The Landscape Photographer’s Toolkit

Safari Equipment

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.

SPUF

Survivability, Portability, Utility and Flexibility are my main considerations for the equipment I take and use on trips.

Transportation

Stick Shift CRV With Wide Tires And AWD

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.

Camera Equipment

Lenses

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.

Accessories

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.

Computer

Travel Computer and External Hard Drive

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.

GPS

A crucial accessory for any wilderness photographer is a hiker’s GPS. I use mine for two important purposes:

  1. GPS log tracking to encode photographs with GPS coordinates
  2. Wilderness navigation

GPS and Other Accessories

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.

Electricity

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! 🙂

Supplies

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.

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About azleader

Learning to see life more clearly... one image at a time!
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7 Responses to The Landscape Photographer’s Toolkit

  1. Joe Rogers says:

    Hey Steve,
    Saw your post on FM…great info on your blog. Question. I am looking for a suitable vehiche to travel the same areas of the southwest as you and was considering a Nissan Xtera because of the high clearance. I would really prefer CRV because of fuel cost, but, feared it did not have enough clearance for that area..give me some feedback, please.
    Joe Rogers

  2. azleader says:

    Joe,
    After much searching, I got my CRV on a super great deal and it works very well for my purposes… but high clearance is an issue. It doesn’t have an abundance of that.

    Furthermore, I have the front tow-bar mounts that I still keep on it that gives it even less clearance. Unfortunately, you can not see that in the pictures I included in this article.

    The reason I keep them on is because I plan to have a custom wench made to fit on the tow-bar mounts to help pull me (or others) out of tight spots. I have a hand-wench but really don’t relish the idea of having to use it. 😉

    I’ll have the wench done for my next safari.

    So far, though, the biggest issue I’ve had with the tow-bar mounts are that they scrape bottom before it damages much. 🙂

  3. Pingback: The Ways of Wilderness Photographers | Living Among Landscapes!

  4. Joel Duncan says:

    Great tips my friend. I am planning my next trip to photograph down in South America, and many of the gear tips are applicable. I think another cheap and invaluable accessory to carry is a lens cleaner. Keep shooting ~ Joel

    • azleader says:

      I did not mention it but I always have plenty of alcohol soaked lens cleaners in my pack, vehicle and camera vest pockets.

      I fell off a rock formation in the wilderness one time and got banged up pretty good. I used them to clean my gravel encrusted wounds. They come in handy as an emergency medical kit if the situation calls for it. 🙂

  5. rohan says:

    Its very nice to see the article like this ,nice post.thanks for sharing with us.

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