Hiking and Backpacking

Knowing Your Camera Before Setting Out on the Trail

Now that you have secured your new camera, let's look at some good practices for using it even before starting your hiking expedition. In time, these procedures will become second nature to you as you begin taking great photographs.

I recommend that, initially, you set your camera on "Auto" until you become accustomed to where the settings are, how the viewfinder works for you, where the shutter is located, how to adjust the wide angle or the telephoto settings, and how the flash operates. These are things you don't want to be concerned about when you are out in the field somewhere and a moose suddenly crosses your path! Every camera is different and, at a time like this, you will need to know yours inside out.

The reason I recommend "Auto" (or use the mountain icon setting) is that it will give you the best depth of field for the average subject. One of the most critical aspects of capturing a quality image is to correctly analyze what you see through the viewfinder. In my opinion, this is the most important piece of information that I can give to aspiring photographers. It has nothing to do with the kind or use of your camera. It's all about what you see through the viewfinder and what you choose to include in your composition.

Here's the clue! Be aware of the integration of foreground, middle ground and background. Try to include all three levels in your composition. It will provide interest to the viewer and the image will be as sharp both in front of and/or in back of the middle ground subject. That's what depth of field is all about. I use this technique of composition most of the time and it is often successful for me.

Let me explain by using three of my photos as examples that I will describe in detail. Then, visit my website www.FocusingOnNaturePhotography.com. There you will find how often I use this skill for outdoor nature photography.
Vermilion Lakes, Banff
The first photograph is Vermilion Lakes, Banff. It was taken last summer in the Canadian Rockies. The grasses and trees constitute the foreground, the lake area is the middle ground and the mountains in the distance are the background. It was a crystal clear day when I shot this image and, so, each level is sharp and in focus, or, we might say, it has good depth of field.
Brookings, Oregon
Let's go to the Oregon coast for the second example. Here, outside Brookings, the wildflowers (foreground) are set against the waves and the rocks (middle ground). The background appears less sharp, but it defines the type of day and the atmospheric mood of the moment when the image was taken. It, too, has good depth of field, but the haze is just lifting, so the background appears less sharp. Still, it illustrates successful composition and depth of field.
Blue Rocks, Nova Scotia
The third example is Blue Rocks, Nova Scotia. Simply put, the old rowboat is the foreground, the cabin is the middle ground and the background is the end of the island and the hills in the distance.

Another procedure that I have tried to make a habit is this. After taking a photograph on any manual setting, I try to return the setting to the "Auto" or "Mountain" (distance setting) as a home base, so that when I grab the camera quickly to capture something spontaneous, I'm not all thumbs trying to get the right settings and prepare a good composition which, consequently, might result in missing "the moment" - such as the moose moving into the bushes before I have grabbed the shot.

After I have completed the "Auto" shot, I can then proceed to shoot at other settings that may have different results. Let's say, for instance, the foreground and background are blurred, but the middle ground (the moose, for example) is clear and sharp. Often, this may be a desired result if you are trying to deliberately center attention on a particular object or create a "mood shot".

I will discuss this option in my next article. An example of this kind of photo is the one taken at the Wild Mustang Preserve outside of Hot Springs, South Dakota, which we fondly titled "Baby and Me". It is the lead photo in the second category called "Landscapes & Wildlife, Cherish Its Beauty", located on my website, www.FocusingOnNaturePhotography.com.

Moosegear for backpacks and outdoor gear

Picking a camera

Backpack fundamentals

Great Binoculars for Birding

Going it alone

Camera and zoom binoculars

Outdoor meal preparation

GPS options

What you carry on the trail

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