How To Conserve Power In The Backcountry

Photography in the backcountry, especially backpacking trips or treks, requires special attention in order to conserve power.

Either you carry more batteries (or a solar panel) or conserve. When you are days or weeks on the trail, such as a nice stroll down the John Muir Trail (which is on my bucket list), or trekking high in the Himalayas of Nepal, that extra weight in batteries or solar panels can be a killer. Every ounce counts!

So then, how to conserve? Let us count the ways…

Turn Off Your LCD Screen

The LCD on the back of your camera sucks power regularly. Especially if you are using it to review images.

I suggest turning off the LCD for almost all functions, especially image review. Most cameras have the ability to totally turn off “Image Review” and it should be your first line of attack. Avoid using the back or top LCD screens as much as possible.

Think of it as a chance to be retro, like in the days of film. You compose, you check your metering, you shoot and upon your return to civilization you check your work. It’s scary and exhilarating at the same time.

Think And Compose Before You Shoot

This one is key to all good photography, not just your mission to conserve power.

All the tips after this one, in one way or another, rely on your ability to first think about what you want to photograph and then how to capture what you see.

Digital Photography School has a plethora of posts regarding composition and how to think through the process.

Switch To Manual Or Back Button Focus

You would be amazed at how much you can conserve by turning off autofocus.

If you are like me, every time you tap the shutter release half way down, your camera attempts to focus. Sometimes hunting all around. That action takes power.

You have two options: 1) Switch to manual focus. It takes more work, but on a long lens, like a 70-200mm or longer for birding or wildlife, the energy needed is sizable. 2) Use back button focus. This process lets you set a button on your camera and only when it is pressed is focus activated. It’s a good step moving toward full manual focus.

Power Down More Often

My camera is set to auto-powerdown after 2 minutes. Don’t do that if you want to conserve.

Instead, get in the habit of turning your camera all the way off after each use. The idea is you have composed the image in your mind and know how you’re going to shoot it before you turn on your camera and start pointing it in every direction (see Think And Compose Before You Shoot above).

This tip will also make you more conscience of how often you use your camera.

Turn Off Your Sensor Cleaner

A lot of cameras have a sensor cleaner that runs each time the camera is turned on. Turn this feature off as it use a small but, over time, draining amount of power.

Limit Flash Use

I hope this goes without saying. That flash on your camera, if it has one, uses a lot of power. Some night shots and fill flash will require its use, but try to conserve how often you employ it. On some cameras one use of the flash for a group photo 15′ away uses as much power as 35 individual images.

Keep Your Batteries Cool When Stored

The cooler your camera batteries are, the better they conserve power. The warmer they are, the faster they drain. This is just physics.

Granted, you probably don’t have an ice pack with you in the backcountry (except for the one in your first aid kit that should not be used for photography) so this might take some ingenuity. Or, more likely, it just means keeping your camera and batteries out of the direct sun. If you have a quality ziplock back, you can store your batteries in a cold stream over night to help them last longer.

Turn Off GPS

More than once I’ve turned on my Canon 7D Mark II and found the batteries dead. Usually when I haven’t been shooting for a couple of weeks.

This is because, on a lot of cameras, the GPS function remains on even when the master on/off switch is off. It’s annoying, but it does make GPS signal acquisition that much faster when in the field. But it kills batteries.

If location information is important to you, you’ll need to balance that against total total images you wish to bring back. It’s a tough balance for those of us who love data.

Conclusion

There’s more than one way to conserve power while in the backcountry. Not every option is perfect for every photographer, but with some forethought, you can decrease the extra weight in multiple batteries (not only live batteries, but without conservation you’ll be carrying more dead batteries) and still get the shots you want.

Do you have any additional tips that have worked for you when you are far from an outlet? Share them in the comments section below.

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