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Overlooked Essential Photography Equipment

Copyright 2005 Andy Richards

I have often spoken about planning and being prepared when in the field. When thinking about preparation for a photo-excursion recently, a thought occurred to me about certain “essential” items of equipment that I carry in the field that are often overlooked because they are not technically, photographic equipment.

Certain “essential” items of equipment I carry in the field are not technically “photographic equipment”

In October, 2004, my buddy, Rich and I traveled to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for a photo workshop at Tahquamenon Falls, with professional photographer and workshop leader, David Cardinal. I have normally phenomenal luck with weather on my photo excursions. When we went to Alaska, we had 6 out of seven days of partly to mostly sunny weather. Later, someone who lives there told me I probably got 50% of their annual clear days J. My October 2011 trip to San Francisco was mostly temperate and partly sunny to sunny. But the 2004 U.P. trip was a bust, weather-wise. We had one day of mostly solid, pouring rain and another of off and on rain. We never saw sun until the very last day as we were leaving, and only the hint of blue sky. Still, we were able to capture some nice images.

One memorable thing I took away from that workshop was the importance of carrying certain non-camera related equipment; namely, raingear! Today, my travel package includes the following items of “rain gear:”

  • Oversize Rain Poncho (which can not only protect me, but will drape over my tripod mounted camera)
  • Waterproof Rain Coat (don’t skimp on this item. True waterproofing will be important if you want it to really work. Spend the money and buy a good quality rain jacket from North Face or Columbia or Patagonia or someone specializing in rainwear or nautical water gear).
  • Waterproof Rain Pants
  • A rain hat
  • Waterproof Footwear
  • Large and Kitchen Size Trash bags (these are invaluable and can be improvised as rain ponchos, camera covers, kneeling pads and a receptacle for wet items)
  • Bath towel, hand towels (at least in the car, for when you return to the vehicle, hand towel to carry and use to keep lens clear of water drops and hands dry)
  • A good camera/lens rain hood is also a very worthwhile investment and will protect gear and allow shooting

Shooting in the rain will occasionally be a necessity and will sometimes yield really spectacular results that you may not ever be able to duplicate.

One memorable thing I took away from that workshop was the importance of carrying certain non-camera related equipment; namely, raingear!

Another group of essential gear items is cold weather gear. Again, if you aren’t willing to get out on the “edges” of weather and the early parts of the day, you will miss great photo ops. Often, this means it can be numbingly (literally—I have had times when I couldn’t feel my fingers) cold. I have winter gear for those few times I get out in the winter, including hunting/shooting fingerless glove-mitten combo and good footwear. I generally plan to dress in layers. But what about the rest of the year? The best seasons for shooting, in my view, are Fall and then again in Spring. Weather and temperatures are unpredictable at those times. It can be freezing at sunrise and 80 degrees by 2:00 p.m. I carry a pair of lighter “outdoor” gloves that have slots for the fingers that can be slid back, and a hat, or ear muffs all the time. I consider those two items essential gear and they are always in my bag.

Copyright 2010 Andy Richards

Footwear is another consideration. Obviously, solid footgear that is waterproof, not only for rain, but for early morning dew, and wet conditions, is important. There are some very good choices out there, and footwear is very much a matter of personal taste. But here is another piece of non-photographic gear I consider an important essential: rubber wading boots. The higher the better (though a full set of waders is probably too heavy and too hot). I have a pair of hip-high wading boots that are always in the car trunk. They are particularly useful when shooting in and around waterfalls and shallow streams. There is sometimes no better perspective than to get right out in the middle of the water.

If you aren’t willing to get out on the “edges” of weather and the early parts of the day, you will miss great photo ops

In July, 2010, Rich and our friend, Al, and I photographed a lighthouse from the beach at night on the Minnesota North Shore. When you are in the middle of action, trying to maneuver a flashlight around can be cumbersome. I carry a LED light “miner’s light”that can be strapped to your head or hat. They also make a visor-clip-on model. I also carry a clip-on LED light that can be clipped to many different objects. A small flashlight is also a good item to carry, and can be helpful in marking a trail on the way back from your photo op in the dark.

Copyright 2010 Andy Richards

In Spring, 2005, Rich and I returned to Tahquamenon Falls for some late Winter shooting. At one point we got our plans mixed up and got separated and ended up each waiting for the other for some time. Since then, I have carried a set of Motorola walkie talkies. Once again, an important essential if you travel or photograph in groups.

Safety is an important issue for photographers who are out in nature. Things that could be very important to have include a cell phone and portable GPS receiver. But be careful not to blindly rely on them, as a lot of our shooting takes places in remote areas where it is possible that there will be no cell signal and possibly no GPS signal. I carry an old-fashioned magnetic compass. If you are going to use a compass or GPS, you need to do some prior “recon” so you know reference points. It doesn’t do you much good to know which way is North if you don’t know where you are in the first place. Most of my trips involve a fair amount of map study prior to entering an area. If it is possible, carry a map with you. If you use a GPS, set the “trackback” feature before you leave your vehicle. And, make sure you have fully charged (and extra) batteries.

I also try to carry bottled water. While I don’t usually venture hours away from my vehicle, it can be very important to stay hydrated when out in the field.

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2 Responses

  1. I totally agree, Andy–some of the most important things I carry (and the most important purchases I’ve made in the last five-plus years) haven’t been of photographic equipment per se. Wading boots, snow overshoes, a rain-proof jacket (with a hood!)…worth their weight in gold to the nature photographer.

    • A couple of other good points, Kerry. Forgot about winter stuff (until I was out Saturday night). I have winter outerwear as well as layering gear, including synthetic long underwear and shirts. I also carry snowshoes in the trunk when traveling by car. You never know when you might want to head into the deep stuff. Thanks for reading and commenting

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