A landscape photographer needs to be well prepared before embarking on a photo safari.
Photographing remote wilderness areas miles from civilization that usually involve some hiking means you need to be especially well prepared.
Given I’m about to leave on a short 4-day safari I thought I’d take the opportunity to describe a little bit about what I take with me and why.
Survivability, Portability, Utility and Flexibility are my main considerations for the equipment I take and use on trips.
For utility and flexibility I drive a compact Honda CRV on safaris. It’s a stick shift with AWD. Those two features alone have got me out of jams in many scary places.
It has the widest tires I can get for it for better traction. In remote places in the southwest, dry desert sand is the quicksand of the motorized photographer. I’ve had to dig myself and others out of sand numerous times and it is never much fun.
ALWAYS have a shovel in your toolkit!
The little CRV is lightweight, gets reasonable MPG, and has surprisingly strong high end torque, low-speed power in tough, super steep climbs when it REALLY counts.
Portability is my main consideration:
- Canon 5D Mark II
- EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro
- EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM
- EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM
- EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM
- EF 300mm f/4L IS USM
- Canon Extender EF 2X II
- Canon 580EX Flash
- Canon Twin Lite MT-24EX flash
All but the 300mm and MT-24EX fit nicely in my camera backpack for hikes.
There are the usual array of polarizer and neutral density filters which are about all I ever use outside UV filters to keep the main optics of the lenses from getting scratched or the coatings damaged.
I have a special(and very expensive) thin filter polarizer for the 16-35mm. Its my best landscape lens. The thin filter allows shooting wide open without vignetting. What’s funny is that the lens cap for the expensive filter won’t stay on so I have to use duct tape to keep from losing it. lol!!!
Nowadays I take a microphone for recording video clips.
Since I’m usually gone long periods of time, I take a portable post processing lab with me on the road.
Photoshop and Lightroom are my main pieces of software. No video editing software yet but I have still image support software needed for my GPS and such.
Portability, speed and disk space are the main concerns here. I selected a light notebook with a high speed eSATA port to be able to upload 16 GB cards acceptably fast. Each full card takes 15-17 minutes to upload via eSATA.
The notebook has a 500 GB HD, 4 GB of RAM, a 2 GHz processor and runs a 64-bit Vista OS.
I had to scour the Internet to find an eSATA enclosure with built-in card readers. I put a 1 or 2 TB drive in the enclosure for trips and usually take a second 1 TB external drive for backups.
A crucial accessory for any wilderness photographer is a hiker’s GPS. I use mine for two important purposes:
- GPS log tracking to encode photographs with GPS coordinates
- Wilderness navigation
Both are important but the 2nd is critical for finding your way through and navigating mazes of completely unmarked roads leading into and out of unmarked world class photo opportunities that you’ve never been to before.
Before every photo safari I spend a lot of research time on Google Earth finding and plotting waypoints that I need to find my target sites. Then I download those waypoints from Google Earth and load them into the GPS before I go.
Without doing that I could never be able find anything or find my way back out.
As you might expect… with a camera, two flashes and a GPS I use a lot of batteries. Rechargeable batteries with a 15 minute recharger is the only way to go. There are two sets of batteries for each device.
To power the computer, external hard drives and various battery rechargers I have an 120 volt, 200 watt inverter for the CRV… and a power strip.
I can be 50 miles from the nearest power outlet in the middle of the night and completely out of contact with the rest of the world, yet can still do everything I need to do that requires electricity! 🙂
My most important consideration here is survivability in case something bad happens. Sleeping in my car in remote places for a couple three nights in a row is not uncommon.
I have all the normal camping gear you’d expect for 100+ degree summers or sub-zero winters and a nice little tent, but I’ve never used it. When I get tired I just clear a space, lower the seat all the way back and sleep.
In wilderness areas always take enough food and water for three days longer than you expect to be gone.
In the Grand Staircase-Escalante, for example, it can take days, not hours, to be rescued.