How to: cycling for photographers

Montague SwissBike X50

When you’re out in the mountains, or touring a city, or anyway going around spotting locations and snapping pictures there is always that much terrain you can cover without sleeping out in the open or in an hotel.

This is really frustrating considering that most good locations, especially in the mountains, are often miles away from places you can reach with your car. And even if you got a nice all-terrain vehicle you have to know the paths pretty well to not get stuck in some rut or in a place in which you cannot turn around.

This means that a sizable portion of your day will be spent first driving then hiking / walking, instead of photographing. Add to this the constraints of finding the right light (i.e. getting at the location you want to photograph at a specific hour), and then the range will be limited even further.

If I don’t find something to photograph along the way, and the path is not too steep, on foot in a day I can usually cover a maximum of 15-20Km / 9-12 miles before having to turn around for the return trip.

This is extremely annoying, and while there is nothing wrong in revisiting the same places over and over (on the contrary, it is extremely useful for artistic purposes) at the same time this can easily lead you to boredom and to putting the camera down for a while.

Fallen bridge on the Cecita brook

There is a simple solution, though. And compared with the prices of the gear we usually lust after it is a pretty cheap one too. Well, everything is cheap compared with some of those prices!

A well made mountain bike (or road / hybrid bike, if you are more of a city guy) will take you anywhere in relative comfort, and will dramatically extend the amount of terrain you can cover in a single day. Dramatically here means that, without steep hills in the way and once you get fit enough, you can cover as much as 160Km / 100 miles IN A SINGLE DAY and usually at least 80-100Km / 50-60 miles. There is also a lot of people out there touring the U.S.A., Europe, Asia, Australia on bikes racking up thousand and thousand of miles for months on end.

Just for reference, going often at a leisurely (read: sloooooow) pace to be able to spot interesting scenes I usually cover around 30Km / 19 miles in a couple hours (on reasonably flat or undulated terrain). When the gradient steepens the game get tough, but it is still doable and, in the worst possible case*, you can always step down the bike and push; after all you’re not competing in the Tour de France!

*Where I live the differences in altitude are often extreme: in just 10-15Km / 6-10 miles a road can get you from 200 to 1400 meters / 650 to 4600 feet or more. This can happen at sea level as well, because here in Calabria the mountains practically dip their toes in the sea along almost the whole coast.

Bonus point 1: especially when I’m out scouting a new location, it may happen that some of the best views are from a stretch of road on which there is absolutely no place to safely stop a car, not even for a few minutes (typically on a bridge or a causeway). This is no problem at all with a bike: just toss it up on the margin of the road, on a piece of grass or over the guardrail and you’re good to go.

Bonus point 2: you can adapt a small tripod head to the handlebars (or buy one pre-made). While not a substitute for a proper tripod, it will make possible going out ultra-light when you are not in the mood for carrying a lot of gear or maybe are just evaluating the potential of a place.

Note: above I said a “well made” bike. This means avoiding like the plague the cheap models sold in malls. These might barely be fine for use on flat tarmac (and even then, the experience will not be so comfortable and the bike will not last all that long), but for paths and cross-country they can be downright dangerous. Imagine what would happen if riding on a rough path out of nowhere one of the bike weldings should snap… Or what *will* happen when you’ll try to brake in wet conditions with your cheap steel wheels (hint: nothing, and you’ll become really intimate with a tree). You get the idea.

Stella under a tree

So, to ride in style and comfort this is what a bike-riding photographer will need:


1) A bike (duh!)

A mountain bike (landscape guys), or an hybrid / road one (cityscapers and street shooters). Pretty much anything from 450-500 euro will do. Obviously the more you spend the more you get, as always.

  • If you plan to use it only in cities go for no suspension at all (and you might find something good as low as 350€).
  • If you plan to limit yourself to normal paths peek one with just a (good) front suspension, a.k.a. “hardtail”.
  • If you plan to ride it on rough paths or on no paths at all spend a bit more, and get a full suspended model (front and rear); your butt will thank you, and you will ride safer too. But if you can’t spend more then get the best hardtail you can afford, instead of a cheap-o dual suspension.
  • If you, like me, have a car with a small trunk and worst still live in a building with a tiny elevator consider buying (for a bit more) a good full size folding bike like one of the Montague series. I own a Swissbike X50, but probably the best for price-performance ratio is the Paratrooper. For a small car trunk you can get away without having to spend more on a folding just removing both wheels from the bike (buy one with quick-releases) or using a car rack, but fitting a bike in a small elevator (important if you plan to use it also on your normal schedule) it is quite a bit more tricky.

“Cro-Mo” frames are made of steel, while the “6***” and “7***” are aluminum. Steel ones are usually heavier, but better for long touristic trips (steel is easy to weld in a pinch, aluminum is not). Both kind of frames are fine for every other use, but like I said before avoid at all costs steel wheels: they weight too much, are cheap, and on them the brakes simply don’t have enough friction to be able to stop you.

About brakes: good V-brakes are powerful enough, but if you have the dough spring for disk brakes; they are more powerful and much better in wet weather.

Keep your tires inflated at the correct pressure value to reduce the pedaling effort (it is written on the outside of each tyre). If you use your mountain bike only on tarmac, make yourself a huge favor and change those knobby tires for slick (treadless) ones. And check that the arrows on the side of each tyre match the direction in which the tyre is actually rolling.

Try to peek a bike weighting less than 10-11Kg / 22-24lbs (road) or 13-14Kg / 28-30lbs (if suspended) to actually enjoy the experience, otherwise you’ll think you’re trying to move a rock. Once bought the bike, learn how to correctly set the height of your saddle and stem, and to make basic repairs like mending a tube (Youtube as always is your friend).


2) A few safety items for the bike

At the very minimum you will need to carry:

You could certainly carry more, especially on a multi-day trip, but with the stuff above you will be covered for pretty much anything. You can buy the whole kit for much less than 50€.*

*Naturally you will have to bring along a bit of money and the stuff you usually carry hiking as well, like mobile phone, map, knife, etc. if heading for the wilderness

Roots and the Cecita brook

3) A few safety items for you

You will need:

  • Water: in cycling you are the engine, and to keep you cool you will have to be well hydrated
  • Food: energy bar and / or gels are great, light, tasty and can give you just the boost you badly needed
  • Gloves: if you should fall you will avoid scraping the palms of your hands on rocks or tarmac
  • Glasses: sunglasses or clear impact-resistant glasses are great to avoid bugs and pebbles flying straight into your eyes
  • A rain / wind jacket: even when the sun is shining going fast downhill can cool you to the bones!

All of the above you can have it for more or less 10€, with the exception of the rain jacket. The cheap ones do not breath, and you end up steaming inside them like a wonton dumpling.

The good ones are in Gore-Tex™ and, even if they can cost quite a bit, last an eternity if well looked after and let you enjoy your day. For a cheap breathable option look for military Gore-Tex™ jackets; they may be come only in camo and be not quite streamlined for maximum aerodynamic effect, but usually don’t cost a mint (30-50€).

4) An helmet

This is a really important item. But, honestly, I’m lazy and when I’m out spotting pictures I go slow anyway, so I carry one just when I ride for fun (read: fast) or on really rough terrain, otherwise I don’t bother. Not the safest choice, but anyone has to decide for himself where to draw the line between safety and comfort. I tend to run pretty hot, so in my book comfort wins; your mileage may vary, as they say.

This in the mountains; if you ride in a city, with all the cars, just get an helmet and use it. From 10 to hundreds of euro, depending on design and comfort. But keep in mind that as long it is CE approved even the 10€ model should adequately protect your head anyway. Discard it after an impact, and change it every few years regardless.


5) A saddle

There is a strong possibility that whatever bike you choose the saddle will not be comfortable enough for you. The right saddle depends from the width of your hip bones, so it is an extremely personal choice. Again, from 10 to hundreds of euro, but probably worth spending between 20 and 40€. Don’t skimp on this, is the difference between enjoying the ride and cursing your bycicle all the way.

Leather saddles (Brooks and the likes) are supposedly the best because they conform to your body shape with usage, but that will happen only after at least 800 Km / 500 miles of riding them.


6) A rack (optional)

If your bike came with a rack, or if you buy one, you can then mount the backpack (and the tripod*) on it and avoid having your back sweating like the proverbial pig. There is even a more elegant solution: the so called panniers, bike bags that clip onto the rack sides. Not indispensable, but nice (especially on roads, less so on dirty tracks) because they lower your center of gravity making the bike easier to control.

*Without a rack you can carry the tripod strapped to the top tube.


That’s all you need. For the cost of a cheap lens you will be able to shoot thousands of pictures more, get fitter and discover hundreds of new places. I’d call this a really good investment.


Review: Velbon Ultra Rexi L tripod and a quick and dirty mod

Travel Tripod Velbon Ultra Rexi L

I was shopping for a hiking tripod, i.e. one light enough to not break my back like the 8Kg / 17,6 Lbs monster I usually carry around, but stable enough to let me take un-blurred pictures even with medium / large format equipment. Oh, and it should haven’t costed an arm and a leg…so one of the Gitzo Mountaineer series was a no-start.

After checking the reviews on the internet I narrowed my choice to the Benro Travel Flat A2190T vs. the Velbon Ultra Rexi L.

They are both pretty light, in the order of 1,5 Kg / 3.3 Lbs. The attractive of the Benro was, well, that it folds perfectly flat. This would came pretty handy when you strap it against a backpack – or if you have to stuff it in a suitcase. What made me chose the Velbon Ultra Rexi L over it was that the Benro, because of its design constraints, cannot spread the legs to to be lowered enough; the fact that I read in more than a user review that it is flimsy did’t help its cause.


The review

The Velbon Ultra Rexi L proved to be pretty much almost perfect for my needs. My only concerns are:

1) the system to open the legs is pretty handy, but sometimes the legs seem locked when they are not. I ascribe this as just a matter of habitude, and not a design fault. Now I’ve taken the habit of just pushing on the tripod head to check for some unlocked section before putting the camera on*

2) reliability of the system used to lock the legs. It looks pretty strong, but only time will tell if dirt and debris will have the best of it**

3) the tripod has the unusual, for a tripod, 1/4″ screw – the same you find on the bottom of every camera. Given that almost any serious tripod head comes with a classic 3/8″ hole – and that anyway Velbon gives you along with the tripod a nice tool kit – why on Earth not include a small ultra-cheap adapter screw? I had one laying around, but still…


Last – and this is what this post is really about, so drum roll please:

4) the tripod does not have a hook under the center column to hang a bag if the weather is windy, to add stability


Given that:

1) is pretty much my fault, after a life spent using other kinds of locking systems. Besides, this system is MUCH faster to open / close than the traditional ones*

2) is more a concern for a technology I never used before than a fault**

3) is irritating and a lack of forward thinking of the marketing department, but hardly a defect


the only real issue impacting usability is 4), but that is easily fixed.


The quick and dirty modification

The tools

You will need:

– a drill, but in a pinch you can also operate the drill bit by hand

– a drill bit suited for plastic or, way better, a stepped bit like the one on the right

– an eye screw and a plug / conical anchor or, better still if you can find one: an eye bolt, a suitable nut and a washer


I used an eye screw, with a closed circular hook, because on pretty much all of my photographic gear I have carabiners. If you don’t use them you probably will better be using an open hook, to hang on it the shoulder strap of your bag.


– unscrew the plastic cap from the bottom of the center column

– drill a 6mm hole straight in its center – in the picture above the anchor is already half inserted in the hole

– pass the bolt through and lock it from the inside of the cap with the washer and than the nut – or in my case with the anchor


By the way, if you want to save further on the tripod weight you can unscrew the bottom part of the center column but still screw the cap on the remaining bit. I did this, because I never use the center column if I can help it; doing so is like using a monopod with three legs, not a tripod, and greatly decreases stability.


* Yes, it was definitively a matter of habitude. Now that I’ve grown accustomed to this system I’m feeling extremely uncomfortable when I use my others tripods with their more traditional leg locks!

** For now I’ve dragged it in mud, water, grass and lugged it around quite a few woods and mountaintops, but it is still going strong


How to take pictures in the mountains

Madonna delle Armi

Taking pictures in the mountains is probably the most daunting task in landscape photography. It is difficult to get good results because you will face a lot of extra troubles. Here I will summarize the most important points, but keep in mind that mountains can be wildly different from each other. For the landscape photographer it is not the same, for example, if the mountaintops are full of trees or bare; in the first case to get a successful panorama will be nearly impossible.

1: Weight weight weight

This i perhaps the most important point, often overlooked by folks used to take pictures in more “easy” places. Unless you plan to photograph only in the proximity of your car, you will have to keep the weight at the minimum. This does not mean buying expensive, especially designed new gear (sorry guys, you will have to find another excuse to justify the next purchase to your wife). This means thinking before leaving home and “study the terrain” to choose the right tools for the job.

The only exception to the no-new-purchases rule is the tripod. Most of us when we choose a tripod buy the most stable, and this often means an hefty one. For the sake of your back, and to be able to enjoy the hike, you will better served by one of the many light-but-still-stable tripods out there, like the Gitzo carbon line (expensive), a Benro Flat series (stable, light, cheap and it folds flat) or even a wooden one, like the Berlebach’s models.

Tree trunks

2: Messy

With “messy” I’m not referring to the obvious presence of dust & dirt in a mountain environment, but to the fact that thanks to the sheer amount of branches, plants, weeds etc. will be difficult to “crop” a clear, nice, minimalistic framing. Taking beautiful pictures of places like a desert or the sea, by comparison, is a breeze. In the mountains you will find, no matter what, some distracting element in your frame. Sometimes you will be able to cut it off, either figuratively or literally (things like a straw or a blade of grass, for example).

Oftentimes you will have to modify the framing again and again…till you get it right. In the worst possible outcome you will discover some “unwanted presence” only at home, when you will be looking at your freshly minted pictures on the 21″ or 30″ screen of you home computer, instead of squinting at them on the 3″ display of the camera.

 Rovalicchio stream


3: No gold light

Yep, usually during the best hours for photography  – dawn and sunset – the surrounding mountains will block the sunlight, so your subject will simply be unlit or in deep shades, not coated with a golden glow. Still, depending on the location of the subject, in some place it may be convenient to shoot at gold light hours. Maybe the light will not be so warm (but with a bit of post-processing…), but the shadows will be long, dark and fascinating all the same. As usual with mountain landscape photography you will have to know the subject!


4: In the woods

Taking pictures in the woods has advantages and disadvantages. For one, you will have to worry less about the light; often the best days are the one with an overcast sky. On the other hand, a sunny day can be pretty interesting too, even if more often than not you will have to merge multiple shots – making an HDR – to avoid blowing the highlights.

In the woods the messiness often reaches sky-high levels. You will have to be extremely careful with you composition. Another difficulty will be to keep the tree trunks straight. For this can be very useful a shift lens, or a large format camera.

5: Panoramas

Technically, shooting panoramas is trivial nowadays, thanks to excellent software and digital cameras. But if your view is obstructed by trees or weeds all the technique in this world will not give you a picture. So it is paramount, again, to know the subject, ideally scouting the location in advance. Sometimes Google Maps and the like work like a charm for this – just remember to enable the isometric (altitude) curves. And do not discount automatically the various “panoramic points”; yes, a ton of people take pictures from them, but they will most likely not have your fantasy nor your expertise.

6:  Macros

I’m not a fan of the genre, so I’ll keep it short, but is probably one of the most fruitful (photographic) manners to spend time in the woods. Without walking too much you will be able to meet a lot of opportunities for beautiful images.


7: Lens & Cameras

This will depends on: a) the knowledge you have of the subject / place; b) your stylistic preferences; c) the quality level you need. This days, for the average (even professional) user this will mean a DSLR or a mirrorless with 2-3 lenses and a tripod. Obviously if you’ve got an Hasselblad and a PhaseOne back be my guest! But then: why are you reading this post?

Use of a tripod is mandatory, not optional; especially in the woods the light is pretty thin, and you will often want to close the aperture to extend the depth of field. Cranking the Iso will not do the trick, and moreover the tripod will be essential to compose a “clean” picture in the visually messy mountain environment and to make multiple aligned shots – to merge in a panorama or in a HDR image to compensate for excessive contrasts.

I tend to stick with one of those kits:

a) 24mm or 35mm shift + 85mm or 105mm

b) 20mm + 35mm shift + 60mm + 180mm or 100-300mm.

I usually carry the “b kit” if I don’t know the place I’m going too well, to cover all my bases. At the opposite side of the spectrum, when I know the place I’m going well enough, I often wind up carrying specific piece of equipment / lenses; this because I have a clear idea of the kind of pictures I’ll going to shoot.

8: Stitching

Stitching is really easy now, so I strongly suggest you give it a try. Landscape photographies often thrive on the detail, so a better quality is always welcome. The only caveat here is not to shoot for the sake of a big, detailed picture. You have to visualize the resulting image in your head, then shoot its “sections”, not the other way around. Otherwise you will end up with a series of wonderfully detailed, boring images – been there, done that.

Mist on Pino Collito

9: Bad weather

Bad weather is often the best backdrop for your pictures. But it is bad for you and for your cameras. So, first thing first, be sure to be safe, warm, dry and well hydrated; only then think to take pictures. You will have to protect your cameras and lenses too. The simplest and cheapest solution is to buy some transparent plastic bag; you can use whatever bag you like, as long it is watertight, but given how cheap the photographic ones are it doesn’t make sense to skimp on a few bucks. I’ve bought Optex branded bags, and they are really well made, with a nice cord that you can tighten around the lens-hood.

Another good idea is to keep a few packets of silica gel in the bag / rucksack compartment in which you keep your camera and lenses, this to absorb moisture. And, especially if it is cold, don’t forget extra batteries! For multi-days hikes I use a solar power charger. It is not fast, but you can hung it on the backpack and it will charge its internal battery / accumulator as you walk; then, in the evening, when you stop to camp, you will connect the camera batteries to the accumulator and let them charge.

10: Seasons

The “creative” problems you will have to face will not be the same in the various seasons.


  • The winter is probably the most easy, photographically speaking. The landscape is less messy, and if there is snow is pretty easy to spot beautiful, streamlined compositions.

Spring in the Tasso Forest

  • The spring is, at the opposite, the messiest season: there will be an awful lot of things growing at the same time, and they will ruin your frame if you’re not careful.


  • In the summer most of the vegetation will often turn yellow because the lack of rain. The trick here will be – as always – be able to capture the essence of the season.

Autumn in the woods near Lorica

  • Autumn is the most photographed season ever in the mountains, and for good reasons. The colors of the leaves make for wonderful pictures, but for the same motive will be difficult not to shot trite photos.

Bonus point: Hiking gear

Just a few sparse recommendations.

Use a normal, hiking rucksack, to carry your gear. Actually I use a leg bag, or a modified Lowepro waist pack (click to see the post), to carry the lenses so I can have a fast access to them.

Lowepro waist pack converted to a leg bag

I keep the camera mounted on the tripod, and I carry the tripod on my shoulders “locked” between my neck and the top of the rucksack frame (and old A.L.I.C.E. “large” military backpack).

Wear comfortable hiking or trial shoes. To enjoy the hike your feet will have to remain dry and rested!

Take always with you a compass. Aside for orientation purposes you’ll need it to understand how the light will fall on your subjects.

For safety reasons carry always:

  • Extra clothing. The weather in the mountains can turn in a moment, even only at a local level.
  • Led flashlight.
  • First aid kit. A few band-aids, a disinfectant, a gauze and an elastic bandage will do; a small tube of Krazy Glue / SuperAttack (both a kind of cyanoacrylate-based glue) is awesome to keep wounds closed and to repair gear.
  • Lighter. Yeah, I know that you don’t smoke, but what if you got lost and have to light a fire to warm you?
  • Knife. Not a Rambo-like sword, just preferably in one piece, technically full tang, with a sharp blade maybe 3″/3,5″ (7/8cm) long.
  • Extra food. Walking requires a lot of energy, and carrying all those extra photographic gear will make you hungry.
  • Cellphone and / or PTT radio (“walkie-talkie”).
  • Whistle. Way more efficient than screaming to attract attention in an emergency situation.

Strada delle Vette, heavy rainA few meters of American Tape (the gray, tough one) rolled on a stick or a pencil are perfect to fix broken gear in a pinch. I use it also as a band-aid, with a piece of gauze underneath, if the slash is too large for a normal sized band-aid.

Finally, a small screwdriver – or a multitool – that fits the screws on your tripod will be often invaluable. The vibrations of the car tends to loosen the screws, so the tripod legs have the habit to come out at the worst possible moments! Usually the best tripods are shipped with a small screwdriver for this purpose.

And now good pictures to everyone!

How to carry a camera in the woods

Lowepro front view

First a confession: I hate – literally hate – having to haul around my waist a funny pack. Heck, I hate the name funny pack itself! But, objectively, it is one of the few way to carry gear in the woods – or around a city, for what matters – that at the same time doesn’t break your back and don’t require you having to stop every three seconds to put the bag on the ground, cursing because inevitably the ground will be damp or littered with animal poop, to access your camera and lenses.

But, did I told you? I HATE funny packs / bum bags.

To avoid carrying one I tried practically every alternative solution, from the commercial available to the DIY one:

– vests: pretty comfortable, especially if you avoid the photographic one and go for the cheap fishing type; but they scream “PHOTOGRAPHER, EXPENSIVE GEAR” to every thief, that in the woods is not a big problem, but in a city tour may well be. More, they are hot in the summer and uncomfortable in the winter, when you need to zip / unzip your jacket a thousand time a day.

– shoulder bags: THE photographer bag. I avoid this one like the plague. First they share the “look: photographer, expensive gear!!!” problem of the vests. Then they are too bulky, too heavy and the padding wastes a lot of space. If you are even a tiny bit careful that much padding is not needed. To avoid both of this problems you can make your padding insert out of Reflectix (the stuff of which car sunscreens are made), and put it in a normal, not photographic bag. Reflectix, other than dirty dirty cheap, it happens to be also a thermal isolating material, and that are good news for when (notice: “when”, not “if”) you will left your bag in the trunk or in the sun. In both cases, commercial or DIY bags: forget about using that kind of bag in the woods, unless you walk just a hundred of meter from your car: your shoulders and back will thank you.

– sling bags: probably fine if you carry a mirrorless o some kind of light camera during a city tour, but in the woods you almost certainly will have same kind of technical backpack, and the sling bag will interfere with the shoulder straps of your primary pack.

– backpacks, photographic: forget about them. They are overpriced, over-padded and often don’t have room for the indispensable things you have to carry in the woods, like a jacket, 10 essentials (knife, compass, lighter, etc.), spare clothing, sandwiches!

– backpacks, technical: now we are onto something! Using a technical – i.e. made for hikers – backpack, and protecting your gear with a DIY padded insert or stuffing the lenses in spare socks, is one of the best solutions. Its only drawback is that it is a fine carrying method for gear which you don’t need often, but uncomfortable for camera and lenses you use the most. Every time you gotta stop, you will have to: put the pack down, search for the gear, make the photo, re-stuff the gear in the pack, put the pack on…geez I got bored just saying that!

(Lightly) uncomfortable as it was, the technical backpack method was my choice for many years, and still is for the less used gear. As an added benefit, especially if you use a pack with an external frame, you can easily transport an heavy tripod without too much effort. But how to access the gear we use the most? And yes, without using a bum bag?

There are two categories of people that wander in the woods with hefty loads on their back: photographers and military. So I decided to look into how the army men carry their stuff, and a solution for my problem sprung to mind.

Lowepro back view
The belt loops; as a background I used my DIY silnylon tarp (200g, 10 euro)

This is a Lowepro funny pack that costed me 10 euro. It’s really well made, even if the central compartment it is too much small for a big camera like the Canon 5D Mark II – but perfect for a 60D and the kind. For me this is not a problem, as my camera lives on a tripod or fastened on my backpack shoulder straps with a carabiner; if the weather turns bad I simply slide on the Canon an Optex rain cover or a DIY silnylon one – made from scraps left from the above tarp. This way I can carry up to 4 lenses in this bag. What are you saying? That I’m cheating because this IS a funny pack? Yes, I know, for now it is… But with a simple – real simple – and dirty cheap mod you can turn this in a leg holster type pack, like the one used by the military to carry their guns.

Lowepro view of the details

The belt loops

Yes, it is that simple. Just slide two loops of cord – preferably 550 lbs breaking point REAL (i.e. not cheap chinese made one) paracord – in each of the two top fabric, Lowepro made loops and use the original waist belt, instead, to tie the bag on your thigh. Done!


– when you are without a backpack you will pass your trousers belt trough the top loops;

– when you are out with you technical backpack on, instead, you will pass through the loops the backpack kidney belt.

As an added bonus I was able to put an additional pouch on the Lowepro belt in which I carry my first aid / survival kit. Nothing fancy, you know, just: band-aids, a lighter, map and compass when needed, a little knife, a bit of tape and rope (paracord or Dyneema / Armsteel / Spectra) and my phone – that doubles as a GPS. And a little pouch in which I carry a 10 euro (again…) chinese 10×25 monocular, quite useful to see from a distance trail signs and the kind without having to actually walk the distance to the sign, only to discover that it’s not the one you are seeking. It may seem an unnecessary luxury, but after you’ve hiked 20 Km you want to save every meter.

This solution worked like a charm for me, so I can finally say that I found the Graal of the hiker photographer: the perfect camera carrying system! I hope will do the same for you.

Winter is coming! A DIY tripod substitute for walks in the snow

Tripod stickWhen you walk in the woods in winter, with your trusted pair of snowshoes, you usually try to travel light. It has been proved that walking with the snowshoes, while it’s a lot of fun, makes you spend 30% more energy; so we tend to travel as light as possible. And giving that we cannot avoid to carry lenses & cameras & safety stuff we have to skim down somewhere else.

More, we all tend to buy the smallest snowshoes possible, i.e. the ones that barely support our own weight + a normal backpack, because a pair of oversized snowshoes are cumbersome when you have to take them out and have them hanging & banging on the backpack. But add to the equation the weight of an hefty tripod and we literally start to sink in fresh snow…

Last, but not least, we normally are pretty busy messing with gloves and walking sticks, so often we do not have enough hands. But here come the solution!

Snow stick top

It’s pretty simple: just unscrew the bit that keeps the laces tightened to the stick, insert in the slot, under the laces, a piece of wood or plastic (to give the screw something solid on which to hold) and put (using a longer screw, not the one that comes with your sticks) a tripod head with a fast release plate on top on one of the sticks. Done!

Sure, it is not a support as solid as a tripod, and you can forget to use it for long exposures (even though if you sink it into the snow deep enough…). But, especially if you use a mirrorless or a light compact camera (say a Leica…) you’re set. To add stability you may also pull toward youself the lace of the stick while pushing the stick itself away.

Total cost ranges from 0 (if you have an old tripod head like I did, just laying around) to 20-25 € for a good quality, Arca compatible plate.

Total weigh is negligible, a few grams on top of an object that you will carry anyway.

And, by the way, the same thing (although this one involves drilling an hole into the metal head) can be done on a ax pick to use when there is no snow. But in this case, quite frankly, I prefer to carry my 9Kg tripod!