Everest - the highest peak on our blue planet. Just hearing the name stirs up a nostalgic sense of adventure and images of towering, snow-capped peaks. While Everest's summit - at 29,029 ft - is out of most of our physical reach, trekking through the rugged Himalayan landscape to Everest base camp (EBC) at a measly 17,598 should be on everyone's bucket list - particularly for us photographers!
In April 2016 I made the trek to and from EBC and can soundly say it was one of the single best trekking experiences I've had in my life. A grand landscape teeming with history - made by locals and foreign climbers alike. Great as it was, the trek isn't without its challenges - both physically and photographically. While I can't give you any magic formula to make the physical side easier, I can gladly offer you a few pieces of advice on the photographic side.
In no particular order, these are my top 10 tips for photographers making the trek to EBC:
- Polarize for pop: A circular polarizer is a must-bring on any outdoor excursion, and the Everest region is no different. Polarizers will help to reduce haze, darken skies, intensify colors, and cut glare on water, rocks, plants, and snow. I never say always, but you'll seldom find me shooting without one in outdoor environments like this. Exceptions include wide-angle shots with clear sky in the frame, portraits, and pre-dawn/post-dusk shots.
- Eyes on your six: Don't forget to look behind you! You may have already covered that stretch of trail or walked past that mountain or village, but the features along the trail - especially mountains - look entirely different from all angles. The angle from which you approached isn't always the best one.
- Small things are big: The landscapes of the Himalayas may be vast, but they're filled with little gems. From flowers to stonework to bells on the necks of yaks to frozen streams and much more. These details that make up the whole provide valuable context in building a sense of place within your imagery.
- People provide scale: These mountains are HUGE! Everest is the biggest of them all, eh? For those big landscape shots, make an effort to include people somewhere in the frame to add a sense of scale and bring the grandeur of the surrounding landscape into proportion.
- Maximize your time: Mornings may be bitter cold, and sunset is always more comfortably viewed from a chair next to the furnace, but we don't go out to harsh places like Everest for creature comforts! Skies in the mornings are more dependably clear, so sunrise is more of a sure shot for views...but those evening clouds can make for some uniquely dramatic photos as well!
- Culture counts: Let's face it, most of us head up into the Himalayas for the mountainous landscapes, but the people who have chosen to inhabit these harsh environs are just as unique as the landscapes in which their houses sit. The original inhabitants of the Everest region are the Sherpa people - rugged on the outside but ever so friendly on the inside. Learn a bit of the local lingo, interact with folks, show interest, be genuine, and ask before you take photos.
- Weight adds up: I'm well familiar with the inclination to pack along every lens I own, but this isn't the place to give in to those urges...unless you plan to hire a porter. Each pound in your pack seems to multiply when you're hiking up a steep slope at 17,000 ft. so choose them wisely. When assembling your kit, select versatile and complimentary gear - whether it be lenses or layers - and toss aside non-essential items; your legs will thank you later.
- Stay on the ready: In a landscape this dynamic, you never know when something magical will unfold - whether it be a group of trekkers breezing up the trail ahead, a team of yaks packed to the brim, or even a moody cloud system. Keep that camera out and ready to shoot at a moment's notice so you don't miss these moments of beautiful spontaneity. I personally keep my camera mounted on the shoulder strap of my backpack with my trusty little Peak Design Capture Pro - it's a godsend. Use continuous shooting mode when shooting moving subjects - trekkers, yaks, climbers - to ensure you grab a frame in which the subject is in a flattering pose and fits into the surrounding landscape nicely. It's a lot easier to skip past a few bad frames during the culling process than to forgive yourself for missing a moment that will never be relived!
- Make it personal: Outfitters will surely try to sell you onto a group tour, but as a photographer you'll absolutely want to have the freedom to go at your own pace. Book a private trek through a well-reputed operator. Or, if you fancy true independence, just go it alone; the trails are very well established, and there are villages with guest houses every few miles.
- Power is precious: While you can expect to have access to charging outlets nearly every afternoon and evening of the trek, they certainly aren't free! Expect to anywhere from $1-4/hr to charge a single device, and don't except it to charge fast. It's wise to bring a solar charging panel and power bank for self-sufficiency and emergency charges. Batteries don't like the cold, so pack a few and try to keep them warm as much as possible. I personally sleep with all of my batteries in my sleeping bag - then keep them in inner pockets in the mornings - to ensure I've got a full charge for the day ahead of me.
There you have it! Be sure to let me know if you've got questions or comments - always glad to hear your input.
Check out the gallery of images in the slideshow below to have a look at a few of my photos from the Everest region.
And last but not least, have a memorable trek to Everest!