Managing hiking photos

To me, Hike366 is a visual project. Each hike is inextricably linked to the images captured in the field. The Instagram feed is populated with photographs that tell a story. Without a photo, there’s nothing to snag the attention of the potential reader.

This is why keeping my photos organized and easily accessible has been an important part of this project. As I dig deep into the journals, I also open up the folder associated with each hike. It’s interesting to go back and look at hikes from 2005 and have only 2 or 3 photos in the folder (versus 60 or more in some of the more recent trips!). Not all the photos are very good, either. And for a few hikes, I never saved files to my hard drive. They are sitting on the servers of a long-defunct online photo storage company. Ooops.

So then I face a decision point: do I “re-do” the hike dates that I have no photos (or no good photos)? Or do I proceed with a poor quality image? No image?

The answer, of course, is “it depends.” If I have no photo, I’m compelled to go on another hike on that date.  If I have bad photos, I think they still tell a story. I’m more likely to re-do a hike date for which I already have a lot of similar records for, like Smith Rock or Marys Peak.

Photo organization

My system for organizing photos is simple:

There’s a hiking folder under “Pictures,” because, of course. The “366 Days of Hiking” album contains one photo from each featured hike of the project, but we’ll get to that later. The bulk of my photos are arranged geographically, then by date. So, under the “Oregon 2017” folder you can see a few hikes: Ankeny, Badlands (twice), Bailey, Baker Beach, etc. The numbers after the hike location are the date. Therefore, at a glance I can see that I hiked Ankeny on June 3, 2017.

I also like naming my photos whenever possible. This makes it much easier for me to search for things. If I want a picture of dune grass, for example, I can just go to the Pictures folder and search for “dune grass” and see what comes up. That saves me the trouble of going back to my hike spreadsheet and finding a hike that might have involved some dunes. And, if I can’t come up with a name for a photo then it’s probably one that I can delete. It’s not compelling enough to keep. This is an easy way to purge old photos without thinking too hard.

Photographic interference

I wonder if, as taking photos becomes easier and easier, that the act of photography while out on a hike detracts from the hike experience. Now, when I visit popular places I can barely find a person who’s not staring at the view through their phone or iPad. These people are not professional photographers. They’re just snapping a ton of terrible pictures that will live forever on their devices, on their home computers, in the cloud.

I have been caught up in this too, but I try to remain cognizant of this behavior. I do try to take photos of things like signposts, trail junctions, notable features and viewpoints to help me reconstruct the hike for trip reports and journaling projects. If I see something really cool I’ll take a picture. But I’ve always tried to hike first and snap photos later. Leave the photography to the pros; live the experience instead.

Here’s some food for thought from the BBC: Are You Taking too Many Pictures?

Meanwhile, tons of physical space and energy are being used for keeping these photos “saved,” most of which will never be looked at again. That’s a topic for another day!

This project has caused me to re-evaluate the contents of all of my photo albums. I’m saving the photos that matter, and deleting the ones that don’t. It’s been a digital purging of sorts. As I discover the photos that are meaningful to me it has been easier to identify those that can safely go.

And you, lovely reader, will be spared most of the photos so you’re left with just one image per story. Try this with the last hike you went on. See how challenging it can be to only choose one. Which one will it be? Why? What does that photo communicate to your viewers? To you? Have fun and let me know what challenges you come across!