21 tips for fantastic hiking photos
Helen Agarwal’s beautiful blog, Dixon Hill, documents her life in the Pennine Hills. The images on her blog have frequently taken my breath away, so I asked her to share some of her secrets.
Before you set out
1) Make sure your camera battery or phone is fully charged. I know. Obvious, right? 😉
2. Keep your camera handy. Nature is constantly shifting. By the time you’ve undone your rucksack and unearthed your camera, the deer will have scarpered or the rainbow faded. So keep your camera in a handy (but watertight) pocket.
3. Your camera can shoot both landscape (horizontally) and portrait (vertically). Simple point, sometimes forgotten.
4. Shoot what you’re drawn to, not what you feel you SHOULD shoot. Sometimes I’ll be standing before a spectacular view but what I actually feel drawn to photograph is the clump of grass by my feet. Follow that instinct. If something speaks to you, the photograph you take is more likely to speak to other people.
5. What’s your focal point? Before you even begin to compose your shot, ask yourself, ‘What exactly is it I’m shooting?’ This is particularly important when photographing ‘a nice view’. Try to find one thing in the panorama around which to build your shot.
6. Leave Stuff Out. Just as important as what you include in a picture is what you leave out. Take a good look at what’s in frame before you press the shutter, especially around the edges. If shifting your angle slightly can exclude those ugly power lines, then move!
7. Remember the Rule of Thirds. If you haven’t come across this famous design rule before, just imagine a noughts and crosses grid superimposed on your viewfinder (some cameras will actually do this for you). Put simply, your photos will be much more interesting if the important elements in your shot are arranged along those horizontal and vertical lines… and especially at the four points where they intersect.
8. Consider the foreground. When you’re shooting landscapes, something interesting in the foreground of your shot gives the viewer a way in to the picture… as well as creating a sense of depth and perspective. It doesn’t matter what it is – it can be your dog, a plant, a rock. And if you can ‘frame’ your photo by shooting through the branches of a tree or through a hole in a wall, your picture will be the richer for it.
9. Leading Lines. Lines of any kind are another way of helping the viewer ‘into’ the picture. Your line might be a path, a wall, a fence, a bridge, a river, a branch or a shaft of sunlight. There may well be several lines in your picture. Try to arrange them in such a way that they direct attention to the most important element in your shot. Or let them carry you on a journey through the photograph.
10. Keep your horizon straight. A horizon that’s slightly off-kilter can ruin an otherwise great shot; so, unless you’re deliberately going for an artsy, seriously wonky picture, keep the horizon level.
11. Think about the sky. Horizons are usually best placed along one of the horizontal ‘rule of thirds’ lines. So take a look at the sky. If it’s bland and there’s not much happening up there today, try sticking your horizon on the upper third line so more of the landscape is seen. If, on the other hand, the sky is filled with drama, lower your horizon and let the sky tell its story.
12. Take your time and choose your angle. Don’t shoot everything from your eye level. Climb on a rock; get down on the ground; shoot upwards or downwards. Move about until you find the most interesting shot.
What to shoot
13. Light. Whether it’s the golden light of early morning or dusk, the dappled light falling through leaves, reflections in water, the play of shadows, or even a dreary landscape that seems devoid of light…..light is what photographs are about. Becoming aware of light will take your pictures to another level. Notice the direction from which the light falls and learn to use it (there are whole books written on the subject). And watch out for areas of shadow which will interfere with the picture you’re trying to take. On a seriously grey day, bump up the contrast on your camera and shoot in black and white.
14. Colour, texture, contrast, pattern. Learn to look beyond the actual landscape. Or rather, to see it in new ways.
15. The Nitty Gritty. Sometimes your subject – be it a human, a flower or a building – will benefit from being shown in context. But often the story is in the details. Don’t be afraid to get in close. Showing just part of someone or something sometimes says it all.
16. Shoot with a theme. It gives a focus to your photography and means you wind up – after one walk or several – with a set of photos that constitute a collection. Maybe you’ve chosen a walk in the woods because it’s the time of year for bluebells or mushrooms. Or perhaps you step outside on a dank day and find shimmering spiders’ webs stretched along your path. You could simply look for red things – obvious and not so obvious, big and small. Or make a habit of photographing every unusual stile you come across. Or every cat. It doesn’t matter what your theme. Just focus your attention on SOMETHING.
17. Shoot the same view. If you take the same walk regularly or even just every few months, consider shooting the exact same view at different times of day or different times of year.
18. Photograph animals at their eye level, not yours. It makes the viewer feel as if they’re actually there in the picture. Or, to make an animal even more imposing, shoot from below its eye level and give it yet more presence. And while we’re talking creatures, if an animal or bird is moving – or looks like it’s about to move – put it at one side of your picture, leaving it visual space to ‘move into’.
19. Keep things steady. If you’re hiking, you’re probably not lugging around a DSLR and tripod. You’re more likely to be carrying a point and shoot or using your phone camera. If it’s windy and you’re struggling to keep your hands still….or you’re frozen and shaking….or the light is low….then prop your camera on the ground or on a wall in order to keep it as steady as possible. Point and shoots generally stand up by themselves; phone cameras don’t – so I usually carry this little gadget with me. Then set your camera’s timer and let it do the work. Of course, this also applies if you want to get yourself in the picture.
20. Get to know your camera. When I’m shooting with a DSLR, I’m interested in pin sharp focal points and beautiful, bokeh backgrounds. If my iPhone’s in my hand, then I have favourite apps to alter the mood of a photo. I used to have a very cheap point and shoot which was brilliant at capturing the colours of sunsets. Play to the strengths of your camera.
21. Take LOTS of photos. Even the professionals don’t get it right every time. They take lots of shots and just show you their best ones! BUT TAKE NOTE: if you’re out on an all day hike and your only camera is also your phone, don’t get carried away and use up all the battery so that the phone’s no good in an emergency!
Helen Agarwal’s beautiful blog, Dixon Hill, documents her life in the Pennine Hills and her travels elsewhere.
She is the creator of the Falling Into Place e-course, through which she shares her favourite ways to connect with the landscape.
All photographs copyright Helen Agarwal, used with permission.
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