Hiking, Photography and a little thing called Weight.
A rare photo of me on a trail (by João Cavaleiro)
I will start this post by noting this is aimed to photography enthusiasts or advance amateurs, like me, not necessarily pros preparing for an expedition.
Photography gear can be very expensive and although there are exceptions, the more expensive the equipment the heavier it becomes. Unless you use a smartphone as a camera, combining photography with hiking has some challenges, one is weight.
When hiking you want to keep your Base Weight (the weight of your backpack plus all the gear that is inside, but not counting consumables, like food and water) as lower as possible. In theory, you should only carry between 15% and 25% of your own weight. This is where the problem starts.
When I started combining photography with hiking, I had a modest Canon 550D and a versatile Sigma 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 II DC OS, the combine weight of this set was approximately 1,1 kg. With this set, I could walk for miles having the camera hanging on my neck. In time, this set was no longer enough, I had "grown out of my camera", My knowledge on photography had increase, I was shooting in manual and with every shot, my brain was calculating a different composition, a different exposure and a different thought. I wanted to do more and slowly I started to upgrade my gear. Today when hiking and photographing, I take with me at least the following:
Canon 5D MK III...................................................860g
Cannon EF 70-200 f/2.8L IS II USM............1490g
Tamron SP 24-70mm F/2.8 Di VC USD.......825g
Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art......................................815g
Rollei C5i ..........................................................1666g
This means, in photography equipment I am carrying approximately 5,5kg, five times more weight than in the beginning. Add to this, the backpack weight, at least 2 litters of water, plus some food, some dry clothes, first aid kit, headlight, waterproof poncho and a few minor articles, and you will end up carrying more than 10 kg. It doesn't seem much, but in altitude and when climbing, can make a difference. Worst, I am not getting younger!
You may ask, do you need to carry all that gear? The answer is yes. Although, I am not a professional photographer and I only do this for fun, carrying all this gear opens more possibilities while shooting. I am still learning and discovering new things, I want more out of my photographs than I ever did. Carrying all this gear helps me in my pursuit for the "perfect photograph".
If you are planning to do some hiking and photography, and simultaneously you would like to take your photographs to a different level, consider the following tips:
Use a backpack that makes it easy to stop and get to your equipment
For a day hikes, the type of hike that I normally do, Lowepro are great for taking a lot of equipment and to accommodate the rest of your things. I use the ProTactic 450 AW. For long excursions, more than a day, I would recommend an Osprey or a Mammut, size depending on your needs.
Stopping while hiking to change lens, taking them from the backpack, switching them, getting a shot, then packing up again and restart your hike, takes time. After hiking for 8 km or more, it becomes hard to find the motivation to drop your backpack and change lenses. Having a versatile lens ready, will save you that trouble.
Prime lens, as the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM or a Sigma 50mm f1/4 DG HSM are great lenses, but while hiking you might not have the time to place yourself in the position you need to be, if you are limited by the focal length of a prime lens. A mid-range zoom lens that is f/2.8 through the whole range, will give you flexibility. My Tamron SP 24-70mm F/2.8 Di VC USD is my primary lens while hiking, allowing me to get good shots of the scenery, but when required zooming in to get closer detail shots.
The Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8L IS II USM, is the best lens I have. When I require a long zoom, this is the lens that I use. Wide-angle lenses in landscape photography may leave a lot of empty space around the subject of your photo, mainly when the subject is at a moderate distance away. A 70-200 gives you flexibility to shoot from short zoom to long zoom. This flexibility, allows very selective framing and the ability to capture the small details of your landscape.
If you are serious about photography consider having a 70-200. All the main manufactures, such as Canon, Sigma or Tamron, produce these zoom lenses.
A prime lens has only one focal length. That means if you want to get closer to a subject, you "zoom with your feet". While this may make primes less convenient than zoom lenses, primes are usually smaller, lighter, and faster. When shooting in low light conditions, prime lenses will get the job done better than any other lenses. The quality of the images is far better than zoom lenses. Whenever I hike, I always have at least one in my backpack.
Be ready to shoot
Install a mid-range zoom lenses in your camera and keep it outside of your backpack. You can consider using Think Tank Camera Straps or a Lowepro Toploading Camera Bag, using the chest harness that they sell separately. Alternatively, use a sling camera strap. Whatever you use, I can guarantee it will be more comfortable than hiking in rough trails with a camera balancing around your neck.
If you are doing landscape photography, consider a tripod with a ballhead (pivoting ball that can be controlled by loosening and tightening a single knob) rather than one with a lever for pan/tilt. Having a versatile tripod means you can use it in different ways; as a normal tripod, as a monopod and simultaneously as a walking pole. A carbon fibre tripod is lighter than aluminium and handles vibration better, but expensive. I use a Rollei, made of aluminium and magnesium, easy to carry and, a good compromise between weight and price.
I also recommend the use of an Arc-Swiss L plate setup for your camera. This plate will enable you to quick release the camera from the tripod, making switching between horizontal and vertical orientation of the camera, an easy process. When buying one, ensure it is appropriate for the type of camera that you use. If interested, visit Sirui.
The tripod is a must when taking night time shoots and sunrises/sunsets. A tripod is also key in getting great nature and landscape shots.
My best tip
Pack according to your needs, but above all, within the limits of what you can carry. A few extra kilos in the beginning of a trail, will feel much heavier before you reach the end of the trail. Be wise, stay safe and have fun on the trail.