Saturday, February 8, 2014

Travel Light (by guest blogger Ken Hawkins)

I’ll tell you a secret if you promise not to tell my wife: You don’t need a lot of expensive camera gear to take good photographs. All you need to do is apply the rules of light and composition that Awake The Light teaches.

Hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT) has always been on my Bucket List and I am currently hiking the 2,186-mile trail in sections (very few persons my age can do the entire trail in one continuous through-hike). So far I have hiked 799 miles, mainly in the South.

You see so many beautiful sights along the AT…my problem is that I would like to share them with my non-hiking friends but don’t want to carry the weight of a DSLR (a Nikon D300S with one zoom lens weighs in excess of 6 pounds).  Most AT hikers carry a small point-and-shoot in their backpacks but I wanted one that was capable of taking exceptional pictures. I finally settled on the Canon S95 because it was the lightest point-and-shoot (PAS) with a manual mode. It only weighs 6.9 ounces and is available at Amazon for $299 refurbished (less than a good lens).

Nearly all AT hikers ooh and aah at the expansive views from mountaintops along the trail but few take the time to see the macro
opportunities that abound almost daily. Of course you have to slow down and not be consumed with going from point a to point b at the fastest rate possible. 

Another trick is shooting moving water so that it has that silky look. PAS cameras do not have provisions for a remote shutter release and a tripod would be way too heavy to carry. I set my camera on one of my hiking poles (Leki makes a model with a ¼” threaded screw on top) and use the timer to eliminate any vibration. In manual mode, set the ISO as low as it will go and the aperture as high as possible…the resulting shutter speed should be 1.5 – 4 seconds.

I have also experimented with attaching a 46mm Cokin circular polarizer to the S95 (the filter doesn’t weigh very much). On future AT hikes, I want to attempt some HDR shots.

Awake the Light emphasizes the importance of composition and proper use of natural light
so I have tried to incorporate their teachings into my AT photos.

As I complete the remainder of the AT, I am looking forward to the photo opportunities that will undoubtedly present themselves. For day hikes where I don’t have to haul food, shelter and a sleeping bag, I will carry my Nikon D300S but for the AT, the Canon S95 will do just fine. Besides, stopping to photograph gives me a chance to catch my breath.

[Editor’s Note: Ken is an accomplished hiker who does not mind getting down and dirty to take wonderful macro shots. In fact much of the time you will find him flat on the ground, up close and personal with a plant.]

Lake scene: Shutter Speed 1/125 sec.  Aperture f/8.  ISO 200.  Camera: Canon S95.  Handheld.
Mushrooms: Shutter Speed 1/160 sec.  Aperture f/8.  ISO 2500.  Camera: Canon S95.  Handheld
Trail scene: Shutter Speed 1/13 sec.  Aperture f/8.  ISO 1000.  Camera: Canon S95.  Handheld.

TODAY’S QUOTE: “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.”  --John Muir

Ken Hawkins bio:  
I learned about photography on the Naval Academy yearbook photo staff back in 1968 (ye olden days of film). They handed me a Nikkormat and said go take some pictures. I knew nothing about photography but fiddled with the camera’s various controls & buttons until the results were acceptable. After my graduation from Annapolis, I specialized in underwater photography, both with a housed Nikon FtN and later with a Nikonos. Actually, underwater photography is a lot easier as most of the creatures down there either don’t move at all or move very slowly. After leaving the Navy, I retained my love for underwater photography. My wife Joyce & I spent our vacations in locales with clear water such as Grand Cayman, Cozumel and Hawaii (the low visibility and turbidity found in our home waters of Louisiana’s bayous & lakes weren’t too conducive to underwater photography). Damage to my inner ears resulted in the end of my SCUBA diving days but introduced me to the wonders of hiking and nature photography. We moved out of Louisiana in 2004 and took over a Bed & Breakfast in Lexington, Virginia. Joyce & I retired from the B&B in March, 2013 so now I have more free time to devote to hiking and photography (and more Awake The Light photo workshops!)


  1. Hi Ken, Great blog and images. Keep up the good work. Bob McCaffrey

  2. Ken, Just shows what awesome images can be achieved with a simpler camera like the Canon S95. Look forward to your future AT adventures and blogs. With best wishes for happy trails ahead,
    Your old neighbor, Henry

  3. Ken, Your awesome photos demonstrate what can be achieved with a simpler camera like the Canon S95. Looking forward to your future blogs and AT photos. Wishing you happy trails ahead...your old neighbor Henry