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How to Take Time for Photography

A photograph is a thin slice of time. It captures a moment of our lives. It documents a landscape at one discrete point in history. To capture those moments well requires we take time to optimize each composition and to practice and improve our craft.

By Doug Diekema

Time and photography share an inescapable connection. A photograph is a thin slice of time. It captures a moment of our lives. It documents a landscape at one discrete point in history. To capture those moments well requires we take time to optimize each composition and to practice and improve our craft.

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Stunning light captured on White Pass. Photo by Doug Diekema.

Capturing time

Consistently good photos don’t just happen. They take planning. Planning a hike to meet your photographic goals is an important first step. Arriving at your destination when the lighting is optimal requires weighing a host of factors, including travel, hiking time and weather. Most people know about the magical “golden hour,” which occurs roughly in the hour following sunrise and the hour before sunset. The soft, diffuse, warm light during that time adds detail, texture and depth that produce far better photos than harsh midday sun. However, the reality is more complicated than planning photography for those hours. If your subject is a lake in a deep cirque, your subject may be in shadow long before the golden hour. Similarly, some locations are best illuminated only at certain times of day. Studying a topographic map while thinking about sun direction at various times of day will help you determine the ideal time to photograph your subject.

Taking time

Planning will increase the odds of great photos — and it requires planning your trip and conceiving your composition once you’ve arrived. Scout your location for the ideal foreground, backdrop and lighting. Once you’ve identified your subject and composition, a tripod will increase your chances of a clear, well-focused photo. Finally, you may have to sit a while to allow clouds to move so that your subject is properly illuminated, the wind to die down so that foreground flowers stop moving, the animal you’re photographing to emerge or your hiking mates to do something interesting. You may not know whether you captured that perfect moment until you review your photos. Your odds of getting it right will increase if you capture
multiple images. Finally, digital photos almost always benefit from some tasteful editing, so take the time to crop and adjust contrast, lighting levels and saturation in your best photos.

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Wait long enough, and you might spot a bear (or three). Photo by Doug Diekema.

Finding time

We’re all busy. Often the biggest challenge we face is finding the time to photograph, edit our photos and then enjoy and share them. I won’t pretend it’s easy, but if you’re serious about photography, you need to make time for it. Schedule and plan hikes. Set aside designated time to edit photos. Always have a camera with you and ready, even if it’s your smartphone. And finally, get out there. Don’t wait for the perfect conditions; just make the best of every day you’re fortunate enough to find the time to go hiking.

Using Time

  • Plan everything: when, where, what, with whom, and how.
  • Take lots of photos. It increases your chances of getting that “perfect” shot and helps improve your skills.
  • Cull your photos ruthlessly so that you are left with only the very best to edit, enjoy and share.
  • Keep notes on the best times to visit your favorite places.
  • Always have the camera ready, even in the worst of conditions.
  • Don’t rush. Take time to sit, look for patterns and compositions within the landscape and wait for the light to improve.