I am an ultralighter: In the ultralight hiking scene you get almost dissed if you don't cut the handle off your tooth brush.- but no one will give you grief for carrying around 2 kg of camera equipment. Taking spectacular pictures has become so important that a decent camera is considered an absolute necessity. I think this attitude is hypocrite. Ultralight is not only about counting grams it is also an attitude. Always deliberate if you really need an item – and as I am a hiker and not a professional photographer I don't really need a great camera. The ultralight attitude also means that everything should be multifunctional. A camera isn't – and this is why I conly carry a smartphone which is one of my most versatile pieces of equipment: It is my MP3-player for listening to audiobook, my internet access, my backup GPS, my telephone – and my camera.
I am a thruhiker: As a thruhiker, hiking (or cycling and paddling) is my main focus. This is what I concentrate on. I don't want to be distracted from that. And photographing would distract me. I don't want to deal with finding the right angle or best lighting for a picture. I don't want to stop every five minutes because I see another interesting motif. I don't want to deal with tripods, zooms and chargers. Things are different if you are a professional photographer. Your focus is different. You hike because you want to take pictures – hiking becomes just a means to achieve your goal of taking great picture. That is fine and I absolutely respect that hobby. But the more you become a photographer, the less you are a thruhiker.
I want to show how it is: I just recently had a very enlightening encounter. A hiker friend showed me photos of his hike in Southwest USA, an area where I have hiked in extensively myself. But his pictures looked very differently from how I remembered the area. After a while it dawned on me: For him the landscape was a backdrop for taking the most spectacular photos possible. He just photographed what looked great and then he even enhanced this aspect by using the best angle, lightning and applying photoshop. But this is not how I see a hike. I don't usually see a landscape in the most spectacular lightning – I just see it at the time I am there. I don't see it photoshopped or color enhanced. And most importantly: A hike is not just the spectacular scenery, it also consists of less interesting or sometimes even boring or ugly parts. For me a hike is an entity of various aspects – and that includes the beautiful and the ugly ones. I then realised that I pursue a totally different goal with my photos than most photographers. I want to show how it is. I want to record and document. I want to give my readers a realistic view of how the hike has been. If I had a 30 km roadwalk, I take pictures of that road. If I pass dozens of industrial estates – I show pictures of them. I don't want to sugarcoat or cherry-pick. Most photographers are on a different mission: They want to show the beautiful and spectacular stuff only – in the most aesthetically pleasing way. There is nothing wrong with it – but just keep in mind that although this last approach will give you a lot dream pictures, it won't show the reality on the trail.
I don't want trophy photos: A hundred years ago a man could go out, have an adventure and prove it by showing trophies like tiger skins, grizzly bear teeth or antlers. Things are not that easy any more: You are not allowed to shoot at anything you like with your gun any more – but you can shoot it with your camera. Outdoor photography has become modern time trophy hunting including a similar bragging potential. I would go as far as to say the the photos you bring back from a trip have become a sort of status symbol. The better the quality the better the tour is perceived. You can do the most amazing trip – but without spectacular photos you won't receive much recognition for it. While paddling the Yukon I once met a well known adventurer who thought that his camera had just died. His first reaction was: „I will fly home now. It is no use continuing the trip if I can't take pictures....“. But why are trophies so important? Because you can impress other people with them. And I really do have the impression that some people go outdoors less for themselves but more to impress other people – throught their photos. And that is not my goal. My photos are meant to be a trip documentation and not a trophy.
I don't want to support the outdoor photo arms race: As I have pointed out above outdoor photography has become sort of a status symbol. In order to „be better“ than others you have have better photos. And there the photo arms race starts. Outdoor people carry more, better, heavier and more expensive equipment. In 2000 it was enought to take a digital camera and take pictures, now you have to have a gopro helmet camera and to shoot videos. With more and more good photographers around you have to spend more and more time on photography to still impress people – on trail when shooting as well as off trail when editing the stuff. Another way to still make a difference is to choose more and more extreme destinations. You can't impress people anymore with hiking across your home country. Now it has to be pristine wilderness, high alpine trips or wild animals. The dangerous downside of this development is that people end up in condtions they are not prepared for - just (or also) for the sake of taking a great picture. First time hikers do solo wilderness trips and end up lost, injured or dead. People get killed or injured by wild animals because they got too close to them. (To name just one example: The first fatal grizzlybear attack in Alaska's Denali National Park occured to a tourist taking pictures too close.) I personally don't want to take part in that arms race. After so many years living outdoors my priorities have changed. I have extensively travelled in the world's most beautiful and spectacular landscapes but the more I have seen it the less important it has become. Scenery and landscape are just one important factor amongst many others when chosing a trip destination and determining the „success“ of a trip – and my pictures reflect these other factors as well: People I meet, lovely campsites, great food, the simple joys of outdoor life.
Like thruhikers say „Hike your own hike“ I want to finish this post with „Take your own pictures“. There is no right or wrong in the „philosophy“ of outdoor photography. But for me the way I take (or don't take) pictures is an deliberate act based on my personal point of (thruhiker) view.