Photography Advice For Trekking In The Himalayas Of Nepal

There are many challenges for travel photographers in the Khumbu region of Nepal.  The Khumbu is widely known as the Everest region as it contains the tallest peak on our planet.  I recently wrote advice to a friend set to travel tonight to the region in this post, entitled Advice For Trekking In The Everest Himalayas, and I thought I’d take a moment to expand on it for the photographers out there considering such a trip.  This is just my take on things I found helpful (or not so much) on my trek last year.  Please feel free to add your own advice in the comment section below!

  • Dust is your enemy.  It takes less effort to try to keep dust out of your camera than it does to properly remove it from hundreds of images once it’s on your camera’s sensor.  Only change lenses in non-dust blowing conditions if at all possible.
  • Consider traveling with one lens.  I’ve done this for over two years of travel and while the lens I chose is heavy, it has decreased the dust from lens changes dramatically.  For my full frame Canon 5D I use the 28-300mm L lens which produces supurb images (all the shots on this page are from that camera).  If you are traveling with a smaller APC sensor camera (on that has a 1.5 or 1.6 crop factor) I’d highly recommend something like the Sigma 18-200mm with Image Stabilization.  It’s a wonderful lens with a wide range.
  • Before you go, figure out a system that works well for you while hiking.  I made the mistake of thinking I could lug my 9lbs of camera, lens and battery pack around my neck so as to always be at the ready.  By the second day of the trek I was already stowing my camera in my backpack.  For some, this works well, for others though it means they don’t bother getting the camera out once they have become run down from a day’s trek.  Depending on your camera’s weight and bulk, experiment with a waistbelt holster or a chest mounted bag.  There are also some really nice backpacks that have a special compartment on the outside for the camera.
  • Ask permission.  And best yet, learn to ask for permission in the Nepali or Sherpa or Tibetan (depending on where you end up).  Some people aren’t ok with their picture being taken.  In any culture it is respectful to inquire before pointing the camera at someone.
  • Teahouses will be dimly lit, especially at night, so get used to a high ISO.  Or bring a flash, but for me that usually ruins the mood.  Getting used to holding the camera steady or setting it on a flat surface will help.
  • Batteries!!  As in previous post, batteries can be of concern.  Most teahouses that have solar panels will charge you to charge, although not all do.  We had a mix of places and those in Namche typically don’t charge.  Picking up a foldable solar panel, like this Burton model, does help especially if you can tie it to your pack while you trek.  And keep your batteries warm over night by sleeping with them.  I know, sounds odd.  But picking up a small, fleece bag to hold your camera batteries, then stuffing it in the bottom of your sleeping bag will ensure your batteries are ready to go in the morning, because you are going to….
  • Get up early.  Before the sunrise if possible.  It’s worth it even if you don’t have a camera.  Listening to a village wake up, the woodsmoke fires as breakfast is prepared and the clattering of yak bells…..it’s a nice was to start the day.
  • Consider getting a smaller rain cover for your camera.  In a pinch a plastic bag will work, but a dedicated rain cover will help you keep shooting in rain or snow without worrying about damage.
  • Bring lots of memory cards or an external storage device.  An external device will add weight and something to worry about, but will allow for far great storage.  Also, you’ll be able to back up your travel companion’s photos as well.  Otherwise, I’d suggest bringing multiple smaller cards than trusting your entire trip to one huge card.
  • Grab a polarizing filter if you don’t have one yet.  A circular polarizing lens is the most popular, like this Hoya unit, and they make a dramatic effect on glare/haze.  While there isn’t much pollution in the Khumbu, there is still plenty of smoke and mist in the mornings and at night.  Polarizers work by blocking out light reflected off of dust or reflections off water/windows.  They are best used at a 90 degree angle to the sun but they can even be useful at noonday.  Using a filter as the sun passes it’s apex and you keep it to one side of you or the other will produce some extremely rich blues in your sky shots.  It will also help sharpen mountains scenes.
  • For night shots, a small tripod would be handy.  I brought a full sized unit and really didn’t use it enough to justify the weight.
  • At night, keep your camera as cold as you can.  This may sound odd, but if you remove the batteries, it’s best that your camera is acclimated to the outside temps.  Then when you get up early to catch a sunrise you don’t have to worry about fogging as the lens moves from a moisture rich warm area to a moisture lacking cold area.  Granted, a lot of the places to sleep are only a bit warmer than the outside air, but this is important to remember if you’re huddled around a stove with your camera at your side.  It’s going to fog up when you walk outside.
  • It’ll be dark inside of monasteries  too.  Get used to using the available light.
  • You will have a large amount of broad sweeping vistas.  Mountains all around.  Get used to using your camera to shoot panoramic images.  I’ve written two articles on Digital Photography School to help get you started.  They are entitled 8 Guidelines To Taking Panoramic Photos With Any Camera and Creating Panoramas With hugin Photo Stitcher.  Take a look as it’ll open up a whole new way to capture the grandeur before you.
  • If something excites you, take a shot.  Even if your planned route has you coming back through a town, the lighting and time of day will be different.  Take the shot the first time.
  • Here are a couple more articles from DPS about dealing with shooting in cold temperatures: How To Handle Cold Weather Photography and How to Shoot in Freezing Temperatures and Keep Your Hands Toasty Warm. It’s going to be cold once you’re past Namche.  Mental preparation goes a long way to making the task easier.

If you are interested in joining a photo trek in Nepal this October, I will be leading a group on an 18 day trip specifically designed for photography. More information can be found here.

That’s it off the top of my head specifically for the Khumbu region.  Below are some other great tips from the Internet for travel photography in general.

Please feel free to add your own tips in the comments section below.  And enjoy your trip to Nepal!

11 Replies to “Photography Advice For Trekking In The Himalayas Of Nepal”

  1. Mark H

    The batteries issue is a tricky one, especially if you don’t stay in teahouses but prefer tents. If you use an external backup device, it needs charging as well – otherwise it is lots of memory cards. The solar panel charger sounds an interesting idea – I’ll check it out.

    Reply
  2. Paul Harper

    Like the advice, some of it is basic common sense, but ,that can go out of the window sometimes.

    I shoot with a 20D & regards lenses, I always pack a single multi-purpose lens for this sort of trip. I have a good chest mount for this, as I hate kicking myself on wasted opportunities.

    great article, keep it coming

    Reply
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  5. Travel Photography

    Yeah great advices, I find interesting the ones about sleeping with the batteries and the one of leaving the camera as long as possible with the outside temperature.

    Cheers. JMLeon

    Reply
  6. Sherry Ott

    I think I learned most of this when I did the Annapurna trek…but I could have used this before I went!! I still carried my camera around my neck though as I couldn’t stand stopping and taking it out of my pack – I was too lazy! I forgot my polarizing filter on the trip I’m on now and it’s driving me insane!
    I find shooting in the HImalayas really challenging when it comes to the shadows that the mountains cast at all times of day. And most places I wasn’t planning on coming back to (since I was on a circuit) when there was better light – so I had to deal with what I had at the moment.
    Thanks for the advice and I hope your trip this winter turns out great!

    Reply

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