How Important is Fitness to Landscape Photography?

Do you need to be some super-fit adonis in figure-hugging leisure-wear to get great landscape photos or can the unfit, the overweight, the disabled and the elderly score gallery-worthy keepers too? If you were to base your landscape photography ambitions on the activities of the more popular YouTubers, you'd be forgiven for thinking you had to spend a week in the back-country of Canada every month or you just weren't pulling your weight. The opportunity to travel to exotic locations such as the Canadian Rockies, Iceland or Torres Del Paine in Argentina might not be on the cards for most of us, but the question remains - even if you could afford the time and the money - would you be fit enough?

And the simple fact is that for those truly exotic locations, you really do need to be a competent outdoorsy type with a high level of fitness. At the extreme end of the scale you have people like Mark Adamus, Daniel Kordan, Paul Nicklen or Max Rive, who wouldn't cheapen themselves by pointing their smartphones at any common or garden location and instead adventure out for weeks into the arse-end of nowhere to photograph unique locations.

Those guys set the bar pretty high but, let's be honest here, if you're young and fit there's nothing stopping you from emulating them apart from your own ambition.

But what about your more regular schlubs, the average joes, the weekend warriors? Well, as Clint Eastwood said in Dirty Harry - "A man’s got to know his limitations."

As you age, your body deteriorates. Sometimes it doesn't matter how healthy a life you've lived, how well you've eaten and how much you've exercised - your body will laugh in the face of your efforts and flip you the bird.

Fit for Life

My knees are completely ruined due to osteoarthritis and this makes hiking up hills and mountains problematic. Age, weight issues, general unfitness and joint problems are undoubtedly one of the biggest reasons photographers scale back their photographic ambitions.

Ultimately, it's all a question of being realistic and the key, as Clint advised us, is to not over-estimate your own abilities.

It's summer here in South Coast NSW and, even with CoViD raging through the region, the tourists have well and truly arrived. And I know full well that over the course of the next four weeks I'm going to see news reports about people getting lost and needing rescuing and, if previous years are anything to go by, some will die too. It's not just Instragammers chasing a selfie at a famous waterfall either, serious photography hobbyists get themselves into all sorts of strife down here too.

I'd love to snag some shots from the base of the waterfalls local to me, but I accept that my body's simply not up to the job anymore. I do an hour of hard cardio every single day, and have done for many years, but my knees are not up to the task and while I can do decent hikes on the flat, difficult terrain ruins me. What can I tell you? It is what it is.

If you've got a decent level of fitness and don't get out of breath reaching for the remote, then you'll undoubtedly be fine out on most marked trails. If you haven't gone on a decent walk in a while, then start small and work your way up. There are a few circular loops in the national parks here that are ideal for testing yourself out and you've undoubtedly got a few near you too.

In this country the parks organisations include information about the difficulty of the various tracks and an indication of the time it will take to walk there and back. These signs tend to overplay the difficulty, but I suppose this is preferable to underplaying it and having a load of hapless hikers get themselves into trouble.

Before you laugh at the difficulty ratings on these signs remember also that they need to cater to people of all ages and abilities and while you might be as nimble as a mountain goat, some of us are about as nimble as a mountain.

If general fitness levels are what's holding you back from exploring the landscape then you can of course do something about that. If the thought of joining a gym fills you with horror, then consider joining a local walking/hiking group. This has numerous advantages, not the least of which is that you'll be out in the very landscape you want to photograph. You will get fitter, you’ll be with experienced outdoorsy types and you’ll undoubtedly find new locations to photograph that you didn't know about.

Top Gear

You should also help yourself by wearing the right clothing and carrying the right kit. With a little bit of planning you can offset the issues caused by a well lived-in body. For instance, if you have dodgy knees like me, then I strongly recommend a good pair of walking poles, which give your knees welcome support.

Good boots can make a huge difference and, if you carrying a decent amount of gear, then get a good backpack with lumbar and chest straps. If you'd like to get serious about your landscape photography then consider trading in your trendy metrosexual man-sling cross-purpose techno-pack camo edition stuff-sack for something slightly less interesting but eminently more practical.

Do you need a laptop slot, RFID blocking pockets and airplane luggage straps when you're hiking through the middle of the bush? Or would an extra water bottle holder, padded shoulder straps, tripod tie-downs and a waist strap be more useful?

Remember to put on sun-cream, even in winter, wear a hat and pack enough water to stay hydrated for the duration. If you're travelling in isolated locations then a device such as an EPIRB or a Garmin Inreach would be a great idea.

In terms of camera gear, there's a reason carbon fibre tripods are now more popular than the metal versions - they're considerably lighter. Consider which lenses and accessories you're going to take too - you probably don't need to take the whole collection along.

When it comes to the actual walk, try and plan it so you don’t have to rush. Consider camping overnight so you can be closer to the scene earlier in the day. Remember to check the weather because obviously treking through gale-force winds is harder than through a light breeze.

If you're clever about your photographic hikes you might surprise yourself with what you can do and which locations you can reach.

Where There's a Will There's a Way

Alright, that's all well and good if you have average or above fitness and mobility - but let's say that you're not fit or have some other impediment that greatly impacts how far you can walk.

Here are a few ideas to consider.

Drones

If you can't move very far then let the drone do the travelling for you. The only issue with this is that legally you're not supposed to fly beyond visual line of sight. And if that puts you off I should point out that it's also illegal to change your own lightbulbs in the state of Victoria, but I'm wondering how many people pay an electrician to come out and replace the light dome in the upstairs shitter?

In any case, drones give you the mobility your body might not. And if you want a perfect example of that, then check out the excellent photography of Jamien Hudson, a Perth-based photographer who has won international acclaim for his amazing drone photography despite being a quadriplegic.

Google

Google Maps or Google Earth to research locations you can get to by car. There’s this myth that all the good spots are a hundred miles from the nearest tarmac, but that's just not the case. Spend some time researching interesting back-roads and play a few hunches and you could easily get lucky. There are plenty of amazing scenes right next to the road.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Consider other forms of transport - such as a scenic flight or a boat trip. You can take some incredible photographs from a light aeroplane or helicopter and cover a huge area in a short period of time. Boats can also open up access to areas that have not been photographed previously and if you don't fancy going motorised, a stand-up paddle or kayak can open up amazing locations to your camera lens.

Zoom

Never forget the power of a long lens. Using a good telephoto you can close the distance and photograph locations it would be impossible to reach on foot. You can also shoot from the top of tall buildings or skyscrapers.

When you put your mind to it - there are lots of options no matter how un-mobile you are.

Work With It

So no you don’t have to be super-fit to be a landscape photographer, but you can absolutely get super-fit by doing landscape photography.

Remember too that the quality of a landscape photograph is not defined by the torture you had to endure to take it. You can spend two weeks backpacking through remote wilderness and still take a shitty photograph. Equally, you can take remarkable landscape photographs in your own backyard.

So I say, don't stress about it and embrace the possibilities around you.

For the last 16 years I’ve been photographing, blogging (and more recently vlogging) about everything I find, see and enjoy here in South Coast, New South Wales. This is my blogging site focused on my hobby (and part-time job) of photography. Please enjoy my little writing and my photography and I’d love to hear your feedback.
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