If you’ve been reading this blog for the last few weeks, you might justifiably think that I take my camera to concerts and Ultimate Frisbee tournaments and not a whole lot else. Well, one other hobby of mine is backpacking (or trekking, or bushwalking, or whatever they call it in your particular part of the world), and not surprisingly, I take my camera with me on trips. In fact, I originally got into backpacking through photography - day trips were no longer getting me all the kinds of shots I wanted - and then as my passion for backpacking increased, it spilled over into photography. They’ve been mutually reinforcing hobbies for a few years now. That said, I don’t go backpacking nearly as much as I’d like to, as my weekends always seem to be full during the prime spring and fall months.
Quick tangent (but a relevant one, as you’ll soon see): as far as backpacking goes, in part because I like to lug along a heavy DSLR, I’ve increasingly bought in to the “ultralight” philosophy, which has me carrying no more than 20 pounds total pack weight for a trip of up to a week’s duration (and usually more like 8-10 pounds excluding camera gear). For me, the conventional wisdom that has people carrying 60+ pounds for a week, or 40+ for a weekend, never seemed especially wise. But that’s where the mainstream still is, though the ultralight movement has begun slowly making inroads. My typical pack looks like the following - note that these two photos were taken on two different trips, but I’ve gotten my packing list to something that works for me and requires very little tweaking between trips:
Anyway, Thom Hogan, noted follower of Nikon products, news and rumors, used to be the executive editor of Backpacker magazine, so he’s got plenty of credibility in the outdoor photography world as well. So it was with some sense of enjoyment that I read his new article, posted on his website yesterday, “Fashion Tips for Outdoor Photographers.” He basically goes over the basics - cotton: bad; synthetics or wool: good; having a well-thought-out layering system: very good.
This is not news to any experienced modern backpacker, but Hogan does drop in a few welcome tips later in the article. For one, he extols the use of trail-running shoes rather than heavy, clunky boots, which is one of the more important - and also one of the more controversial - concepts underlying the ultralight philosophy. He does stipulate that you should use waterproof shoes, which is counter to what most ultralighters would tell you - but then he mentions that if you choose to go another route, you should choose shoes that “expel moisture and dry quickly,” which is exactly what most ultralighters would do.
Of course, this is a photography blog, so back to the photography. What really interested me about this article were Hogan’s closing tips. I’ll just briefly excerpt from them here, as I’ve never heard either of these tips but both make a whole lot of sense:
- Dress like a gray card… Why do we need to dress in mid-tones? So that we can include ourselves in our shots, when necessary.
- But carry a color splash. For years, the classic outdoor scenic shot that included a human–usually for scale–had them dressed in a red jacket. The red generally was a good contrast to the scene, wasn’t too bright or too dark, and it drew our eyes to the person in the picture.
I’d never really thought about it, but it’s true that is the subject in the photo below had been wearing a gray or otherwise drab-colored jacket, the picture wouldn’t pop nearly as much. (I know, it still doesn’t pop all that much - not the best photo to use as an example perhaps.)
I’ll have more posts on the topic of backpacking and photography in the future - in particular, the question of how hikers deal with the problem of lugging around heavy camera equipment (and protecting it through ordeals like the above river fording) while on extended backpacking trips is a fascinating one, and I suspect each individual hiker/photographer’s solution is slightly different.