Most of the times, when we take pictures during our hikes, they tend to turn out mediocre at best. We take a few shots and we think: “that’s nice,” but we never really feel like sharing them with others.
This is not because we are bad photographers, but because of the way we approach photography.
The problem most people have is that they try to capture what they see and they think that’s all there is to it. Well, it’s just part of the process – capturing the moment is nice, but unless you do something more with your images, they will probably be mediocre at best.
What you can do next is add emotion to your images and draw the attention of viewers, but how? I’m going to show you a few tips on how to take better pictures while hiking.
Always have your camera handy
I know you are out there hiking with friends or family and having fun while doing it, but it’s important to always have your camera ready while you venture throughout the wilderness. After all, how many times have you had an amazing time while hiking only to realize you had no camera with you?
So, next time that happens try to take the following steps: get into an elevated position or climb that rock before your friends do; get down on your knees (be careful); hide behind trees and other obstacles. These are just a few simple tricks that will help you get better shots.
If you are not the type of person who enjoys carrying their camera with them all the time, there is still a way to capture some great images while hiking – leave your camera at home! Take your phone with you instead and take advantage of its awesome capabilities.
If you have an iPhone or any other smartphone that has a decent camera – all you need to do is download an app like VSCO and Snapseed. These apps allow users to edit their pictures and add awesome filters that will make them look awesome.
Don’t go for the obvious shot
When you are hiking, there is always this one spot where everybody takes a photo – this is the spot where you need to make a conscious decision and NOT take a photo of what everyone else does.
How can I do that? Well, for example, if you are at the Pyramids near Merced, CA, don’t just stand there under one of them and snap away. Look around, find a different perspective and think outside of the box.
Walk to the back of the pyramids and take a photo of yourself with your friends or family in front of them instead. You can even get down on your knees (again, be careful).
There are not many things more satisfying than showing off a cool photo that nobody has ever taken.
Make the most of the environment
This image was taken at Pinnacles National Park in California (USA).
If you are hiking in an area where geologic features like rocks, mountains, and waterfalls are readily available – make use of them! Take advantage of these features to create awesome images that will stand out from the rest.
For example, if you hike to Lower Yosemite Fall and you don’t have a wide-angle lens, try going as close as possible to the fall and shoot it from there or go behind it and take a picture of yourself against it. In this case, I’d recommend using a sturdy tripod because you will need to set a 20 second timer and it can be really dark back there.
If you visit Pinnacles National Park or other similar parks, try finding a nice rock and climbing to the top of it. Shoot down at your family and friends as they climb up and capture their funny expressions as they look up at you.
Make sure you check out this post on a few more interesting locations. I’m a big fan of these types of shots and I think it will be helpful for you to see them in action.
Use your surroundings
If nobody is around, use your surroundings! Shoot up at the trees or down at the ground. Place your camera wherever you find it appropriate and snap away.
Be creative! Capture motion
One way to shoot some really cool images is by capturing motion. This can be done by using one of these techniques: shooting with long exposure (you will need ND filters for that); setting your camera’s Burst mode to take multiple shots really fast; or taking a time-lapse video.
The image above was taken at the Yosemite Valley and it features a person climbing El Capitan. I used my phone to capture a time-lapse video and then edited it in Adobe Premiere Pro . The funny thing is that this guy was not aware of me shooting him!
Think outside of the box
One way to experiment is by purposely getting out of focus images. This can be done in two ways. First, you can manually focus your lens to an infinite point (the setting is usually found on the switch at the side of your lens) and then place your camera somewhere in front of you while pointing it downwards towards your feet or in any other direction.
By getting out of focus images, you can produce some really interesting compositions. This will add a nice blur to the background and make your subject stand out more.
Shoot from an extreme angle
Sometimes it’s fun to think outside of the box and shoot something that you won’t normally do while exploring or hiking.
The image above was taken in Zion National Park (Utah, USA) using a resting hiker as my foreground element. It’s possible to shoot images like this by getting down on your knees or even lying on the floor. You can find some more examples here .
Get into the water
One of the most fun things to do when you’re out all day is swimming. Sometimes it can be hard to motivate yourself, especially if you’re hiking in an area with freezing cold water (like I am). You can make your job easier by taking a waterproof case for your camera and some extra batteries along.
The image above was taken during a recent trip to Lake Tahoe (CA, USA). I went for a swim with my camera and the result is the following image.
Get creative at night!
Many people often go home from their hikes before nightfall because they don’t have any plans on what to do at night. If you’re like me and you love to stay out shooting until the stars come out, this is a great idea for you.
With today’s technology, it’s possible to capture incredible images at night without too much effort. All you need is a camera that allows you to shoot in RAW and a sturdy tripod .
Capture nature at its best
One of the simplest tips that I can give you is to simply capture nature at its best. This means that, if it’s raining outside, do not go out and take pictures of wet rocks because there are no beautiful rainbows or sunbeams in those images. However, if you see a beautiful rainbow extending over the top of a mountain, go out and capture it!
Shoot in B&W
Another simple tip is to shoot in black & white instead of color. This will make your images pop even more since they are not clogged with too many colors. This is possible by shooting in RAW and then converting the images into black & white using post-processing software such as Photoshop .
Think about elements such as leading lines and asymmetry
One of the things that I always try to keep in mind is that an image can be improved by including leading lines and other elements that lead the eye into the frame. Additionally, one key element for a good composition is asymmetry.
The image above was taken in Mokelumne Wilderness (CA, USA) and features an interesting tree with some leafs at the top. By placing the tree slightly off-center, it created a more interesting composition compared to if I had placed it on the left side of the frame.
Experiment with sunsets and reflection
Sunset and sunrise can produce some really nice colors and reflections. One thing that I often do is experiment with those two elements by trying different compositions. For example, the image above was taken during a trip to Yosemite National Park (CA, USA). While hiking around in the park, I stumbled upon a lake that had some amazing colors due to the sunset.
Capture wide views of mountains and rocks
Mountains are what hiking is all about so why not capture them at their best? One great thing you can do is to set your camera up on a tripod and snap a photo of the mountain with some foreground element. You can find some examples here .
The image above was taken during a recent trip to Yosemite National Park (CA, USA). I climbed up to the top of this rock and took several images that all feature the valley in front of me. This allowed me to capture different compositions by simply adjusting the angle I was shooting from.
Capture interesting textures and patterns
The best way to add texture and pattern to your images is by using patterns in nature such as moss, tree bark or even stones. You can find some examples here . Additionally, this helps you making sure that your picture includes at least one interesting element.
The image above was taken in Sequoia National Park (CA, USA) and features some incredible tree bark patterns on a fallen tree log. I simply love this photo!
Be creative with waterfalls and rivers
Waterfalls and rivers can produce some really nice images if you do it right. The key is to capture a fast moving waterfall or river from a unique perspective. This can be challenging but definitely worth the effort, especially when you get good results from it.
The image above was taken in Lassen Volcanic National Park (CA, USA) and shows a small waterfall that crosses the trail. I placed the camera right in front of the water and captured some movement. Notice how the front part of my lens is filled with tiny droplets as a result of me spraying it with water from the waterfall.
Capture patterns on rocks and trees
Did you know that trees, especially those covered with moss, often produce some amazing patterns? These patterns are best captured during golden hour (the hour before sunset) when the light is softer and more yellow.
The image above was taken in Sequoia National Park (CA, USA) and features a tree covered with moss. By making sure that this tree was off-center in my composition, it created a more interesting result compared to having it in the middle of my frame.
Shoot against the light to make your own silhouette
One easy way to create a unique picture is by shooting against the light. This makes it possible for you to turn any person or object into a nice silhouette which is a popular and classic technique for creating pictures that stand out.
The image above was taken in Yosemite National Park (CA, USA) and features my friend Brian standing at the top of Nevada Fall. I shot against the light to make him into a nice silhouette person who is surrounded by some incredible fall colors. It’s such an easy and fun way to take unique images.
Capture the Milky Way Galaxy (with a DSLR and tripod)
The Milky Way is our galaxy and it’s best photographed at night. However, if you want to capture the Milky Way with your DSLR, you will need a wide angle lens (at least 14mm) and a tripod. Also, you will need to set your camera on Manual mode so that you can adjust the exposure time (the length of the shutter speed) as well as the aperture. Once you have done this, it is recommended that you use a higher ISO setting such as 1600 or 3200. A low aperture number such as f/2.8 or f/4 will also help to get a good exposure.
Put the camera on manual focus and then rotate the focus ring until you get your stars looking like pinpoints (fuzzy stars). If you want to take things further, set the white balance to 3000k and adjust it from there. You can do this by using a white object or even by taking a picture of the sky and then brightening it up with photo editing software.
Use a flashlight or headlamps for creative lighting
Headlamps are designed to make it easier for you to see where you are walking at night. However, they can also be used creatively as light sources for taking pictures of people and objects. This is a fun way to take unique pictures at night or when you are in a dark place.
Create abstract images of water
Waterfalls are a great location to create some incredible nature photography. The best way to do this is by taking pictures that feature cascades of water which you can achieve by using longer exposure times. During these exposures, the movement of the water makes it look like something out of a dream or even a colorful abstract painting.
Take advantage of leading lines in nature settings
A leading line is a foreground object that leads your eyes towards the main subject in your image. This can be anything from mountain ranges, trees or waterfalls. You can use leading lines to your advantage in order to create some incredible landscape pictures.
Use an ND filter to capture motion
An Neutral Density Filter is a piece of photographic equipment that limits the amount of light getting through your lens without changing the color of the scene. This is useful if you want to use a wider aperture in order to capture motion. This is often done with waterfalls or moving clouds, but can also be used for people and cars.
Capture day to night scenes with long exposure times
Long exposure is a great way of capturing scenes that happen over time. You can restrict light by blocking it or making it pass through an ND filter in order to make the scene darker. This is often done in situations with moving water or clouds, but can also be used for people and cars.
Find places with incredible scenery near you!
If you want great landscape photos, then you should find some amazing nature settings near you. This can be a mountain range, a lake, a river or even just some really green grass. In order to do this, try using Google Maps which can show you everything that is around your home. Take pictures of what you find and consider going back there again in different seasons to see how things change!
Try different perspective angles! Go low, go high, go wide!
If you want to take great hiking pictures, then you need to experiment with your perspective. You can do this by lying down on the ground or even climbing up a tree in order to get a really unique shot that most people wouldn’t even think of taking.
Check for possible distractions!
If you want to take great pictures, then you will need to zone out anything that might be competing with your subject. This means that if your friend is standing in front of a mountain range, then the mountains should be what’s dominating this picture and not some other people walking around him. If there are any distracting elements in this picture, then you should use an ND filter or relocate yourself in order to make them less prominent.
It was all about the technique, but it’s up to you to go out there and become a better photographer. There are tons of great locations around your home that can help you learn how to take awesome hiking photos. Take these tips into consideration and have fun with them!