Nepal is well known as a photographer’s paradise. Ancient temples worn down by time, bustling marketplaces full of life and color, vibrant religious festivals and, of course, spectacular mountain views. No matter where you turn, Nepal lends itself to composition.
Depending on what you kind of photography you’re interested in – landscape, wildlife, cultural, or people – it’s helpful to plan your trip in advance to ensure you have the best chance of capturing great photos.
The spring (March to May) and fall (September to November) seasons are Nepal’s busiest time for tourism given the skies are the clearest and the temperatures most pleasant. This is also a good time for photos, given it’s your best chance of having unobstructed views of the mighty Himalayan peaks.
Certain regions of Nepal can also be visited during the summer (monsoon) months, as they lie in the rain shadow of the Himalaya (most notably, the dry, desert river basin of Upper Mustang). In Kathmandu and en route to these regions, however, expect rain and humid conditions.
It goes without saying that Nepal is one of the best places in the world for mountain photography, with a number of great vantages points from where you can set up your tripod and wait for the alpenglow to set over the mountains. Most of the best vantage points are reached by undertaking one of Nepal’s great treks, which will get you far and high enough into the Himalaya to have these close-up views.
Here are a few of the best photographic vantage points in Nepal; some highly photographed, and others captured by only a few who venture off the beaten path. Keep in mind that some treks can be quite challenging given the altitude, and we always recommend enlisting a local guide for safety and logistical support. (Even better is to hire a porter, as well, to help carry your heavy camera gear.)
Great photographic vantage points in Nepal:
Nepal – and Kathmandu especially – is a melting pot for Hinduism and Buddhism. It’s hard to separate religion from everyday life in Nepal, which makes it a great place for observing the nuances, traditions and ritual embedded into everyday life.
Richard Ball, a local travel expert and long-time resident of Kathmandu, offers his advice for being considerate when photographing local inhabitants.
This is one of the hardest, and easiest, things to do – photographing fellow humans. Humans have evolved to pay enormous attention to faces. Traveling to a different country surrounds you with different faces and your brain works overtime! It’s all too tempting to pull out your camera and start taking photos of people.
One way to think about this is if you place yourself in their shoes. If you’ve never had a stranger come up to you and ask if they can take a picture with you (which often happens in some countries), you won’t realize how strange that feels. I’ve had that with a Bangladeshi tour group in Bhutan. I am in so many people’s photos! But none of them know me, and vice versa. I didn’t mind, but it felt odd to have someone come up to me, ask if they can take a photo with me, then say thank you and wander away. I felt like an exotic creature on display.
Switch this around, now, when the camera is in your hands. Basically, if you want to take someone’s photo, it’s much better if there is some interaction beforehand. Use your facial expressions a lot; you can communicate a huge amount just with your face. (Children do this unconsciously.) Better still, take a guide with you. One of the many functions of a guide is to help you cross the language barrier so you can learn about the local people. You will get more pictures of people that way, after a little bit of interaction. If you want to go the distance, perhaps take a small photo album with you of your own family to share with them. If it is a fun interaction, and you’ll get a fun photo.
Magic hour (just before sunrise and just after sunset) is the best time to take photos, when the sun’s rays lengthen to the warmer end of the spectrum due to traveling farther, at a slant, through the earth’s atmosphere. The landscape begins to take on a golden hue. This holds especially true in Nepal, where the atmosphere at high-altitude is thin, adding a unique alpenglow to the world around you.
Similarly, for cultural and village photography, the very early morning is the best time to go for a walk with your camera, when the many of the daily rituals are being performed and there is a spirit of awakening to the day.
Here are a few tips for managing Nepal’s rugged terrain:
Trek with like-minded people, as you’ll often be stopping to take photos along the way and will be on a different schedule than the rest of the trekkers. This is much easier to manage of the other trekkers are photographers, as well!
Keep in mind that the trail can be dusty, so protecting your equipment is important. It’s also handy to carry a thin neck-warmer (locally called a ‘buff’) to pull up over your nose and mouth to protect against the dusty trails.
Again, scale back on your equipment as much as possible. The less choices you have about which lens to grab or filter to use, the faster you’ll be able to react when a beautiful potential photo catches your eye. Ninety percent of many photographer’s photos are taken with a 16-85 mm lens. Most of your photos will be wide-angle, with the other few being tele-photo.
Your best photos come from the experiences that you create, especially the spontaneous decisions to veer off the beaten path or go down a narrow local alleyway. It triggers a new way of seeing your surroundings that you wouldn’t notice otherwise.
What camera you bring to Nepal depends on what kind of photographs you’re planning on taking. You’ll need a DSLR for low-light (indoor, night shots), but an iPhone or point and shoot goes a long way in terms of being convenient and capturing decent photos.
Enough reading – want to see some beautiful photos of Nepal?
If you’re looking for some inspiration, here’s a selection of some of my favorite photos from Nepal-related photographers.