A Guide To Photographing The Camino De Santiago
Walking (or cycling) the Camino experience necessitates a means to capture the moment. While no camera sensor can match the mind’s eye and imagination for colour, contrast, and composition, for most pilgrims a camera (or two) is essential for personal visual documentation.
As a photographer and one who has walked and cycled the Camino multiple times and used smartphones, mid-range and high-end cameras and lenses to capture the Camino’s spiritual, architectural and geographic ambiance, I will offer a few practical suggestions. Keep in mind these recommendations are for those new to the Camino and/or have little experience in photography as most dedicated serious photographers know their craft well and what equipment to use.
First things first. Consider your photographic intention – do you want to ultimately edit and enhance your pictures after your trip? If so, it makes sense to purchase at least a mid-price range camera that has the capability of shooting both in regular JPEG (most common recording format) mode and RAW (minimally processed digital negatives) mode and has the ability to capture at least 16-megapixel images. Editing RAW images give you much more versatility with colours, contrasts, and hues. That said most digital cameras today, at least the ones priced USD$250-1000 (or €200-€800) can give you excellent colour and black & white photographs right out of the camera but can also shoot in RAW format to be edited later.
Professional tips for better photographs of the Camino
Three suggestions I will share with those relatively new to the Camino and/or travel photography –
35mm moderate wide angle
1) Perspective – There are two fundamental perspectives in travel photography, particularly for the Camino: Personal perspective – photographing exactly the way you see the image (e.g., colour, shadows, field of view) and your audience’s perspective – i.e., how you want your viewers to see the picture. The first perspective involves “shooting from the hip” without any advanced camera settings (for example removal of shadows) other than having the camera in a reasonably basic auto or programmed mode. Most respectable point-and-shoot compact digital cameras with a fixed lens perform acceptably for this perspective. The second perspective (your audience) includes manipulating special camera settings during the shoot but especially in “post-processing” (after you download all of your photos) via one of the many digital processing software programs e.g. Lightroom or Capture. Which perspective you choose is a matter of personal preference and intent and often times can certainly be an amalgam of both. That said and most importantly – do not undervalue capturing your personal vision on what is artfully and spiritually meaningful to you.
28mm wide angle
2) Variety of lens focal lengths – You should be prepared to take wide-angle shots for the broad Spanish/Portuguese/French landscape, agrarian, and architectural views particularly for countrysides, lagoons and in cathedrals and small chapels (a 28mm lens or smaller, 12-14mm ideal). Be prepared to use longer focal lengths, e.g., 150-300 mm, to isolate distant and special subject compositions. Of course, single multipurpose zoom lenses can do both – e.g. a 24-120mm lens or even a 24-600mm lens as featured in Sony’s Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 III digital camera (USD$1200 / €950). Example images and focal lengths are displayed below.
50 mm standard view
3) Smaller mid-price-range mirrorless digital cameras with either a fixed multi-purpose digital zoom lens or interchangeable lens option (e.g. Fujifilm XT-1, Lumix ZS100, Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II, Sony RX100 IV or V) are among the best all-around cameras because of their smaller size and versatility. But know there are scores of other excellent camera options within this class of small to intermediate-size digital mirrorless cameras. If you have a choice to purchase a “weather sealed” camera, nearly all camera manufacturers have such models, this would be very helpful as anyone who has walked or cycled the Camino knows there will be times when wind, rain, fog, and even snow will prevail, depending on the season. The first camera I used on the Leon to Santiago Camino trek was a USD$300 (or €240) Panasonic 16 megapixel camera with a 14-45mm lens and I have to say – many of the photographs I shot with this intermediate size digital camera match up as well as those I have since taken with considerably higher-end Leica and Nikon cameras.
85mm slight telephoto
But know, if you can only use a fixed lens camera, particularly one with a multi-purpose zoom lens, be prepared to use wide angle captures (28mm or less, i.e., wider angle of view) and take a multipurpose zoom lens e.g., 15-45mm, 24-70mm, etc.
14mm super wide angle
What camera should you take on the Camino?
Smartphone cameras – specifically newer iPhone or Android mobile (or cell) phone cameras. In the last several years, mobile phone camera image sensors have improved markedly and then some – both in picture resolution, dynamic range and light sensitivity, even rivalling many of the mid-range and higher-end digital cameras. For stills photography, these newer cell phones can take remarkable photographs. The main downside of smartphone cameras is that they often are restricted to narrow fields of view, e.g., insufficient wide angle options, likely to have a cumbersome lens zooming mechanism, and not impervious to damp or rainy weather.
28 mm wide angle
Price ranges for respectable digital travel cameras (mostly priced by the camera’s number of functions, sensor and autofocus capability, capture rate, and video function)-
> USD$1500 (>€1200)
Example cameras by price range (these are just a few, note that most of these prices are for the camera body only – does not include the lens):
Our pick: Nikon D5600
Also consider: Olympus E-M10 III
150mm moderate telephoto
Some final points on getting the most from your choice of camera
Memory cards – Depending on your camera’s sensor size and megapixel count (i.e. its ability to capture special detail in an image) you will need to consider the size of the memory card you use. If you are spending 3-4 weeks walking or cycling the Camino I would suggest at least several 32-gigabyte memory cards or at least one 64 or even 128 GB cards. Above all, back up all of your photos as soon as you return home. Rule of thumb – a 16 mp camera with a 32 GB card can shoot ~5700 regular JPEG images whereas, if you are shooting in RAW it’s ~570 (depending on level of RAW compression you choose) images.
Image detail: The general rule for high-quality sharp prints is 300 pixels per inch. For example, an 8×10 inch print needs 8x300x10x300 = 7.2 megapixels. One can still make very nice 8×10 inch prints with fewer megapixels, but the lower the megapixel count, the softer the image. All of the digital cameras mentioned in this article have at least 16 mp sensors (i.e. 16 mp per saved image).
28 mm wide angle
As a final suggestion, I would recommend having at least two means of capturing the Camino, aside from your eye and brain of course – a smartphone and at least a mid-range digital camera that can capture at least 16 megapixels per photograph. Here, the smartphone can be a reliable back-up to your primary camera.
In any event, for many of you, this will be a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage and one that deserves many exceptional photographic impressions to savour.
Guest Contributor – Ralph LaForge
Follow the Camino organises walking and cycling holidays in Europe for adventure seekers from all over the world. Since 2006, we’ve offered a great range of manageable walks and cycles for all age groups, in particular on the famous Camino de Santiago. We were the first ever tour operator to operate the Camino de Santiago by creating manageable sections along the main routes to Santiago de Compostela. We are often copied but never equalled!
To find out which route might be best for you, contact our Camino Planners through the form on the top-right-hand side of the page to get your free customised Camino itinerary.