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Saturday, March 1, 2008

Spring Trail Tips

Don't forget the basics!

This Article Features Photo Zoom

California Poppies
As spring arrives, so do fresh photo ops, and some of the best are in places you can’t reach by vehicle. Hiking in wild places can lead you to lots of terrific wildlife and landscapes, but also to some hazards. As outdoor people, we know that, but it’s easy to forget after months or years of roaming out there. Since even a minor lapse can prove costly to body and gear, here’s a reminder of some things to keep in mind when you go hiking with your camera this spring.

1 When you’re walking, walk. If you want to take a drink of water or check your trail map or shoot a picture—stop! I’ve stepped off mini-cliffs, into rivers and almost onto a snake while trying to walk and read a trail map or compose a shot at the same time. Enjoy the scenery as you walk. But when you find something to photograph, stop, then look through the viewfinder. If you decide you should move to a different vantage point, check out what you’ll be walking across, then walk over there. Stop, then look through the viewfinder. Zoom your lens, drop down to one knee or climb up on a rock, but always pay attention to where you’re stepping, and don’t try to compose while moving.

2 On poor terrain, don’t put one foot down until you know where you’ll put the other if the first one slips. This is one of those hiking basics we tend to forget after a few months of thrill-free outings, but don’t let complacency claim you.

3 Check the bottoms of your hiking shoes for condition. Like bald car tires, worn-smooth boot bottoms are dangerous. If the bottoms are bare, don’t wear those shoes.

Enjoy the scenery as you walk. But when you find something to photograph, stop, then look through the viewfinder.

4 It’s best not to hurry along a trail with your camera. I took my worst hiking fall trying to go just a bit too fast on a well-traveled “easy” trail, landing right on top of my D-SLR (which, fortunately, survived the experience). That said, the late Galen Rowell, an expert at mountain climbing as well as outdoor photography, got one of his most famous images, Rainbow over the Potala Palace, by dashing along a trail in Tibet with his gear. It can be done, but you’ll have to determine for yourself if you’re expert enough. I’m not.

5 With Tip 4 in mind, it might be wise not to take your “good” camera to especially poor terrain. When I got my second D-SLR, I kept my older one specifically for rough conditions. And some of my best hike shots have come from a little cigarette pack-sized digital point-and-shoot camera. I wear the point-and-shoot on a bolo-tie camera strap around my neck and just tuck it inside my sweatshirt to keep it from banging on rocks when I’m climbing terrain that requires using hands.


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