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Professional Perspectives on Backcountry Photography
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Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Professional Perspectives on Backcountry Photography on 05/20/2008 21:48:49 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Professional Perspectives on Backcountry Photography

Kyle Hetzer
(Ghost93) - F

Locale: Western MD
Backcountry Photogrpahy on 05/20/2008 22:09:48 MDT Print View

"As a self-taught photographer, Tom states very simply that he became a photographer because he is backpacker. “The motivation was to record what I saw…I always see something when I go out. I don’t write, and I can’t draw, so I picked up photography.”"

HA, this sounds a lot like me. I picked up a DSLR about two years ago and taught myself. Good to see that others did too and made some remarkable shots in the process. Gives hope to guys like me. Photogrpahy was a mojior reason I went light. It's one of the things I have a hard time giving up. Thanks for the article.

Edited by Ghost93 on 05/20/2008 22:13:07 MDT.

George Matthews
(gmatthews) - MLife
Re: Professional Perspectives on Backcountry Photography on 05/21/2008 07:13:00 MDT Print View

Inspiring article. I try the brute force method. Take as many pictures as you can with hope that you''ll luck out and get a good one or two. The hour before sunrise and hour after sunset are magical. Love the picture of the elk drinking from the thermal pool. Made it my computer background.

Good photography helps preserve the wilderness by documenting the beauty for those who don't go out there. Knowing of the beauty then influences their decisions related to protecting the wilderness and preserving it for future generations.

Rick Dickinson
(coyotebum) - F

Locale: Southwest Virginia
Where do you carry your camera? on 05/22/2008 05:10:26 MDT Print View

"Keep the camera handy and become comfortable shooting on the go."

Rick, where do you carry your camera? Pre-UL, I've been carrying my Canon Xti w/EFS 17-85 IS in a Tamrac Compact Zoom Pak (Model 515 - 11 oz.) hung on my chest strap. I love it because it's always handy, but I'm wondering about both the weight/bulk of that bag in trying to lighten up. Are there other strategies for keeping your camera handy?

Also, in light of keeping my hands free for shooting, I don't like to carry trekking poles, but the broad consensus among ULers seems to be that poles are a requirement. Do you carry poles? And if so, how often do you walk off and leave them leaning against a tree after a shot? ;-) Really, what the heck do you do with them while shooting?

Greyson Howard

Locale: Sierra Nevada
Re: Where do you carry your camera? on 05/23/2008 21:49:45 MDT Print View

This is also a question I have after my recent SLR purchase. I have been thinking about a lowepro on a chest harness, but I'd like to here what others do.

As for the trekking pole issue, I ran into this last summer shooting photos and video on the Tahoe Rim Trail, and never really did any better than holding the two poles in one hand, and shooting with the other - not the best for stability.

Brian Barnes
(brianjbarnes) - M

Locale: Midwest
RE: "Professional Perspectives on Backcountry Photography" on 05/23/2008 22:01:35 MDT Print View

I picked up the Think Tank Photo Digital Holster 20 + Rain Cover for my Canon 10D (old school camera I know).

The pack plus rain cover weighs 13.7 ounces and can be attached to your shoulder straps. It's perfectly padded (not over kill but just right for minor bumps). The bottom of the holder expand to accommodate longer lenses.

Kerry Rodgers
(klrodgers) - MLife

Locale: North Texas
Re: Re: Professional Perspectives on Backcountry Photography on 05/24/2008 14:24:12 MDT Print View

"Good photography helps preserve the wilderness by documenting the beauty for those who don't go out there. Knowing of the beauty then influences their decisions related to protecting the wilderness and preserving it for future generations."

I agree with that George. I think the pictures most effective at this are ones that show people interacting with the scenery. Otherwise, many people will think (as some politicians have even said), "What good is preserving nature if people cannot get there." Showing people out there shows that it can be done. Showing their responses makes the most powerful connection.

Rick says, "shoot star trails and yourself. Shoot your muddy socks, your hiking partner, your breakfast." Great advice!, but I don't see alot of this in print. Even in the photos selected for this article, how many faces can you see to read an emotion?

As an beginner, I'm working hard to get emotion-packed pictures of my kids interacting with the outdoors, but I mostly fail miserably. I wish I could find more pro-quality examples of such work.

Jon Solomon
(areality) - F - MLife

Locale: Lyon/Taipei
RFs and backpacking on 05/25/2008 04:19:55 MDT Print View

I've just started being able to backpack again after a two year pause from injury...and on my last trip I took an inexpensive modern film rangefinder (a Bessa T) and two lenses (a Zeiss ZM C-Biogon 21/4.5 and a Zeiss ZM Planar 50/2). I shot most of the trip with just the C-Biogon (didn't have a finder for the 50) and black & white fuji (a mixture of acros, presto and super presto) along with some fuji reala. The Bessa T and the C-Biogon weigh about 650 grams (23 ounces). Heavier than a P&S, it is lighter than a lot of other options and I was really pleased with the results.
Follow the link to see photos of Xiangyang (3602m) and Jiaming Lake (3400m). I'd appreciate any feedback and critique. (I'm an amateur, this was my first time shooting a film rangefinder (without tripod) in the mountains...)

I have a quiver of Zeiss lenses and different rangefinder bodies that I might experiment with over the summer. The Zeiss ZM Distagon 18/4 lens takes breathtaking images but is relatively large for a rangefinder lens (still small by SLR standards). But for a one lens one body combo the T and C-Biogon make a fantastic pair. Budget users could look for a Cosina Voigtlander 25/4, 21/4, or 15/4.5 lens instead and come up with a package around US$500.
I think a film rangefinder makes an excellent compromise between weight, final image quality, and portability. I wonder if other people have had similar experience?

Edited by areality on 05/25/2008 04:33:16 MDT.

Jan Stiff
( - F
Professional Perspectives on Backcountry Photography on 05/27/2008 15:33:19 MDT Print View

As a professional photographer I would add a caveat to the advice given in this article. If you are interested in producing gallery quality scenic images in larger (ie; salable) sizes. Consider the quality of the product as your top priority. Then consider weight. I do my utmost to keep the weight of my equipment down when entering the backcountry, but in order to capture an image at the resolutions and qualities necessary to produce 40" or 50" prints, I sometimes find it more cost effective to hire assistants to carry the extra equipment. I understand that this is not the objective of most backpacking photographers but to me it becomes just another 'cost of doing business'. And since it is my 'bread and butter', it becomes a necessity. I just thought I would add this as "food for thought". It all depends on your objectives.

P.S.: As I get older, I do find myself swearing that in my next career, I'm taking up the piccolo. I can carry it in a vest pocket. ;-)

Steven Nelson
(slnsf) - MLife

Locale: Northern California
Trekking poles and photography on 05/27/2008 21:13:54 MDT Print View

I keep my GossamerGear trekking poles on my wrists with small string loops - the poles are light enough that I can leave them dangling while I grab the camera and shoot.

The heavier the poles, the more awkward this may become, but it's a good solution when shooting on the fly.

Some of my photos here:

- Steve

Dylan Skola
(phageghost) - F

Locale: Southern California
Re: Professional Perspectives on Backcountry Photography on 05/27/2008 23:21:44 MDT Print View

Jan, as a pro I assume you are talking about a 4x5 setup? Or even (egads!) 8x10?

Anyone take a 4x5 backpacking? Care to post a gearlist?

I'm actually quite surprised that we didn't get a gearlist with any the profiled photographers. Come on! If there's any group of hobbyists that likes to talk gear more than lightweight backpackers, it's photographers. OK, well, throw cyclists in there too . . .

BTW if anyone hasn't seen a 40 - 50" print from a large-format camera under gallery lighting, it will change your world. For me it was a complete qualitative leap from what I had previously understood "photography" to be . . . No knock against the wildlife folks with their long-lensed SLRs but for me there's something damned near divine about those glowing-from-within incredibly-detailed landscapes that captures the essence of why I go to the wilderness.

I've decided to take the plunge soon into large format to try to play in one small corner of that sandbox, but for pure backpacking trips I'm leaning towards something along the lines of the Ricoh GX100 . . . I just won't be printing them big . . .

Jan Stiff
( - F
Professional Perspectives on Backcountry Photography on 05/28/2008 06:04:59 MDT Print View

For the "backpacking" part of my gear I use a pretty ordinary lightweight setup (7 days = approx 15 lbs with food & water). For the photography, the gear I add is determined by the images I plan on shooting. I have used both 4x5 and digital with success.

The 4x5 I use is a Wisner Technical field with various accessories (extension bellows, additional lenses, film carriers, changing bags, etc.). My preference in films runs towards Fuji Velvia. This is because it is what I have used the most and I understand its color balance and other characteristics better than other films. If I need a more neutral color balance, I tend towards the Fuji portrait films. The biggest problem I have with the film rig is weight. The films begins to add up as do the carriers (unless I am using quick loads). Another problem is the limited selection of lenses available. When I was younger, I could compensate by walking. But now that I am getting a little older (and have developed a bum leg and must use a cane even in the flatlands), it is nice to be able to avoid the extra walking by simply changing lenses. To that end, I have begun using digital equipment. (Sort of like Adams when he got older and changed from using large format cameras to shooting with a 2-1/4 square format.) The digital setup that I use is either a 30 Megapixel digital back on a Mamiya 645 or a 20 Megapixel digital SLR manufactured by Canon. Both are excellent cameras, but there is a larger selection of lenses available for the Canon.

If you are buying lenses for a digital SLR, for heaven's sake test them!!! I have bought many a 'top grade' lens only to scrap it because it just wasn't sharp enough for my needs. I currently use a 17-40mm zoom, a 24-70mm zoom, and a 70-200mm zoom for most general purpose work in the backcountry. While not as sharp as using primes, this set gives me a good selection of focal lengths at a minimum of weight. For shooting wildlife, I use either a 100-400mm zoom or my 1000mm telephoto. The 1000mm is for subjects that might pose a threat. (It sometimes pays to be a bit of a coward. Like when shooting brown bear in Alaska.)

No matter which rig I am using, I always carry an assortment of filters to fit each lens (UV, Polarizer, Neutral Density grads, etc.), and my trusty Sekonic meter (NEVER leave home without a good, calibrated, light meter!!!)

The best way to develop a gear list is to examine the types of images you wish to create and determine what equipment is necessary to produce them. Then begin putting together a kit which will enable you to accomplish the objective.

Not sure this addressed you reply, but hope it helped.