Lessons learned: photography while camping

Over the Labor Day weekend, I took some time off from work to travel across the south-western United States, hitting prominent outdoor spots such as the Double Windows and the Escalante Waterfalls. This was probably the fourth outing from the summer so far and the first car-camping opportunity. Lots of fun was had, but camping and backpacking have an overlapping aim with the topic of this blog – photography. Photography in the outdoors requires a much different approach than the moments I capture when I’m with friends or family. Here are some important lessons I learned from the past summer of camping and photography.

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Gear Mindfulness

When camping, especially when hiking into the campsite, gear mindfulness is super important. Especially when backpacking, I needed to carry all the gear myself – this is where my enthusiasm really cut down.

I always photograph behind people when I backpack – because of how heavy my gear is.

The one-day backpacking trip through the Angeles Forest in California, was the first camping trip this summer where I decided photography and camping were something I wanted to combine together. I packed the following camera gear:

This was way too much gear. I realized I brought so much because I didn’t know what my plan was. I didn’t want to “miss out” on any particular photos and brought everything that I thought I would need. The car camping trip to the south-west yielded a similar cache of gear:

I lured myself into a false sense of confidence because I had the car, that I could bring more. While this was partially true, I realized that I never wanted to leave some of my gear unattended in a hot car or at a campsite. This means I ended up carrying my gear if no one was staying back – which means I was carrying some 10 pounds of gear in a hike, which left me much slower than my friends.

Lesson learned: be mindful of the trip and think of a theme. Plan gear accordingly to this theme.

Research the trip

Research piggy-backs off the point of mindfulness. Without researching the camping trip, some of the decisions needed for lessons learned won’t be possible.

Another perspective of one of the Window Arches.

I brought my 100-300 telephoto in hopes of capturing some wild-life or far off highlights. I only ended-up pulling it out to photograph the Delicate Arch from a scenic overlook, which resulted in a sub-par photograph. I never used the 17 mm Pro for low-light situations, nor did I bother to get wide-shots of some of the formations using the Panasonic Leica 8-18 mm. Instead I bracketed and merged panoramic shots.

Lesson learned: Research the trip. From the details of an itinerary, determine the bear minimum of what I’ll need. I can easily use Google Earth to see what the site is like and I can research the hikes or the hot spots for the conditions I can expect.

Filter out moments from stories/scenes

Shot with Olympus 12 – 40 mm Pro on a Lumix G9.

One of the things I struggle with is capturing moments vs capturing scenes. Moments are more personal – I’ll never replace the desire to photograph a trip to save a memory with my friends and family. However when photography a scene or story, I’ll cloud my photography process with worries about moment photography.

Stories and scenes require much more planning than capturing moments with my friends. Sometimes they may overlap with the candid nature of photographing my friends together – but not always. For example, a group picture with everyone requires planning and its a moment, but how you compose the picture tells the story. Similarly, photographing a landmark, you can also draw out a story or evoke an emotion by planning a specific scene – all of it requires planning.

Moments will always require some amount of willingness to always have a camera handy – something I do by keeping my smartphone and my Olympus TG-6 close by at all times. 

Lesson Learned: by filtering out between moment photography and scenic photography or storytelling, I can better plan for my trip on a whole and keep my mind focused on what my goal is.

Photo-editing

When I traveled to Vietnam earlier this year, I brought along my iPad pro with Adobe’s mobile version of Lightroom. This is when I learned how much I enjoyed photo editing, just as much I enjoyed photo-taking. I was regularly using the Wi-Fi functionality of my Panasonic Lumix G9 to transfer photos over into my iPad – editing and uploading for my friends and family to see.

I recently upgrade to a Note 10+, which is a beast of a phone. I had Lightroom CC and found that at that point, a tablet was nice for the bigger screen, but no longer needed. I would be able to cut down my baggage when camping in the future.

Photo-editing is a peaceful and fun endeavor. While most individuals go out to nature to disconnect, I enjoy have my memories to work on, so the scene is fresh in my head.

Bridge at Calf Creek

Lesson Learned: photo-editing during down-time is a relaxing way when on the road or when winding down for the evening.

Spend money on trips – not gear

The gear-acquisition syndrome hit me hard at the start of this year but I’ve been able to wrap that phase of the hobby now that I’ve gone out enough to know what sort of equipment I’ll need.

Now that I’m settled in with micro-four thirds, I’m looking to spend my extra money and time to travel. Gear can only make it so fun to shoot candids with my friends.

Taken on the hike to the Lower Calf Creek Falls

Lesson Learned: money spent on traveling is better spent than money on gear.