I’ve written quite a bit about cameras on the trail, but for most hikers the best alternative is their phone or a simple point-and-shoot. More important than the camera are the photos! Many of my readers send me shots from time to time and over the years I’ve come to recognize what makes a good John Muir Trail photo. Here are some things to consider.
~ I’m not going to comment on technical matters, like composition or exposure. Those are important, but are beyond the scope of this article.
~ First, decide what the purpose of your photo is going to be. Is it for artistic purposes or for purposes of recollection? The latter will be true for the vast majority of hikers, so make sure you will be able to remember what you want to from the shots you take.
~ Second, get yourself in the photo! Either hand your camera to someone else or, even better, take along a tiny, lightweight tripod. Besides the mandatory shots of you at the top of passes and the top of Mount Whitney, get some at favorite break spots and a favorite campground. The photo below is one of my favorites simply because it tells a fairly comprehensive story.
~ Pass on the shots of wildlife if the animal is distant, but go ahead and shoot if the critter is close. If you can fill 20% of the viewfinder (or viewscreen) with the animal, go for it! The most likely candidates will be marmots, who are not at all shy. Deer are often bold, like these. (Although deer are common on the trail, this is one of my favorite wildlife photos, mostly because of the curious looks on the face of the animals.)
~ Get some good shots of the trail itself. After all, that is what you want to remember most. Again, try to tell a story with your photo. My favorite photo (of the trail itself) is on the cover of my book. The trail, the trees, the grass, the mountains, the snow, and the sky all combine to recount what life is like out there.
~ Don’t forget to shoot the small stuff. My favorites are trail signs; strange, twisted stumps; and geologic oddities.
~ Most cameras (especially those in phones) have a panorama function. Use it!
Most of all, make sure you are taking photos of the things that are important to you. Years from now, that’s what you will want to see. The photos I most regret NOT taking are the ones where the scene is most clear in my mind, like a particularly perfect spot, next to an alpine lake, where I had lunch during the summer of 2015, or that campsite with exquisite view.
One last tip, if you are shooting with a iPhone, you might want to consider making a book using the Mosaic app (video at link). It’s pretty neat.
Good hiking, Ray