6 Tips for Better Backcountry Photos

Words and Photos by JJ Yosh, Arc’Teryx.

Outdoor photography is all about capturing your own wilderness experience and sharing it with others.

These days anyone can press a button and take a photo, but to take a photo that will inspire the masses is all about capturing the right light. Light can make or break a photo. That is why typically, I choose to shoot most of my photos at sunrise or sunset.

There are some factors for any beginner photographer to consider when venturing out into the backcountry.

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Photo by JJ Yosh. Courtesy Arcteryx,com
Photo by JJ Yosh. Courtesy Arcteryx.com

 

1) Determine the peak’s direction

One of the most obvious but often overlooked factors is figuring out where the sun rises and sets.  Sure we all know that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, but this may not be so obvious if you’re in the mountains.  Some peaks face northeast, some southwest, and others slightly off in another direction.  And to make matters even more complicated, the time of year can affect the position of the sun as well.  The best thing to do is research your shooting location to determine what direction the peak is facing.  Also, having a compass with you might be handy to find that exact direction.

 

Photo by JJ Yosh. Courtesy Arcteryx.com
Photo by JJ Yosh. Courtesy Arcteryx.com

 

2) Research the weather

As any adventurer knows, the weather in the mountains can be unpredictable even with the best weather forecasting tools.

Weather can make any easy journey transform into the most gruesome of experiences. While I wouldn’t advise shooting stills above the tree line during a thunderstorm, given the right preparation, weather can actually work in your favour for shooting. Clouds create the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets, and reduce the harsh lighting during the daytime. Clouds add beauty to pictures, and they provide a natural bounce-board for the sun rays. But rain and wet conditions can be detrimental if you do not have the right camera housing. The most ideal conditions for shooting would be partly cloudy skies to add some contrast in the sky, but not too much to make the lighting flat. Although this isn’t to say shooting a lake on a misty day wouldn’t produce some incredible photos as well. In general it’s always good to research the weather ahead of time to set realistic adventure and shooting goals.

 

Photo by JJ Yosh. Courtesy Arcteryx.com
Photo by JJ Yosh. Courtesy Arcteryx.com

 

3)  Scale down your technical goals

Remember: outdoor photography requires a compromise. Not only are you climbing that mountain, but you are now shooting as well. Doing two things well can be a challenge. It may not be wise to be soloing the side of a cliff while taking stills with your camera. Doing anything well requires keen attention and creative precision. One thing I’ve had to learn the hard way is knowing when an adventure is over my capabilities. Shooting can make the easiest of adventures that much more difficult. So set realistic goals and don’t be hard on yourself if you have to do something slightly easier than what you’re used to. Ask yourself if the purpose of this trip to get amazing pictures or to set new climbing goals. It’s not impossible to achieve both, but it may not be super-safe either.

 

Photo by JJ Yosh. Courtesy Arcteryx.com
Photo by JJ Yosh. Courtesy Arcteryx.com

 

4)  Set out before first light

As any mountaineer or alpine climber knows, most adventures start when most people are still sleeping. And for capturing sunrises, this adage holds true. You are gonna have to wake up hours before the sun even rises. Some of the best photos are taken during first light, before the first rays of sun even hit the peaks. So, pack your gear the night before, so you can quickly get out of camp in the early hours. Get that stove hot to brew up that fresh cup of coffee or tea to wake up. Another reason for setting out early is to set extra time to reach your destination. Some of the best photos can happen along the way to your final location, so don’t forget to stop to take photos.

 

Photo by JJ Yosh. Courtesy Arcteryx.com
Photo by JJ Yosh. Courtesy Arcteryx.com

 

5) Charge up & clear space

I cannot emphasize this enough: bring extra batteries. So many times I have run out of juice amidst a beautiful sunrise.

Also, batteries drain faster at colder temperatures.  So, keep the batteries next to your skin while your hiking or in your sleeping bags at night.

 

Photo by JJ Yosh. Courtesy Arcteryx.com
Photo by JJ Yosh. Courtesy Arcteryx.com

 

6) Timing is everything

Getting a great photo takes time. Clouds move and light changes. This is why time-lapses are so beautiful.

As long as you have the memory space and battery life, it’s okay to take hundreds of photos. You can always delete the ones you do not like.  Most importantly, be patient when you’re out there – especially when trying to capture that perfect lighting or that elusive wild animal. It may even be smart to allocate multiple days at a location. With the unpredictability of the weather, and unforeseen factors in the wild, its always safe to cushion on more time if needed.

With the right light and finesse you can be on your way to capturing some stellar photos. Outdoor photography is more than just an art: it’s the story behind each photo. Most importantly, remember to have fun and to stay safe on your next voyage into the outdoors.

Reblogged from Arc’Teryx – The Bird.

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