How to Shoot Film in the Outdoors

In the digital realm, memory cards with almost-unlimited, deletable memory hold the majority of our images of the outdoors, and computer-based editing lets you fine-tune that nearly perfect shot. But, shooting nature the old-fashioned way has its benefits, too.

First things first: Film will cost you. It will cost you time, it will cost you space in your backpack, and it will most definitely cost you money. If you’re like me, it’ll likely also cost you sleep, as you think about what you could have done differently with a certain frame. Or, maybe, it will cost you a few gray hairs, as you anxiously wait to see how the processed negatives from an exciting sojourn abroad turned out.

But, film photography can also change the way you think about making images or even what you decide to shoot. With time, it’ll make you a better photographer and more a part of the moments you choose to document. Ultimately, it’ll change the way you see, and it’s a lot of fun to use!

North Carolina's Linville Gorge | Credit: John Lepak
North Carolina’s Linville Gorge | Credit: John Lepak

Where Do I Begin?

Get started by picking up a film camera. Hit up a tag sale or a flea market. Or, poke around the internet a bit to see what strikes your fancy—Craigslist and eBay are both excellent resources. In all cases, 35mm film cameras are widely available, and the film typically has 24 or 36 exposures per roll. Medium-format cameras take 120 film, which is a bit bigger and produces a larger negative. Generally speaking, though, these cameras—and their film—are a little less accessible. They’re less forgiving, too, usually producing just 12 images per roll.

You can get your film on eBay or at a tag sale, but it does have an expiration date. As a side note, using expired film can produce some cool effects. However, you’re probably safer sourcing from a camera supply store (yes, they still do exist). Tip: Buy film in bulk to save some money and refrigerate it. Cooling it down significantly extends its lifespan.

A Guanaco in Torres del Paine, Chile| Credit: John Lepak
A Guanaco in Torres del Paine, Chile| Credit: John Lepak

Packing It Up

Next, the hard part: Finding room in your bag. Full disclosure: There is nothing ultralight about this. The film adds weight, and the older cameras have more in common with bricks than today’s backcountry equipment, but remember how much fun you’re having.

Personally, I only drag a camera along when I’m going somewhere far away, as opposed to a walk through the local park, and want to get the most out of photographing the experience. I’m also not lugging it on longer backpacking trips, where weight and space are serious issues. Overall, consider where you’re going and how much you want to carry. It will take some trial and error to figure out how many exposures you’re going to make, and you’ll likely need to drag some unnecessary ounces around before you find a good fit.

Also—and this is no different from using digital equipment—make sure you have a way to keep your gear dry. If you’re carrying the extra stuff, it’s a whole lot nicer to have it working than not.

Valahnúkur, Thorsmörk, Iceland | Credit: John Lepak
Valahnúkur, Thorsmörk, Iceland | Credit: John Lepak

The Downsides and Upsides

It’s worth noting that film is expensive—infinitely more so than if you just whipped out your existing phone and fired away. You’ve got the camera setup and the film, and then, you have to get it processed and either printed or digitally scanned. Most opt for the latter, unless you’re looking to gift or sell any of your images. All in all, it’s not cheap.

But, consider this a positive and use it to your advantage. Instead of running around with your phone out the whole time, take the opportunity to be deliberate and present. When you have a price tag attached to each image and a finite number of potential exposures, you’re going to really see what’s around you before raising your camera. Being in the moment ultimately helps you make better images and, moreover, connects you to what’s around you more than ever before.

Lastly, just have fun with it. Like getting out into the woods after a long work week, treat shooting film as a change of pace. Time in the backcountry seems to slow down in such a tremendous way that it only makes sense to capture it with a fitting medium.

Cuernos del Paine, Chile | Credit: John Lepak
Cuernos del Paine, Chile | Credit: John Lepak

VIDEO: Photographing the Milky Way Over Acadia

Video and text by Kris Roller
Video help from Nick Girard

Behind every great photo lies a story, one that describes the process and events leading up to the photograph. To me, the amount of planning and effort you put into its creation makes it that much better, and no photos require more work and preparation than astrophotos. When planning a shoot that involves the night sky, you have to take a few things into account: the equipment you are using, the location, and timing.

With astrophotography, the Milky Way is an extremely popular subject. But, depending on what part of the world you are in and the time of year, getting the perfect shot can be tricky.

Location

Generally, you want to be in an area with little-to-no light pollution. I use Google’s light pollution maps to help me pinpoint the darkest spots anywhere I travel. Also, the farther south you go, the more you can see the Milky Way and its galactic core. When you are in the Northern Hemisphere, the Milky Way always faces south. So, for this photo, I knew I had to choose a location that would allow me to face in that direction, and Google Earth 3D helped me identify possible spots. And, because I knew I was shooting rock climbers, I also had to find a climbable rock that was pretty exposed to the night sky. Acadia, Maine, turned out to be perfect.

Timing

For those in the Northern Hemisphere, the Milky Way’s core can only be seen from February to late October. Depending on what’s in the foreground and where you want the Milky Way to be, you will want to plan your shoot during certain months. Various apps can help you organize this, and for this specific photo in Acadia, I used PhotoPills. The timing of the year was important, too, because I had to get the Milky Way a couple of hours into its initial rise above the eastern horizon. July ended up being ideal.

Equipment

Most DSLR cameras are great for shooting astrophotography. The equipment that I used was a Sony a7RII with a 24-70 mm f2.8 lens. Usually, you want to shoot the night sky anywhere from 14 to 24 mm—wide enough to see the Milky Way’s vastness. My setting was 24 mm 2500 ISO for 15 seconds. Generally, you can set the shutter speed to 20 or 25 seconds, but I had live subjects, so I had to keep it shorter than usual. Otherwise, any sudden movements would’ve made them come out blurry.

Post Processing

After I took the photo, I processed it in Adobe Photoshop first to bring the Milky Way’s details out. Then, I imported it into Lightroom to touch up the rest of the composition and balance the light on the foreground. After your shoot, there are numerous ways to process your work, but these two programs are the most common for night photography.

Credit: Kris Roller
Credit: Kris Roller
Credit: Kris Roller
Credit: Kris Roller

Song credit: “Pyrite Promises” by Dionysia


Packing Your Camera Gear For Hiking and Backpacking

So, you’ve decided to take your DSLR out for the first time on a hike. That can be pretty intimidating. Carrying what could be thousands of dollars in sensitive electronics in the dirty, wet outdoors is enough to make any photographer think twice before packing up. But, if you know ahead of time what to bring and how to pack it, your camera will be in good hands, and the rain shower freakout can be averted.

Depending on the extent of your hike, you probably want to pack as light as possible. This is no different with your camera gear. Each piece you choose to bring should either be a necessity or a backup. So, what should you have with you?

Credit: Chris Daniele
Credit: Chris Daniele

Carrying and Protecting Your Camera

Carrying your camera while you’re on the trails can be quite the struggle, but one of the simplest things you can do for outdoor photography is to upgrade your stock camera strap. A longer, more comfortable option with a quick-release buckle, such as the Peak Design Slide, may make things easier. By resting the strap diagonally across your chest with the camera body sitting by your hip rather than around your neck directly in front, you’ll be much more comfortable, and the camera won’t move around as much while still being easily accessible.

For more intense hikes, a chest harness might be more helpful. This mounts the camera securely to your chest and distributes the weight evenly over both of your shoulders. The camera usually sits facing downward, so, if you were to accidentally fall forward, it would stay close to your body and won’t hit lens or glass first. This position also gives you a better line of sight to see where your feet are stepping.

Credit: Chris Daniele
Credit: Chris Daniele

Keeping Dry

So, you’re mid-hike and here comes the rain. That can be pretty scary, but with the right precautions, you shouldn’t have to worry. The key? Plan ahead and look at the forecast. A 30-percent chance of rain is still a chance! One of the cheaper and most important accessories you can get to keep shooting in the rain (or snow) is a rain cover for your DSLR. Even if rain is not in the forecast, these are small and light enough to always keep in your pack—and it wouldn’t hurt to store it in a side pocket that is easily accessible—and could save your camera’s life in a downpour!

If you decide you’re going to hop into a canoe or kayak during any of your adventures, I would strongly suggest getting a waterproof case or bag for your DSLR. While this is a more expensive accessory, the odds of the camera possibly getting submerged are greater than if you were on land. They also make taking my camera out on kayaking trips far less stressful and way more fun!

Tip: If you think your camera is getting wet, shut it off! For your electronics, one of the worst things is having water get inside when they’re powered on. And, try not to turn it back on until you are sure it is dry. Also, if you are about to cross a slippery stream or climb down a steep rock, it’s always a good habit to shut the camera off, just in case!

Credit: Chris Daniele
Credit: Chris Daniele

Which Lens Should I Take?

You will probably only want to have one (or maybe two) lenses on you for your hike. As often as possible, I try to only bring one, but if I do bring a second, I use an athletic fanny pack to keep it on me and easily accessible, so I don’t have to dig through my backpack.

Choosing a lens depends on what you plan to shoot. For landscapes, you’ll want a wide lens; for shots of your hiking pals, consider a medium focal length; and if you’re planning on photographing wildlife, you’ll likely want a telephoto. If you’re shooting all styles or want a lot of versatility, your best bet is a lens that covers as many focal lengths as possible. My go-to when I only bring one is a 24mm-105mm, so I can shoot wide landscapes and get closer, just in case I run into any wildlife.

A UV filter also adds a layer of protection to the front, and it can also keep dirt and moisture off the glass. Keep in mind that a cheaper UV filter may impact your image quality!

Credit: Chris Daniele
Credit: Chris Daniele

Batteries & Memory Cards

Bring extras, and don’t forget to charge them all the night before. Remember, colder conditions may drain your batteries faster, so keep them someplace warm, if possible, like inside a jacket. It also doesn’t hurt to bring a car battery charger along, in case you start shooting before you get to your hike or for reviewing photos after. If you can recharge via USB, a lightweight portable backup power supply additionally comes in handy.

As always, bring a backup card. You never know what can happen, so having that second card adds no weight and could be a lifesaver. It’s also a good idea to have a card case that’s water and impact resistant.

Credit: Chris Daniele
Credit: Chris Daniele

Accessories

Other important—and light—tools to pack are a lens cloth—remember, you will be kicking up dirt—and an air blower cleaner, in case you notice dust on your camera’s sensor while you’re out shooting!

If you are planning to use a tripod for stability, longer exposures, or selfies, the Joby GorillaPod SLR-Zoom with a Ballhead is a lightweight and versatile hiking option. It can hold about 6 lbs., and you can grip to almost any surface. I’ve definitely had my camera hanging from tree branches on this thing!

If you’re camping and there’s a chance of rain, it also doesn’t hurt to bring a dry sack to seal your camera in overnight. It could be the one time you wake up in a puddle, and your camera is sitting halfway underwater. Peace of mind will help you rest up!

 

Each hike and situation is going to be different for every photographer, but with these tips, you can enjoy your trek more without all the worry about your gear. For most, it will be figuring out what works best. Happy shooting!

Credit: Chris Daniele
Credit: Chris Daniele

How to Photograph the Sunrise and the Sunset: 7 Tips

Some of the most beautiful scenes I’ve experienced outdoors have been spent in seclusion, watching the sun rise and set while the sky erupts in a multitude of colors. There truly is nothing more magical than the world quieting down for the night as the sun sets—except, perhaps, watching and listening as it comes alive again and the sun peeks out from beyond the horizon.

As is often the case with these and other magical moments, trying to accurately capture it in a photograph can be difficult. However, you can usually come quite close by remembering a few key tips and tricks.

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1. Stick with it

When it comes to outdoor photography, the most important thing to keep in mind is that dedication and perseverance are the keys to helping you get the perfect shot. This can sometimes be tough (I know it is for me) because it means you will almost always be losing a good deal of sleep. Driving to or from your destination, hiking time, and other factors all have to be taken into account, but you’ll rarely regret it.

Hiking in the dark is also a big component of getting mountaintop sunrises and sunsets, and if you can find some people crazy enough to go with you, the trip will be much more enjoyable. There’s a special kind of magic that takes over as you sit and watch, and forget about just how tired you are or will be later.

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2. Not all sunsets and sunrises are the same

Not every quest for the perfect shot will result in even a mediocre sunset. For instance, before one recent hike up New Hampshire’s Mount Moosilauke, I checked the weather forecast and decided it would be a good day to catch the sunrise on top. During the entire drive there, I had clear, starry skies and was getting very excited for the sunrise. About halfway up the trail, however, a thick fog suddenly rolled in, and didn’t clear until I was almost back to my car—an hour after the sun had already risen. But, that failed attempt didn’t stop me from catching a sunset near my house later the same day, and boy, was it worth it. Weather and conditions change rapidly, but persistence eventually nets you a shot you never thought was possible.

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3. Look at the clock

For planning your trip or hike, a key factor to take into account is the actual time of the sunrise or sunset. You can usually get this information from many different sources, including weather apps on your phone or online. I tend to use mountain-forecast.com and Weather Underground.

Realize, however, that the sunrise or sunset doesn’t always happen at that specific time. Colors can begin erupting across the sky up to an hour before the actual sun crests over the horizon in the morning or starts to set in the evening. As a good rule of thumb, get to your destination roughly an hour beforehand, and stay up to 30 minutes afterwards.

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4. Clouds are your friends

As one of the trickier things about shooting at dusk or dawn, those colors that everyone seeks can erupt across the sky and fade in as little as 30 seconds. So, you need to be aware and ready to shoot at any time, and never forget that clouds are your friends. Clouds reflect the scattered light particles to create astounding color combinations.

The most amazing sunrises and sunsets I’ve ever seen have occurred on slightly cloudy days, and the colors seemingly came from nowhere and disappeared just as fast. Don’t forget to look behind you, away from the sun, to catch a glimpse of the alpenglow, which is when subtle blues and pinks fill the sky.

5. Adjust for the sun

Keep in mind that shooting with a phone in the direction of the sun will typically result in some sort of flare, unless you center and focus directly on it. However, since most colors tend to appear either just before the sun emerges from the horizon or just after it sets, it’s easy to avoid flares. If you are using a DSLR, you can oftentimes create a starburst or sunburst effect with the sun’s rays, which adds some uniqueness to your shot. Finding innovative ways to frame this burst can give you a shot unlike anyone else’s.

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6. Don’t forget the foreground

Remember your rule of thirds. Breaking your view into three parts, both vertically and horizontally, and then using those imaginary lines to align items and frame your shot allow you to capture more aesthetically pleasing photographs.

Sunrises and sunsets are great for creating silhouetted shots of fellow hikers, photographers, and friends. Focusing on the sky behind your subject allows you to capture the beauty of the scene while adding your companion’s silhouette to an already-fantastic image.

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7. Keep the editing light

It’s important to try to keep editing to a minimum. While it’s very difficult to shoot a photograph that completely matches how your mind remembers the moment, slight adjustments to the image’s overall brightness and color can usually help you come close. Many times, people will want to increase the saturation quite a bit, but this typically results in an image that looks very unrealistic and not what you were originally going after.

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All photos credit: Joshua Myers

 


The Guide to iPhone Hiking Photography

“What kind of camera do you use?” is something photographers get asked frequently. We like to talk gear just as much as any other hiker or backpacker. But, my answer more often than not takes people by surprise. Several of my photos don’t come from my fancy Canon EOS Rebel T5 DSLR, but my trusty iPhone 7.

Reason number one: It’s smaller, lighter, and always by side. For instance, when I’m on a trail run, I don’t typically carry along a big camera and lenses.

Secondly, the formula for successful landscape photography boils down to three things. While equipment, talent, and skill are essential, dedication routinely comes in as the most important. If you are truly motivated and dedicated to getting the perfect shot, and you are constantly putting yourself in position to do so, success will happen, even if you’re only shooting with a smartphone.

As well, knowing how to properly use your iPhone saves pack weight and space, as well as time and money. And, if you know what you’re doing, the shots will be just as impressive.

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Framing the Shot

In your photo, obviously pay attention to the framing and composition. Step one: Hold your phone sideways. One of the first mistakes many make when taking photos while hiking is holding the phone upright, in a “portrait” orientation. Typically, up-and-down shooting should be avoided in landscape photography, with few exceptions, like a waterfall.

From there, even out the photo with a good balance of background and foreground. As a guide, think about the rule of thirds. If you break your photo into three parts, both vertically and horizontally, you can line up your subjects and frame your shots. You can also turn these lines on through your phone’s settings menu, under “Photos & Camera.”

Also take into account where the horizon is. Keeping this as level as possible will result in a more realistic-looking photograph. For certain shots, you’ll want to achieve as much symmetry as possible, even though this may go against the rule of thirds. This can be tricky, and typically should only be used for certain shots, such as bodies of water.

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If you’re taking a photo of your hiking partner, you can apply the same rules to frame the photo. For instance, if you are shooting at sunrise or sunset, you can focus on the background to create a great silhouetted image. Or, if shooting during the day, try to face the sun’s opposite direction to allow both your subject and the background to be visible. Your phone will typically focus on both, resulting in a great image of your partner.

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Lighting

Lighting can make or break a photo. Pay attention to where the sun is in the sky in relation to your shot’s direction. Having the sun behind you is usually best, because facing it can result in glare or a more faded-looking image. As such, usually the best time of day for shooting is early morning or evening, when the sun is lower in the sky. Therefore, less “harsh light” will affect your photos.

If you are shooting a sunrise or sunset, you’ll want to be facing the sun. But, also take into account that anything but a direct shot focusing on the sun will typically result in a flare or similar spot.

A helpful iPhone tool, the HDR setting allows the phone to take two versions of the same photograph, usually with the HDR version resulting in better quality. HDR comes in handy when you are shooting things such as a mountain in the foreground and a brighter sky in the background. Typically, this results in a washed-out sky or a dark, shadowy foreground.

If set to “Auto,” HDR will bring both the background and foreground into focus with proper exposure, resulting in an image exactly as you saw it. While shooting, you can also use the slider next to the focus box to easily change the exposure value. Just tap where you want the camera to focus, and then, by sliding your finger up or down, change the exposure to brighten or darken to reach your desired result.

Editing Basics

The key to taking a good photo is simply that. But, it can also be valuable to touch it up and perfect your shot before throwing it up on Instagram. And, believe it or not, you don’t need fancy editing software for that. In fact, the iPhone has some pretty great built-in basic editing tools, available just by clicking the slider bar button below the photo.

For instance, to determine if the photo is level, select the “Crop” button first. Then, the iPhone will sense if the photograph is off from the horizon line, and will automatically correct the error for you.

As well, a dial button will bring up three different lighting modes: Light, Color, and B&W. Using the Light option slider, brighten your photo by automatically changing the shot’s various aspects (contrast, brightness, shadows, etc.), while the Color adjuster slider does the same thing with the different elements comprising the photo’s coloring (saturation, contrast, etc.). As a good rule of thumb for most landscape photos, increase both of these slightly in order to make your photo look more vibrant and colorful while still retaining a realistic look and feel.

But, be careful not to over-edit. Your photos probably won’t look nearly as beautiful as you remember the actual scene being, which leads to people overcompensating and editing far more than they should, including over-saturation or increasing HDR or other similar filters too much. Thus, try to keep the editing to the bare minimum, so your photos look realistic while matching the memory you have.

Happy shooting, and share your finished shots with us by using the hashtag #goEast!

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All photos credit: Joshua Myers