Posts Tagged ‘Washington’

2016 Favorite Locations To Photograph Wildflowers On Mount Rainier- Kevin McNeal

Monday, August 15th, 2016

Images from Grand Park in Mount Rainier in the Pacific Northwest Of Washington State

Every year since I began photography, my summer days are spent hiking on Mt Rainier looking for wildflowers. After scouting several places on the mountain this year,  I have compiled a list of some of my favorite places to find wildflowers on Mt Rainier. Everywhere I look, there are all sorts of arrangements including Indian paintbrush, lupine, asters, and lilies just to mention a few. Trying to recommend one place to go would be impossible but I am going to try to highlight a few places I think should not be missed. Every wildflower season I begin my journey on Mt Rainier on the Sunrise side near the visitor center and generally the wildflowers always start peaking here first. This is an easy location to drive to when looking for wildflowers without much hiking. This year for some reason there are no flowers in the vicinity of the Sunrise area.

Images from Emmons Glacier and Silver Forest Trail near Sunrise Visitor Center on Mount Rainier in the Pacific Northwest Of Washington State But if you park your car at the Sunrise visitor center there are many trails that branch off from the visitor center if you don’t mind hiking. I like to hike the Sourdough trail working my way to Berkley Park and Grand Park. This is usually for my first trip of the year when photographing on Mt Rainier. Park at the Sunrise Visitor center and make your way up along the Sourdough Trail.


Look for flowers on the slopes with Rainier in the background; just be careful not to fall on the rocks. While hiking this gorgeous trail take in the view. It is one of the best on the mountain. As you continue you make your way by Frozen Lake. Take note of the color of the water – unbelievable! To make it to Berkeley Park keep going roughly 2-3 miles to witness without a doubt the most wildflowers in the park. Even though you do not get a view of the mountain from this park it is worth the hike. As you hike here you will pass a creek that follows you throughout the park.


This is a great opportunity to shoot Lewis Monkey flowers (the pink ones that grow next to streams). Do not be afraid to get your feet wet to get the best compositions here, as there is opportunity everywhere. To get more views of the mountain keep going on the trail to Grand Park as you are met with an open meadow that goes on forever.

Images from Grand Park in Mount Rainier in the Pacific Northwest Of Washington State

On the return to the visitor center makes sure to head down the trail when you hit Frozen Lake to go by Shadow Lake, which is a great place to relax and have a picnic. This is the lake you can see from the Sourdough Trail when you look down into the valley. Now keep along this trail and you will get back to the Sunrise visitor center.

For a sunrise if you are situated on the Sunrise Visitor Center side, I would highly recommend a visit to Tipsoo Lakes which is looking very good this year with a variety of wildflowers. Tipsoo Lake is a short drive back down the mountain from the Sunrise Visitor Center. It offers great reflections of the mountain and wildflowers together. Make sure to hike the hill behind the lake to even get better views of the mountain.

Images from Tipsoo Lake on Mount Rainier in the Pacific Northwest Of Washington State

Images from Tipsoo Lake on Mount Rainier in the Pacific Northwest Of Washington State

Images from Tipsoo Lake on Mount Rainier in the Pacific Northwest Of Washington State

Now if you are heading to the Paradise side, which is always a fan favorite for wildflowers, it offers great views as well. I always begin my journey on Paradise side with a sunrise shot from the Dead Horse Creek Trail.

Images from Mount Rainier in the Pacific Northwest Of Washington State

Images from Mount Rainier in the Pacific Northwest Of Washington State

You cannot go wrong from here as long as get high enough to unobstructed views of the mountain. There are plenty of wildflowers along this trail and a great place to get sidelight on Rainier. Follow this trail all the way up to High Skyline Trail to get closer then you could ever imagine to the mountain. The treat this year is the wildflowers are higher then they have ever been and you can get some very close up views of the mountain with great foregrounds of wildflowers. To get there make sure to keep going all the way to the top so you are heading in the direction of Muir Camp. Once up top you will have a completely unobstructed view of the mountain and wildflowers. After this continue along the High Skyline trail until he heads back down to Paradise area.

You will make your way for about two miles before you get to the meadows worth shooting again.Warning: this place is filled with people and hard to get pictures without people in them. If you are lucky enough to get the place to yourself make sure to stop at the bridge and get a few shots of Edith Creek and the surrounding wildflowers with Rainier as your backdrop. Make sure though to include the S-Curve that leads up and around to the mountain for a great shot.While there get a shot of Myrtle Falls with Rainier in the distance.

Myrtle Falls_720_Logo

Just past the bridge continuing up the hill you find great meadows of wildflowers and views of the Tatoosh Range if you look the opposite way of the mountain.

Images from Mount Rainier in the Pacific Northwest Of Washington State

This year the meadows are abundant with lupine. You can never go wrong with this image for stock purposes. If time allows I always like to make my way over to Mazama Ridge as this place rarely fails for good compositions of the mountain and wildflowers.


There are great patches of wildflowers along the trail on the switchbacks up to Mazama Ridge that look great with views of the mountain from the Mazama side. While here also don’t forget to look the other way and photograph wildflowers with the Tatoosh Range. A favorite place to photograph the mountain is Reflection Lakes. This is a great place to photograph for sunrise when you are looking to get somewhere quick. Because you can drive right up to it is very popular and usually has a lot of photographers there but it is easy to find room to shoot especially at either of the far ends.

Images from Mount Rainier in the Pacific Northwest Of Washington State

Images from Reflections Lakes on Mount Rainier in the Pacific Northwest Of Washington State

Well these are some of the stunning locations to shoot on Mt Rainier this year if you get a chance to visit. Remember every year it changes when and where to find the wildflowers so always do your homework before coming to make sure you plan everything correct to time the wildflowers!

Photo Cascadia – Best of 2015

Sunday, December 20th, 2015

Yet again another year has flown by which brings time to look back on the past and what might lie ahead for the new year. Going strong for six years with no signs of letting up on the gas. We grew by a whopping 16.6% with Erin Babnik joining our crew. We continue united with our mission “learn, explore, create” as we intended from the beginning. Just like a rock concert I was at last week when the band said they would not be where they are without their fans, a similar statement could be said for all of you. A sincere Thank you to all of our subscribers and viewers to the newsletter, blog, social media and any other rock you lifted up to find us!

It’s always a good time looking back at the photos each of us from Photo Cascadia captured over the last year. Wherever the road took you in 2015 for your photography we hope you enjoy looking back at what it means to you while giving a chance to reflect on what life is all about and what matters most. Photographing what mother nature has to offer reminds us that we learn as much or more from simply being out and about than anything we could read or watch online. This quote says it best.

“Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.”
– John Lubbock

As we wrap up the year and take a few weeks off from the blog we invite you to take a few minutes to view a few of our favorites from the team this past year. Slideshow is best viewed in HD. Happy Holidays and New Year!


Nature Selfies

Monday, October 12th, 2015

In this online world of the selfie crazed photo posts there is still the more classic selfie of putting up a tripod with camera for setting up the perfect scene. I like to say I have a selfie stick and jokingly point to my tripod. Taking a more old school approach I feel it can tell a better story to the viewer of what the place is like and how it might have felt. I do realize selfie as the word is coined for photos of today means holding the camera yet I am not covering big in your face shots here, it’s more nature self-portraits with purpose.

You might think it’s as easy as setting up the camera for the nature scene in front of you, setting the timer, jumping in front of the camera and waiting for the shutter to trip. Well sometimes it is, yet often it’s not. For those that have done them you know what I am talking about. Many takes to get one image that works well can get frustrating. The angle was off with your body, the way you were stepping on the trail doesn’t look natural, you are too large… or too small compared to the rest of the subjects, and the list goes on.

Why do I take these shots? Simply put because I want a human in the scene for one of a variety of reasons and in these cases I am typically the only one around or the only one willing to take the time to get the image I am after. I am not taking them for an Instagram account filled with selfies although don’t let me stop you if that is your cup of tea.

Here is me and my “selfie stick” just playing around during a hazy forest fire smoke sunset on the Oregon Coast. It usually gets some interesting looks when I use it. A family member off in the distance said “Is that Adrian taking photos with a selfie stick!” There you go… a tripod and selfie stick in one.


Now to more worthwhile information. Here is a list of things to think about I have learned over the years when trying to setup and pose myself into a scene with some example photos.

  1. You will want the basics. By basics I mean setup of camera, tripod and timer remote is essential. Without these you may find it very tough to impossible to get what you are conceptualizing.
  2. Does it look natural or too set up, the composition just like without people in the photo is critical to get right. Ask yourself how the scene balances with you in the shot and where you plan to stand, sit or do some awesome jumps!
  3. Besides composition of the scene the placement and body stance is very important. It should look pretty natural. If it looks overly posed or contrived you won’t be as happy with the photo in the end. You won’t know what this feels like until you practice and look at the results.
  4. Are you using newer equipment that allows you to see the scene in  real time such as apps on phones with WiFi or Bluetooth. This way you can stand a ways from your camera to click the button when it  looks right on your phone instead of setting a timer, running and stand still just in the nick of time for ‘click’.
  5.  Show a much more of the scene and a lot less of yourself. You will see in the many examples below I am only a fraction of the scene. Sometimes you can see it’s me and other times I am small enough you can’t tell.
  6. Look away from camera vs always looking at camera. A viewer will tend to look more into what the image is about and what you are looking at if you are not staring at the camera.
  7. Bright colors might be better or worse depending on what you are  after yet it’s good to think about this before you head out. Are you looking to stand out or blend into the scene.
  8. Buckles, straps, zippers should be checked before taking the shot. I  can’t count how may times I looked at the image after the fact to  find I had undone sagging buckles or straps that drew attention to  what I was wearing or carrying not in the way I had hoped.

Golden Rays – While teaching a workshop a number of years back I was showing participants how putting themselves in the photo might be another composition to think of. I kept a strong composition with leading lines from the bottom corners with the road, placed myself in the power point and let it snap when it was to a natural looking position in my walk.

The Heavenly Road

Mount Rainier – This is a case where color helps. It is an amazing scene yet if I had a pack that blended in the scene it would not be as dramatic. Notice the way I am positioned at an angle towards the mountain with a step up on the edge of the trail.

Hiker and Mount Rainier

Alvord Desert – Notice where my right foot is placed. It’s right where the larger crack starts giving it a stronger look. The cloud also appears to stretch from the top of my head. These combined with my stance I feel provide a stronger image than simply standing anywhere on this playa.

Wild Hairy Sky


Mount Adams – It was a fine morning along this lake and I wanted to capture what I was feeling eating breakfast and drinking coffee. Again I positioned my self in a power point and looking towards the mountain making sure none of the trees are spearing my head. This is a case where I used the app on my phone to look at the composition and then clicked the 2 second timer on my phone, very handy!

Hiker and Breakfast in Backcountry

Broken Top – The intent here was to keep myself small and have a big open sky as I was staring off into it just day dreaming . I don’t like I how left the branch of the tree poking in the back of my head yet it’s less of an issue with how small I am in this image.


Walchella Falls – Notice I placed myself in one corner and the falls in the opposite corner to help create balance from those two sides. Notice the un-clipped buckles on the left side of my pack. I forgot in this case and did not notice until later.

Soaking It In

Abiqua Falls – This was a tough one. I wanted to get myself in the stream of the falls get the side stream in the foreground. It took a number of takes to line myself up right. How did I avoid standing in the same spot each time in a sea of rocks that look at the same and about 40feet from the camera? I purposely marked each spot with a wet rock before I went back to my camera so I knew if it didn’t look quiet right to move slightly next time.

Standing In The Way

All of these images and others I have taken of myself, other objects and people can be found in my adventure gallery. If you have further thoughts to add around this topic please share them here for others to see.


Palouse Spring 2015

Monday, June 15th, 2015

Trees and Fog Palouse

I just finished up a very enjoyable workshop season down in the Palouse region of Washington State.  As many of you know, I live just on the North side of this beautiful area and I am lucky to be able to visit often and give multiple photography tours and workshops during peak season.  This was my first time back since my little boy David was born.  I had a wonderful group of clients this year and we had some really great conditions.  I did a quick edit of some of the images we were after this spring and wanted to share some with you.  The above and below images were shot from Steptoe Butte at sunrise while some nice fog rolled in and out of the hills.

Mysterious Morning Palouse


Shortly after sunrise on our walk back down to the car, we found this nice patch of wildflowers and had some fun shooting them with these three trees up on the hill.  A focus stack was needed for this shot.  The flowers were blowing around a bit, and I didn’t want to go too wide and make the trees too small, so I used my 24-70mm zoom lens and shot a series of images for a blend in Photoshop to get good sharpness throughout the image.

Wildflowers and 3 Trees


While out and about, we found this fascinating structure and photographed it for a while.  The whole thing was made out of 2×4’s and none of us could figure out what it was.  It had these hatch doors through each wall seen in the shot below looking through.



The Canola was a little late this year because of an early freeze but we found a really nice patch just out of Colfax.



A trip to the Palouse just isn’t complete without a stop at a barn or two.



With clouds overhead, there can be some great spot lighting during times of the day other than sunrise or sunset.

Curvy Road Palouse


Catching the sunrise up at Steptoe Butte is a must.



Although Steptoe Butte is a favorite, there are many other places to photograph the sunset.

Lone Cottonwood Sunset

Many techniques used on these images are demonstrated in my image editing videos

For more images and info on my workshops visit my website chipphillipsphotography

David Cobb Interview on the “Back Page”

Monday, June 24th, 2013


David Cobb Interview on the “Back Page”

By David Cobb


Last March I sat down with Jody Seay for an interview on “The Back Page,” to talk about my images in the book Quiet Beauty: Japanese Gardens of North America.” Her show is distributed to various PBS affiliates around the nation, and the following video is the result.

The Back Page

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The View by David Cobb

Monday, May 6th, 2013

The View By David Cobb

There is a place I go to photograph off a non-descript pullout on Highway 14. It’s found along the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge, it’s easy to get to, and I keep returning for the view. Mt Hood stands over the town of Hood River, Oregon and windsurfers and kite boarders ride the winds to skip across the summer swells of the Columbia River. Osprey, bald eagles, and vultures fly overhead and an occasional wild turkey gobbles from the nearby woods. It sounds idyllic, but it’s not. Cars speed by to someplace unknown, semi-trucks roar through with a blast of wind at their backs, and litter is scattered about the land. I come here to watch fireworks in July and I arrive for the view, but mostly I keep returning to photograph.

I love the view from here looking west down the Columbia River Gorge. I usually frame my image of the scene with 20% land and 80% sky, capturing the receding buttresses of the Gorge dwarfed by the skies above. In this transition zone from wet to dry, the heavens paint a different canvas each and every day—and so I return. Some days I arrive for sunrise, sometimes sunset, and other times to catch the drama of spring showers and rainbows, but everyday it’s about the view that is forever changing.

Do you have a place you keep returning to? Let me know in your reply.

Spring Showers

Spring Showers

Columbia Gorge Sunrise

Columbia Gorge Sunrise


Columbia Gorge Sunset

Columbia Gorge Sunset

Columbia Gorge Showers

Columbia Gorge Showers

Columbia Gorge Morning

Columbia Gorge Morning

Columbia Gorge Barge

Columbia Gorge Barge

Tips for Photographing Fall Aspen by David Cobb

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

Tips for Photographing Fall Aspen

By David Cobb


It’s that time again in the Pacific Northwest when I’m on the search for fall aspen. The season usually runs from mid-September to late October, depending on the elevation and whether the aspen stand is in the eastern or western sections of the Pacific Northwest. Even though I seem to photograph aspen every year, I never tire of the challenge–and challenging it is. What follows are a few ways I’ve found to improve your chances of taking an aspen image you’ll like.

First, USE A POLARIZER! This not only cuts down on the leaf reflection, but also adds to the pop and warmth of the leaves. When shooting fall aspen, also pay attention to your histogram’s red channel, because your RGB average may indeed seem inside the histogram but that doesn’t mean you’re losing information on the red channel and detail on your leaves.

You’ll need to find an interesting stand when photographing aspen, because color alone doesn’t cut it. Look for interesting trunks and avoid deadfall.  Ask yourself if the trunks have an interesting form? Are there corridors within the forest that will lead the eye into the scene? Another way to add interest to an aspen scene is to photograph the smaller trees among the larger. This adds color and interest to the lower sections of the stand, and breaks up the monotony.

With most forest photography of fir and pine, I often climb a hill and shoot towards the middle section of the forest. Not so with aspen. With aspen I find myself shooting more level or sometimes uphill. I also climb a hill and shoot down, but only if I want to include the color of leaves for a golden background behind nicely formed trunks.

Another tip is to shoot aspen from far above. From here, the color itself can create interesting patterns and become form.  Fallen aspen leaves shot with a macro lens can have a similar effect and pattern, especially when dotted with water droplets.

I find a zoom or medium-wide angle lenses works best when photographing aspen. This doesn’t cause too much distortion in the trunks, and easily frames the interest of the shot. I also use these lenses when creating an aspen panorama in order to avoid image distortion while stitching. Of course, image blur may be what you’re after with a forest pan. Aspens are great for that when the light is at higher contrast. I often use this technique with a shutter speed between ¼ and 1 second, and simply pan vertically while shooting. The results are a crapshoot, but you’ll find yourself getting more successes with practice.

The best aspen stands to be found in the Pacific Northwest are scattered about the region, and here are a few of my favorites:

1)      The Steens Mountains in eastern Oregon are known for fall aspen, so arrive for some early season practice.

2)      The road between East Glacier and Saint Mary, Montana has wonderful craggy aspens, and these often change the third week of September.

3)      There are some great stands near Stanley, Idaho, but you’ll need to search them out and recent fires have hurt some areas.

4)      Check out Washington’s Columbia River Plateau near Mount Adams for some great fall aspen amongst ranchland.

5)      Also the road between Leavenworth and Lake Wenatchee in Washington supplies a variety of aspen color including deep red.

6)      In southern Oregon near the Klamath Basin, you’ll find a few stately groves which look best in the snow.

There are still a few weeks left to take part in the fall aspen shoot, and hopefully these tips will prove handy.

The Gorge Waterfalls and Streams – My Favorites

Monday, May 21st, 2012

By Adrian Klein

As the greens in the Columbia River Gorge start really showing their spring green glow I thought I would take a few minutes and share a few of my favorites along with some technical details to help provide some insight on how they were created. I might add a part II down the road with more favorites yet I thought narrowing it down to the top three was a good start. Hopefully this helps you out whether you are planning to photograph the Columbia River Gorge or any other lush rain forest. Happy reading and viewing.


Geometric Nature - Columbia River Gorge, OR

Name: Geometric Nature
Location: Off trail deep in the Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
Why this image? Finding the right composition in many cases is like putting together pieces of a unique puzzle, all of them different from the last. In this case the blocks or geometric shapes of the mossy rocks are what inspired me for this particular composition. There is green everywhere you turn in the Gorge yet not every image shows the endless sea of green as good as it can. I think this is one image that achieved this very well.
Camera Equipment: Canon 5D, Canon 17-40L lens, Hoya Polarizer and Induro Tripod
Camera Settings: ISO 100, Manual Focus, 19mm, f/13 and 8 seconds
Processing Software: Adobe ACR and Photoshop
Processing Details: Final image has spots of the water blended from a 5 second exposure where 8 seconds washed it out. These were blended with layer mask techniques in Photoshop. Localized adjustments for color and contrast using Levels.


Forest Rain - Columbia River Gorge, OR

Name: Forest Rain
Location: Creek along the trail to Gorton Creek Falls in Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
Why this image? Standing in the cold wet rain with not a soul around is what inspired to keep me here until I captured something I was truly happy with. The heavy rains rolling through the area with water rolling off my hat, nose and camera gave the mood I was looking for. My feet completely numb after exiting the creek and my face filled with a smile knowing that I caught a keeper. I am sure this will remain near the top of my personal Columbia River Gorge favorites for years to come and remind me that although the rain can be cold and miserable, the outcome can certainly be worth it.
Camera Equipment: Canon 5D, Canon 17-40L lens, Hoya Polarizer and Gitzo Tripod
Camera Settings: ISO 200, Manual Focus, 23mm, f/16 and 3.2 seconds
Processing Software: Adobe ACR and Photoshop
Processing Details: Final image was created by blending the same RAW file several times over. The heavy overcast day allowed me to get away with only one file. These were blended with layer mask techniques in Photoshop. Localized adjustments for color and contrast using Levels. Very slight glow effect added using Gaussian Blur.


Enchanting - Columbia River Gorge, OR

Name: Enchanting
Location: Metlako Falls in Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
Why this image? This waterfall has a perpetual fog cloud hanging over it for what seems like 365 days a year. That alone is beautiful yet when you have been here as many times as I have you are looking for more to take out the camera. When I saw the sun was trying to poke through I knew this was the “more” I was looking for. It did not last long however it was the inspiration I needed to make a more unique image from this popular location. Many say winter streams and falls images are not nearly as nice as spring. This image proves all season have potential. This was taken on a quiet winter morning when I was the only one around.
Camera Equipment: Canon 5D, Canon 70-200L lens, Hoya Polarizer and Gitzo Tripod
Camera Settings: ISO 100, Manual Focus, 73mm, f/18 and ¼ of a second
Processing Software: Adobe ACR and Photoshop
Processing Details: With this scene I had about 4 stop range of exposure from the dark areas to the sunlit fog. This required parts of three images to be merged together. These were hand blended with layer mask techniques in Photoshop. Localized adjustments for color and contrast using Levels.

You can find more of my work from the Columbia River Gorge and beyond at Adrian Klein Photography

Tips for Photographing in the Rain

Friday, March 16th, 2012

Tips for Photographing in the Rain

By David Cobb

So what if it rains? This is the Pacific Northwest after all and rain is part of life here. I guess that’s why I have a plan B and C during my workshops, to take care of such eventualities. Last weekend was “Dave’s Worst-Weather-Ever Workshop” along the northern Oregon and southern Washington coastlines. The rain and wind storms were pretty bad. A lot of people thought the sun came with me for all my workshops, and I was getting pretty cocky after continually seeing the clouds part at the beginning of a session and close up when it ended. In lieu of staying indoors a bit more and concentrating on processing (which we did), here are a few photo tips for when it rains along the Oregon and Washington coastlines. (Canon and Nikon seal their cameras pretty well, other makers seal them tightly to not-so-much, so know how well your camera does before taking it out in the rain.)

1) Carry a good camera bag and rainfly: I have to admit I love the back access on the f-Stop camera bags during a rainstorm. I just set the bag down on the wet sandy beach, rainfly side down, and access all my equipment. When I put the pack back on my back, the muddy side is on the outside and the clean side is against my back. That way my rain jacket keeps me dry a lot longer. A good rainfly for your camera bag can be picked up at any outdoor store.

2) Use a rain cover for your camera: I often opt for the cheap grocery store plastic bag version with a hole cut in it, but there are a whole host of good camera rain covers out there. Simply Google “camera rain cover” and you’ll have a variety to choose from. They vary from the cheap homemade versions like mine to the bomb-proof Think-Tank Hydrophobia.

3) Find a sea cave: Sounds simple doesn’t it? The other day during a rain storm on the Oregon coast, I just wandered into a really cool cave and let my eyes adjust. Watch for the tides, but otherwise you can work for hours coming up with some interesting compositions while staying dry.

4) Bring an umbrella: An obvious point, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t bring an umbrella along while photographing.

5) Stay in your car and photograph abstracts through the soaked windshield: A couple of people did this during the last workshop at a harbor and they got some fantastic results. The last time I used this technique was from a taxi cab in Albania, and I wish I had remembered to do it for the harbor shots this time around.

6) Go to a bunker: There are World War II bunkers all over the coastline, and they really have quite a bit of character with their rusty doors, stark hallways, old ladders, and walls filled with moss and lichen. Best of all, they make a great wind break and are not only bomb-resistant, but rain-resistant too.

7) Point your lens downward: I use my lens hood not only for sun protection, but rain protection. During those dreary winter days, I’m less likely to look for the grand landscape and more likely to look for the small scene. I often start to think and see in black and white too. By keeping my lens pointing down, I keep it free from those pesky rain drops.

8) Go to the forest: The coastal forest is a great place to shoot on a rainy day. The trees block the wind, keep me drier, and the forest light can be amazing or moody.

9) Dry off your gear: I carry a facecloth in my bag and I’m constantly giving my camera a pat down and dry off. I make sure I do this at the end of the shoot when I put my camera away, and I do it again when I go back inside. I also extend my tripod legs when I return inside and give them a wipe-down too.

There you have it. The next time it rains, quit your whining and head for the coast – I’ll be there with a smile on my face and staying dry.

Tips for Backpacking with Camera Gear (ultralight)

Friday, October 21st, 2011

Tips for Backpacking with Camera Gear (ultralight)

By David Cobb

I owned my first “real” camera before I took my first “real” backpacking trip, but they have gone hand-in-hand over the years, and my techniques with both have changed and improved over time. My backpacking and photography grew with long-distance hiking as I learned more about composition while taking thousands of images to document my backcountry trips. My backpacking grew by learning how to pack lighter and lighter over time as I walked further and further. For distance hiking, I needed to walk 20-40 miles (32-64 km) a day in order to complete a thru-hike of 2,500-3,000 miles (4,000-4,800 km). Now I’m returning to the places I only documented before, to re-photograph them in a much more artistic way and under much better light.

Fellow photographer and long-distance hiker Jonathan Ley took this on our walk across Iceland.

Whether it was a walk across the United States or Iceland , I tried to keep my backpacking weight below 30 pounds (13.5 kg) if possible, and closer to 20 (9 kg) when I could. First, let’s start with the pack: Many long-distance hikers use a homemade version saving both money and weight. My backpack of choice is ULA (Ultralight Adventure Equipment), I purchased one of their early models and haven’t needed another since. There is no internal or external frame to the pack, so you already begin 5-7 pounds (2-3 kg) lighter than most backpacks on the market. You may wonder if you need the added support those other backpacks offer? You don’t. You’re packing light, not packing the usual 50-60 pounds (22-27kg). For the internal frame I use a Z-rest, this also doubles as a sleeping pad when I’m in my tent.

My ULA Bag and my Z Rest doubles as a backpack frame.

I go lightweight on my tent too, using a Six Moon Designs Skyscape tent which is affordable and weighs in at 15 ounces (.43 kg). My ground cloth is painters plastic purchased from a hardware store. Some distance hikers prefer nothing, but others use Tyvek as a ground cloth. A Six Moon Designs prototype tent got me through a 1,100 mile (1,800 km) north-south walk along the Canadian Rockies during some pretty nasty weather, so I trust their gear.

Six Moon Designs Skyscape

I cook with a lightweight and homemade alcohol stove created from the bottoms of old pop cans. It cost me about a quarter to make, and weighs about as much. I pack my stove away in a small titanium cook pot to save space. The stove burns denatured alcohol which can be purchased at any hardware store and I carry this fuel in a small plastic water bottle.

My homemade alcohol stove and cook gear.

Food is a personal thing, but for me that too is lightweight, cheap, but also nourishing. I cook my own food during the winter, then dehydrate and vacuum seal it or I purchase it in bulk from a grocery store before vacuum sealing it. For this I save about $6 per meal, packing space, and weight. I’m also a firm believer that if you eat better, you shoot better. When I cook, I just boil water and add it to my dinner bag for rehydration, and eat. No dirty dishes to clean, so I can head out early to photograph a sunset. Clean dishes also come in handy when I’m packing through grizzly country. I’ve walked through large portions of Alaska, the Yukon, Northwest Territories, Alberta, and the U.S. Rockies and have never had a camp incident with a grizzly bear or any wild animal for that matter.

I carry as little water as possible to keep my backpacking weight down. Each quart of water weighs about 2 pounds (.9 kg), so the less water I carry, the less weight I carry, the easier the walking, the less water I need. Much of my packing is in the Pacific Northwest where water can often be found every 5 miles at the most. I don’t need much more than 12 ounces (.34 kg) of water for a stretch like that, so I carry a water bottle that can be purchased at any 7-11. I like the bomb-proof Nalgene bottles, but find them way too heavy. For extra water when I get to camp, I pack with an empty Platypus container, then fill it when I get near my camp destination. I carry a small water purifier, or sometimes just iodine tablets to save weight.

My sleeping bag is a packable Feathered Friends “Hummingbird” 20 degree bag coming in at 13 ounces (.37 kg). I have a liner in this which brings it down to a 10 degree bag. Obviously for winter camping your bag will weigh more as you carry warmer bag, but this is my 3 season bag. I wrap this in a garbage bag to keep it dry in case I fall in a stream or if my pack gets wet in a rain storm.

Since I pack less, I also wear less on my feet. I know some people need more ankle support and prefer boots, but for me the old adage that every pound on your foot adds 3 to your back holds true. I either wear tennis shoes on my feet, lightweight Merrels, or sometimes even Tevas while backpacking. The lighter my feet are, the faster I move, the better I feel.

I also carry a few toiletries, rainfly, headlamp, compass, maps and such to round out my camping gear, so let’s move on to camera gear. I first decide what kind of trip this will be, this limits the gear I’ll carry into the backcountry. Am I going to photograph wildlife only? Then I’ll carry a zoom. Will this be a landscape photography trip? Then I’ll carry my super wide-angle and wide-angle lenses. I’ll also carry my Kenko Pro 1.4x to add a bit of zoom possibility to my 24-70mm lens. I don’t carry my macro lens when backpacking, since I can usually find enough macro subjects when I day hike. I might however carry my Canon 500D diopter (or close-up) lens, this allows my 24-70mm to take close-up macro-like images if I get the itch.

So, let’s assume I’m on a landscape photography backpacking trip. I carry my camera over my shoulder (with lens and polarizer attached) in a small camera bag. My super wide-angle lens is packed away in a Think Tank lens holster. This holster adds padding and also attaches to my extremely small butt-pouch (I wear this pouch backwards when packing in, as it supplies easy access to map, compass, and water) that I use to day-hike to photo locations once I’ve made base camp. I carry extra cards and batteries in my shoulder camera bag, and rarely use grads in the backcountry, but instead I bracket while shooting to blend images later in post processing. For a tripod I carry a carbon fiber Gitzo 1128 Mountaineer Sport Tripod. There are a few lightweight ball-heads out there too: Fiesol and Really Right Stuff make them and fellow Photo Cascadia team member Chip Phillips swears by his Markins Q3 Emille which at .83 pounds (375 grams) is the lightest ball-head I know of that can sturdy the weight of a good camera and lens.

Photo Cascadia member Sean Bagshaw took this image of Chip Phillips and I as we descended Sahale Arm in the North Cascades.

There you have it. I’m a firm believer that by packing lighter you get there faster, easier, and have much more energy to shoot once you get to camp. You have a few months now to get in shape for backpacking season, and to slowly collect some lightweight gear, so I hope this brings more enjoyment to your outdoor experience and allows you more time to “see” photographically along the way. Obviously these are just guidelines to ultralight backpacking techniques, and in the long distance hiking community there is the saying to “hike your hike,” so it’s certainly not my way or the highway here. If you’d like to pack a small chair for your bad back, then do it – just leave the axe at home.