Matt Johnson

A Guide to Backcountry Photography and Capturing the Essence of Nature

Author: Matt JohnsonPhotos/Graphics: Mike HawthornePublished: Jan 25, 2024

There’s something inherently magical about venturing into the backcountry with a camera in hand. The raw beauty of nature, unspoiled and majestic, presents a canvas that’s both challenging and rewarding for photographers. 

Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a beginner, backcountry photography offers a unique way to engage with the natural world and bring a piece of it back home. 

We’ve got some great tips with example photos so you can become a pro photographer on your next camping trip.

Exploring the wilderness through your lens.

Backwoods Trail Next to a Lake

Nature presents an endless array of subjects, from the grandeur of mountain ranges to the delicate details of a wildflower. 

To truly capture the essence of the backcountry, it’s essential to immerse yourself in your surroundings. 

Spend time observing the landscape, noticing how the light changes throughout the day and how different weather conditions alter the mood of the scene.

Patience is key. Sometimes, the most breathtaking shot is the one you wait hours for, like the perfect alignment of the sun setting behind a mountain peak.

Embracing the golden hours.

Morning Light on a Foggy Lake

Photographers covet the golden hours of dawn and dusk for good reason.

The soft, warm light during these times can transform an ordinary landscape into a spectacular scene. 

While camping, you’re in the perfect position to take advantage of these hours. Imagine capturing the first rays of sunlight as they peek over the horizon, illuminating the mist rising from a serene lake. Or the golden glow of dusk setting the sky ablaze, creating a stunning backdrop for your campsite.

These moments, although fleeting, are when nature truly shows off.

The dance of light and shadow.

Light Shining Through Trees in the Forest

Light is the essence of photography, and it’s an ever-changing element in the backcountry. That’s another reason why the golden hours are so important.

However, beyond that, the way light interacts with the landscape can create dramatic contrasts and highlight textures. 

Pay attention to how shadows fall across the terrain and how they define shapes and create depth. 

A forest scene, for instance, can be transformed by the dappled light filtering through the canopy, each ray creating a spotlight on the forest floor. The possibilities are endless as the sun moves through the sky. You can take pictures all day long and never get the same shot.

Weather: The unpredictable muse.

Fog in the Backwoods Country

Weather plays a pivotal role in backcountry photography.

While clear skies have their charm, don’t shy away from less-than-ideal weather conditions. Beyond card games, there’s much to be said for a good storm while camping.

A storm rolling in can add drama to your images, with dark clouds and fierce winds bringing a sense of movement and energy.

Fog and mist can soften landscapes, giving them a mystical quality. 

Embrace these elements as they add character and mood to your photographs.

The art of composition.

Composition is crucial in photography, and the natural world offers endless opportunities to experiment.

Look for leading lines, like a trail or a stream, that draw the viewer’s eye into the image. Play with perspective by shooting from different angles.

Get low to the ground to emphasize foreground elements, or find a higher vantage point to capture the vastness of the landscape.

Remember, sometimes breaking the rules of composition can lead to the most striking images.

Capturing the small wonders.

Macro Photo of a Lady Bug on a Leaf

While grand landscapes are a significant draw and possibly the most popular, don’t overlook the smaller details of the wilderness.

The texture of bark, the pattern of leaves, or the intricate design of a spider’s web can make for captivating subjects.

You can always carry a specific lens for the macro shots, but even phones these days do an excellent job at them.

These small wonders allow you to tell a different story about the environment you’re exploring.

Essential Equipment for Backcountry Photography

Discussing the essential gear that can make or break your photography is important. Photography in the wilderness is not just about having a keen eye for beauty; it’s equally about being prepared with the right equipment.

  • Primary camera. Choose a camera that suits your skill level and photography style. DSLRs and mirrorless cameras offer versatility and high-quality images. Compact or bridge cameras can be a good compromise for ease of travel.
  • Lenses. A selection of lenses is crucial. A wide-angle lens is perfect for capturing expansive landscapes, while a telephoto lens can bring distant subjects closer. A macro lens, or a camera with an excellent macro mode, is ideal for detailed close-ups of flora and fauna.
  • Tripod. A sturdy tripod is a backcountry photographer’s best friend. It not only stabilizes your camera for sharp images, especially in low light conditions during the golden hours, but it is also invaluable for long exposure shots, capturing the flow of water or clouds moving across the sky.
  • Filters. Neutral density filters allow for longer exposure times without overexposing the shot, perfect for capturing the movement of clouds or water. Polarizing filters can reduce reflections and enhance the colors of the sky and foliage.
  • Additional batteries and memory cards. The backcountry doesn’t offer the luxury of power outlets. Carrying extra batteries ensures that you don’t miss a shot. Similarly, having additional memory cards means you won’t have to worry about storage space.
  • Protective gear. Weather can be unpredictable in the wilderness. Protective gear for your camera, like waterproof covers or a sturdy camera bag, is essential. Lens cleaning kits are also necessary to keep your lenses free from dust and moisture.

Despite all of this, we’ve seen some really stellar photos from campers and glampers who simply had an iPhone and got the right shot.

Preserving memories and respect for nature.

As you capture the beauty of the backcountry, it’s essential to practice responsible photography. 

Stay on designated trails to protect fragile ecosystems and avoid disturbing wildlife.

Remember, your photographs can inspire others to appreciate and protect these natural spaces.

Backcountry photography is more than just taking pictures; it’s an immersive experience that connects you deeply with the natural world. It’s about patience, observation, and respect for the environment. 

Whether you’re capturing a sweeping panorama or the delicate details of a leaf, each image is a testament to the beauty and diversity of nature.


Matt Johnson

Senior Content Writer

Matt is an experienced camper and glamping enthusiast with a Master's degree in Wildlife Science from Texas A&M University. Authoring posts for GlamperGear, he shares his wealth of knowledge on picturesque campsites, luxurious accommodations, and the best gear for outdoor adventures. His passion for nature and knack for comfort in the wilderness make him an expert guide for your next camping endeavor.

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