5 Adventure Photographers Share Their Favorite Hiking Spots

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In the 1930s, The Mountaineers, a historic outdoor club in the American Pacific Northwest, released their classic list of ten essentials for hiking and climbing: a map, a compass, sunglasses and sunscreen, extra clothes, a headlamp or flashlight, a first-aid kit, a firestarter, matches, a knife, and extra food. The list hasn’t changed much in the last 85+ years; in 2003, they updated it to include items like extra water and emergency shelter. The list still has only ten “essentials.”

A hiker’s pack is heavy enough already with just the things they need to stay safe, hydrated, and nourished, but in the last few decades, there’s been an incentive to make room for just a few more items: a camera, a lens, and maybe a tripod. Part of the joy of hiking in the 21st century is making pictures of the sights you see along the way and bringing them home for the world to see.

In recent years, a steady roll-out of new gear and new backpacks have empowered wandering photographers to travel smart and light. Hiking season is upon us, and there’s no reason for you or your camera to stay cooped up inside. We asked five of our favorite hiking photographers from the Shutterstock Contributor community to tell us about their favorite spots around the world, and they also shared some of their best-kept secrets for scoring some great outdoor adventure shots.

1. “The photographer’s role is to create synergy between people and nature.”

Alex Brylov

Image by Alex Brylov. Gear: Canon 5D Mark III, camera Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS lens. Settings: Focal length 95mm; exposure 1/640 sec; f8; ISO 400.

What’s the story behind this photograph?

We reached the top of Mera Peak on November 7th. I was not an easy day, but it was very rewarding. The next day I was still totally exhausted, and at the end of the day, frankly speaking, I was not thinking about photography anymore. All my thoughts were about whether I would manage to reach next lodge or not. I was walking slowly, well behind my team.

Suddenly, after passing a boring hill I saw this scene: two of my friends relaxing on a rocky cliff above the layer of clouds below. For the next five minutes, I was running and jumping from stone to stone trying different vanishing points, focusing, zooming, shooting, like a well-rested young mountain goat. This is probably what people call passion. I am simply not able to pass a good image by, even if I’m bleeding.

What is your favorite place to hike and photograph?

I love mountains. Any mountains– the high altitude, snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas; the forested hills and valleys of the Carpathians; the mid-range mix of the Alps, the Caucasus, or the Andes; the vertical rocks of Southern Spain or Yosemite.

I very much enjoyed my recent experience in the Himalayas in Nepal last Autumn. A two-week journey gives you the opportunity to shoot in a variety of places, with different ambiances: a crowded Asian city, a rainforest in low-altitude valleys, higher rocky terrain, and finally the majestic summits: the roof of the world. It’s worth noting the high percentage of sunny days and nights in Nepal’s fall season.

In the end, the best destination is the destination where you can go with the people you like. These people are going to play an important role in the quality of your images. Fortunately, I was a member of the best team ever during that hike in the Himalayas, where we made a challenging climb of 6500 meters up Mera Peak.

Image by Alex Brylov. Gear: Canon 5D Mark III camera, Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS lens. Settings: Focal length 32mm; exposure 1/500 sec; f8; ISO 400.

Pro Tip

“Hiking photography” is about the people on the hike. Beautiful landscapes are a nice bonus, but the photographer’s role is to create synergy between people and nature. In order to make good images, you need to move fast and be everywhere. The hiking photographer must be the strongest, the fastest, the most enduring, and the most technically prepared. There are two possible sources of such energy: either you’re fitness is excellent, or your passion propels you. In the best case, it’s both.

The most difficult problem is probably weight management. Unlike other hikers, the photographer carries his photo gear on top of his regular hiking equipment. The gear set highly depends on the difficulty level of the future trek or climb. There is always compromise between flexibility and weight. Fortunately, there’s a lot of super lightweight hiking gear available on the market. I am always looking for the lightest possible tent, sleeping bag, and other items in order to keep the total weight within acceptable limits.

Mountains are always hazardous environments, with dust, snow, rain, and the danger of falls. Your gear must be well-protected, but at the same time, the photographer needs to have an easy access to the camera. The best, though not ideal, solution I have found so far is using a regular camera bag but making the length of the strap much shorter than usual, so that the bag is positioned at chest level, not hip level. I then attach the bag tightly to my body with an additional strap so that it does not dangle back and forth when I walk. This keeps my hands free for using walking sticks or ice axes or belaying ropes.

Image by Alex Brylov. Gear: Canon 5D Mark III camera, Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS lens. Settings: Focal length 55mm; exposure 1/1000 sec; f8; ISO 400.

Every one of my lenses is protected by a filter (polarized or neutral), and every item I am not using at any given moment is always packed in a waterproof bag and wrapped in soft clothing.

Good planning might reduce physical stress. I always spend time studying a detailed map of every hiking route, which helps me to predict lighting conditions at specific times and spots. A map also gives you a general impression of the view or background at any specific site. In many cases, I arrive before my hiking team, so I’m in the right place and well-prepared when I meet them.

Last but not least, you must stay positive and enthusiastic, despite the physical and psychological workload.

Where do you find inspiration for your photography?

Unique, unusual, untouched nature is my main source of inspiration. Of course, I also spend some time looking through the portfolios of other photographers, always trying to define what makes this or that image great. Last but not least, I’m motivated by the excitement and happiness of my hiking partners when they see my images after coming back home.

2. “The most important thing is to bring a tripod with you.”

Dávid Varga

Image by Dávid Varga. Gear: Nikon D300 camera, Nikkor 16-85mm lens. Settings: Focal length 16mm; exposure 1/125 sec; f11; ISO 200.

What’s the story behind this photograph?

I took this photo during my first attempt to hike the Laugavegur trail, during the second day of the trek. I was hiking on my own, and I had to carry all the camping and hiking equipment, all the food, and all the photo gear by myself. That’s why my backpack was so huge. A storm was forming somewhere in the distance.

Originally, this was just a documentary photo of myself on the trek. It was only later, when I was at home and had edited the photo, that I found it interesting enough to upload to my Shutterstock portfolio. This photo turned out to be maybe one of the most popular hiking photos from Iceland ever.

What is your favorite place to hike and photograph?

The Laugavegur trail is the most beautiful multi-day trek in Iceland. The scenery and the landscape of the Alftavatn lake area are from another world, and it is accompanied by unpredictable weather.

Pro Tip

Try to go to the mountains and hike as much as possible. Sooner or later, the magic moment will happen, and you better be ready to capture it.

For the hiking itself, I have a list of the equipment I should always take with me, depending on the type of hike and on the season of the year. For shooting, I always bring my full-frame DSLR with one wide-angle lens and one middle range fixed lens. The most important thing is to bring a tripod with you.

Your back and muscles will not like you for carrying all this extra weight in photography gear, but those amazing pictures are worth it. I would recommend you always shoot a couple of panoramic pictures as well. This will allow you to get interesting photographic angles, and it will give you an ultra high-resolution outcome with a lot of details.

Where do you find inspiration for your photography?

I usually try to search online to find interesting shots from the area I’m headed to next.

3. “A macro lens can be a lifesaver on hikes that turn out to be busts.”

Jerry Voss

Image by Jerry Voss. Gear: Pentax LX 35mm film camera, Pentax SMC-A 20mm f/2.8 manual focus lens, Kodak Ektar 100 film. Settings: Exposure 1/125 sec; f5.6.

What’s the story behind this photograph?

This was the first day of a ten-day trip into The Bob, and it was nearing sundown. We had just crested Rocky Mountain Pass, and my partner started down the long rocky trail you see going way into the distance.

I used my trusted Pentax SMC-A 20mm lens to capture my buddy with two of the three llamas we had with us as they headed down the other side of the pass. The late evening sun, along with some smoke from distant forest fires, made for dramatic light. We proceeded down the rocky, treeless trail until it finally made a switchback turn and settled into a gorgeous high mountain grassy meadow, where we camped for the first night of our nine-night stay.

What is your favorite place to hike and photograph?

My favorite place would be the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex in Montana. The complex consists of over 1.5 million acres of pristine mountain wilderness straddling the mighty continental divide just south of iconic Glacier National Park. This huge expanse of wild lands consists of three different wilderness areas, with the Bob Marshall being the first one established. The Great Bear Wilderness and Scapegoat Wilderness areas were later added, making it one of the largest tracts of wild lands left in the lower 48 states. The spectacular scenery, wildlife, and myriad of subjects make “The Bob” (as the locals like to refer to it) a dream destination for landscape, nature, and wildlife photographers.

My friend, who is a model for a lot of my hiking images, and I have rented llamas so we could enjoy trips as long as ten days, going completely through the Bob. One time we started on the east side and went all the way across to the west side, crossing the continental divide in the process. The llamas are able to carry most all of our gear and food, and they enabled me to hike unencumbered by a heavy backpack. I’m at a loss for words to explain the joy I experienced traversing the magical Bob Marshall Wilderness.

Pro Tip

My approach to nature, wildlife, and hiking images, in particular, is not to get too wrapped up in planning and preparation. Try going with the flow. I would have to say more of my best photos were taken totally out of surprise. I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve prepared for and researched a certain location and environment, only to encounter an amazing and unexpected subject. Nature has a way of humbling us.

I bring as many lenses as possible, even if it’s only a short day hike. Try to carry a macro lens with you, if possible. A macro lens can be a lifesaver on hikes that turn out to be busts. Great macro images can be had in anywhere, even in your backyard.

Instead of packing a tripod in your pack, use it as your walking stick. This works great for lightweight tripods and of course monopods. With the Benbo Trekker tripod I use, I simply drop the center leg and adjust the height accordingly.

Where do you find inspiration for your photography?

I find inspiration in nature itself. I think of it as living artistry.

4. “choose comfortable gear that won’t hinder you during the hike”

Attilio Pregnolato

Image by Attilio Pregnolato. Gear: Fujifilm X-E2 mirrorless camera, Samyang 12mm lens. Settings: Exposure 1/200 sec; f16; ISO 400.

What’s the story behind this photograph?

I took this photo in Waterton Lakes National Park. We hiked the Akamina Ridge, and after reaching Forum Lake, we followed what we assumed to be a track. When we got to the ridge, however, we were totally lost. We took the straightest way down to Wall Lake and ended up scrambling down a steep wall of gravel and rock. In the end, we walked the shore, one foot in the water, jumping from rock to rock, until we reached a trail. We were wet and tired but overwhelmingly satisfied.

What is your favorite place to hike and photograph?

Canada is a real paradise for a hiker and a photographer, especially the Rocky Mountains. My girlfriend and I spent three months in that area, exploring and hiking in Banff, Yoho, Jasper, and Waterton Lakes National Parks, falling in love with each of them step by step.

Here, crystal clear lakes and huge forests extend for kilometers. For us, the main objective is not to conquer the higher peaks, even though that is very satisfying. Our main goal is to have long walks deep into these old forests, pitching our tent in a place where the sounds and sights of civilization are just a faraway thought.

Pro Tip

The most basic tip I have is to choose comfortable gear that won’t hinder you during the hike. The freer you feel, more you’ll enjoy the nature surrounding you, and that’s the only way to shoot wonderful photos.

You also need to be aware of the various dangers each trail can present. A GPS, paper maps, some water, a pair of boots, and adequate clothing are all important. When people ask me how I get my photos, I tell them, “Enjoy nature. Enjoy what it offers, and don’t ask for more. Look around, and the inspiration for the perfect photo will arrive… naturally!”

Where do you find inspiration for your photography? My main inspirations are mountains in general. I live in Turin, Italy, and we are completely surrounded by the Alps. We can enjoy so many different outdoor activities in “our” mountains, from hiking and mountain biking to skiing, climbing, and canyoning. Every activity and every minute spent in the mountains becomes an inspiration to me.

5. “Shoot RAW, and shoot during the golden hours … it gives you the flexibility to pull in highlights and open shadow areas.”

Edmund Lowe

Image by Edmund Lowe. Gear: Nikon D700 camera, Nikkor 70-300mm zoom lens, a Gitzo Tripod with an Arca-Swiss Monoball Z1. Settings: Focal length 116mm; exposure 5 sec; f36; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photograph?

Tanah Lot is one of the most photographed temples in Bali, so I knew that I would need to do something unique to stand out from the rest. I hiked down from the where the other photographers were setting up and scrambled along the moss-covered slippery rocks to the edge of the surf. It soon became obvious that there would not be a warm and glowing sunset, so I decided to shoot at a long exposure to get that “silky” water look and turn the image into a cyanotype to match the mood of the day. This has become one of my most popular images.

What is your favorite place to hike and photograph?

My favorite place on the planet is Bali, Indonesia. Yes, it has been discovered, but the majority of visitors never leave the southern tourist area of Kuta and Nusa Dua. The rest of the island still retains the culture and beauty that has made it the #1 island in the world to visit.

Hiking in the Bali rice fields is an almost mystical feeling, especially during the early morning hours, when the mist drapes the hills and valleys. The sounds and smells of the island waking up with the insects, birds, and occasionally a distant bamboo gamelan instrument playing during a Hindu ceremony, still remains a most special memory.

Pro Tip

Shoot RAW, and shoot during the golden hours of the morning and the evening. Shooting RAW gives you the flexibility to pull in highlights and open shadow areas. Remember, everything looks better during the “sweet light.”

I research everything I can find on the area beforehand. I look at images from other photographers, study the times of sunrise and sunset, and learn the best season to shoot. Most importantly, I scout the location. Normally, I set up while it is still dark, so I need to get the lay of the land during daylight hours.

Where do you find inspiration for your photography? I look at thousands of images from a variety of sources. When I see one that tickles me, I study what makes it so appealing. Is it the unusual angle, the time of day, the graphic elements, or just the subject matter?


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