As the temperatures are warming and the days are stretching longer it means camping season is near!
For most people, camping means getting away from it all and soaking in nature, relaxing, family-time, and living a bit primitively. But for the photographer, camping means all that and more.
It means the chance to branch out of our box, live amongst the light and shadows, shoot in a new environment … all the while, documenting the trip in a way that will bring our family back to the moments image by image. It means countless photo opportunities!
Here are 6 thoughts to help you make the most of your photography experience when you and your family venture out into the great outdoors for your next camping adventure.
1. Capture what is unique about camping
From setting up your ‘home away from home’ to the activities you and your family entertain yourselves with when camping, this is what makes camping a one-of-a-kind vacation. And this allows even the seemingly small details to have a special place in your documentation. Strive to tell the complete story of your camping trip by starting with building the tent and snapping all the way to when your kiddos are sleeping in it. And don’t forget to include images that break down what is both typical and distinctive to your family’s adventure. I like to think of these details in advance and make a mental note to watch for chances to photograph them. For my family, these details range from the food we eat, to the hikes we take, to the bows we shoot, and I try to capture snippets of each because those details all tell our story.
2. Protect your gear
Camping is the prime time to be thinking about protecting your gear from outdoor elements such as dirt, dust, cold, and moisture. Utilizing a lens filter and hood is ideal to prevent damage to the lens’ glass and only changing out lenses when inside the tent is ideal to protect damage to the inside of the lens and camera body. Storing your gear overnight can also pose a bit of a challenge when the temps dip and dew coats everything. When I can, I like to keep my camera and lenses zipped up in my camera bag and locked in our car, but nestled into my suitcase surrounded by my clothes, and stored in our tent, is a safe option too. Regardless, I always keep a few silica gel packs in my camera bag to ward off any moisture that may be present. And when you’re using your gear, protect it by making sure it is securely attached to a trust-worthy, comfortable camera strap. I have been using my Black Rapid Strap for 4 years now and never step outside to shoot without it. And it is perfect for camping trips because it keeps my camera close and is also totally comfortable for long stretches of wear.
3. Keep your gear simple
As backwards as it sounds, there are a lot of complexities to deal with while camping despite our best efforts to temporarily live primitively. So, help yourself out by keeping your camera gear simple. I try to stick with one, maybe two, lenses. I always take my 35mm for its storytelling abilities and perhaps a longer lens, such as the 70-200mm. I generally forgo my grey card, tripod, speedlight and the like to just travel lighter. However, selecting a backpack camera bag designed for outings such as camping and hiking will accommodate these items and make organizing and carrying them much easier. I love my Lowepro Slingshot Backpack for this purpose. For simplicities’ sake, though, I prefer utilizing Kelvin for white balance, my children, husband or stumps to allow me to get into the frame, and lanterns and flashlights for low light shooting.
4. Play with the unique light and compositions
Yes, I love camping for all that “camping” entails, but more and more, I love it just as much for the opportunity to photograph someplace totally new and challenging. Spending all day in the outdoors presents countless opportunities to study and use light and environment in ways that may not be overly familiar or within your comfort zone. Embrace that! Look for lines and framing options among the trees and paths. Seek deep shadows and pockets of light when the sun is high and gorgeous filtered light when it is rising or setting. Enjoy having the time and freedom to experiment with these elements and your perspective while you observe your children playing baseball with sticks and pine-cones or making a crown out of wildflowers. Camping is the perfect time to let loose, try something new, slow down and study your surroundings and play with your photography.
5. Embrace the often considered ‘less-than-desirable’ side of camping
Awe, yes. For me it is always the dirt. For you it may be the wind that won’t stop blowing or the rain that insisted on coming along. Maybe it is even the overly tired children or the bug bites. Believe it or not, you’ll laugh about those less than desirable details someday and the images will not only help tell the complete story, but will help you be grateful that they are a memory and you’re not currently dealing with those challenges. They may also help remind you not to make the same mistakes again (like forgetting the bug spray) or to take certain steps to avoid particular issues (like remembering to bring only hiking shoes rather than sandals to help keep little footies a bit cleaner).
6. Don’t stop after dark
Rarely, if ever, do my children end their camping day when the sun disappears. On the contrary, I think this is when some of their best memories from our trips are formed. Staying up late, playing games by the lantern or roasting marshmallows on the campfire means we are living it up, camping-style. I know that after documenting the action all day long, not to mention after participating and caring for your crew, it can be challenging to bring out the camera at the end of the day. But again, challenge yourself to have fun with this opportunity! Use the little bit of available light that you have to keep telling your story, right up until the last flashlight is turned off.