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Backpacker Magazine – June 2008

Field School: Capture Classic Images and Record Your Hike

Take your new tools to the trail to master the skills you'll need to navigate, record, and share your best adventures.

by: Evelyn Spence, Jason Stevenson, Kris Wagner

Photograph/Record | Make a Movie | Essential Tips | High Tech Gear


  1. Action Shutter lag is the bane of digital cameras. Compensate by clicking a second or two ahead of the action. Also: Select a high ISO (the digital equivalent of film speed and a measure of a camera's sensitivity to light) to allow for quicker shutter action. If your camera has a "burst" or multishot mode, use it; the rapid-fire shooting will boost your chances of catching that loping wolf.
  2. Summits You usually hit your high point around noon to 2 p.m.–which, because of harsh shadows, bright glare, and huge contrast, is the worst time to take photos. Easy tweak: Switch to the "force flash" setting, which keeps the flash on for every shot. The pop of light will fill in the dark spaces in summit poses.
  3. Rich Colors Shooting a sweet side canyon in the Southwest? Use the cloudy mode, not the sunny one, to draw out the red in rocks.
  4. Sunsets Your camera's auto settings will generally preserve the glowing orb's warm colors. But    if things don't look right when you preview, try bracketing up and down one stop. No manuaL metering? Use the contrast or saturation modes to adjust exposure.
  5. Scenics and Close-ups The landscape and flower icons on your camera's menu do work–better than auto–so use them. They change depth of field, aka the area in front of and behind a focused  object that is also in focus. Landscape mode makes more of your scene sharp, from the foreground on back; flower setting pulls nearby objects into focus and blurs distracting Background.
  6. Wildlife To avoid a pea-size blob of bear, make sure you buy a camera with an optical, not digital, zoom. Or shoot wide-angle, and use the tiny animal to give the scene a sense of scale.
  7. Snow Blue tint? Blame the auto white balance (How your digital camera determines what's white–a measure it then uses to set overall exposure for the image) function, which isn't always accurate. The fix: Shoot one photo in AWB, then switch to manual white balance and take shots using several settings (you can preview the difference on the LCD screen).


  1. Get oriented: Before you hit the trail, make sure your GPS datum matches the map's datum: either WGS 84 or NAD 27.
  2. Clear the odometer Create a new track each morning so you can consult the odometer as you  walk. Use it to add details to your video clips ("We're five miles in ...") or estimate distance to camp.
  3. Sync up Match the clocks on your camera and GPS so you can geotag (To link media such as photos to geographical data–typically GPS coordinates–for placement on a map) photos later.
  4. Create a tracklog Set your GPS to collect an electronic breadcrumb trail (or track) every 0.01 mile. This setting picks up every bump and switchback on the route and allows you to overlay your trip onto a map.
  5.  Measure distances Use the scroll function on the map screen to estimate "as the crow flies" mileage from your current location to a known spot (like a hot spring).
  6. Find altitude Use the current elevation reading on the GPS to calculate the climbing left to reach the summit.
  7. Drop points Mark trailheads, junctions, campsites, and other interesting points (waterfalls, overlooks). Write abbreviated trail details in a small notebook; it's faster than keying them into your GPS.

Free Field Guides: Download step-by-step directions for more than 40 GPS devices at

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