Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Trekking and Photography | Interview with Sujoy Das

This interview first appeared in Livingit on March 8th 2017 - the link is below

Interview by Rachna Jain - Livingit

A photographer who enjoys walking and was inspired to pick up a camera by the beauty of the mountains. Sujoy Das combined his two passions for trekking and photography together becoming the founder of South Col Expeditions; a company offering treks and photography workshops up in the scenic landscapes of the Himalayas. His passions for mountains and photography are well blended. We at Livingit are honoured to connect with someone who has been living his passion for the last 30 years. Connecting for the #IamLivingit series, Rachana from Team Livingit got in touch with the mountain inspired photographer  for stories on how he got to where he is today, his love for the mountains and his passion for stunning landscape shots.
RJ: You have been photographing, climbing and trekking in the Himalaya for the last thirty years. Tell us something about yourself and your journey.
Sujoy Das: I was born in Calcutta and have spent most of my life there. However, my family had strong ties with Darjeeling – my grandfather built a house there called Ray Villa in the 1930s  which is still standing on the hill – it was built on the edge of a hill which had an uninterrupted view of Kangchenjunga right across the valley, possibly one of the best locations in Darjeeling.

Photography and Trekking in The Himalayas with Sujoy Das
Ray Villa circa 1940’s

Ray Villa was later sold and when I first went to Darjeeling as a child in the sixties, we lived in the town in a house called Dahlia which also had a great view of the snows, as they are referred to in Darjeeling. My grandmother used to walk a lot and she often took me on these walks – I must have been around eight or ten then and sometimes we walked to the neighbouring village of Ghoom and back. We used to live below the house of the great Tenzing Norgay, the first man to summit Everest along with Edmund Hillary, and I still remember meeting Tenzing and his dogs on these walks.  To see the great man himself was an inspiration and I still treasure the autograph I have. There is also a famous photo studio in Darjeeling called Das Studio (no relation to me!) and I used to go there every day to look at the big mountain blow ups, that Durga Das Pradhan, one of the Das brothers, had shot and beautifully enlarged.
Unlike today, Darjeeling was a beautiful hill station then with leafy lanes, moss drenched rocks, waterfalls gushing down the hillside backed by that superb view of Kangchenjunga. Darjeeling was my introduction to the Himalaya and to photography and my first trek was in the hills across Darjeeling – the Singalila ridge of Sandakphu and Phalut. After I completed school in Kolkata and went to college, I continued to visit Darjeeling and later on ventured into Sikkim.

Photography and Trekking in The Himalayas with Sujoy Das
Climbing a snow slope in West Sikkim in the Kangchenjunga region – note the primitive equipment Bata power shoes and makeshift stick circa 1980

That was, in fact, the start of my Sikkim book project, even though I did not know it then. Most of the treks which I undertook were with a friend from school Srijit Dasgupta and were low budget shoe-string affairs. We often boarded a ‘Rocket Bus’ as it was known then from Calcutta and reached Siliguri in the foothills at dawn. From there another packed bus or jeep used to take us into the mountains either to Darjeeling or Sikkim. There were no porters or guides with us – we could not afford them. We carried our own backpacks with our own supplies and stayed at the dak bungalows or mountain huts at a nominal charge – something like Rs 20 a night!  If there was no hut we used to bivouac in the open sometimes under a rock or stone wall.

Photography and Trekking in The Himalayas with Sujoy Das
An emergency night stop near Phalut after getting lost the previous evening circa 1982

My interest in photography, in fact, grew from my interest in the mountains – I wanted to make better photographs of the Himalaya and I started reading up all I could about photography – I borrowed books and magazines like Amateur Photographer from the British Council library – those were the days before the internet and mobile phones. A friend of my father’s gifted me his old black and white enlarger and processing equipment so I started to learn by trial and error how to process black and white film at home in the bathroom.  That was a great learning experience and now with digital photography that experience has gone.
RJ: When did you first think of becoming a photographer?
Sujoy Das: 
I don’t think it was a conscious decision – I started photographing very early when in school and as I grew more and more into it I started getting opportunities to work for some magazines and newspapers and also doing freelance assignments for friends and family and that increased over the years.
RJ: Any favourite photographers? What is your biggest source of inspiration for your work?
Sujoy Das:
 In the area of mountain photography, which is my major interest it would be Vittorio Sella and Galen Rowell, both masters in their field. Sella was a pioneer in many ways – he used large format cameras at high altitude, including the Himalayas and the Karakoram, and some of his images are just magical! Rowell was also an amazing landscape photographer – he pioneered some techniques including the use of split neutral density filters and has a filter series named after him! I am also a great fan of Raghubir Singh – his street photographs were intricately layered and it looks easy but is very difficult to achieve. It was extremely sad to lose him so early.
RJ: What photographic equipment did you start off with?
Sujoy Das: 
Well, I had an Agfa Click III first and then a small Kodak Instamatic! They were popular beginners’ cameras in the late sixties and early seventies. Then I moved over to a Pentax Spotmatic which is an SLR and finally soon after college got a Nikon FM. I have stayed with Nikon ever since – I have both film and digital Nikons at the moment.

RJ: Among the gadgets that you’ve collected over the past 30 years of your career is there anything you feel you could’ve saved on?

Sujoy Das: Not really – I never had much money to invest in photography – it was always a struggle to buy something new and I made do with the minimum. For example, I never used the top of the line and most expensive Nikons like F2AS, F4, F5 –I was quite satisfied with their mid-range like FM/ FE/ F100 etc. and even today in digital era I use the mid-range full frames like D610 or D750 etc.
RJ: Do you always have a camera with you?
Sujoy Das: Well, nowadays I always have an iPhone with me and it’s not the latest – it’s a 5S!  I am pretty happy with the iPhone – I like the panorama and video features as well and use it quite a bit – perfect for posting on Facebook and Instagram – earlier before mobile phones, in the mountains, I always had a camera usually one of the smaller Nikon SLR’s with a fixed lens and maybe a lens or two in my backpack.
RJ: You are the founder of South Col Expeditions which runs treks and photo workshops in the Himalaya. How has the experience been? Enriching so many lives with your passion?
Sujoy Das: It’s been a great experience. Many of the South Col trekkers came to me as clients but have become close friends over the years. There are some who have done multiple treks with me year after year and there are some who don’t trek with any other company other than South Col!  It has also been great taking them up to locations which are off the beaten track for mountain views which they might have missed had they been on their own and enjoying our evenings in the camp discussing different subjects.
Photography and Trekking in The Himalayas with Sujoy Das
RJ: What are your essentials when packing for a trek?
Sujoy Das: Other than the regular stuff like t-shirts, thermals, boots, cap, gloves, goggles etc, I would never go without a good down jacket and sleeping bag. At high altitude both these are essential and can save your life especially when it is very cold. Water tablets and a good headlamp are also on the essential list along with an emergency medicine and first aid kit.
RJ: What are the mistakes that most of the new photographers tend to make?
Sujoy Das: Well, I think they tend to get equipment oriented. I was also like that –I used to buy photo magazines and analyze new cameras, new lenses and wonder whether they would make better pictures than my existing equipment. Now I realize that it doesn’t matter – to quote a cliché ‘the best camera with you is the one in your hand’ and if it is an iPhone then that’s it.  Also when you are new to photography there is a possibility that you would try to copy other photographers work and that’s a strict no-no – you need to develop your own style and vision from the very beginning.
RJ: Locations and weather conditions are definitely a deciding factor in the success of a photograph, how do you handle the unpredictability of the two?
Sujoy Das: Well regarding locations, when you are walking through the mountains you see viewpoints which look attractive and you do your shooting on the way – if the light is not suitable and you can’t go back as you are trekking to another night stop then that photograph is lost. However, sometimes when camping or spending the night at a lodge there are locations around which will work in the right light like before dawn, the golden hour before sunset etc. For this, you need to be ready and waiting at the right time and hope you get your shot.

Photography and Trekking in The Himalayas with Sujoy Das
Photographing Primulas in the upper Yumthang Valley in North Sikkim

For weather conditions, you can’t really do much. Himalayan weather is unpredictable and when you expect bright sunshine you may be enveloped in fog! Having said that, it is also possible to make a photograph in inclement weather – many of my best shots have been taken when the weather has packed up or is just clearing after a storm.

Photography and Trekking in The Himalayas with Sujoy Das
Clearing spring storm on Thamserku in the Gokyo valley

So bad weather is not necessarily an impediment to getting a photograph – it’s just that you will get a different sort of photograph which may infact, be more dramatic than the one you intended in the first place.
RJ: You are the co- author and photographer of the book SIKKIM – A Travelers Guide with Arundhati Ray which was a finalist in the Banff Book Competition in the Adventure Travel category. Tell us something about it?
Sujoy Das: I spent more than fifteen years on and off shooting in Sikkim. It had become an obsession for me to get this book published and it was my first book. The proof and photographs were sent to around fifteen publishers all over the world including Indian publishers and all of them rejected it. In between the rejections, I used to keep going back to Sikkim and shooting different locations and events. Then finally two friends of mine Rukun Advani and Anuradha Roy, who is now an acclaimed author, started their own publishing house, Permanent Black.  I asked them if they would do this book and they agreed. So that’s how Sikkim was published and interestingly the book sold very well – it went to three editions – it is now out of print and I am thinking of updating it for a fourth edition if possible.
RJ: Your book Nepal Himalaya – A Journey Through Time is specifically dedicated to black and white photographs. Any particular reason?
Sujoy Das: One day, some years ago,  I was in Pilgrims Bookshop in Kathmandu, which is one of the biggest bookshops in Nepal and has a superb collection of mountain books. I was looking at the big coffee table books on Nepal and I noticed that almost all of them were in colour. I asked the owner whether any recent black and white photography books had been done on Nepal – he could not come up with any. So that was the seed of the idea to do a black and white book on Nepal which would look different and stay away from the stereotype images.
Photography and Trekking in The Himalayas with Sujoy Das
RJ: You also did another powerful book called Nepal for the Indian Traveller. Tell us something about that.
Sujoy Das: This was a Lonely Planet India publication – it followed the Lonely Planet layout and design which is similar for all their guide books. Even though I knew Nepal well I had to research a lot for this book as Lonely Planet is very particular about correct information and normally requires the author to visit the location before commenting. So most of what is covered in the book is based on personal experience – I recommended hotels where I had stayed, restaurants where I had eaten, travel companies I had found reliable and so on. In fact even now sometimes I refer to the book myself if I need something!
RJ: If you had to choose one, which of your photographs is your all-time favourite, and why?
Sujoy Das: This is the most difficult question of the whole lot! There are so many… it’s very hard to make a choice and the one I have selected today is, of course, one of my favorites’.

Photography and Trekking in The Himalayas with Sujoy Das
The kitchen of Lingshed monastery Zanskar

Tenzin Tsewang one of my trusted guides and I were on a trek across Zanskar from Lamayuru to Padum. A couple of days into the trek we reached the village of Lingshed. It was lunch time and we were both hungry. The weather was also not very good which is unusual in September. Tenzin knew a monk in the monastery at Lingshed and said we would go there hoping to get something to eat. So, we sat down in the monastery kitchen and Tibetan tea was served. It was dark in the kitchen but there were some interesting elements and I was wondering how to make a photograph. Suddenly, the sun came up through the clouds and illuminated the kitchen beautifully in splendid back lighting. I think even if I had a set of lights I could not have done it better – I shot three or four photographs and then the sun went behind the clouds again. The best one of the lot is the picture above and the man sitting next to the pillar on the right is Tenzin. I feel it conveys beautifully the ambience of a kitchen in the high Himalaya.
RJ: Similarly with treks, any particular favourite trek that will always hold a very special place?
Sujoy Das: I think it would be the Green Lakes trek – the base camp of Kangchenjunga in North Sikkim along the Zemu valley.  Green Lakes had become some sort of Holy Grail for me. I have done this trek twice once way back in the spring of 1987 when I was photographing for my Sikkim book and again in November 2014 when I took a small South Col team to the base camp.

Photography and Trekking in The Himalayas with Sujoy Das
View of Kangchenjunga from my tent at Green Lakes in November 2014

The trek is in a restricted area and it if very difficult to get permissions. What struck me on both occasions was the pristine condition of the valley especially the forests of the Zemu which are quite incredible.  There are no villages in there and you meet no one – it is pristine wilderness. Infact, I did a photo essay just on the forests of the Zemu without any mountains – it is here .
RJ: What is a piece of advice you would offer to aspiring photographers looking to make their passion into their profession?
Sujoy Das: I think they need to understand that it’s not an easy job to make a profession out of photography. If you are able to get a photography job with a magazine or newspaper then you would earn a monthly salary and that would keep you going though your own personal projects and creativity may get blunted. However, freelance photojournalism, travel, magazine stories are difficult to find and payments are also mostly inadequate.  Sometimes it is easier to follow your passion as a part time photographer and do the assignments and stories that you are really interested in.

Photography and Trekking in The Himalayas with Sujoy Das
Late winter at the base camp of Annapurna I with Gandarva Chui and the ridge to Macchapuchare behind circa 2014

RJ: What’s next on your bucket list?
Sujoy Das: I don’t really have a bucket list though I would like to go beyond the Himalaya and visit Tibet, Patagonia and the New Zealand Alps once in my life.
It is not always straight forward and easy to live off of a passion. Living your passion simply means allowing ourselves to give it a priority in our life, whether as our profession, full time or part time, or as a hobby. 
You can follow Sujoy Das here

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Rumtse to Tso Moriri Trek | Ladakh

South Col Expeditions  has a fixed departure trek in Ladakh in early autumn. There are some seats available for this trek so if interested please do sign up!

August 30th to to September 10th 2017 Leh to Leh

If you are fit and can manage only one trek in Ladakh, I recommend this one. The trails are relatively free of noisy tourists who prefer the great herd at Markha. Here, the rolling, billowing grasslands stretching out as far as the horizon are usually empty, giving one the sense of infinite, almost primordial space. Occassionally you will chance upon a nomad on horseback herding his great lumbering, shaggy yaks.  Ranging across the western extension of the high Tibetan or Changthang plateau, the trek starts at over 4000 m at Rumtse, well above that throughout, often peaking over 5000m at the passes. And though this at first may be daunting, once you have acclimatised the walk is surprisingly easy on the legs as the trails— mostly well-defined stone and gravel-free paths— meander gently through velvet-soft pastures. . This area is colder and windier than other treks in Ladakh, so ensure you have a good parka and a warm sleeping bag.

Who should join this trek?
A good choice for regular hill walkers, high level of fitness required.  Prior trekking experience is advisable
1) Walking times: average 5 to 8 hours walking per day
2) Altitude: up to 5,450 metres - most of the trek stays above 4000 metres with passes above 5000 metres.
3) Terrain: for some of the time following well-travelled trails although also likely to encounter rough and rocky conditions.
4) Remoteness: the trek is in a remote mountain area and a long distance from the roadhead and the nearest cities. There is no   mobile phones and wifi  connectivity.

This route description is courtesy Sonia Jabbar

Day 1: Delhi to Leh by flight

Days 2 and 3: Acclimatisation days in Leh and around.

Day 4 Rumtse-Kyamar (4400m) Time: 4 to 5 hours 9 km Level: Easy
We drive to Rumtse (2hours) , a small village at 4,200 m (14,000 ft), is where your pack horses will meet you to load up for the trek. Walk up the highway from the tea stall and at the sign which points to the Highest Idli-Dosa joint in the world, alas, turn away to the left or east down towards the river. Cross the river at the point where the large rocks form a convenient bridge to the disused jeepable dirt road constructed by the army. Follow east around a small spur and then turn south along a small stream. Walk upstream for about a kilometre and then cross stream, climbing up small plateau. Follow the well-defined path for about an hour which turns east (left) and then runs south-east back towards the stream which you will have to cross. Do not follow the stream as it veers to the east. Continue south along the bottom of a wide, grassy stream-fed valley for 2-3 hours until you come upon a couple of large mani walls. This marks the beginning of Kyamar at 4,400 m (14,600 ft.).

Day 5 Kyamar to Mandalachan 4 hours to Tisaling (4250m) 8 hours 15 km Level: Moderate to Difficult 
Follow the jeep track on the eastern edge of the valley which suddenly widens. The road takes a long winding route to get to the Kumur La. But there are short cuts: well-defined pony tracks cutting across the road. A pleasant 2-2.5 hours climb is over a very gentle gradient (except about an hour from the top where the track is a little steeper), will take you to the Kumur pass (5080 m/ 16,764 ft.) marked by cairns and prayer flags. From the top do not head straight down towards the V of the valley. Instead find a path skirting the top of the hill on the right. Forty-five minutes to an hour along this easy path and you will find it curving to the south, or right before zigzagging down to the base of the valley at Mandalachan. You can have lunch here.
The main valley through which the stream runs lies north-south. Cross the stream and find a smaller valley directly in front, or to the east south-east. Walk up the trail for half an hour as it turns east and becomes quite steep. But it is only about another half hour to forty minutes up to the Mandalachan La, 5090 m (16,800 ft.).
Follow the path which skirts the top of the hill on your right, or south. Walk in a south easterly direction for about forty-five minutes until you round a spur and find yourself facing another east-west valley. The path zig-zags down to the floor of the valley where you cross a small stream and either camp there or walk another 15 minutes further south to a larger stream (4250 metres)

Day 6 Tisaling to Ponganagu (4500m)  7 hours 15 km Level: Difficult
FromTisaling proceed south towards a large hill. Here the path is not as well defined as it was earlier but find a saddle-like dip at the top of the hill which is the Shibuk pass. Running from the bottom to the top in the middle of the hill is a dry nullah. Zig-zag up either to the left or right of this. Watch for Bharal in this area. It takes only about an hour to get to the top which is over 5000 m (16,500 ft.) Once over the pass walk straight down heading south to the bottom of the valley. Walk along the valley which narrows as it turns slightly to the west. Two hours later find a well-sheltered campsite at Shibuk. Either camp for the night or proceed further south following the path which is now visible to Ponganagu on Tso Kar lake.
From Shibuk the valley narrows into a gorge and the path runs along its right side until the gorge opens up onto a vast sandy plain. Follow the track down into the plain. Do not be tempted to walk east around the hill in front towards Tso Kar which will be visible for this is a much longer way. Walk in a south-westerly direction over the top of the hill. The sandy soil makes this hard going. Once at the top you’ll find you’re on a small plateau across which runs a path defined by cairns. Cross the plateau and the path will lead down towards Ponganagu (4500 metres) by Tso Kar. Unfortunately the campsite is dusty and a favourite of tourists from Leh who have 4-wheeled down to the lake.

Day 7: Ponganagu to Riyul Time: 2-3 hours Level: Easy Riyul to Nuruchan (4350m) 4 hours 16 km moderate
If you’re not absolutely dead tired, another two to three hours of easy walking on almost flat motorable road along the right or western edge of the lake will lead you to a large chorten beside lush pasture land which marks the campsite of Riyul. You can have lunch here.
Then, follow the jeep road which runs on the right of the pasture moving south. The road traverses soft, sandy soil which makes the first few hours difficult walking. Some 4x4 have made tracks moving south-east. Do not follow this. Carry on south until you reach the fields of Nuruchan (4350 metres). If you are walking from Ponganagu you may want to camp here. The campsite is further south from the village. The track follows the river upstream, curving to the right.

Day 8 Nuruchan to Gyama Barma (5150m) Time: 7 to 8 hours  16 km Level: Tough
Cross the river at some point upstream. Wherever you cross you will have to take your boots off and wade across the calf-deep waters. Climb onto the other bank and climb up the plateau in front. Walk in a south easterly direction. The path is well defined and climbs very gradually to the top of the Horlam Kunga pass. From Nuruchan it should have taken no more than three to four hours to the top. From the pass follow the path which goes down rapidly to the base of the valley in a south-easterly direction to Rajungkaru. There are many places to camp here. It’s also a favourite with the nomads. Although their camps are picturesque watch out for their large, fierce dogs.
From Rajungkaru, follow the river upstream until you see a rocky plateau with nomad camps. You’ll need to climb up to the plateau, cross the stream and head straight south towards the Kyamayuri La 5410 m (17,853 ft.). Do not head towards the south west which leads over the Barma Pass. Instead, follow the well-defined track, keeping to the left or east side of the mountain. The last hour is difficult as the track becomes steep and the soil is soft and crumbling. It often snows on this pass so keep a jacket handy. From the top follow the track which runs along the left or east side of the mountain down to a vast, grassy valley ringed by snow peaks on the south west. A river runs east-west. Either camp here at Gyama Barma for the night or if you aren’t knackered then continue upstream until the track moves south east up a rocky mountain. You will have to cross the stream to get to this.

Day 9 Gyama Barma to Gyama (5100m) 3 to 4 hours 9 km Level: Moderate
From Gyama Barma it is a steep one hour climb up to Kartse La which is again well over 5000 m. From the top the path runs down a meadow gradually reaching the bottom of the hill at Gyama after another hour or two.. There are two streams here. A small stream running west-east (right-left) and a larger one running southwest-northeast. Camp along the small stream as it is well sheltered. The larger stream runs through a windy plain which would get cold at night.

Day 10 Gyama to Korzok (4500m) Time: 6-7 hours 14 km Level: Moderate to Difficult
At Gyama cross the large southwest-northeast stream which will take you to the eastern side of the valley. The pony track which runs below the Mani wall on the left leads south-east up a smaller valley. Climb steadily for a couple of hours, traversing a small grassy plain and then entering a narrow gorge. You will need to criss cross the shallow stream in the gorge at several points. When the gorge opens up again find the path turning left or east over a grassy knoll until you come upon the prayer flags and cairns marking the Yalung Nyau La. From Gyama this would have taken about three hours. You can catch a glimpse of Tso Moriri from the pass. The track moves down steeply towards the east onto a broad, dry plain, eventually turning into a small pleasant green valley traversed by a stream. This area provides excellent campsites. A little further down towards Korzok and you will again run into campers from Leh who have made the journey to Tso Moriri by jeep.
Tip: Check out the Gompa at Korzok which houses a tooth relic of Kashyapa Buddha in the Heart Chakra of the Buddha statue in the main prayer hall.

Day 11: Tso Moriri to Leh by road Time: 6 hours

Day 12: Leh to Delhi by flight

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Sunday, March 12, 2017

Markha Valley Trek | Photographs in Black and White

Storm clouds over the ramparts of Markha monastery
The Markha Valley is one of the most popular treks in Ladakh. It is relatively short, located close to Leh, the walking is mostly below 4000 metres with  night stops around 3500 metres and has the best of Ladakh thrown in: Sculpted canyons and fantastic rock formations, medieval villages,  Buddhist gompas and snow-peaks. When approached from Chilling there is only one pass to cross the Kongamaru La which comes on Day 8 of the trek by which time most trekkers are properly acclimatised. This is one of  South Col's favourite Ladakh treks. Here are some photographs from Leh and the Markha valley from our visit in the summer of 2016.

Leh palace and monastery

Entrance of Hemis monastery

Prayer flags on the trail in a village

A South Col trekker in the Markha valley

Part of the trail submerged in unseasonal rain

Night Markha campsite

Kangyatse peak at sunrise from Nimaling

For some of our other stories on the Markha do visit

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Mountain Photography | Tips and Tricks

In the last few  months, I have been receiving a lot of e-mails from photographers asking what equipment I use in the mountains and whether I have any special tips or techniques when shooting in the Himalaya. So this post covers some tips and tricks to get better photographs in the mountains.

Tip 1: Don’t keep your camera in the bag
Many photographers, in order to protect their equipment, keep it in a camera bag when they are out shooting.  This is the wrong thing to do because invariably the moment will be gone by the time the camera is taken out of the bag! So keep the camera and one lens around your neck and keep the rest of the equipment in the bag to be used if needed. You will need to select the lens you want to use before starting out!

Tip 2: Simplify your equipment
I have seen a lot of photographers in the field with a full bag of lenses: wide angle, prime normal, zoom, telephoto etc. The problem of carrying such a lot of equipment is that you are invariably spoiled for choice and by the time you decide what to use the moment may have passed you once again!  I recently did a seventeen day trek and photo assignment in the Everest region of Nepal. I carried a Nikon D610 body and  and a 24-120 f4  VR lens. More than 90% of my photos were taken with this combination. In my  backpack I had a  20 f2.8 lens  which was hardly used! And around my waist in a pouch I had a 70-300 Nikon VR lens which was used for the remaining 10% of the shooting, mainly for wildlife, birds etc.  Having simplified the equipment I was not needed to make any choices and could concentrate on getting the photograph!

Tip 3: Shooting into the light
Mountains present a lot of opportunity for back lit photography. However the biggest enemy of backlit shooting is flare. So you need to protect your lens. How?
  • Use a lens hood – this may not always work!
  • Remove the UV filter if you can as sometimes flare does come from the filter if it is not properly multi-coated.
  • Try to shield the lens from the direct sun by stepping into the shade if possible. And if this is not possible you can try as I do by using my left hand to keep the sun away from the lens. Make sure that your hand does not come in the photo! Better still if you have a friend with you ask him to shield your lens and then you can use both hands to take the photo!
 Tip 4: F8 and be there
Basically this famous photography axiom asks you to be ready to shoot. So rather than adjust white balance, aperture,  shutter speed , metering modes, focus modes etc  before taking a photo, you to need to set all this before hand. On a normal day in the Himalaya, I will usually set the following before I start out: WB auto, ISO auto set to maximum of 800, aperture priority around 6.3 or so, matrix metering, AF-S for single focus. This allows me to shoot in most situations provide the light is reasonable. And, if I have time I would  bracket three to four exposure either by using auto bracketing  or manually -0.3, -0.7, -0.1, +0.3, + 0.7. This usually nails the photograph right in the camera.

Tip 5: Use the light to your advantage
In the mountains,  the early morning light and late evening light is usually very flattering and I have to confess that I am partial to the late evening light before sun down. Sometimes you need to wait for the right light. A lot of mountain landscapes are made due to the patience of the photographer. It also helps to know how the subject will look at a certain time of day. For example, certain monasteries in Ladakh get the western sun and so look best in the evening. Similarly, the Sandakphu view near Darjeeling has an amazing amount of warmth and texture when seen in the evening light.

Tip 6: Don’t put away your camera in bad weather
Mountain weather is unpredictable. There may be bright sunshine in the morning and snow and sleet in the afternoon. Sometimes great photos are taken in inclement weather. If you are shooting in the rain or snow try to protect your camera by covering it with a cloth or a temporary plastic cover. When I am walking and it is raining or snowing I keep my camera over my shoulder inside my jacket so that I can take it out and shoot as needed. When you get back to camp, remove the plastic, wipe the camera and lens clean with a dry cloth and leave in the open in your room or tent for it to breathe and the moisture to dry out.

Tip 7: Batteries
Batteries are a major problem in the Himalaya. Ideally you need to carry two batteries with you as often on long treks you do not have access to electricity to charge batteries. At night it often helps to take the batteries out of the camera and put it into a warm jacket or sleeping bag. And on the subject of batteries and extending battery life, stop looking at the LCD after every shot! In the Himalaya to save batteries my LCD is disabled and comes on only when I press the button. Also avoid scrolling through all the photos at camp every night as this drains the battery as well! 

Tip 8: If you can, take along a small table top light weight tripod
Ideally most photographers would recommend a full heavy weight tripod but I have given this up in the Himalaya a long time ago! It is too heavy to carry and also in some situations difficult to set up. So I have a small Slik table top which can also fit into a jacket pocket which I use when I need support. The Joby Gorilla pod is also an option and has the advantage of flexible legs!

Tip 9: Finally, don’t get mesmerized by the mountain ranges - look for detail near you as well
Often in a mountain environment, we tend to get mesmerized by the sheer beauty of the mountain ranges and shoot them as much as we can: at sunrise, at sunset, during the day. However, very often there is a lot of interesting details in the rocks, flowers, plants etc in the terrain through which we walk. Very often it is possible to combine this in a wide angle view to create a spectacular shot which is out of the ordinary. So don’t put the mountain in the top of the frame every time and shoot. Look at what is near your feet as well! 

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Happy shooting!


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