Written by

Kristin Folsland Olsen

Freelance journalist, photographer and lecturer living in Lofoten. She has published several books, including Baffin Babes, which was filmed and broadcast on NRK. In addition, she has been a programme manager on the Discovery Channel. Kristin has carried out skiing expeditions on Svalbard, Greenland, Baffin Island and South Georgia. She continues to write for magazines such as A-magasinet and Fjell og Vidde.

Snap decisions

You won’t have pictures to brag if you leave your camera packed away in your bag, no matter how fancy it is. Having it easily accessible is the most important thing for anyone who wants to make memorable images.

What kind of camera should you choose?

The camera in your phone is probably excellent. Small-lens optics and image capture are excellent today. This is often sufficient for those of us who aren’t interested in learning about technique, and who are content to concentrate on composing the image, pressing the shutter button, and then letting the camera do the rest. For ambitious travel photographers, mirrorless system cameras with replaceable optics are an excellent choice. These cameras are considerably lighter and smaller than SLR cameras, and are therefore much easier to handle on trips.
Super system camera for tour use.Foto: Kristin Folsland Olsen

Camera settings

Using the auto setting on the camera can lead to great results. But if you want to have more control over the images, you should learn the basics of photographic theory – the relationship between aperture, shutter and ISO. If you have an understanding of how these factors interact, this increases the possibilities for creative images of quality.

 
The aperture lets light through to the camera sensor.
 
The shutter determines how long the light will be allowed in.
 
The ISO determines the sensitivity of the sensor to light.
To get a correctly exposed image (neither too dark nor too bright), we can adjust the three parameters above. If you’re going to take photos of subjects in motion, you need fast shutter speeds. To capture fast movements, you need a shutter speed of 1/1000 seconds or faster. Sometimes you want to have a long shutter speed – to make the water in a stream become blurry and soft, for example. Then you may have to use a shutter speed of several seconds. Try it yourself (you may also need to use an ND filter – google it!). The aperture decides the sharpness of an image – depth of field. A small aperture (a larger number, like f22, for example) the entire image to be sharp, from foreground to background, while a large aperture (a smaller number, like f2.8) allows sharpness only where you focus; what lies behind and in front becomes unfocused.

Practical tips

Make sure you always have a fully charged battery and capacity on the memory card before you head out for the hills. If you are going to take a lot of photos, or be on a multi-day tour, you should bring a spare. In winter, the batteries drain quickly, and it pays to store extra batteries in a warm place like an inner pocket. Always have a cleaning cloth readily available to clean the lens. This is particularly relevant in snowy or rainy weather.

Attention! Attention!

To capture the most exciting subjects, you need to be vigilant. Assess situations and stay ahead of events. If the tour party has to cross a stream, make sure to be the first person to cross; be ready with the camera when the others arrive. Is it permissible to hope for a little drama? For art’s sake!

Be mobile – use different perspectives

Be mobile. Find a different perspective when taking pictures. Don’t just stand straight up; lie down on your stomach; climb in the terrain to find exciting viewing angles. A camera with a screen you can angle is helpful in situations like this.

Examples of using perspective to give the image that little something extra.

Photo: Kristin Folsland Olsen

Here’s an example of the use of height and perspective to give the picture an interesting angle.

Photo: Kristin Folsland Olsen

Take pictures when it’s grim

Grim weather is photo weather. When dark clouds roll in and the sky opens up, or when you and your hiking companions are cold and tired, there’s an opportunity to take dramatic and exciting photos. Most people take sunny pictures, leaving the camera unused in a snowstorm or downpour. But these can quickly become the most interesting photos, so be alert when the weather turns bad. Åsnes loves such pictures; these are the ones that reflect reality.

No such thing as bad weather – only bad clothes (and good camera weather)Photo: Kristin Folsland Olsen

Composition

Composing your image, the rule of thirds is a good starting point. Using an imaginary grid with nine equally sized squares made by two equally spaced horizontal and vertical lines, the main motif is placed in one of the four points where the lines cross. You can also situate the elements of the image so that they have room around them. If a travel companion in your image is gazing at something, for example, compose the picture so that there’s space in the direction the person is looking

Many cameras also overlay a grid on the screen or viewfinder. Use it until this comes naturally to you.

Photo: Kristin Folsland Olsen

Room in the direction of gaze.

Foto: Kristin Folsland Olsen

Using lines

Lines are a good tool when composing a picture. The eye instinctively follow lines, making them useful for drawing the viewer’s attention where you want it. Repetitive geometric shapes can also create an exciting dynamic in the composition. Having the horizon level is something else to think about – provided omitting it is not a deliberate move. The view may otherwise get seasick! Again, many cameras have guide lines in the viewfinder and on the screen to help you get the right horizon – see the example above.

Natural lines of ski-tracks. Photo: Kristin Folsland Olsen

Tidy up

When we take pictures, we tend to be so absorbed by the main subject that we forget the details or the overall effect. Think about tidying up. If you’re taking a tour-portrait, make sure there are no unwanted elements like ski poles or branches directly behind the model so that it looks like horns are growing out of their head. Move the poles or move yourself to a different perspective. Maybe even take a different view altogether.

Tour portrait. Photo: Kristin Folsland Olsen

Including elements in the very foreground can give an image more depth. Get to your knees and bring a colourful flower or a flowing stream into the foreground when you take a picture of a mountain hiker.

Noen fine myr-bomullsdotter i forgrunnen, speiling fra vannt og syklister i bakgrunnen. Slike motiv gir mer dybde i bildet. Foto: Kristin Folsland Olsen

Light

The verb “to photograph” literally means “to inscribe with light”. Both the direction and character of the light are important. Early and late in the day, when the sun is low in the sky, the light is soft and warm. These are great conditions for photography. The high, bright, mid-day sun leads to strong contrasts. Dark parts of the image may become too dark while bright parts may be completely burned out. Lighting the subject from the front does not necessarily offer complications. But the disadvantage is that the images tend to be become somewhat “flat”, even boring. Be sure to avoid your own shadow falling into the frame. Side lighting often brings more life to the subject by creating clear shadows. Photography in backlight provides great contrasts. In backlight, you can take nice silhouettes, or play with shadows. It’s also possible to include the sun in the picture. To get a star effect with rays from the sun, use a small aperture (that is, high number).

A typical example of warm and soft light when the sun’s low. Also notice the silhouettes of the mountains in the background, the shadows and the contrasts.Photo: Kristin Folsland Olsen

Practice makes a perfect photographer!

As with most things, practice is a prerequisite to becoming a good photographer. Get to know your equipment so that you know where the various settings are when you need them. Everything should all “at your fingertips”. If you have fun with photography, you’re on the right track. Play with the camera. Try out new subjects and angles. Check out other people’s photographs. You can learn a lot that way. Find out why you like something about an image and take the lessons with you when developing your own visual language.

Perhaps the most important thing is to head out on an expedition with good friends and have fun! Photo: Kristin Folsland Olsen
Using a GoPro or “fisheye” lens can give a pretty cool effect and many curious perspectives. Great when you want to bring out speed, height and tension. Photo: Kristin Folsland Olsen

Presentation

When you’re going to present your pictures, cast a critical eye on what you show. An important part of the work with images is selecting images to tell the story you want. Be sure to include detailed images, portraits, activity pictures and large overviews – this creates a good dynamic in the narrative.

Instagram

Social media is a great way to get inspiration and to show off your photos.

Follow inspiring photographers and outdoor people. You can start with the author of this very article!

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