Students and workshop participants often ask me what my favorite pieces of photo gear are. This is always a tough question to answer, not because I don’t have favorite gear but because my favorite gear keeps changing. I just returned from a trip up to Nova Scotia with my family and spent plenty of time in the car to ponder life’s great mysteries; you know, things like what photo gear I couldn’t live without.
So here are my top 5 list of favorite gear. Full disclosure; before you read on you should know that not all this stuff can be found at B&H Photo, in fact some of it wouldn’t even be considered photo gear by many, but all of it makes my life as a photographer a lot easier.
1) f-stop Tilopia BC photo pack. I’ve had a number of photo backpacks over the years and none has performed quite as well for me as this pack. I’m not an f-stop sponsored guy so I’ve got nothing to gain from this endorsement but this pack is just that, a pack. It’s comfortable and functions as well as a pack as it does a protective case for my gear. The flexibility of being able to swap out the internal camera unit (the padded case that protects the camera and lenses) with different sizes depending on the amount of gear you’re carrying is awesome. If I’m traveling further into the backcountry and thus bringing less camera equipment I can use a smaller ICU and create more space in the pack for things like rain gear, insulation, stove, water, etc. But my favorite aspect of the pack is how they’ve oriented the zipper to access the main compartment. It’s on the back of the pack, so when you put the pack down in the wet grass, sand or snow the front or outside of the pack is what makes contact with the ground and you don’t get a wet or dirty back the next time you shoulder the pack. It’s brilliant.
2) Waders. I’ve mentioned this in previous posts but I find this one piece of gear to be indispensible for shooting around water. I bring a pair of lightweight, breathable fishing waders with me on just about every photo outing I take. I certainly use them a lot when shooting along streams and rivers to get the best perspective without being limited to dry land but I also them for ocean/seascapes. While I was shooting the northern coast of Cape Breton Island recently, the north Atlantic was still very cold. Wearing my waders I was able to get into the water for the best compositions while maintaining a reasonable level of comfort. If you’re new to wearing waders and wading in general I would recommend getting your feet wet (pun fully intended) with a practice session before heading out for the critical shot. It’s pretty easy to get in over your head (again pun fully intended) if you’re new to wading, moving water has a lot of force and if you’re not careful you can quickly find yourself or your gear taking a swim.
3) Graduated Neutral Density Filters (GNDs). Yes, even in the digital age of multiple exposure blending I still use my GNDs. I personally like getting my images as close to “done” in the field. I prefer the 4X6 inch grads because they vignette less and have a little more real-estate for my fingers if I’m hand-holding them during exposures. For those of you wondering, yes I do embrace and utilize multiple exposure blending as part of my post processing workflow and I’ll be writing a post about my technique and philosophy in the weeks to come. *Note: As of 2018 I’m no longer using grads*
4) Google Earth. I routinely use a variety of applications, both on my office workstation and mobile smartphone to aid in my photography. I get lots of useful information like sunrise/sunset times, cloud cover and weather forecasts as well as tide predictions online. However, the app I love the most for previewing sites and determining the likelihood of success is Google Earth. I love being able to locate sites I think hold some potential for a shot and them zoom in all the way for a “ground level” view. I then can rotate my view 360 degrees to look at the surrounding landscape and run the sun simulator to get a precise location for the sunrise/sunset as well as see how the light will fall on the landscape and whether or not a nearby mountain may create an obstruction.
5) Starbucks Via (instant coffee singles). What can I say? I’m a coffee addict. I’m basically useless without it and find myself jealous of everyone out there that can jump out of bed in the morning and hit the ground running. Let’s face it most good shooting locations are not nearby a coffee shop and getting the good light usually requires being on location long before the convenient mart opens for the day. I carry a small backpacking stove with me on trips and a satchel of Starbucks Via to keep me functioning and pleasant. As you coffee jonesers out there already know, instant coffee usually sucks. The Via is actually very good coffee and there’s nothing better then enjoying a good cup of coffee first thing in the morning.
I could certainly list more gear that I find essential or that helps me achieve the images I make, and if you ask me in a month or two the list might be entirely different. How about you, what things do you find critical to your photographic success?
“Cape Smokey Cloud Light, Cape Bretton, Nova Scotia, Canon 5DII, 16mm, f 16 @ 1.3 sec. ISO 320, 3 stop GND
The image is from my recent trip to Nova Scotia. The landscape is breathtaking and it’s people amazingly kind and generous. I barely scratched the surface of exploring and shooting Cape Breton, I’ll no doubt be back.