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

BACKPACKER cover photographer Ethan Welty shares the tricks and tips that helped him land the cover for our May Maps Issue.

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

Capturing the essence of a map without out actually taking a picture of a map is no easy task. Luckily, Boulder-based photographer, Ethan Welty, rose to the challenge. Here Ethan shares his tips for grabbing that high alpine moment.

How did you make this photo? What camera did you use to make this photo?

What is the ISO, aperture, shutter speed? Did you use a tripod?

ETHAN WELTY: I used a Canon 40D with a Tamron 17-55mm lens: ISO 100, f8.0, 1/400. More importantly, I always hike, climb and ski with a camera and two lenses (covering the 20-200mm range) stuffed into a waistpack, immediately accessible for the slightest visual stimulation (I’m really reckless with my equipment). I don’t carry a tripod on day trips if I know I won’t encounter any low light situations – my friends move to fast.

BP: What were the conditions needed to create this image? For example, was it sunrise or sunset and why did you choose that light? How long did you scout this location? How many days did it take to get the right light? Had you been to this location before?

This was my first foray to the summit of Wallaby Peak, with friends from the University of Washington Climbing Club. No posing, no scouting. Instead, I keep constant tabs on the shifting light as it interacts with the movements of my trip partners, the surrounding landscape and details at my feet, orbiting my subjects like a satellite to catch moments like these. It’s exhausting but lot’s of fun to shoot this way. To be

successful, this image needed a moment (Brian reading peak names off his map), a good background (accomplished by crouching, to separate him against the dramatic sky, while still including the tops of the

background peaks for context) and appropriate light (which luckily was shining down on Brian from over my shoulder during our session of “name-that-peak”).

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

EW: I was given my first camera (ever) in winter 2003, and have been shooting ever since. All self taught – I was actually studying Math and Physics at the University of Washington at the time, and continue to

nurture two careers. Now I’m working on a PhD in Boulder, CO, working on, among other things, developing ways to conduct glacier mass balance measurements with a digital camera.

BP: Who inspires you?

EW: Nature photographers, conservation photographers, tough-as-nails photojournalists and adventure photographers, science and nature writers doing great work – too many to list here – and my parents, who put the travel bug into me before I could even walk.

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

EW: Don’t concern yourself too much with gear. Its definitely important, but only to a point. Practice your eye, and be engrossed. And get used to hauling several pounds of camera. Get some action shots of your buddy and call it “group gear” – that sometimes relieves me of having to carry the tent or the last night’s dinner!

BP: What are your favorite places to take photos?

EW: The journey, not the photography, is what matters most to me, so my favorite place to take photos is wherever I happen to want or need to be for any reason. When I was living in Seattle, these were often the peaks of the North Cascades, and the rugged coasts of the Olympic Peninsula.