Backpacker Photo School: How'd They Get The Cover Shot?

BACKPACKER cover photographer Seth Hughes shares the tricks and tips that helped him land the cover for our 2010 Gear Guide.
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BACKPACKER cover photographer Seth Hughes shares the tricks and tips that helped him land the cover for our 2010 Gear Guide.

Selecting the perfect shot for BACKPACKER's annual Gear Guide means a lot more than taking a pretty picture. Boulder-based photographer Seth Hughes shares his secrets for capturing gear lust in photographic form.

Julia Vandenoever: How did you make this photo?

Seth Hughes: I used a Canon 5D with a 90mm lens to photograph the cover image. ISO 50, f/11, 1/125. A tripod was used. (In a studio environment, the camera’s settings can pretty much be whatever you want since the lighting is controlled).

JV: What were the conditions needed to create this image?

SH: The image was photographed in a studio environment on a curved silver poster board. Three strobe lights were used. A diffused key light was placed on the front, left side of the pack. A light with a softbox was placed behind and to the right of the pack to serve as a kicker light that wraps around the side from behind. A ring light was used around the lens of the camera as a shadowless fill light. Also, a silver reflector card was hand-held to strategically bounce light into the darker area towards the bottom of the pack.

JV: How long have you been shooting? Did you go to school for photography or are you self-taught?

SH: I have been a professional photographer for about six years. I started out self-taught but eventually realized I needed something more to boost my career. So I attended a 4 year commercial photography program at the Art Institute of Colorado.

JV: Who inspires you?

SH: It is difficult to finger specific sources of inspiration. I draw inspiration from nearly everyone and everything around me. The key is to surround myself with interesting people and fresh new places. Nothing stokes my creative fire quite like traveling, whether it’s into the nearest national park, or a far-flung province of India. Life is teeming with inspiration—you just have to look. I also flip through magazines, books, and blogs regularly to keep up with the trends.

JV: What advice do you have for the aspiring photographers among our readers?

SH: If you’re an aspiring photographer, the best thing you can do is shoot, shoot, shoot. Then shoot some more. Be aware of the types of images that move you. What are the common elements, lighting aesthetics and compositions? Break them down, dissect them, and consciously evolve your own unique style from there. Don’t be afraid to take chances and fail now and then. That’s the best way to learn. A couple great books for helping photographer’s find their direction are Portfolios That Sell, by Selina Oppenheim, and The Photographer’s Survival Guide by Suzanne Sease.

JV: What are your favorite places to take photos?

SH: My favorite places to shoot are in national parks and rural communities. Places where I can slow down and truly appreciate the beauty of my surroundings.

—Julia Vandenoever