American Long Distance Hiking Association - West

Trail Photography

23 May 2017 10:56 AM | Bob Turner (Administrator)

The Big Three of Photography
Gary “Shutterbug” Lawton

Most hikers, who have poured over gear lists in the hope to lighten their pack, have probably heard of the “Big Three”: pack, sleeping system, and shelter.  In my quest for the perfect photo, I believe there is a big three of photography: subject, composition, and light.
A thru-hike is an adventure of a lifetime and capturing the memories in photos is important to most.  As a photographer, I will admit most of my pics are simple snapshots capturing a not to be forgotten moment and to share my journey with family and friends.  But I also hope to capture a few images that will be truly worth sharing.  This capture happens when the big three come together in one image. 

The wilderness and the long trails we love abound with scenic beauty and worthy subjects.  The landscape around us can be stunning, but don’t get lost in the big scene, the smaller details are also worthy of our attention.  While I love capturing the grand vista, some of my favorite pics from my thru-hikes are of the minute details: a delicate flower, a colorful moss covered rock in a stream or a close-up of a fellow hiker’s beaming smile.

A photographic image is two dimensional.  Use composition to expand the image into the appearance of a third dimensional.  Converging lines do this exceedingly well.  Using the trail or a stream leading into the frame can do this.  To avoid a static pic, avoid placing the main subject in the center of the frame if possible.  Divide the frame into thirds, vertically and horizontally and place your main subject at one of the points where the lines intersect.

In nature, great subjects abound, and compositions can be manipulated to your liking, but the most important aspect of a great photo is light.  Without quality light, the result will be lacking that wow factor we all hope for in our photography.  I am known for getting early starts on the trail, but I rarely make big miles first thing, because the light can be most special at that time and I am constantly stopping when the light is good.  There is a reason the first and last hours of the day are called the “magic hour.”  It’s what makes those amazing sunsets and sunrises so grand. 

Pack up the big three on your gear list and keep them light and remember the big three of photography to capture your best pics.  Happy trails to all and bring back some amazing photos. 

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