Wild camping & photography?

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by batwister, Sep 10, 2012.

  1. batwister

    batwister Member

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    I've just spent a sum of cash on some camping gear with the intention of spending extended periods in wild places from dawn 'til dusk. I feel this is something that will increase my productivity. Without a car, getting to some of the more interesting places in my area requires day long hikes. Exhausting and a waste of light.

    Had this in mind since the beginning of the year and to be honest, with winter coming around, I'll probably not get much done before another investment in better clothing and probably another tent!
    I'm looking forward to it, but this being my first time wild camping, I'm a little apprehensive. I'm not sure if there are any famous photographers notable for doing this? Something tells me Galen Rowell might have, but I don't know much about his work.

    Landscape photography is by nature a lonely business, and this is taking it to the extreme. Part of me feels this kind of isolation in remote places can be detrimental to creative work? Edward Weston did say anything a mile from the road isn't photogenic. Maybe it has to do with the peace of mind needed to produce images, without worrying about finding a camp, food, how cold it might be during the night. But I'm still wondering why more landscape photographers don't do it. Suppose I'll find out!

    But has anybody done this? And apart from the back strain induced by the added weight of your backpack, how did you fair up? Is it advantageous for a landscape photographer or a bit of an extremity?
     
  2. Bob Carnie

    Bob Carnie Subscriber

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    Just don't be eating any of that yellow snow is all I can advise. I think the great Frank Zappa would agree.
     
  3. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    I won't speak for anyone specific, but if you read over on the Large Format Forum, there are a number of photographers there who regularly hike into the backcountry toting 4x5, 5x7, and even larger cameras, sometimes for a week or more at a time. So it's entirely do-able. It all depends on your devotion to your endeavour and your philosophical outlook on the exercise. To some folks, being out in the wilderness and camping is half the fun, and if they come back without having exposed a single negative, they still had a good time. So it's all a matter of perspective. Personally I tend to subscribe more to the Edward Weston if-it's-too-far-from-the-car-it's-not-worth-photographing school, but I'm willing to expand that to if-it's-too-far-from-the-well-marked-trail-it's-not-worth-photographing. But if I were to go camping off-trail, I would bring a camera.
     
  4. Vaughn

    Vaughn Subscriber

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    There are still wild places in the UK?! Just joking.

    I have done a lot of it. Extended solo tramping (up to 11 days) with a 4x5 camera or the Rolleiflex -- planning a solo trip in a week (4 days)...still deciding if to take the 4x5 of the 5x7. When I get back, I'll have a days rest then go out for the week-end with one of my boys' backpacking (tramping) club.

    Just because one is alone does not mean one is lonely...
     
  5. batwister

    batwister Member

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    I definitely agree with Weston's quote, but like you say, the camping and just being out there is part of the joy. My intention was to camp with or without the camera, but I know I'll regret not bringing it. The main benefit is being around for the light and not having to worry about walking miles back to the road in the dark. I'm a believer in developing an intimate relationship with natural subject matter, which can take more time pondering and gazing than actually making images. In this regard I see it as a beneficial exercise - if only to try it out for a couple of days. There's an element of romance to it too I suppose, which I'm trying not to get carried away with.
     
  6. perkeleellinen

    perkeleellinen Member

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    Sounds great. Where do you plan on going?
     
  7. batwister

    batwister Member

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    Around the Keswick area in Cumbria before the end of the month hopefully. Pembrokeshire is a plan too. Then Cairngorms - but it's getting to that time of year where Scotland might be a bit of a gamble with the weather. The places I've chosen are relatively close to campsites, as a fallback plan. But just trying it out locally first.
     
  8. Mike Wilde

    Mike Wilde Member

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    When I go remote travelling every ounce counts. So I confine myself to 35mm with an XA, and maybe some other small camera if I am wanting to shoot b&w with the ability to manually set expsoure.

    There are so many great things to shoot in the wilderness I don't find myself being limited when stuck with one fixed wide angle lens on a camera.
     
  9. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    I've done it most of my life. In fact, I recently got back from two weeks in the backcountry with large format gear, much of it off trail at high altitude with plenty of tempermental weather. What's
    the point of even owning a camera if you don't have some bruises and blisters to show for it? But seriously, just find someone already into this kind of game and have them coach you about how to
    navigate the outdoors safely and with appropriate gear. Who wants to hang out in some stinky gym
    like a rat on a treadmill when they can be outdoors shooting? It will keep you in shape.
     
  10. EASmithV

    EASmithV Member

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    I hiked 90 miles with nothing but a Rollei 35. Got some worthwhile shots...

    3983592149_9575e30715_z.jpg
     
  11. bbuszard

    bbuszard Member

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    Easy peasy

    I've backpacked quite a bit, and usually with camera gear. I like the contemplative pace of 4x5 in the field, but in these post-quickload days the film takes up quite a lot of space in the pack. You list yourself as medium format, and I think a tlr or Texas Leica would be a great option. As for a tripod, I find a Tilt-all does the job nicely. Just keep everything in stuff sacks so that it stays dry.

    P.S., backpackers' ponchos are your friends.
     
  12. Poisson Du Jour

    Poisson Du Jour Member

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    Oh, I just love the idea and reckon you'll find it a real tonic, 'out there' camping solo with the world to yourself. Isolation and the solo experience is the very best you can get for landscape photography. Unfettered and unhinged (well, why not!?) you are at liberty to exercise your creative processes and bring home something truly memorable. Being clever is not enough. The solid human qualities of a freed will and healthy deep feeling, such as what the outdoors provides) must be matched to clear thought.

    Mind you, carting in too much photo gear can dent the experience of pleasure and potentially make it a trial. I speak from experience, both good and bad (others I walk with have taken bigger, heavier equipment but also share a tent carried by somebody else!). I have completed a few short overnight walks and one multi-day 70km walk solo carrying 30kg, which included 3.4kg of camera and one lens. In hindsight, the resulting photo opportunities did not warrant taking that much gear: it rained and rained and rained, a cold wind huffed and puffed, the hills made progress very slow and testing and packing/unpacking the gear dramatically slowed progress. On subsequent walks, I took just my pinhole and light meter and a few rolls of film — much better! Then on another walk I went back with the heavy-hitting camera and got several good scenes (which I printed and framed). For the next walk coming up in this, the southern hermisphere spring, I'm leaving it all at home, taking just the beloved XA and pinhole camera with lightmeter. What's that saying I've said here on APUG many times? Experience is a wonderful teacher. :smile:
     
  13. Poisson Du Jour

    Poisson Du Jour Member

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    <*GASP*>!! :w00t:
    If that were a framed print I'd probaby buy it. :smile:
     
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  15. BMbikerider

    BMbikerider Member

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    Have you any idea where you wish to go 'wild camping'? A lot of the places that people go to are sensitive about camping elsewhere except an authorised campsite. I do know that the Lake District national park is OK so long as you don't go over a certain altitude. The Northumberland National Park is a little different. Because there is a large Military Training area next door to the northern area it is frowned upon.
     
  16. Vaughn

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    Next time at least wear some clothes...:blink:
     
  17. ROL

    ROL Member

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    Hiked, skied, climbed, kayaked... yada, yada, yada, with or without the primary goal of photography, using all manner of camera. In fact, I only returned six weeks ago from a wilderness river run, in which the primary goal was to document the journey. Those kinds of activities are a means to an end, or an end to a means, depending on you. Backcountry won't necessarily make you a better photographer, or a better artist. If you thrive on roadless wilderness, that is an end unto itself. I don't believe I've ever taken "better" pictures any distance greater than right next to a well-traveled road. I count myself lucky if I come away with any more than 5 or 6 worthy fine art prints from a week on trail.

    You may get to less visited and photographed places, but counting on that alone to improve your work is a fool's errand. One needs to have a love of the wilderness, the good sense and experience to survive in it, the technical ability to use your tools (camera included!), compositional skills, aesthetics, something to say artistically, etc. It turns out that those combinations of qualities may actually be kind of rare.

    To be brutally honest, the nature of your question and the issuance of other photographer's quotes indicates to me that you are wholly barking up the wrong tree.
     
  18. paul_c5x4

    paul_c5x4 Subscriber

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    The Lake District can be great in September, it can also be a real crap shoot with the weather - Been there a few times around this time of year and have had high winds, heavy rain, ice & snow (on the hill tops), and glorious sunshine. If it advice you seek, then I would suggest:

    • Pack light - A 45l pack is more than enough for a week or more.
    • Get a titanium spork - Every gramme counts, so start with the basics.
    • Cut the handle off your toothbrush - See above.
    • If your tent weighs more than the camera, get a smaller tent or a bigger camera.
    • Get a decent map and compass - Mobile phones are no substitute

    My last camping trip was to Ambleside - Took the MPP 5x4, bivvy bag, and a sleeping bag for a week long trip. Despite several tents getting trashed in high winds down at Rydal Hall, I survived unscathed and bagged a few goo shots :D
     
  19. Poisson Du Jour

    Poisson Du Jour Member

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    Drill out holes in your toothbrush and remove 20 bristles. Yes son, every little gram counts... :smile:
     
  20. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

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    Batwister,

    I'm surprised to hear you're just starting out, but why not? It can't be any harder to learn than, say, analog photography.

    Above all, be safe. Whenever I've been in danger in the wild, the camera stayed in the pack and the safety of my party took my full attention. If you can find a friend to hike with, you improve the chances of a successful trip.

    Galen Rowell was athletic, and it got him some remarkable photographs that I don't think anybody else could duplicate. Instead of just happening to be in the right place - he saw the right place and ran to it.

    I don't treat backpacking like an endurance sport. I suppose some people make it that, but not me. Five to ten miles, that's a good day's hiking. Then drop the pack and take pictures. Leave some energy for the afternoon. This is my formula, its weakness is that I have only brief shooting opportunity during hike times and am always shooting afternoons. Many smarter photographers than me set their alarm for 4 in the morning and get up and out - in position with camera before the sun comes up. You can do that.

    Lightweight gear is great for making hiking more enjoyable. Heavier gear is good for making camping more pleasant. Careful where you draw the line. Once I was quite upset that a trip turned more into a camping trip and I drew lots as the chef. I spent the best afternoon light tending to a stupid pizza in an Outback Oven. But I do have a 6x9 shot that rivals 4x5 from that day.

    By my standards, the heavy side: 50 pounds is about right for a first day out, if the first dinner weighs a few pounds. For my light side: 35 pounds makes for a very pleasant trip. This includes everything including food, water, camera, film and tripod. Before going out for real, just throw on the pack and walk around your neighborhood or take local trails with a full pack. Carry a few gallons of water for fake weight and if you feel like you over-did it you can dump it out.
     
  21. Vaughn

    Vaughn Subscriber

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    That's why my next backpack trip (in a week) will be a 3-night (4, if I push it)...I'll camp about 6 miles in (1.75 miles down, then the rest up the creek) to where I'll camp the whole time and explore with the LF for a few days -- there are small pocket groves of redwoods and creeks cutting their way up into the hills. I doubt I'll see anyone. With nothing to do but photograph and cook some food, I think I'll be able to enjoy myself. I'll just hang my food high enough out of the reach of bears (and other woodland creatures).

    If photography is one of the important aspects of a trip into the wild, then staying in one place,or staying two nights at a couple different places certainly is the way to go. Going from here to there, eating up time and distance, was fun a long time ago. I just want to be there nowadays. But such a pace requires one to go alone, or perhaps with another photographer. It would drive some people bats!
     
  22. batwister

    batwister Member

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    Absolutely agree.

    That Ilford Titan is starting to look more appealing.

    I tend to agree, but as said above by Poisson, that sense of well-being and also perhaps the heightened state of awareness (clear thinking) that comes with spending prolonged periods outdoors is crucial for me. Maybe on a superficial level, images we make by the road can be as visually strong as those made in the 'heart' of it, but isn't it important for photographs to carry an insight and a deeper experience?

    For Weston I believe that sense of detachment and objectivity was important, hence his quote. The way he made images didn't require tapping into a 'sense of place' - his images weren't mood driven - the impositions of modernism, formalism (the civilised world) were more important than an intimate knowledge of his subject I'd say. His quote goes through my head all the time, but I'm not quite ready to take it verbatim until I've explored my own process a little more. This might turn out to be something of a creative right of passage for me or just a waste of energy!
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 11, 2012
  23. Poisson Du Jour

    Poisson Du Jour Member

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    It's important too to not set out with any preconceived notions of what you want to come back with. It's whatever presenting on a day to day basis that you should be ready, willing and able to record and bring that back. Only after you have visited the same place several times should you cart in a big load with a clear idea of what you want to achieve and how.

    Too many photographers (myself included) have fallen into the trap of expecting a pot of gold somewhere along the route: this can be extremely deflating when nothing eventuates, so you need resilience to pick yourself up and think in a level-headed, commonsense way, and never again get carried away with taking many kilos of gear that in all probability might only get 10 minutes of use on a 6 day walk. On most of my walks, I've come back with something memorable (images I've framed from my pinhole camera outnumber the images I have framed from 35mm!). Very often though, I've come back with nothing. Lots and lots of very informative posts in this thread: a cheerful change from the everyday Kodak vegetation... :smile:
     
  24. salan

    salan Member

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    Must of been cold with only a camera! lol
    Seriously It's a great feeling, but in the England technically it's illegal, but then so long as you don't cause any trouble it's not usually a problem.
     
  25. mgb74

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    First. a mile from the road in Edward Weston's time and place may be a lot more wild than what you'll experience in the UK. I suspect, like most backpacking locations in the US, you're looking more at "remote" than at "wild".

    IMO, for a multi day backpacking trip, carrying anything more than a 35mm or folder (maybe a smallish TLR) means the trip is primarily around photography. But that's just my opinion.
     
  26. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    Hmmmph. If you take great photographs in general, you'll take great photos in the wilderness. If you
    don't, you won't there either. My philosophy is, why go to all the trouble, then just take some weenie little camera that won't give you something to show for it? My hero in this regard was Vittoria
    Sella. Forget about dime-a-dozen snapshooters like Rowell. He was a nice fellow and noted climber,
    but other than the Geographicky places he went, the shots themselves are pretty amateurish. He
    belonged to the machine-gun school of photography - burn as much film as you can and hope to get
    lucky. I'd rather come back from a trip with just one significant 4x5 or 8x10; and that has often been the case. Get out into the light to experience it, bathe in it, not to whore it out on some calendar, and you might actually see something. I passed up about 80% of the remarkable shots I
    saw on my last hike simply so I could witness the light without the distraction of shooting itself.
    Immerse yourself in the experience, and then you get bonded to it and start looking at the world
    in a new way. Study the area in advance, learn where all the stereotypical famous shooting locations are, and as soon as you've identified them, walk exactly the OPPOSITE direction and actually
    discover something new yourself!