Say cheese!


Everybody wants to make National Geographic quality photographs to document their hike on the Appalachian Trail.  Well, maybe most would just settle for some nice snaps of the folks and places that will help keep cherished memories alive long after the trail is done. 

Fact is that with a little luck related to available light, chance timing and the right clouds showing up over a placid pond …and you never know…  You certainly don’t need “professional” photographic equipment to make really good pictures.

Big boy camera gear is large, expensive and technically complicated.  Visualize those sideline photographers at sporting events with their howitzer-length lenses.  Besides, you’d almost need a caddy to drag a camera bag that size up and down the mountains.  The advanced amateur versions of these cameras and lenses produce fantastic photos, but still they are relatively expensive, bulky and heavy. 

Modern professional photography equipment is feather light compared to cameras back in the day. Here’s where I’m going to date myself.  I used to lug a Nikon FTN with a couple of lenses, filter stack, 2x tele extender and a dozen rolls of Kodachrome.  The weight was roughly the equivalent of three bricks.  The cube (amount of occupied space in my pack) was even more than that. 

When technology advanced to the Olympus OM-1 miniaturized 35mm SLR, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.  This leap forward reduced the weight by about two bricks and the cube by about half.  The downside was that those chunks of metal and glass still weighed a lot.  You always had to worry about running out of film.

Then came digital photography with cigarette pack-sized cameras.  The early cameras by Nikon and Sony took decent photos.  Now the options have expanded enormously, and the photographic quality exponentially, as sensors and chips have improved.

Good light-weight camera options are plentiful.  I know at least two video bloggers in the class of 13 who rely on their GoPro rigs. 

GoPros are the cameras that capture the helmet cam dare devil shots you see on TV. These small water and shock proof hummers mount on trekking poles, chest straps, helmets, snow boards, etc.  You do need WIFI to transfer their photos to your Drop Box, Flickr , Smug Mug or one of the other  web based photo sharing/scrapbook sites.

Plenty of other hikers are carrying small cameras by Lumix, Nikon, Sony and others. 

The vast majority seems to be using the camera built into their phone.  Unless you’re using expensive cameras, all the others will have technical trade-offs.  iPhones, for example, have difficulty handling high contrast lighting situations that the Photo Shop app can’t always fix.

For a good test of two cameras check out “Man Cub and Kit Fox Thru-Hike the Appalachian Trail 2012” on You Tube. 

The first half of this charming video was shot with an iPhone; the second with a GoPro.  With the exception of the underwater scenes, obviously shot with the waterproof GoPro, it’s hard to tell from the video which camera is which.  It ends with a special treat.  If you haven’t seen it, look for the marriage proposal atop Mt. Katahdin. 

The majority of hikers I’ve encountered who are blogging from the trail are using a smart phone as their primary camera.  It’s just easier to post directly to Trail Journals, BlogSpot, WordPress, Facebook and Twitter.  One sent her GoPro home.  She didn’t need it or its weight. 

Using your smart phone camera offers the Swiss Army knife advantage – one tool that can do many things.  With apps like Photo Shop and iMovie, a smart phone can produce amazing work.

The smartphone story only gets better.  The photographically savvy will want camera lenses. 

Never fear, lenses are here.  The website sells an array of equipment, and lenses that attach magnetically to any smartphone.  I have several, ranging from fisheye to 2x telephoto and they do work.  I also found an 8x telephoto that screws onto a threaded phone case that comes with it.  It does not interfere with the other lenses. 

What’s the secret to great photos?  I was fortunate enough to attend a lecture once at the National Geographic Society in Washington by one of the best wilderness photographers who ever lived.  That evening Galen Rowell’s presentation was entitled “The Edge of Light.”  Unfortunately, he met an early demise. 

Google Galen Rowell and check out his work.  You might not be able to duplicate it with a smart phone, but judging by some of the Appalachian Trail photos on TJ this year, you can get pretty close.