Posted by: kerryl29 | March 6, 2018

Hiking and Photography

In a comment appended to the post chronicling Day 9 of my Colorado trip last fall, David, of the Hidden Lens blog, asked a poignant question:

“Since you do a fair bit of hiking for your photography, do you find others doing the same, or [are] they sticking mainly to overlook areas to take vista-type images?”

The question made me think about the broad subject of hiking and photography, coupled together.  The combination is something I do quite a bit of so I have some (probably disjointed) thoughts on the matter.

Merced River, Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

Answer the Question

I’ll start by providing an answer to David’s question–something that I’ve deferred for more than a week.  The truth is, running into someone who is doing anything much more than pulling out a cellphone for a quick snapshot while hiking is a rare experience for me indeed.  Take the Colorado trip.  I completed three lengthy (ranging from four to nine miles) hikes during my time in the Rockies, and a number of shorter hikes as well.  During all of this hiking, I saw exactly one other person with a tripod and/or dedicated camera.  During my May trip to California, during all of the many hikes I took (more than a dozen), I saw two other people with tripods and/or dedicated cameras.  To be clear, on both trips, I saw countless other photographers, but almost always at roadside locations of one sort or another.

Rainbow Falls from the Gorge Trail, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

This has routinely been the case over the years.  A semi-exception would be short (a mile or less) out-and-back trails with a clear payoff destination:  a waterfall, for instance, or a scenic viewpoint.  When those criteria have been met, a bit more photo-hike traffic is often evident.  But generally speaking, if any appreciable amount of hiking is involved, dedicated photographers are typically few and far between.

Coastal Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

The Low-Hanging Fruit Factor

I think the most cogent explanation for the absence of photographers on trails is that…well, there’s an awful lot of scenic beauty to be mined without going to the considerable effort of undertaking a hike so, why bother?  There’s some obvious logic to this notion.  Hiking in and of itself requires some effort (how much depends, of course, on the length and difficulty of the trail), but even the easiest trails involve more effort than….well, no trail at all.  Many photographers aren’t in the best physical shape to begin with and, of course, in addition to hauling yourself, you have to haul your gear–some of it anyway.

Long Pine Key Trail, Long Pine Key, Everglades National Park, Florida

There’s a bit of a cost-benefit analysis rationale to all of this, and it’s pretty easy to convince yourself of all sorts of ancillary reasons not to get out and hike:  for instance, hiking sucks up time that could be better spent visiting more locations (by vehicle, of course) where more things can be seen and, presumably, photographed.  And who knows what might happen out on the trail; the horror stories (potentially dangerous wildlife encounters, injuries, etc.) are legion.

Big Tree Trail, Bendix Woods County Park, St. Joseph County, Indiana

And Yet…

Everything laid out above is true.  Yes, hiking involves effort and, yes, taking your gear along with you amounts to even more exertion.  But it also provides something entirely positive:  access to spots decidedly off the beaten track.  That’s a substantial positive that should be heavily considered in the aforementioned cost-benefit analysis because there’s very little, if any, chance of encountering less frequently visited spots in this day and age without getting out on the trails.

Mary Lake and Cathedral Mountain from the West Opabin Trail, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

I not only hike frequently on my photo excursions, I often incorporate hikes that aren’t merely of the destination variety–the hike out to the waterfall or viewpoint that I mentioned earlier.  My favorite kind of hiking excursions are ones that involve potential photo opportunities all along the way.  That was what was so rewarding about the Dark Canyon Loop Trail at Kebler Pass in Colorado, for instance–a hike of about seven miles that I spent most of an entire day conducting, because I stopped so frequently to photograph.

Aspen Intimate, Dark Canyon Loop Trail, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

This sort of trail belies the idea of the hike as nothing more than a means to a specific end; sometimes the hike is an end unto itself.

Cyrstal Cascade, Ravine Trail, Pinkham Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire


Hauling gear on a hike is a hassle and if you take so much that you’re weighed down it may be a deterrent to making the excursion at all.  There are ways around this problem, however.  One option is simply to limit the equipment you take.  (Here, you’re going to have to do as I say, not as I do because I typically haul just about everything I have with me on hikes…though I will, on occasion, leave the macro lens behind if I have little reason to believe I’ll use it.)

If you’re hiking with an SLR, one lens–in the form of a 24-120 or 24-105 mm walk-around option may be just the ticket.  That along with a light-weight tripod (whatever you do, don’t leave the tripod behind!) is just about all many photographers will need for at least 90% of their opportunities in most instances.

LaSalle Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

Another alternative is to go with a smaller format (APS-C or m/43) mirrorless system, where a camera and a full complement of zoom lenses, from ultrawide to long telephoto (along with the tripod!) may weigh less than five pounds.

There are ways to equip yourself to engage in “serious photography” without burdening yourself to the point where you don’t want to venture out on the trail in the first place.  That of course, is the key.  If you’re carrying too much weight you’re going to ruin the entire experience.  Photography is a creative endeavor and it’s nearly impossible to focus on aesthetics if your shoulders are aching and you’re breathing so hard that you want to collapse.  Knowing your limit and uncovering the optimal way to avoid exceeding it will make for a pleasant experience hiking and photographing along the way.

Pink Canyon, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada


  1. I’ve almost always elected to leave the tripod at home when out hiking or just in the field because of the weight factor but now that I have a mirrorless aps-c (and it’s a little but mighty thing) I might try. Just need to find a strong but light tripod for it.

    • With a crop-sensor mirrorless camera system you can definitely go with a light tripod/head combination. Just be sure it’s sturdy enough so that wind won’t introduce vibrations…but, by all means, if you can handle introducing a tripod, do so. I realize that I’m among the world’s biggest tripod acolytes when it comes to landscape photography, but I’m convinced that there aren’t many–if any–things that one can do to improve output, both technically and aesthetically than consistently use a tripod.

  2. I agree with you 100% Last year at Waterton Lake NP in Southern Alberta, I hiked a few times when I either saw one person or no one. Yes it was early in the season, but still I would have expected to share the trail. On the other side of the coin, I’ve hiked on trails where I’ve seen people out there with totally inappropriate footwear, no water, no rain gear. Your advice to “know your limit” is something I try to be realistic about.

    • Thanks, Ellen. I’m most likely to see people who are improperly prepared for whatever it is they’re planning to do on really popular hiking trails. Some of the things I saw that people were wearing on their feet when I was hiking the Virgin River Narrows in Zion National Park, for instance, were beyond belief. I saw a few questionable choices (not as many as the Narrows hike) people were making on the early portions of the Mist Trail in Yosemite. And on several occasions while hiking in the Canadian Rockies, I saw women wearing high heels! This was always within a few hundred feet of the trailhead and I assume that they didn’t make it very far. 🙂

  3. Your pictures are beautiful. I love nature photography. My favorite things is to go hiking. My bag is a camera backpack so it is easy for me to carry the things I want to bring along. While it is an exertion to do these hikes, I try to stay in shape so I can walk and climb them!!

    • Thanks very much!

      A backpack style bag (as opposed to a shoulder bag) is a virtual necessity for hiking with camera gear, so you’ve got that covered. And staying in shape is a huge benefit–one I realize every time I hike a particularly difficult trail. It was particularly noteworthy when I was hiking the Bear Creek Trail in Colorado last fall, given the combination of elevation gain and altitude.

      Again, thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment.

      • I would love to hike those Colorado trails!

        • The best of the Colorado trails that I hiked is the Dark Canyon Loop at Kebler Pass. Be sure not to miss it if you’re ever in the area!

        • Definitely!

  4. I always take a tripod, but also a remote trigger, and I also have an ir trigger as well. To stop the button press shakes, makes a big difference I think.

    • Yes, I always shoot with a remote release (mine is the cable variety). And, if you’re using a DSLR, be sure to lock up the mirror as well!

  5. Your thoughts about hiking are equally applicable to road trips to a destination, don’t you think? As often as not, in my experience, the subjects found along the way are better than those found at the intended destination. I reckon the likelihood of this happening increases with way-before-dawn departure times when the sun clears the horizon while you’re still half an hour from wherever. Just keep a wary eye open for enthusiastic farm dogs.

    • I’d say it’s an open question, depending on one’s m.o. For instance, when I’m driving to a sunrise spot it’s with the intention of getting there before the onset of civil twilight, it’s too dark on the way to see whether there’s something more compelling. But in principle, sure. Though I dislike “scouting from the car,” I frequently find myself doing a version of exactly that. If I see something that looks interesting I pull over (assuming it’s possible to do so), get out and take a closer look.

      A good example of this sort of thing is illustrated in this post from a few years ago. The image in question is the one fifth from the bottom. I’d caught a glimpse of the spot on a drive-by (couldn’t stop–anyone who has driven this section of US-101 knows why) the previous day, made a mental note of the location and, with difficulty, found it the next time I drove through headed in the same direction (the following day, as it turned out), which is when I was able to properly size up the location.

      Another instance, much closer to what you’re describing, took place in Colorado this past fall. After shooting a meh sunrise I was on my to the South Mineral Creek Campground area to check out and (if light was cooperative) a couple of waterfalls but while driving along the way I kept spotting interesting things…from the car.

      So, yeah…there’s definitely something to this.

  6. A very thorough answer to my question. 🙂

    I consider when hiking a few miles on a trail, or off trail, much like taking a step back in time … back into the 1870s, 1880s and 1890s, places which so few eyes have seen. Your image, above, of Mary Lake and Cathedral Mountain is likely one of those places rarely seen. And, in your previous Colorado posts that show abandoned mine works. There are many scattered across the Colorado Rockies, and most were likely last seen maybe a 100 years or more.

    Since moving to a ranch, with my family, we’ve grown more appreciative of the “out-thereness”. Amanda, from the adjoining JN Ranch, has told us much of the valley where we’re located hasn’t changed since the original Johnson and Norris homesteads were built in the 1880s – except for the migratory travel of those Utes through the area, and those tense moments when the Comanche ventured into the valley.

    Knowing your limit is probably the most important point. Even the most experienced backpackers, hikers have overestimated their abilities – getting lost and/or getting hurt (seriously hurt). Partly, they haven’t studied much about the area they’re hiking in, the trail/terrain difficulty. The other part, which is the biggest, is underestimating the weather. Colorado, even in the dead of summer, the high mountains can have that sudden snowstorm/blizzard which is unrelenting like the one in the middle of winter.

    Outstanding post. Very appreciative of your work.


    • No question, people can get into trouble by overrating their own abilities and/or by simply being ignorant of the potential pitfalls of the environment within which they’ve chosen to immerse themselves.

      I was hit with a freak snowstorm up on the Opabin Plateau (the day before that Mary Lake/Cathedral Mountain image was made, coincidentally). It ended up not being a huge deal in the end (it blew over in less than an hour and it was a “pellet snow,” so it was fairly dry and there was no meaningful accumulation), but if it had turned out to be something more serious I would have been okay because of the clothing I had with me and knowing the multiple routes to the nearest shelter and how to go about accessing them.

      Then, of course, there was my tangential experience with the hikers who found themselves caught by the rising tide and encroaching darkness at the narrow beach near Damnation Creek, necessitating a Coast Guard rescue. I was on the edge of yet another helicopter rescue at Yosemite last spring–a hiker apparently fell on a scree slope beyond the Mirror Lake area and a substantial rescue procedure was initiated. I never wrote this up, because I was a couple of miles away from what was actually going on, but I certainly noticed the helicopter going both in and out and I did snap some grabs of that, though I never worked those images up. Maybe I should do so and write a bit about it, as a reminder about the seriousness of this matter…

  7. I love your blog posts along with the incredible photography. Definitely a must follow page! Feel free to check out my blog, I think you’ll like what I share. Best wishes!

    • Thanks very much! I’ll have a look.

  8. I’ve always been a hike in and camp photographer. It lets you experience an area in depth and be in remote places at dawn and dusk. As I get older I’m less interested in the effort and discomfort of this approach. Right now I’m photographing my local woods every day as I walk my dog. It’s been very rewarding.

    • Never did the hike-in and camp thing…I always felt it was too much weight to haul around, between my camera gear and everything else I’d have to carry. Too bad, in many respects, because you’re absolutely right about the photo opportunities such a course of action provides.

      • It’s true, the weight is a killer. About 50 lbs with a Canon 5d and ultralight camping gear. That’s why, at 62 I don’t do it any more. You wouldn’t want to walk too far…

        • One word: ugh.

          My photo backpack alone is typically in the 30-35 lbs range.

        • I had 35 pounds of camping gear and about 15 pounds of camera gear. One Canon 5d, two lenses and a tripod.

        • I carry two Nikon D800E bodies and three to five lenses, depending on anticipated subject matter.

  9. Great photos, btw!

  10. Gorgeous pictures! Thank you for sharing them. Photos like these are my inspiration to keep on hiking and taking pictures.

    • Thanks very much!

  11. Hello! I am very new to photography, but am an avid backpacker. I can discuss hiking equipment all day long but couldn’t tell you the difference between an f-stop and a lens cap. I wanted to thank you for this article because i am making some life changes and want to learn to take better pictures while hiking. My point and shoot just isn’t capturing the beauty i want to share with the world. Hopefully i can produce images a fraction as good as what i see here! Thank you for the inspiration to continue to follow my dreams!

    • Thanks very much for the note and welcome to the blog! If you think I can be of any assistance to you as you move forward, please don’t hesitate to let me know.

      Best of luck on your forthcoming attempt to tackle the Appalachian Trail!

  12. Beautiful clicks.

  13. I love your advice here. Going off the beaten path, so to speak, and photographing is one of my favorite ways to get inspired and take beautiful images – but I’ve ruined my experience by overdoing it with the gear. What I remember more of those hikes is the irritation of having too many things, not the actual experience. I’ve definitely learned the more minimal I go the more I enjoy the entire journey.

    • The only real downside to cutting back on the gear you take with you on a hike is the ancient maxim “if you leave it behind, you’ll end up wanting it.” When I was facing a day hike of 12-14 miles at Silver Falls State Park in Oregon a few years ago, on the final day of a nearly two-week-long photo trip, I made the decision not to haul my macro lens along with me, figuring that I’d make do with two camera bodies and three lenses. And, wouldn’t you know it, during that hike I saw some wonderful specimens of in-full-bloom wildflowers along the Trail of Ten Falls which made me wish I had…the macro lens. Figures. On the other hand, given how tired I was by the time that hike was over, it’s probably just as well that I hadn’t been carrying the extra weight.

      No question about it in my mind…if you’re feeling weighed down, it’s going to ruin the experience. In my view, it’s almost always the right choice to go light(er) and risk the possibility that there might be a few images that won’t be made.

  14. I find hiking just as enjoyable as the actual photography, but I agree that seeing someone with a camera other than on a mobile phone is a rarity. Yes, the major tourist hotspots tend to attract a wide rage of photographer types; I just don’t encounter many people with heavier equipment out in what you might call the wilderness. Part of that is down to the bulk and weight of the equipment, as you said in your blog, but a lot of it could be down to the price as well. Most people have got a phone with camera capabilities now, but not many people take the step beyond that to spend the money on traditional camera equipment. That’s not to say that mobile phone cameras can’t take great photos – I love my phone and take loads of pictures with it – there’s just something wonderful about a traditional camera with increases the enjoyment.

    On the other hand, as someone who swaps between landscape and wildlife photography all the time, I find sites where wildlife are present tend to attract more photographers. Go to my local nature reserve and you’re more likely to be sat in the hide with someone carrying a DSLR rather than a mobile phone, but perhaps that’s the nature of the beast. Mobile phones just don’t have the range to photographer wildlife.

    • Thanks for stopping by and weighing in. I agree with essentially everything you’ve written, and will simply add the following:

      I think that intent firmly separates two groups of people. There are those who are interested in hiking–and they may produce some photographs (regardless of the equipment) while doing so. (I fell into this category for some time myself.) Then there are people who hike to take pictures. They may well enjoy the hike too, but they’d probably enjoy it a whole lot more if they weren’t hauling a cinder block-like pack of photography gear along with them. 🙂 For the latter group, the hike is mostly a means to an end. For the former group–which forms the overwhelming majority of those I encounter when I’m out on the trail–the hike is essentially an end in and of itself.

  15. Beautiful shots

    • Thanks very much!

  16. wow…the pictures are tranquilizing!!!

  17. These are beautiful! I love everything you had to say as well 🙂

    • Thanks very much!

  18. Nice clicks

  19. Great images, hiking is always worth the effort, but sometimes low hanging fruit is what’s available. I look forward to exploring more of your posts.

    • Thanks very much–and agreed on the value of hiking.

      I hope you enjoy your look around the blog.

  20. Thank you for sharing your photography and experiences. Beautiful work and wonderful words! 🙂

  21. Gorgeous photos. I’m still in the hiking to hike stage, but I love to take pictures (with my cell phone) and your photos are so inspiring, might have to gain some expertise and equipment.

    • Thanks very much!

      No harm in sticking with your phone if you’re satisfied with the end product, but if you’re NOT satisfied…that’s when it’s worth considering other options.

  22. Amazing photos!

  23. Beautiful pictures ! 🖤

  24. Very beautiful photos!

    • Thanks very much!

  25. Your photos are incredible!

    • Thanks very much for the kind words–they’re much appreciated.

  26. Beautiful work! It’s worth the trek for the shots you get.

    • Thanks (and agreed)!

  27. wow…nice captured. I like your photo most.
    Clipping Path EU

  28. Nice photos

    • Thanks!

      • Can you check out my blog?

        • Done. Just keep at it; as you continue to add content to your blog (and visit and comment on other blogs), you’ll get more followers and comments and–if you stick with it–it’ll take on a life of its own.

          Best of luck!

  29. Wow, beautiful. The views are great.
    Great Job!

    • Thanks very much!

  30. LOVE these pictures 😍

  31. Wow!!! The photos are amazinggggg!!!!! Love it!

    • Thanks very much!

  32. Beautiful photos and great perspectives in your shots!

  33. Good day

  34. nice pic

  35. The photo looks amazing! I wish to hike there too! 🙂

  36. Wow I do some photography but it is only in my backyard! I can understand how much work and time you put into this. I’m thankful you did because these photos are beautiful! If you want to check out my photography blog, it’s my second blog so it’s in my profile, it’s joyshART. Thanks again for sharing these professional pics! 🙂

    • Thanks very much! I’ll be sure to have a look at your photo blog.

  37. All lovely images here! Some very valuable points too, my last big trip out left me with very sore knees because of too much gear

    • Thanks very much!

      Carrying too much gear can really destroy the experience of an otherwise good hike/photographic experience.

  38. I’m envious. At the same time I am happy you are able to behold such splendor! The second photo is my favorite simply because I love stone steps in nature, however, I am blown away by the capturing in all.

    • Thanks very much!

  39. West Opabin Trail looks amazing! Great pics

  40. Beautiful – with both words and photos.

    • Thanks very much!

  41. Nice post! Next week I begin walking the 500 mile Camino de Santiago (del Norte route). Contrary to the many who say to be sure to pack light, I know I would regret it if I didn’t bring my “big boy” camera. Hence I’ll be armed with my Nikon D800 and 2.8 24-70 lens. Only one lens – will I ever survive!

    • Thanks for leaving a comment and best of luck with the hike. I own the E version of your camera, and the lens you’re planning to bring; it’s a relatively large, heavy combination. (If you have access to a 24-120/4, you might be better off; you’ll give up something in the IQ department, but you’ll gain 50 mm on the long end save yourself some ounces (or grams, if you prefer). 🙂

  42. I have helped several friends who like to carry their cameras and equipment into the backcountry with a third option: lighten the rest of your pack! One friend weighed his equipment and found out it was 15 pounds and of course soon after invested in some lighter options. I’ll admit I’m a cellphone photographer but only because it’s not my craft. I certainly appreciate folks like yourself who are willing to carry nicer equipment in so we can enjoy beautifully inspiring photos such as yours. It’s all about priorities. 🙂

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment; it’s much appreciated.

      There’s no shame in being a cellphone photographer; depending on the subject matter, the context of the photo sessions and the intended use of one’s photographs, it can be the best option.

      I’d have to cut my full photo pack load roughly in half to get it down to 15 lbs.; I don’t always bring everything with me but I do typically have most of it when I hit the trail. In terms of going light, I frequently tell me that they should do as I say, not as I do. 🙂

  43. Beautiful!

  44. beautiful photos

  45. This is great! The photos were wonderful. Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks very much!

  46. I’m with you Kerry – my husband loves to hike with me because I take my camera (Fuji Mirrorless) and stop so often that he never gets out of breath LOL! I used to take my Nikon and 70-200 lens but honestly I cannot really carry that weight to hike any more. The Fuji has saved me. I take it along with a 55-200 lens and can capture pretty much anything I want. I rarely see other hikers with cameras tho, lots of iPhones and lots of vista shooters from car parks. The good news is when hiking there are never people ruining your shots!!

    • Hi Tina.

      My full complement of gear weights something in the neighborhood of 35 pounds and even if I pare it down it’s still a pretty good haul because I always have my tripod with me. (If I’m going to leave the tripod behind I may as well leave the rest of the photo gear behind–I’m not going to engage in landscape photography handheld. 🙂 ) At some point I’ll have to do something about the weight and bulk, but until then…

  47. Hmmm….those kinds of shots might just inspire me toward the trail less taken!

  48. These are magical shots! wow ❤

  49. Gorgeous shots !!!!

  50. Loved your postand your pictures came out amazing..!! Its hard to carry equipment while hiking. But after getting back it feels worthwhile to carry a heavy backpack for good memories.
    check out my blog too.

    • Thanks! And agreed on how worthwhile the effort is to haul photo equipment while hiking.

      I’ve looked at your blog; you’ve been to some fascinating places–locations that I was previously unaware of. Thanks for taking the time to reveal them.

  51. These are amazing photos. I hope you like mine.

    • Thanks very much!

  52. Awesome thoughts, lovely photos. Photography with hiking motivates me to be active! Love the views of the trails in your photos.

  53. amazing shots! xx

  54. Your pictures are absolutely stunning! Many congrats! Sam x

    • Thanks very much!

  55. Amazing shots I must say! Hiking is always rewarding when you end up with some incredible vistas!

    • Thanks (and agreed)!

  56. […] few months ago, I posted an entry entitled Hiking and Photography.  That post, in which I made the case for going to the trouble of hiking to enable one’s […]

  57. […] If you missed the first installment of this series of photo-worthy trails–which includes the criteria for inclusion as well as a set of five of my favorites–you can check it out here.  A general entry about hiking and photography, which led to the current series of posts, is here. […]

  58. There’s wisdom in here, along with beautiful photographs! Thank you for sharing.

    • Thanks very much!

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