This article was first written for Amateur Photography magazine and published in their June 2016 edition. Probably the most important thing to note is, I'm just an ordinary girl who has a 9-5 day job and if I can do wild camping then anyone can! Anyhow, without further ado, here's the article ...
If you love exploring the great outdoors with your camera and you don't mind roughing it a bit and carrying a two stone rucksack (you can go lighter, but that's about the weight of mine as I've not got fancy gear) up a hill, then wild camping can be a fantastic way to immerse yourself in the landscape and see some sights you might not otherwise see. Wild camping presents superb and varied photographic opportunities.
Wild camping can also be very flexible - you don't need to pre-book or cancel if the weather turns bad and lose your deposit, you can just go when time permits and the weather looks promising. Once you’ve got some basic gear it can also be a very cost effective way of extending your photography day trips into weekend ones.
It’s worth researching what the guidelines are in relation to wild camping in the locations where you plan to pitch your tent. In England wild camping isn’t strictly legal unless you have the landowner’s permission. Despite this, in the Lake District wild camping is generally tolerated on the high ground well above enclosed farmland so long as you adhere to some general principles including: leave no trace of your presence (definitely no fires); blend in with your surroundings using small, discretely pitched tents; and camp in groups of no more than a few tents. Access rules may change over time and vary across England, Scotland and Wales so it is best to check what the regulations are before your trip.
Time slows down immensely when you wild camp, giving you the opportunity to make a cup of coffee, set up camp, explore your area, shoot the sunset, photograph the night sky, then get up early to see if there is an elusive cloud inversion hovering over the valleys to greet you at sunrise. If we’re not hiking very far and it’s cool overnight, we sometimes take sausages up the fell for breakfast as a special treat.
It's hard work climbing up the fell with all your photography and camping gear but it is 100% worth all of your effort.
1. Wild camping gear. If you've never wild camped before then the good news is that, unless you plan to camp in extreme conditions, you don't need to spend a fortune on a tent. We started out with an inexpensive Coshee 2 tent, which served us well for a few years. There are plenty of other budget wild camping tents on the market that are reasonably lightweight, or, if you prefer, even lighter weight tarps and bivi bags. You'll also need a rucksack (I use a 65 litre one with plenty of external pockets and straps) that you can fit your camping and camera gear into, a warm lightweight sleeping bag, an inflatable sleep mat (worth the investment for comfort!) and a stove along with other bits and bobs like mug, water bottles and so on. If there will be water sources nearby to your camp spot, a water filter system is invaluable as this will make a big difference to the weight of your rucksack – the Sawyer Europe water filter is an excellent bit of kit www.sawyereurope.com.
2. Research using websites and smartphone apps. When deciding where to wild camp it pays to do some research. Photographers ephemeris is as invaluable for planning your wild camp location as it is for planning any landscape photography - if you can choose a fell that'll give you a great view of sunset, sunrise, moonset or moonrise, then all the better. There are also some great hiking websites. A favourite is www.wainwrightroutes.co.uk as each route map is accompanied by lots of photos, which helps make sure you don't miss great features and viewpoints during your trip. We've found lots of beautiful trees, waterfalls, tiny tarns and less well known views to photograph thanks to this website. For planning ahead and navigation on the trip a waterproof version on the OS Explorer map is always in the bag, supplemented by using the Viewranger GPS smartphone app.
3. Little fells with great views. Unless you're very fit and have plenty of time for photography trips, it's worth focusing your time and effort on finding little fells with great views. A favourite little Lake District fell for wild camping is Middle Fell overlooking Wastwater. It's a favourite because this is the fell from which we saw our first longed for cloud inversion. To wake up on top of a fell above a valley filled with clouds was something we'd dreamed of and when it finally happened it was truly spectacular - if there's one reason to have a go at wild camping this is it! Other favourite little but lovely fells include: Lingmoor Fell, Harter Fell, Cold Pike, Raven Crag, Bonscale Pike and Hard Knott Fell.
4. Shelter from the rain. If we hike in the rain our hikes are usually short and sweet and photographic opportunities are limited. Unless the forecast is for hours and hours of solid rain, wild camping can help overcome this problem by giving you shelter from the worst of the rain as it passes over. Our very first wild camp on Lingmoor Fell was over one rainy weekend in August. We hiked up in the rain, pitched the tent and took shelter while the first deluge passed, then emerged to a dry spell and waited to shoot the next deluge as it passed over the Langdale Pikes, before ducking into the tent again. It rained all night. In the morning we caught another dry spell and could photograph distant rain showers over the surrounding fells before the rain came back and we packed up and headed home. Our first wild camp was mostly wet but absolutely brilliant and we were hooked!
5. People in the landscape. You've worked hard to climb up the fell with all your gear on your back, you've pitched your tent and you've got some time to relax before you explore and get ready for sunset - now's a great chance to take a picture of yourself as a memento of the trip. As an added bonus, if you're earning income from your photography, photos of people hiking and wild camping sell well with outdoors magazines and on stock photography sites, helping to finance your next trip or bit of kit.
6. Shoot the night sky. Wild camping is often done in areas remote from any light pollution, giving exceptional opportunities for shooting the night sky if you are lucky enough to get clear skies. It's therefore worth considering taking a lens that will allow you to do some night time photography. Lenses are very much a personal choice, but if you're going to get a really clear night with star filled skies consider making space in your rucksack for the Samyang 14mm (or alternative). You'll also need to take a tripod. I take the very reasonably priced Manfrotto BeFree travel tripod up the fells with me.
7. Leave the light on. As well as your head torch, pop a couple of little tent lights in your rucksack - these don't need to be anything fancy or expensive. Turn your little tent lights on at dusk and take photos of your tent lit up in the landscape for a great photo and effect. This shot was taken just after sunset on the snowy top of Raven Crag overlooking Thirlmere and the Helvellyn fells.
Travel tripod – for shooting the night sky, taking long exposure shots at dusk or for shooting some time lapse footage during your trip – an advantage of wild camping is that you’ll have plenty of time to do this once you’ve found your pitch.
Wide angle lens – lenses are very much a matter of personal choice, but I like to take a wide angle lens for capturing a night sky full of stars and for photographing expansive views of the scenery (which is often spectacular so I like to get as much of it in as possible). I've recently switched to using a 24-70, if I want wider it's a great lens for doing panos. I usually put a 50mm lens in the bag too as it weighs next to nothing so it doesn’t hurt to pop it in the rucksack.
Lee filters – again a matter of personal choice and not essential, but ever since taking up photography I have loved using these filters, which give no colour cast and help me balance my exposure in camera saving lots of processing time later. I just take a 0.9 hard, 0.6 hard and 0.75 soft grad with me rather than the full Lee filter pack, to save on weight. I’ve cut a few of the velvet pockets out of my Lee 10 filter holder and use these to protect the three filters I take up the fell, putting all three inside one of the wallets that the Lee filters were posted in.
Canon 5dmkii – many people have switched to lighter weight, mirrorless cameras for hiking but that’s a luxury I can’t afford, I have to stick with what I’ve got and besides, I do love my old 5dmkii, so that’s the camera in my rucksack.
Neoprene camera cover – a little extra protection for your camera while it’s in your rucksack and against the elements when you’re exploring the fell and carrying it over your shoulder.
One that didn’t work: Sometimes things don’t go as planned and you have to abandon your trip. This happened to us one time. The forecast had been for a breezy night but in the middle of the night the wind picked up to over 40 miles per hour. Many tents can withstand this but ours was brand new and must’ve had a fault. The wind shredded it. We had to pack up the tent and all our gear in the dark, in the howling wind and heaving rain. We always take waterproofs, large waterproof stuff sacks, maps (including map apps on our smartphones), head torches and back up torches just in case, so we made it home a bit wet but safely and with all of our gear, except the tent, intact. Fortunately the tent manufacturer replaced the tent with no quibbles. But that night was a big lesson for us – we had been prepared but now we are more wary of camping out on nights when there is potential for a dramatic change in the weather. The Mountain Weather Information Service website is a great for checking high level conditions in advance of your trip www.mwis.org.uk.