For 20 years, Thomas J. Story has explored the West as Sunset‘s staff photographer. Here, he shares advice he’s learned from shooting countless camping stories and covers over the years.

Mount Diablo View
Thomas J. Story

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Follow the Light

Knowing where the sun is headed is crucial for finding the right light. I like the Sun Seeker app ($9. 99) for tracking its path through the sky.

Thomas J. Story

Change Your Perspective

Turn your camera toward smaller details in nature when you’re out­doors. It’s tough to convey the power of a widely shot image when it’s be­ing viewed on a small screen or phone. The “portrait” effect in the iPhone isn’t just for focus—it can work for leaves and flowers as well.

De Agostini / Getty Images

Use Filters and a Polarizer

Graduated neutral-density filters and a high-quality polarizer can be effective in increasing dynamic range and saturation while reducing glare. 

Thomas J. Story

Don’t Underestimate Blue Tape and a Sharpie

One thing I learned from my wife is how important it is to be organized when you pack. Her favorite weapons are blue tape and a Sharpie. Arranging every­thing in stackable plastic bins, then slapping labels on them, makes it easier to find items when you’re setting up your tent with very little daylight left.

Admire the Night Sky

My favorite part of camping is sitting outside with my kids after the sun goes down. Feeling the warmth of the fire, watching bats come out and feed, and seeing satellites cross the sky puts me in a good place. Ex­periment with the long exposure fea­ture on your camera, or check out features like Night Sight on the Pixel 3 camera.

Keep Things Light and Tidy

I remember the first time I saw someone use a LifeStraw wa­ter filter. It’s a pretty amazing piece of equipment that saves some weight in your camping kit. Also, having a mat outside your tent and a small broom to keep your space clean are necessities.

Courtesy of Amazon

My Favorite Camping Spot

My wife and I love to take our kids to Lake Alpine near California’s Calav­eras Big Trees State Park in the Sierra Nevada range. It’s an easy drive from our East Bay home, and they have a res­taurant there, which is a nice break from making three camp­site meals a day.

Thomas J. Story