Photography Lessons Learned While Hiking the West Highland Way in Scotland

1)  If it rains, you are screwed. Sure there are weatherproof cameras (my Canon T1i does not qualify) and there are methods and equipment to help protect your gear, but when you are an ultralight hiker lugging a DSLR, there has to be limits! Beyond equipment issues, when you are hiking through the rain your general state of mind is to press on, not stop and enjoy getting wet while shooting. In other words, it is a mental block as well.

2)  If you are doing big mileage, it is all about the hike. In learning how serious photography and hiking can co-exist, doing 15 plus miles of hiking nudges the photography out of the picture. I would say 10 or less miles leaves the time and energy to shoot, any more than that and hiking dominates the day.

3) Unless you are in a wildlife mecca like Denali or Yellowstone, leave your telephoto lens at home. My main focus was landscapes. Just stick to the wide angle lens and miss the other stuff. The extra weight of additional lenses is not worth it.

4)  Need to see in black and white better. I continue to try and picture what subjects would be best captured in B&W.

5) A DSLR is heavy. Any fantasies I had of bringing my T1i on the Tahoe Rim Trail this summer (165 miles around Lake Tahoe) were dashed when I realized hiking 95 miles in Scotland with a DSLR was a mistake, or a learning experience if you want to put a positive spin on it. Panasonic LX3 is my long distance hiking partner. Lessons learned!

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3 responses to “Photography Lessons Learned While Hiking the West Highland Way in Scotland

  • Photo-John

    You might find all of my thoughts in conflict with your ultralight hiking philosophy. Some of us put photography first and get out there for the photos. Our compromises are all for the photos. Other people sacrifice photos for experience of to cover ground. Since I do a lot of mountain biking with camera gear, weight and size are important to me. Your Canon is actually very small, compared to what some people ride or hike with. I own a Canon XSi / 450D for that very reason. I also have the Canon 18-200mm IS for that reason. I’m sure it’s bigger than whatever you’re carrying. But it’s relatively compact and offers a lot of versatility.

    For rain, I recommend carrying a waterproof point-and-shoot in a pouch on your shoulderstrap. It’s a very small price to pay for a camera that’s always available and that you don’t have to worry about it. My experience with the Olympus Stylus 1030 SW has been very, very good.

    I would also recommend you take a look at the Olympus DSLRs. They are much smaller than anything else available – and not just the bodies. The Four Thirds sensor is smaller and that means the lenses are smaller, too. The Olympus 70-300mm lens is comparable to a 140-600mm lens on a full-frame/35mm camera, yet it’s smaller than the Canon 28-135mm IS lens. I love the Olympus E-620 for mountain biking and hiking. And then there’s the new Olympus E-P1. It could be the ultimate outdoor/travel camera.

    • ontheroad22

      Thanks for your response! It definitely can come down to what the priority is – hiking or photography. I’m learning to choose with each trip.

      The E-P1 has definitely been on my radar for a while, and I was excited for its debut last week. My only real complaint with the camera is the LCD screen, I was really hoping for 920,000 dots / VGA, especially considering that’s your sole means in which to compose your image. I’ve been following and enjoying your coverage of the E-P1 closely.

      I do worry that I could end up with the EP-1, the four thirds adapter, the Zuiko 9-18mm, 12-60mm, and 70-300mm and then I’m right back into the lens game. It’s the lenses which can really weight you down.

      On my latest hike I took my Canon 10-22mm and my Canon 100mm 2.8. It was a solid combo. I didn’t use my macro nearly as much as my wide angle, but nice to have. Also considering my 50mm 1.4 with polarizer. Trying to juggle without pushing too much weight.

      Thanks for the comment and the great work you do on your site!

  • Doug Murdoch

    Hi Justin, can you let me know the brand of bag that you used to carry your SLR on your chest, and also what the issues were carrying it? (falling away from the body, unclipping, etc). I’m interested from a design perspective what you found that was disappointing about carrying it on your chest. I am a designer at http://www.thinktankphoto.com
    Cheers, Doug

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