Hiking Project's best photography


Original Post
Matthew Kidd · · San Diego, CA · Joined Nov 2016 · Points: 3,581

In an earlier post, I examined some of the common problems with photos posted to this site and emphasized the limitations of the smart phone as a camera. The point was how to achieve a solid 3-star ("good") photo by avoiding simple mistakes. Now I want to look at something more inspirational, what makes a great photo for the Hiking Project and why.

My results are summarized in a Google Photos album of the best of best from the Hiking Project. The collection also includes photos from the Trail Run Project because these two Adventure Project websites share the same backend database. The album format makes it easy to scan through all 145 images. Click on the info button ("i" inside the white circle) to view the photographer's name, the photo description, photo location, and a series of artistic tags that correspond to topics discussed below. This album is best enjoyed on a desktop monitor where the photos can be viewed at full resolution.

This is not a comprehensive selection. I've examined 2000 randomly selected photos and another ~1000 selected either because they were highly rated by other users or were taken in locations of interest to me (e.g. the Grand Canyon). It is likely that I have viewed more Hiking Project photos than anyone except the Adventure Project staff. 3000 photos represents about one eighth of the ~23,000 photos. Allowing for the selection bias of my non-random ~1000 photos, this means there are probably several hundred photos of the caliber I am showcasing. Most of the showcased photos are from the United States but Europe, Nepal, New Zealand, the Philippines, Mexico, Peru, and Chile are also represented.

Note to photographers: I would prefer to keep this presentation within the Hiking Project but doing so would mean linking to every showcased photo from this post which would make for a clumsy viewing experience. Nor is it reasonable to ask the Adventure Project to implement photo album functionality for this one purpose. I have tried to carefully preserve your credit. Photo descriptions begin with "©[Photographer] or "©[user name] via Panoramio / Flickr / 500px" for imported photos. Moreover I've programmatically written this information into the Copyright and Artist fields of the EXIF tag of the image if you didn't already do so at the time you uploaded the photo. Still, if you feel uncomfortable with this approach, just contact me through the Hiking Project and I'll remove your photos from the showcase album.

Compositional elements of great Hiking Project photos

Most of the showcased photos contain at least one, often several, of the compositional elements below:

Great / Interesting Sky
Person(s) / Animal(s)
Colorful Scene
Commanding View / Spaciousness
Flow / Geometry / Texture
Frisson / Action / Intensity
Unusual Perspective

I'll discuss each of these in turn below.

It should be understood that these topics are discussed in many photography books and magazines. I'm not saying anything new. I'm just presenting it my way and with a focus on the photography applicable to the Hiking Project.

You may not be able to incorporate any of these features into some photos. There is always an element of luck. But as with most lucky things the skill is in learning how to enhance your luck. Chance favors the prepared mind.

♦ Great / Interesting Sky

A great sky or even just an interesting one is a gift from nature. Such skies add drama and often a sense of spacious and volume. Photo 7025601 would be a fine 3-star panorama even with a plain blue sky. But the streaky sky makes it great. Photo 7020427 would be dull if the sky weren't so compelling. But as it is, you just want to be there, don't you? Even great photos that are great for other reasons, photo 7017521 for example, can be subtly enhanced by an interesting sky.

There are infinite variety of skies but I've found the more compelling ones fall into categories: streaky, patterned (as in the second example), stormy / moody (e.g. photo 7007510), rays of light (e.g. photo 7004269 or more subtly photo 7001459, crazy mixes (e.g. photo 7006093), and fog (e.g photo 7004198). Puffy clouds, photo 7021806 for example, are usually less appealing and often cast shadows in the wrong spots but can work as in this example.

Not every day is a great sky day but keep your eyes open. If you hike the better part of a day, there is often a time when the sky does something interesting that enhances the composition, for example as in photo 7003926..

Note: The Hiking Project doesn't have many sunrise and sunset photos. This makes sense. For day hikes most of us want to be back at the car before dark and it takes a strong will to catch a trail at sunrise unless you camp at the trailhead.

♦ People / Animals

People and animals can play different roles in Hiking Project photos. Occasionally they are the main subject, e.g. photo 7032942 and nature just provides a beautiful background. More often the human is in balance with the landscape and is the initial point of focus but not the dominant element. See photo 7023157, photo 7018154, and photo 7010779 for examples. In all these examples, the hiker adds human interest and is well suited to a website about hiking. In some cases, the hiker is reduced to providing a sense of scale. Photo 7012851 isn't as sharp as it should be but the dramatic sky and sense of scale provided by the hiker do a lot to make it a good photo.

♦ Colorful Scene

Rich colors can add a lot to a photo. The subject of photo 7001790 isn't compelling but the sheer colorfulness and dramatic sky make it an appealing photo. Keep an eye out for natural outdoor color combinations, for example red rock, green vegetation, and blue sky (e.g. photo 7014060 and photo 7003926), fall colors (e.g. photo 7018021 and photo 7023585, fields of flowers (e.g. photo 7027431), and so on. Human subjects can often add vital color, for example photo 7025255 and the blue jacket in photo 7018832.

♦ Commanding View / Spaciousness

Nothing makes me want to go hiking more than seeing a great commanding view, as in photos 7023682, 7021529, and 7001591. The mountain top view is the cliche example but I've picked examples that show this isn't the only option.

♦ Flow / Geometry / Texture

Flow refers to how the eye is led through a photo. For the Hiking Project, trails, streams, and waterfalls often do this in a natural way, e.g. photos 7006689 and 700159. In photo 7005292, the diagonals of the mountain lead to main peak.

Geometry is more about how all the lines fit together. Photos 7026150, 7027390, 7010901, and 7016246 all have interesting geometries that draw the viewer in for a longer look. Sand dunes offer rich geometries (e.g. photo 7030695).

♦ Frisson / Action / Intensity

Frisson is a brief moment of emotional excitement. You get in from the seemingly precarious ascents in photos 7021345 and 7021474, the wall spanning of photo 7032678, and the rope bridge in photo 7002784. Good action shots include photos 7006444, 7007475, 7020356. The intensity of photo 7003650 is palpable.

♦ Unusual Perspective

Sometimes an unusual perspective creates a fresh photo. Examples: photos 7002436, 7016431, and 7033157.

Joan Pendleton · · Almaden Valley, San Jose, CA · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 2,960

This website is an on-line hiking trail guide.  

IMHO many thanks to all who post photos that convey their trail experience.  IMHO it doesn't matter if it meets photography standards, is rated 1, 2, 3 ,4 , or 5 stars.  It is great to have the photos to help "describe" the trail.  Especially since there is a limit on how long trail descriptions can be.  As they say "A picture is worth 1,000 words"

The pictures become even more important for the longer and/or more complicated trails that are hard to describe in the character limit, and/or new and less used trails. And trails harder to hike with anything but the lightest equipment, such as phone as camera.  And just plain harder to hike, thus limiting the pool of photography talent that hikes them. And new and/or less used, so less photographed trails. But we still need pictures of these trails.  Also pictures even when the weather and/or lighting and/or great subject availability isn't there.  It is a disappointment to come across trails that look interesting, get excited about seeing what they look like, just to find NO pictures, or only a few for some long, and/or interesting sounding trail.  IMHO, i would prefer to see any picture, no matter how it measures up to photography standards, that helps convey the trail experience, than to see NO picture, or so few that it seems like the trail "description" is missing something.....  

To summarize, the pictures, great, good, so-so, and so forth, all contribute to the trail descriptions in this on-line hiking guide. Many thanks to all who take the time to stop and take pictures and to then post them, thus broadening the trail descriptions and bringing the trails to "life".

Joan Pendleton


Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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