Article Updated April 2012.
Words and pictures by John Gravett of Lakeland Photographic Holidays
The number of photographic books I've read over the years that have recommended photographers when planning an outing to consider the exact type of shot they are looking for and to wait until the weather is perfect. If only life was as simple as that – most of us are restricted to weekends or those few days leave we get to get into the outdoors to pursue landscape photography.
So given that your day is fixed, this is a guide to how to plan your walk and what to carry with you.
Firstly and most important, check the weather for the area, BBC, Metcheck and Weatherline to name but three are all good websites. If the forecast is for bad weather or low cloud, stay off the high hills or mountains – apart from endangering yourself, you are unlikely to get the best shots.
Secondly, be realistic in terms of distance you will cover. You might well be capable of a 10-mile walk in the hills, but try the same as a photographer, especially if you're like me and see new photo opportunities every few metres, you'll struggle to get round half the distance by nightfall! If you have a specific location on a long walk in mind, then you might be OK on the greater distance. I usually try to cover no more than 4 miles.
Be Ready For Weather Changes
Wherever you are in the UK, the weather can change suddenly, nowhere more so than in the fells of many of our national parks. So good waterproof boots, offering adequate ankle support, suitable clothing and waterproofs – both jacket and trousers – are the order of the day. I tend to go for more thin layers than thick tops. Remember, as a photographer, you are more likely to spend time standing about rather than constantly walking, so you'll be generating less body heat. Remember your extremities, with hats and gloves, and on hot days, remember the sun block – even under light cloud, I've seen many photographers return looking like a lobster. So dress appropriately for whatever weather conditions are forecast.
Study your map carefully, making sure you know the route – and take a map with you, together with a compass - even if you're relying on a GPS (batteries can fail). If you're new to an area, research potential walks by looking at walk books. I often photocopy the appropriate part of the OS map and laminate it – so I don't have to carry the whole map. A mobile phone is always a good thing to have just in case of emergency, but remember, reception can be patchy to say the least in hilly regions.
I use a good photographic rucksack to carry my gear. Make sure your bag has additional storage space over and above your camera kit. If you're doing a full day, make sure that you include food and plenty of drink, dehydration is one of the major problems encountered by many walkers. And don't forget the odd “energy boost” treat – a banana, chocolate bar or the famous Kendal mint cake, all have their place.
To supplement a rucksack – either a photo vest or photo jacket with large pockets can be used to carry lighter items, such as filters and memory cards
. This simply means you're not constantly opening up your rucksack to get at smaller items, meaning that you're more likely to use them.
Don't be tempted into buying the biggest bag you can, to fit in it every bit of camera kit you own, instead, consider what you need for each walk, and take what can reasonably be carried. I will consider carrying more on a one-mile stroll at a lakeside that on a five-mile trek in the hillsm for example.
Photo kit carried will always be personal to the individual and reflect their requirements, but I usually carry a range of lenses as wide-angles are good for sweeping landscapes with interesting foregrounds, with longer lenses coming into their own when isolating elements within the landscape and compressing perspective. I always find a place for a macro lens as well. Make sure you pack lens hoods for all your lenses too.
A set of filters including graduated (0.3, 0.6 and 0.9) and a polariser make up my basic set, which can be added to when needed, with dense NDs etc. Spare memory cards
and batteries are a must – especially if temperatures are low – as batteries last for less time.
I prefer a carbon fibre tripod over aluminium, as they're lighter and warmer to the touch on cold days but this is down to personal choice. A remote release, which I tie round the tripod head, is also essential and I always put a velcro tab on the tripod and the release, to minimise the chance of losing it.
Other items I may pack include:
- Lens cloth
- Anti-static blower brush in case I get dust on the sensor
- Lens Pen for keeping the lens clean
- Small reflector if I'm working on flowers of fungi
- Small diffuser – for flowers in bright light
While this list appears huge – I try to keep the weight sensible, as gear always seems to weigh more at the end of the day than it does at the start.
Finally, remember, especially if you are walking alone and in the hills, to let someone know where you are going and when you should be back. I realise as a photographer time and distance travelled are mutually exclusive, but global times like "I should be back about an hour after dark" is better than none at all, and should anything occur, at least the emergency services can be called.
So pack your bag – keep weight sensible, and head off for some super views and photographs to match.