you.

Sometimes, the sun may be shining on the tree tops and out in open areas, but once you get into a forested area, light can be tricky. If you’re using a compact point-and-shoot with built in flash, be aware of the limitations of that flash. Rarely, do these types of cameras have a flash that goes much beyond 4m – usually less. That means if your subject is more than 4m away, the flash will be pretty much useless. In fact worse, since the shutter speed will automatically increase as it’s geared to the flash – usually resulting in underexposure.

In low-light, you either have to brace yourself against a tree to minimize camera movement or use a tripod. In low light, the camera shutter will be slower, allowing for greater exposure time, so any motion will cause blurry pictures.

Some of the more sophisticated point-and-shoots have a low-light setting mode which can be turned on and off. I’ve learned to use this feature on my Cannon. My camera also has a warning light that comes on if the camera is moving too much for a good shot, but it can be over-ridden by pressing the shutter release. Read the manual and figure out how to use it.

Around Water.

It’s almost needless to say, but shooting in and around water requires special care in the handling of your gear. One quick dunk into a creek and your standard camera is a paper weight. Water, however also offers some tremendous possibilities when shooting; currents, reflections, white caps, white water, waterfalls, rushing rivers. Look for reflections on calm water at sunrise and sunset. The best reflections are usually found when the water is between you and the brightest part of the sky. Try different photo speeds on moving water as this can produce some interesting effects.

Waterfalls.

One of our favourite subjects is waterfalls, and why not? There’s the interplay of colour and light. Then there’s the motion and drama of the plunge. The foliage around waterfalls is often lush and plentiful. All good for dramatic shots.

Hopefully your camera allows you to control the shutter speed. A slightly slower speed will allow a bit of blurring in the water motion, resulting in a beautiful cascade, but you have to hold the camera quite still or risk ruining the shot. Too slow a shutter speed and the water looks less like water and more like ice. Try a few shots with different settings and pick the best.

Landscapes.

If your camera allows for aperture control, set it smaller. This will increase the depth of field and bring the foreground and distance into focus at the same time. A shallow field of depth will have near objects in focus and further objects out of focus, like the pinecone pictured here. Most point-and-shoots will have a “landscape” setting, which automatically sets the aperture smaller for that increase of depth of field.

Macro Lens. If your camera is equipped with a macro setting you can use it to take really close-up pictures of, say, the bottoms of mushrooms, or little interesting bugs – all with crystal clear focus. Dark places (like the undersides of mushrooms) will often benefit from the flash.

Self-Timers. Almost every point-and-shoot, even the least expensive ones, now have a shutter timer. This allows you to set the camera for, say, 15 seconds before snapping the picture. This allows you to set the camera down, walk into frame, pose with your buddies and get a group shot. Also great for the solo hiker. You do have to take the time to ensure you know how they work.

Tripods. Get one and use it. You don’t have to have a great-honking industrial set up, just one of the little “GorillaPods” from Joby will work great. These are tripods that screw directly to the bottom of your point-and-shoot and have flexible legs that you can either use on a flat surface (as with any tripod) or bend and wrap around a tree branch, fence post or bicycle frame. Easily un-coupled (leaving the mounting bracket in place) the flexible short leg segment stores easily in the outside pocket of your pack. Generally less than $25.

Batteries. Always carry a spare set or two with you. I know the lithium-ion, proprietary ones are expensive, but weigh that against not having a spare when that perfect shot lines up. I also carry an extra memory card – they’re so cheap these days, I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t.

Photoshop and/or iPhoto. These photo editing applications can enhance and improve many photos, but they can’t take a poorly composed or uninteresting photo and make it LIFE-worthy. You do still have to choose interesting material, take time to compose and light it and get the camera settings right. Still they can hide a lot of sins.

Here’s the underside of a mushroom using the macro lens setting on a little Cannon point-and-shoot, flash on, shallow depth of field. Note the mushroom is in focus and well lit, while the background get blurry and dark.

Composition.

When I decide to take a photo, I seek to find the point of it. I ask myself;

Why am I taking this?

Is there a person doing something interesting?

Is there a unique perspective to this shot?

Is there something about the light that I just have to capture?

Is there a unique texture on a tree that just needs capturing?

Is this an interesting angle?

I still take random shots of things I find interesting, of course, but a lot of these get whittled down when I get home. I try to edit so that, in the end, I only have about 25 pictures of any given day hike. Those are the 25 that tell the story of the day.

Practice, practice, practice. Back in the days of film, just practicing was a major expense – all that film and developing – never mind how long you had to wait for the film to come back from the lab. These days you just take the memory card out of your camera and snap it into the port on your laptop and download instantly.

Once into your computer you can make good use of the “delete” key and get rid of the pictures that are out of focus, poorly composed or just plain dull. If something is over or under exposed, iPhoto or PhotoShop will take care of that by lightening or darkening shadows. You can then make black and white copies, add sepia tone or fade the colour. Lots of possibilities.

Then when you’re done editing, iPhoto allows you to easily organize your photos by date, place, event or person. You can even put together albums and slideshows with the built in features. When ready, select the photos you want to share, compose an e-mail and send them. Ansel Adams never had it so good.

As an outing participant and adventure seeker you are in a unique position to capture all the fun and drama of your next trip. Take some time, do a bit of planning and get the shots that everyone will talk about.

#photography #adventurephotography #cameras #phototips #EdwardHorner #Hiking

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