Podcast Episode November 15, 2018

Episode 6 | Backcountry Filmmaking and Photography




This podcast is about backcountry filmmaking and photography.

It used to be that creating professional photography and video content in the mountains required thirty or more pounds of gear. Not anymore. An explosion of innovation over the last few years means that you can now tell stories and capture adventures with a high degree of quality while maintaining a low pack weight and a minimalist mindset.

In this episode, Andrew and Ryan dig deep into the tools, skills, and philosophy you’ll need to enhance your backcountry photography and filmmaking skills. They get started by immediately jumping into the interview: an engaging and energetic discussion with filmmaker and ultralight backpacker Chris Smead. Chris’ film “Rae Lakes” won the Members’ Choice award at the inaugural Backpacking Light Film Festival in 2017, and he’s been creating non-stop ever since.

Chris shares his journey as an artist, the tools and techniques he uses to tell his stories, actionable tips to help any budding filmmakers in the crowd, and some bonus marriage advice. The interview wraps up with a speed-round and a pitch for a California hiker event called the Switchback Showcase.

After the interview, Ryan and Andrew take a deep dive into camera gear. What makes a camera well suited for adventure filmmaking and photography? What are the different options? How do your choices affect the outcome of your final product? All these questions and more are answered.

The guys continue the conversation by jumping in to some listener questions: What is the most efficient way to improve photography and filmmaking skills? What are the best ways to spend a limited budget? Are there times when you shouldn’t be taking pictures?

The Gear and Hiker Hack sections are concerned with batteries and power sources—how to charge them, how to keep them charged, and which ones to use.

Finally, Andrew and Ryan share what they’ve been up to lately. Ryan is making movies and Andrew is dressing for success Norwegian style.


  • Ryan and Andrew introduce the episode topic: photography and filmmaking in the backcountry.
    • Andrew used to be a filmmaker, is now a professional photographer and artist.
    • Ryan is an avid photographer and is beginning to experiment with backcountry filmmaking techniques.
  • Ryan introduces this episode’s guest: Chris Smead.
  • Guest interview:
    • Chris details his background in the outdoors.
      • Has always been a hiker
      • Discovered backpacking in 2004
    • Chris and Ryan talk about Chris’s film Alcove
      • Out of Chris’ comfort zone (new environment)
      • Chris had a brand new camera
      • Chris would bring better audio tools in the future.
    • Chris and Andrew talk about Chris’ film Rae Lakes
      • A film that represents Chris’ marriage.
      • The film was about Chris introducing his wife to serious backcountry travel.
      • The weather took a turn for them (high snow levels).
      • Going over Glen Pass
      • When to put the camera down?
    • How Chris got started as a filmmaker
    • Getting from 0 to 70% good
    • The best mistake Chris has ever made: editing his own footage
      • Being aware of his mistakes
      • What to cut, and how to fix mistakes when your shots are bad
    • Generating ideas
      • Chris plans a trip
      • Plans his gear, shots, and story
      • Build the story based on the trip
    • Biggest challenges of backcountry filmmaking
      • Permits
        • Chris is a rule follower!
        • Can be a challenge
      • Weight of gear
        • Ultralight backpacking gear allows Chris to carry more camera gear.
      • Who needs a permit and why?
        • Getting a permit is easy if you confirm to the Wilderness Act.
        • Fuzzy lines between commercial and non-commercial (social media).
        • What areas do you need a permit? (BLM, Wilderness, National Parks, etc)
        • Chris’ tips for getting a permit.
          • Educate or encourage
    • Favorite gear
    • What is Chris’ favorite part of filmmaking?
      • Shooting
      • Editing
      • Motion graphics
      • Also enjoys composing music
        • If he does too much of it himself it is easy to get sick of the project.
        • Recently he has been cutting films to scores written by other people.
        • Music influences the cut
      • Prefers to be behind the camera (out in the wilderness)
    • Collaboration
      • Chris started out all by himself
      • Composer from Tiny Lunatic
      • Adds creative input, makes the project more interesting
      • Working with a colorist named Bruce Goodman
      • Two sound guys from the film industry
      • Director of Video at Stanford university
    • Chris’ films are very personal
      • You need a human element in a story
      • About the experience overall: not just the scenery.
    • The best ways for a novice to learn the craft of filmmaking
      • Editing your own footage is a help
      • Shooting on whatever you have. Just make your movie!
    • Balancing the ultralight ethos with filmmaking: what do you leave at home?
      • Chris got to a certain point and then couldn’t go any further with ultralight.
      • Filmmaking pushed him to go to the next level with ultralight?
      • The average videographer’s tool kit is not gonna work on a backpacking trip.
      • His weight varies according to the trip he’s on.
    • Post-production workflow
      • First thing Chris does is cut the trailer, this helps him get a feel for what footage he has and what his story will be.
      • Then he goes through and cuts each day chronologically.
      • He uses Final Cut X.
      • Lots of other people use Avid or Premiere.
    • Motion graphics
      • Chris got into motion graphics because he needed to fix his mistakes
      • He uses Motion 5
    • What makes a good adventure filmmaker?
      • The ability to capture the experience
      • Authenticity
      • Your tools don’t matter as much as the story
      • Technology is very accessible.
      • The bar has been raised.
      • Pro = engaging story
      • “Unsupported” by Jason Fitzpatrick
      • Andrew says backpacking is inherently unsexy. Ryan and Chris disagree. Convo ensues.
    • What does Chris feel is his responsibility as a filmmaker?
      • Encouraging people to get out into the woods.
      • Seeing places on film encourages people to care about stewardship.
    • Festival Submission
      • Filmfreeway is a good solution for festival submission, it’s what we use at Backpacking Light for our Adventure Film Festival.
      • Formatting for festivals can sometimes be difficult!
    • The High Sierra Trail film
      • A real learning experience for Chris.
      • Picked up by a lot of festivals, including some unusual ones Chris wasn’t expecting!
    • Chris’ next film: Highline.
      • Highline Kickstarter Link: http://kck.st/2OuHlhU
      • Official Highline website: https://highlinefilm.com/
      • Follows the founders of Zpacks.
      • Also goes into the history of the trail.
      • The personal stories of his characters.
      • Trailer just released, film premieres in summer of 2019!
    • Lightning Round!
    • Switchback Showcase
      • A benefit for Big City Mountaineers
  • Interview follow-up discussion: How mistakes can make your project better.
    • Jaws Shark
  • How can we reduce the barriers to photography and filmmaking in the backcountry.
  • What has changed in the last few decades?
    • The Red
    • Professional camera gear can be out of reach for the average backpacker
  • What are some tools that are lightweight, easy to use, affordable, but maintain a high level of quality.
    • Ryan’s Seven Criteria
      • Water resistance
      • Decent sound
        • On board mic
        • Or ability to plug in external mic
      • Some form of internal stabilization
      • 24p capability
      • Slow motion
      • Small and light
      • Rapid and simple workflow
  • Camera families
    • DSLR
      • Big and chunky
      • A great value (good final product for your money!)
      • Limited by budget? This is the way to go.
      • Canon or Nikon?
    • Mirrorless
      • Smaller and lighter on average.
      • Ryan on Olympus and Panasonic cameras
      • Interchangeable lenses
      • A full frame mirrorless like the Sony A7 line is similar in capability to a DSLR while weighing almost a pound less
      • Ryan shoots with the Sony a6500
    • Point and Shoot
      • Small and light
      • Fixed lens
      • Some zooming ability
      • In the past – no access to manual settings
    • Action Cam
      • GoPro still leading the way
        • Ryan shoots with the Hero7 Black
        • Good footage that holds up well in post processing
        • Good slow motion
        • Waterproof
        • Good sound in camera!
        • External mic input
        • Unique camera angles are possible
        • Some shot flexibility
    • Smartphones
      • Pros
        • Flexible footage options
        • Slow motion
        • 4k
        • Control over manual settings and bit rate using third party software
        • Rapidly improving cameras and sensors
        • More and more pros are using phones to rapidly create projects
        • Ryan likes these external lenses for wide and tele shots!
        • Can fit on the lightest available gimbals.
        • External audio inputs
        • Newest Google, Apple, and Samsung phones are all waterproof
      • Cons
        • Not nearly as much internal stabilization as an action cam.
        • Lens choices (and therefore shot variety) still limited.
      • Andrew sells prints of fine art photography that he took on his smartphone.
      • Lots of national magazine covers are now shot on smartphones.
      • The phone is a multi-use item.
      • Software and Workflow in the field
        • You can create content before you ever get home
        • You can review your footage while you still have time to do a reshoot.
        • Makes things simpler and faster
        • Filmic Pro (access to manual settings)
        • Moment  (access to manual settings)
        • iMovie (for video editing, comes preloaded on Apple devices)
        • Adobe Rush (video editing on mobile, desktop, and tablet)
        • Adobe Lightroom (still photography editing on mobile, desktop, and tablet)
      • Phone photography and filmmaking technology has allowed these creative processes to be much more accessible to people from all walks of life and income levels.
  • Listener Questions
    • What is the best way to improve my photography and filmmaking?
      • Don’t get caught up in the gear – focus on improving your skills!
        • This applies to any aspect of backcountry travel.
      • The Bare Bones Camera Course for Film and Video
      • Change your point of view
      • Stable footage and good quality audio
      • Shooting ratio
      • Study and Practice
        • Seek out good documentaries
        • Study painters and other artists
      • Use the right tool for the job
        • Where is your media going? What is the endpoint?
        • Understanding these questions has an impact on how much weight you are okay with bringing.
    • I’m an experienced photographer but I want to start shooting video. What do I need to know?
      • Many of the skills are the same.
      • Move the camera…with purpose!
      • Shoot motion
      • Motion = time
      • Be conscious of rhythm and flow
      • Don’t make all your cuts match the music
      • Study the way that stories work
        • Three act structure
        • Story arc
        • Hero’s journey
      • Free Solo…watch this film!
    • What is the most efficient use of my money?
      • Lenses (assuming you are using an interchangeable lens system)
      • Small tripod
      • Decent mic
    • Are there any ethical or philosophical reasons NOT to take pictures or make video in the backcountry?
      • Screen time saturation
      • Cell phones and go pros are less intimidating to documentary subjects.
      • Drones can be distracting
  • Gear
    • Solar
      • Two scenarios where solar is worth it
        • A suuuuper long trip with no re-supply.
        • A trip where you have the luxury of sunny days and lots of spare time.
    • Spare batteries
      • Cheap
      • Easy to use, just pop them in with no interruption
    • Power Banks
      • Used for rechargeable devices with no swappable battery.
    • Charging strategies
      • Keep your batteries warm
      • Drain your battery all the way down before recharging.
  • Hiker Hacks
    • Water bladder problem from last episode
    • How to keep batteries warm?
      • What does cold mean?
        • Below freezing is when batteries really start to be affected.
      • Remove batteries from the device when possible.
      • Don’t keep your camera inside your jacket! Can cause condensation issues.
    • Do you have solutions for keeping batteries warm or solving electronic condensation issues? Email us at [email protected]
  • Here and Now
    • Ryan
      • Looking at mobile device filmmaking
    • Andrew

IMG 8333

Feedback, Questions, Tips?


  • Backpacking Light – Executive Producer
  • Ryan Jordan – Director and Host
  • Andrew Marshall – Producer, Host, and Editor
  • Chris Smead – Guest Interview
  • Look for Me in the Mountains – Music

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Home Forums Episode 6 | Backcountry Filmmaking and Photography

Viewing 9 posts - 1 through 9 (of 9 total)
  • Author
  • #3564215
    Backpacking Light


    Locale: Rocky Mountains

    Companion forum thread to: Episode 6 | Backcountry Filmmaking and Photography

    Backcountry filmmaking and photography used to required thirty or more pounds of gear. Here’s how to produce great media at minimum weight!

    Kenneth Knight
    BPL Member


    Locale: SE Michigan

    Ryan, I have treid the Rode VideoMicro and really want to like it. But I have found a fair amount of low hiss seems to be present. I didn’t hear that in the latest podcast so am wondering how you have the microphone connected to your iPhone when you use it. I do know the hiss can be removed in post-processing but dealing with that is always irritating as it adds an extra step to any workflow.

    By the way, you might want to look at Ferrite for audio editing. It is, in many  ways, the audio editor equivilant to Luma Fusion which I agree is a great app for video work.

    The real hard part about backcountry recording, video and audio, is that sometimes you just do not have the time to get the shot when other people are around pushing you to “get a move  on” as it were.  At least that has been the case for me and I am not trying to make a complex film like Chris.

    For what it is worth I think I first heard of Byrnje from Peter Vacco years ago. It is remarkable that it works. Too bad what I currently own does not fit me that well.


    Ryan Jordan


    Locale: Central Rockies

    Ken, you may have a bad mic, a bad cable, or a bad USB on the host – these are all sources of hiss.

    One of the main reasons I use the VideoMicro (this version) is that the noise floor is almost nonexistent.

    It’s a great mic for recording outdoors (shock mount, directional, and has a dead cat windscreen), and I only used it in the podcast because I was recording into an iPad (my computer is away for repair right now). (Otherwise I use a different studio mic that does a better job of flattening the vocals).

    To connect the VideoMicro to an iPad or iPhone I use a TRS/TRRS cable, and plug that into a TRRS->Lightning cable, which then gets plugged into the iOS device.

    Kenneth Knight
    BPL Member


    Locale: SE Michigan

    Yeah, I thought of all those noise sources. It certainly does sound quite good outside and that is the primary reason I have it too. I have actually tried swapping out all those items. At least I thought I had. Maybe I will just try again.

    I have actually tried swapping out all those items. At least I thought I had. Maybe I will just try again

    Of course,I probably won’t put too much effort into it because unlike you really nobody listens to the things I put out. And, I must admit, I don’t actually put out that much these days.

    Kenneth Knight
    BPL Member


    Locale: SE Michigan

    By thecway, I have been considering buying a Shure Motiv MV88 for outside use. A bug plus is the direct connection to an iPhone which means less fiddling about time.

    As Chris implied audio is ever changing.

    Gunnar H
    BPL Member


    Regarding power strategies in cold weather, I have a Sony RX100 IV with crap batteries that die very fast when filming when it is cold, I can often not even get the whole sequence. I have solved this by having a Power Bank warm close to the body and powering my camera directly from it with a micro USB cord, giving enourmous amount of reiable power compared to a tiny camera battery. The cord is inserted in the camera also when I am not using it so I can start filming quickly. It should at least in theory also allow for a more efficient use of the energy stored in the Power Bank since it is used directly without being stored in the camera battery, but I am not sure there is any real gain there. This works so well for me that I so far haven’t been bothered to get better batteries.

    Regarding Brynje (or brynja in Swedish), this garment has been in extensive use in the Scandinavian countries for long time up until the 80-ies when it became something mainly old people use. It was then the name of the garment rather than a brand name. They certainly work, but you could get marks from it in the skin under the hip belt from the nylon/cotton versions that where common then. To use merino wool instead seems like a good idea.

    BPL Member


    Ryan, you said that water resistance is one of your key criteria for a camera; however, the Sony RX100 line that is recommended seems to have no water resistance or weather sealing. Am I missing something about the camera?

    Ryan Jordan


    Locale: Central Rockies

    Correct – the RX100 has no water resistance. I can’t wait for this feature to come out on this camera…(hoping)

    Paul Trulove
    BPL Member



    To prolong the life of Li-ion batteries, mid to shallow discharge is strongly indicated.  Fully discharging a Li-ion battery between charges will actually minimize its life.  Please see the tables provided in


    The only battery type where 100% depth of discharge was necessary was the NiCd because they developed discharge memory.  Li-ion cells are not subject to this effect.  The general recommendation for Li-ion batteries is to charge them whenever possible.  The only caveat to this is that you don’t want to leave them in the 100% charged state for extended periods of time (e.g., weeks to months) because of potential electrolyte breakdown.




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