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Wild Camping & Photography - Why do we do it?

I recently have been asked a few times on my wild camping experiences and well simply - why do I do it? Which brings me to the notion - why we do escape to isolated areas and pitch our tents in sometimes unfavourable/ unplanned conditions. I guess it's one of those things, if you know why you do it... you know.

My willingness to photograph isolated and wilderness areas is what originally brought me into wild camping. Waking up on isolated ranges in Mount Aspiring National Park or atop the high fiords of Fiordland, it's these places that been very rewarding to me both as a photographer and for my own pleasure enjoying these heightened experiences (excuse the pun).

Here's a few reasons why you might want to take your camera along on your next hike.

Experiencing Magic Hour

From a photography perspective, it's the sunrises and sunsets that you live for, those magic moments that really can bring a landscape to life. Being there waiting and ready is key, and is definitely the reason why I try to hike up the day/ evening before to reach the spot I'm wanting to photograph the following morning, at least then, it doesn't involve a too early start, as the hard work is already done.

Reaching a location for sunrise or sunset is no problem if it’s easily accessible. Unfortunately (or fortunately!) many fantastic locations are several hours hike from the nearest road. In the summer season in particular, when nights are short, a hike after sunset and again before sunrise leaves little time to sleep. Of course, with the exposure of social media, many places get crowds flocking to them which no doubt I have done also. I soon found out for myself that the appeal was lost at photographing these locations, I actually stood back and thought " I wonder how many photographs have been taken in this exact spot I'm standing in.."; that's when wild camping came in. It opens doors, giving you access to really remote locations and even better, you get to see them at all times of the day!

The Good and the Bad

For sure, wild camping brings with it a lot of risk also, for you are looking to camp in exposed locations most of the time and the conditions can change very quickly. Speaking from experience, with some incredible moments and experiences wild camping, but also some very unfavourable ones. One time I was camping at the foot of Mt Chaos in MT Aspiring National Park, NZ, looking out over Lake Unknown in amazing conditions, a memory I'll cherish for a long time and reflect on. Yet, I also remember camping on the tops of the Black Mountains in the Brecon Beacons, when overnight, gale force winds made their way in, breaking my tent poles and ripping out pegs; it was a long night to say the least. Being able to reflect on these experiences through images is a privilege, whether it be good or bad, you learn from it and photos can help remind you of those incredible moments in the outdoors.

Hiking with Friends

I have been fortunate enough to experience wild camping and multi-day hikes both by myself and also with friends. Having done many by myself, I guess with photography and what you are looking to achieve can really narrow down who else would want to participate in such a quest. These trips do provide solitary and peace, yet having friends and companions with you gives you an experience to share and reflect on later down the line. You will experience hardships and challenges along the way which you work out and solve together, both at your best and at your worst, you get through it. These fantastic memories and moments you get to share with them and it could be months, or even years down the line, when you can sit down and reflect on those moments with them, as let's face it, you only truly understand how good it was if you were actually there to experience it.

Commitment to whatever comes

Putting yourself out there is pretty much the summary of it all, you are literally out there, for whatever comes, you will experience it. Weather patterns are ever-changing so in some remote alpine locations, you truly never know what it might do. However, even though it might all doom and gloom, it does have some immense rewards mentally, giving you the gift of being somewhere you wouldn't usually be and no doubt, in weather conditions you wouldn't normally be in. If I had the choice, I'd most likely stay in if the weather was gloomy outside, but with all the haze and fog, it's conditions like these where I have actually captured some of my favourite images to date!

Do I really need it?

I'm a camera gear junky as much as anyone, but there's big decisions to be made in the packing phase prior to your trip in the outdoors. Do you really need all those filters and multiple lenses? Or what about that heavy tripod and external flash? I have been on many a trip in the mountains when it turns out I'm carrying 3-4 kg's more than my colleagues, almost completely down to the fact I'm carrying these extra 'essentials' which painfully, I don't even end up using. The questions really has to be, " Do I want to lug these extra pieces up 1000m of ascent carrying a 20kg pack" and following that "What If I stripped out those extras to make it more like 17kg"? Every gram on your back counts when your up there and you'll be grateful for stripping out what are definitely considered 'extras'. Your answers start to change when you realise you have to carry it all up a mountain. These days, a camera, wide-angle lens, telephoto lens, a polarised and ND filter along with a lightweight tripod, are all I take it and there's little that can't be achieved with these tools.

Exercise like no other

It's no surprise that backpacking and hiking are an excellent way to exercise, putting your heart rate at the perfect fat burning rate for multiple hours on end. I always am surprised returning from a multi-day trip how much weight I lose and then following that up, with a weeks worth of eating poorly bringing me back to square 1. No matter how much running I do, or the dog walks during the week, it's definitely hiking that is no question the best form of exercise I do. There is definitely a mental element to be accounted for, but if you're willing to push yourself you'll be surprised at what can be achieved with a big pack on your back.

Earn your images

Knowing the effort and planning that went into creating a single image and actually coming away with the goods is a feeling that is unparalleled in the photography world for me. It's even become quite addictive. For sure, it doesn't always work out, but sometimes, just sometimes, you are in the right place at the right time and it pays off; in abundance. I now actually actively seek out scenes and settings that are much harder to reach. It may not work out, but you don't know if you don't try!

Parting with the Digital World

I think we all get stuck in the routine of the digital world, the only known break from it I have is when I go out on multi-day trips. It's healthy and revitalising and it actually gives you a brief reminder of the things that actually matter.

I hope this blog has encouraged you to take that first step into the outdoors, perhaps with a tent and camera in your pack, ready to capture those moments spent out there. I wish you all the best!


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