How to plan for your photography trip to the Everest Region
Photographing The Everest Region
Planning a trip to the Everest Region? Seasoned trekker and SNAPP Pro photographer, Alex Treadway, gives his top tips on planning the ultimate photography trip to the Himalayas
“The Everest Region is a magnet for photographers. What could be more exciting than to take off into some of the most dramatic scenery on earth to photograph not just the mountains, but the trekking parties around you, interesting local faces, amazing night skies and perhaps even something really special like a snow leopard.
It’s a photographers paradise but it’s not a stroll in the park. There are plenty of things which can easily trip you up and it’s better to be well prepared. Here are a few of the things I’ve learnt along the way to give you a head start.
When to go
February through May is an excellent time to trek with clear, bright days and warmer conditions. You can still expect the occasional short shower, but most days should be fairly consistent and dry. This period tends to be busy though and this is the time of year when most Everest summit attempts occur. However, it also means its a great time to meet other like-minded people and to experience the buzz surrounding the climbing expeditions.
Work with your surroundings
The weather can change quickly in the mountains: blue sky can be replaced by cloud and rain in minutes. This doesn’t always mean you need to hide indoors though. Cloud formations and falling snow can make for interesting frames and textures. Mountains often look more dramatic peeking through a gap in the clouds or with spindrift blowing from the top.
It’s also worth making the effort to crawl out of your sleeping bag first thing in the morning as mountains come alive when they’re bathed in early morning or late afternoon light.
It’s impossible to over-emphasise how exhausting it is to climb at altitude, and the higher you go, the harder it gets. At 5,000m, there’s 30% less oxygen in the air. The only way to cope with that is to go slowly and acclimatise. It also helps not to have too much weight in your pack. For a photographer like me that prefers to have my whole box of tricks with me everywhere I go, that presents a bit of a problem.
There are two schools of thought here. Some photographers adopt a one-lens- does-it-all approach. For many keen amateurs, this is probably the way to go though you’ll want to spend the money to have that one lens be as good as possible. More experienced photographers that like having the benefit of a variety of equipment should consider hiring an extra porter. This might sound over the top but besides taking a load off, you are giving work to an extra body which helps the local economy and, if you find a porter with reasonable English, you’ll have a translator to help with photographing people as well.
One of the real highlights for a photographer in the Himalayas is all the wonderful smiley and interesting faces. Nepalis are generally friendly people and are happy to let you take their picture. But with virtually everyone trekking in the mountains carrying a camera, even if it’s just on their phone, there can be a negative impact on the way locals feel about having their picture taken.
A few simple rules of etiquette that will ensure both you and your subject enjoy the experience. Always ask permission when you take somebody’s portrait. It helps no end to learn a few words in Nepali. Then find some common ground, it’s easier than you think. Do they have children? Are they married? What work do they do? Once you’ve got chatting, it’s much more likely they’ll be happy to have their picture taken. The interaction is all part of the fun, and the more effort you make, the more they’ll trust you and the better your pictures will be.
Keep the chat going while you’re taking pictures too, it will give you more time to think about the shot and get the composition you really want rather than firing off something quick that looks more like a bunny in the headlights than a natural portrait. It will also give you opportunity to draw different expressions or emotions from your subject that you can incorporate into your shots. You could even get them involved in the picture too: ask their opinion, “What do you think would make a good background here?” Most of all keep smiling and have fun.
Quite often you will be asked to send a copy of the photo afterwards – if you agree to this it is very important to make sure you follow through on your promise.
Bringing landscapes to life
The scenery in the Himalayas is breathtaking and when you’re faced with the jaw-dropping scenery the immediate impulse is to whip out the camera and start snapping. There’s nothing wrong with crafting beautiful straightforward landscapes but personally I look to include people in my pictures wherever I can. If you’re working commercially, landscapes which include people are generally more successful.
The natural world in the Himalayas tends to fall into a palette of blues, greys, white, browns and greens. If you want your subjects to really stand out, it helps if they’re wearing accent colours: reds, pinks, purple. I usually stuff a couple of bright tops into the bottom of my camera bag, and if you’re trekking with friends, get them to bring their colourful kit and leave the camo gear at home!
When the sun goes down
The mountains can be equally interesting for photographers at night but it takes a little forethought to make the most of it. For a start you need to consider the lunar calendar. The smaller the moon, the more stars you’ll see but the bigger the moon, the more light you will have. During a full moon night, skies at high altitude can almost look like they were shot during the day, which spoils the effect you are after. I find just under half a moon gives the best results.
A tripod is essential for night photography. Anything more than about a 30 second exposure will start to turn the stars into trails. High ISO will give you shorter exposures but the noise generated from high ISOs is far more visible in night photography. It’s better to use faster apertures and keep the ISO down to 200 or 400 at the most.
Temperatures in the Himalayas plummet to well below freezing at night and you need to be well prepared. I use a thin pair of gloves that I can keep on while I’m operating the camera and a thick down jacket with deep pockets to keep my hands warm while I’m waiting for long exposures. Other essentials are a head torch, cable extension for the shutter release and a flask of hot drink.
There are two ways to reach the Everest Region from Kathmandu. The quickest and most popular option is the short flight to Lukla (30-40 minutes). Another option, and recommended, is to travel by road (either by bus or jeep) to Jiri and walk to Lukla from there. Depending on your walking speed this will extend your trek considerably; it can take anywhere between 8-12 days to walk from Jiri to Lukla, but this is a quiet route passing through traditional villages in the lower part of the Everest region. Coming this way also gives the opportunity to take a side trip to the spot called ‘Pikey Peak’ which, on a clear day is magnificent.
Even though the Everest region is a demanding area to walk in due to the high altitude, the logistics of getting around and finding places to stay are relatively straightforward. For a start, you have to walk everywhere, so parking is not a problem! Trails are generally easy to follow (with some exceptions), and the whole of the Everest Region is well established for trekking so there’s lots of places to stay.
It’s now required that everyone trekking in the region is accompanied by a guide, but this is a positive thing for many reasons; It’s safer to have a local expert on hand showing you the way and helping you across any tricky stretches of trail, especially when loaded down with camera gear. Your guide can also help you to communicate with locals, which is invaluable if you want to spend any time taking portraits. It’s also a good thing to support the guides and porters in the area by providing work for them.
There are two seasons for trekking in the Everest region; spring and autumn. The spring season runs from late March through May and the autumn season from mid-September to early December. It is possible (and often rewarding) to trek outside these main seasons. In the winter (December-February) the weather is very likely to be clear, but also it can be extremely cold and you would need to be well prepared. There will be a fraction of the people filling the trails but there will also be little green in the valleys and the trails can be dusty. By compromise in the summer, there’s a lot more colour but the chances of clear days decreases dramatically.
My top picks
It’s all good, but if I had to choose a favourite spot for photography in this region, it’s hard to beat Gokyo Ri. It’s one of the greatest views on earth and there’s endless scope for pictures. Regardless of getting a great shot or not, just being there is one of life’s memorable moments. Be sure to take some very warm clothes so you can stay up there for a night shot too. My next choice is one of the lesser known places called ‘Nangkartsang viewpoint above Dingboche’, it’s a real gem of a spot. It’s not such a huge climb from Dingboche, it generally only takes an hour of so to get up there, but the rewarding views make it more than worth it. It’s definitely one not to miss. Lastly I’ve chosen the spot called ‘Namche Bazaar and Kongde peak’ as a favourite. Sometimes it’s the simple ones right in front of you that can get missed. You will almost certainly pass through Namche and spend a couple of nights there during your time in the Everest Region, so make sure you take the short walk up to this point as it’s a stunner of a spot, especially on a moonlit night with the village glowing below the mountains.
The massive pyramid summit of Everest seen from Gokyo Ri in the Khumbu region of Nepal
The book ‘Trekking in the Everest Region’ published by Trailblazer by Jamie McGuiness is indispensable. I haven’t gone into much detail in this guide regarding planning and trekking equipment as you should certainly refer to a guide book before trekking in the Everest Region.
If you plan to spend time in other trekking regions, ’Trekking in the Nepal Himalayas’ published by Lonely Planet is very good (Bradley Mayhew).
To discover and get to some of the most photographic spots in the Everest region, download my SNAPP Guide. Make sure you have downloaded this guide before leaving Kathmandu as WiFi cannot be relied upon beyond here. Be sure to have a good map of the region and a compass with you.”
The Mountain Company – https://www.themountaincompany.co.uk
Himalayan Trails – http://www.himalayan-trails.com
Find a companion for your trek:
Trekking Partners – http://www.trekkingpartners.com
Beyond the Everest region:
Project Himalaya – https://project-himalaya.com
The Last Resort – https://www.thelastresort.com.np
World Weather worldweatheronline.com/Namche-Bazar-weather/…
To see more of Alex Treadway’s images and follow his work, find his links here