Being that you may not be a seasoned backpacker the first thing you’re really going to want to do is to assess both your photography and backpacking goals.
Only then will you be able to artfully select the best camera for someone who’s new to backpacking.
As we dive a little deeper into each of these topics it will become obvious to you why these goals are so important.
First, we’ll take a look at your backpacking needs by discovering what types of backpacking photography you’re most interested in pursuing.
Just because we only outline these several things, by no means are you limited to them.
There are hundreds of different backpacking photography trips you could take; here we will just discuss a few and everything we discuss can apply to nearly every trip.
How To Plan Your Best Backpacking Photography Adventures
There are a few things that are universal and are needed by everyone so before we dive into the different types of backpacking photography you might want to do; we’ll cover the basic necessities for almost every trip.
1. A Large Multi-compartment Backpack With Weather Hood.
Yes, you’ll be carrying your main camera outside your backpack, however, you’ll likely have an extra lens or two, some extra batteries, cleaning gear and other various camera sundries.
You’ll need your pack to carry your food, clothes and if you’re overnighting a sleeping bag and a tent attached to the outside.
The first choice will be whether you want a framed backpack or not. If you’re really heading out for multi-day adventures, then a framed pack is the only way to go.
You’ll also want a pack that can be compartmentalized and here is your tip as to why:
You’ll want to place heavy items at the bottom of the pack, with jeans and other durable clothing around them and wrap them in a plastic bag. A garbage bag will do.
Then load your food above that.
If your food spills the bag will protect your clothing and heavy items.
Don’t put your food at the bottom. Food containers, glass, and other items break or open easily when set down too hard.
If they are at the bottom of your pack, they have a huge chance of getting struck by a rock or other object as you set the pack down or sit down with it on your back.
Put another layer of clothing and the camera gear on top of your food compartment.
Never put camera gear below the food. It’s not worth the chicken soup canister breaking over the top of your expensive camera gear.
Then you’ll need the weather hood to pull over the pack in case it rains which will help keep all your gear dry.
You don’t need to splurge on high-end gear like an ALPS Mountaineering Red Rock External Frame backpack.
They are great, look very cool and will last for years. However, a High Sierra Classic 2 Series Appalachian 75 Internal Frame backpack that’s half the price will do just fine
However, you would have a hard time going wrong with either choice.
2. A Tripod With A Monopod.
There will be lots of situations where you’ll need a tripod, but likely even more where you’ll need a monopod.
If you’re on uneven terrain, in cramped quarters with no room to spread 3 legs out or just needing super-fast set up to catch that sudden shot a monopod will be your best tool.
The Manfrotto compact light aluminum tripod monopod combo will do nicely and are quite reasonably priced as well.
3. A Portable Solar Charger.
You have batteries, you have a cell phone and likely a few other things that consume power.
You may leave with everything charged up, but what happens when they start dying on you or you’re stuck out longer than you thought?
You’ll be unbelievably happy to have a super portable solar charger with you.
Now you can get them, so they clip to the outside of your pack and are charging all day while you hike and shoot so they have power stored in their battery and ready when you need it.
Another top tip: since the better solar chargers also are a battery, charge it before you leave, and it will serve as an extra power storage unit for immediate use should you need it.
4. A Waterproof Camera Cover
This way you’ll still be able to take pictures and video in the rain, without having to wait for the storm to clear or ruining your gear.
This is a tiny investment but will make you so happy you have it when you need it.
The one we recommend is cheap, it works, it folds up and takes virtually no space when packed and it has a solid lens piece for better photos (never get one without a solid lens cover).
The Luniquz DSLR SLR camera waterproof bag housing cover for Canon and Nikon will be a lifesaver out on the trail when it starts getting nasty.
Now on to your adventures…
Animal Or Birdwatching Photography
This could be something you do in your local area or all the way up to an amazing safari.
Since you’re relatively new to all this we will presume you’re not on assignment and so will recommend the gear that will be the best to cover your specific needs.
You’re going to want a DSLR with a high number of autofocus points and preferably a touchpoint autofocus system as well.
You’re going to want a large sensor size so that you can capture low light photography because if you’re under tree canopies you’ll take most of your photos in that mode.
You can choose between Canon and Nikon for really good quality mid-range DSLR’s, however, in our opinion Nikon is the clear winner in value for the money.
Any camera in the D series between the D5600 and D7500 will work out great for you.
Just compare them at their price points VS added features each model tacks on as it goes up in number.
Nikon makes other lower-end cameras in the D series, but we can’t recommend them. You’ll lose half of your autofocus points and too many other features to make it worth the few dollar you think you’re saving but really aren’t.
Since the lower numbered cameras are also older models, they will become increasingly outdated and hard to find other components for it that fit.
What Lenses Will You Need For Animal And Bird Photography?
While we are big fans of prime lenses, we are going to have to recommend quiet autofocus lenses.
The reason is simple.
In animal photography you really want to stay as still and motionless as possible so that you don’t scare the animal away or change their behavior.
Nothing is worse in animal photography than seeing a creature doing something amazing and you can’t get the shot because you’re not using the right lens.
You know you can’t get up and move towards them and just hope they do it again. As soon as you do there is a big chance they will run away, and you’ve now missed your once in a lifetime shot.
1. 18-55mm Kit Lens
You can get this with most Nikons in the D5600 to D7500 range that we spoke of. It will come in real handy as they have the ability to focus in on the action without you having to move.
This will cover you in many of your closer shots.
Then you’re definitely going to need a telephoto for greater distance photography.
2. 70-200mm Telephoto Lens
This is a great Nikkor lens that has stabilization and a low f stop built right in depending on the exact model.
Be sure to check thoroughly before purchase as some do and some don’t have those features.
When looking for this lens you’ll most likely come across the 70-300mm for the same price or maybe even a few dollars less.
At first blush this may seem like the deal of the decade, but it’s really not.
The 70-300 kit lens doesn’t have built-in stabilization. This means you must have inbuilt stabilization in your camera body. If you didn’t by a camera body with this feature this lens is not a good deal at all.
Plus, the 70-300 kit lens has a plastic housing and does not have a low f-stop. Most of the 70-300mm models have their f stop starting at 4.5.
As you know this medium f-stop will not give you those rich creamy bokeh (background blur) effects that you’re really going to want on a lot of shots.
So, in our opinion, the 70-200mm is a far better bargain and we’re sure you’ll agree once you have it out in the field and are actually using it.
3. Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Macro.
Macro photography can be a real blast.
You’re out on the open trail, you come across a termite mound that another animal has just recently ripped open looking for grubs and the termites are busy carrying their young to safety.
You think to yourself, wow, that would make such an amazing macro shot.
Well, that’s exactly why we say that nature photography backpackers should have a dedicated macro lens.
It’s for times like that or when you see a wasp fighting a tarantula and would love to have that on video.
There will be hundreds of times where you’ll see the smaller side of nature and wish you could have captured that before it was gone for good.
Your macro lens will be one of your most constant companions.
Nature Landscape And Still Photo Photography
When you’re out taking landscape and still shots you can use the same camera body that we spoke of before and you’ll get great use if the lenses we mentioned above.
However, there are a few other lenses that you’ll want to capture those wide-angle and single depth of field shots.
Let’s go over those below.
What Lenses Will You Need For Nature Landscape And Still Photo Backpacking Photography?
There are two additions that you’re going to want to get for your camera bag and those are;
1. The Nikon AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED lens
This is the widest wide-angle lens in the Nikkor line up that zooms.
You’ll get amazing shots and multiple duty from this lens as it’s also one of the very best for indoor wide-angle photos as well as it’s astounding ability in nature wide angle and landscape shots.
Be sure to use a hood with this lens to avoid any flares that can show up on a lens of this glass diameter, which are more prevalent than smaller glass lenses.
2. A 50mm prime lens
This is going to get used a lot.
Yes, it’s a prime lens so it has a single focal length.
However, if you really want to become a better photographer, you’ll need to work on your shot composition and prime lenses are all about that.
This means that; instead of the lens zooming for you, you’ll need to move to adjust the composition.
It will literally make you work on the composition of your photos which will improve what’s known as your photographers’ ‘eye’ much faster than those who only rely on zooming.
This Nikkor 50mm prime will have a really great f-stop of 1.8 which will give you amazingly soft supple bokeh effects while your subject stays in razor-sharp focus and detail.
Want to learn more?
The One Thing To Keep In Mind For Anyone New To Backpacking Photography Is
Keep everything clean and dry.
This means keeping all caps on your lenses.
Using your waterproof camera cover.
Taking camera cloths with you so that if anything does get wet you can wipe it off immediately.
Then, be sure to have a backpack hood as we recommended. They cost almost nothing and can save you thousands in gear and a lot in ruined trip costs as well.
Dan is the founder and head photographer at Headshots Inc, a San Francisco based headshot photography studio specializing in group corporate shoots. He loves to inform and entertain through his writing about all things photography, entrepreneurship, and making great memories.