Often I argue that camera equipment is only as good as the photographer behind that equipment. With every situation comes a set of circumstances, challenges, and opportunities to capture the best image possible. Deciding what to use in such cases comes from experience, time and knowledge of one’s own abilities. Every photographer has their own preference for equipment, accessories and tools to get the job done. My bag is no different.
For myself, the bag varies depending on what kind of shooting I’m going to be doing. Since my areas of expertise and passion lay within Wildlife, Landscape and Aviation, the camera gear I bring with me on my travels is in accordance with each of those areas.
*Please Note in the Links below* that some of the gear I use, such as my 600 F4 being an older model and thus none available, have no links. Therefore the links present are to current gear options.
Nikon 77mm Clear NC Glass Filter along with other sizes for ALL Lens.
Camera Accessories and Other Items
Gitzo GT3541XLS Tripod with RRS BH-55 Head
I have two primary camera bags, the MP-1 and a Airport International ThinkTank rolling camera bag.
Lastly, a good set of gloves, beenie and business cards are always present
When Working With Wildlife
As I started out saying each time I go out shooting there is always a difference in gear depending on what I’m going for. When I’m working with wildlife my MP-1 is lighter and heavier. The 600f4 is always in the bag when I’m going out for critters. That is the optimal lens for working with wildlife at a distance without encroaching on them or causing them distress. With that lens, hand holding goes out the window, it’s just too long and too heavy to keep steady with an outstretched arm. The 200-400 is perfect for hand holding and working with critters; however, it doesn’t fit in the same bag with a 600f4. Here’s the condition I go by. If I’m flying somewhere to work with critters I often don’t take the 200-400, it’s just another hassle shipping a lens to the destination. If I’m driving somewhere, like one of my day trips to Yellowstone National Park, then there is no issue taking both bags. There are times when this changes, like when it’s back to back trips and I’m working with planes and wildlife then the necessity comes up, but minimizing cost is always something to be aware of. Also with a 70-200 VRII and a TC-17e in the bag, I always have an equivalent to the 200-400. This way there is always an option in my bag, if I need long range with minimal hand holding. Be aware that shooting in low light with a TC-17e teleconverter brings down the shutter speed and removes 1 stop which can cause images to be out of focus.
Now other than the change in big glass, my bag pretty much stays the same. Now with the 600f4 in my bag and ready to use, I have to have a tripod sturdy enough to support it. The Gitzo 5540 with a Wimberley Gimbal Head always goes with me. The Wimberley head allows the lens to rest comfortably while being secure. Also the knobs allow for total horizontal and vertical movement but with enough tension that you don’t have to be holding it the whole time. This setup is great for any long range glass but not so good for landscape when I’m using a D3 with an L Bracket attached. For that reason I often take a separate tripod, Gitzo GT 3541 with a BH 55 head. For those of you wondering, yes luggage can get heavy and packing becomes an art form.
Now one last crucial item that I use with my Wildlife and Landscape work is the Nikon GP-1 GPS Unit and Cable. It’s a great tool to have when you’re trying to map where you’ve been, where you take landscape shots that you like or where you find certain critters. Since the land changes and critters move it helps to track them over the years.
Besides the above mentioned gear, the only other significant things that go with me is a leathermen, good pair of boots, field shirts, chargers, notebook and a positive attitude that I won’t get skunked for the day.
When Working With Landscapes
Landscape setup is actually pretty simple, at least I try and keep it that way. Whenever I go out for critters I always keep in mind the landscape around me for possible shots. A big part of photographing critters isn’t just the portrait shot of that animal but also the habitat that it lives in. The story of where it lives, how it lives is just as important as what it is. The lens I use to show this is the 14-24, 24-70, 70-200. Occasionally the 200-400 comes out for some shots but not that often.
When I’m not working with the Wildlife Landscape combo and it’s just landscape then I go rather striped down. I use a sling bag which holds the 14-24, 24-70, 70-200 and a flash. Usually one of those lens will be on the camera the whole time and I’ll just switch back and forth.
When Working With Aviation
Aviation photography has not only become a favorite of mine but also a new challenge to overcome. Photographing airplanes is all about bringing back the romance of flight. It was become a lost dream for most in today’s generation, but there was a time when the idea of defying gravity, of reaching the clouds and beyond was the greatest thing possible. That ideal is always something with me when I’m photographing planes.
Now I break down photographing planes into three different categories; static (when a plane is parked on the ground), ground to air and air to air. If you bring people into the mix, which is very important to photograph the pilots, crew and whenever possible Veterans, then it turns into four categories. Often it is that last one that is the most rewarding.
The standard gear I bring in my thinkTank whenever working with planes is the 14-24, 24-70, 70-200, 200-400, TC-17e and a flash. Most of the time, especially at Airshows, I have the above mentioned sling bag on my back which holds all of the gear with the exception of the 200-400 which is attached to a body and a Sunsniper Strap which is also carried. This is the time when you go ugh cause that’s what i always say when walking the flight lines with 25lbs of gear on my back. Thankfully the planes make up for the weight.
When working with statics my favorite lens are the 14-24, 24-70, and 70-200. Depending on which show and what the photo passes are like, completely changes what lens I use. A lot of the time I can’t get close enough to use the 24-70 so the 70-200 is perfect. Also when there’s 2 dozen photographers shooting the same plane, space becomes an issue and it’s just more polite to work from a distance so that you’re not in anyone’s way. The one surprising lens that you wouldn’t think about for detail shots or static shots is the 200-400. At an airshow event where there is a big crowd and you’re working around people, the 200-400 is perfect for isolating plane details without getting people in the shot. The long glass is great for keeping a distance and therefore not swarming a plane. Static photography is very much about getting the wide angle beauty shots as well as the detail shots. Each plane has unique characteristics and getting those subtle details to show is crucial. To some extent it’s like landscape work, light is the key, sunrise and sunset shots can be the most powerful and post finishing work is critical.
Ground to Air is somewhat easy in comparison. As the name implies it’s when you are standing on the ground looking up at the planes as they go by. The true test is being able to pan with the planes as they go by, for some that’s harder then for others. The 200-400 is the lens of preference, the weight is manageable when panning and it’s enough range for most airshows.
Air to Air is by far the hardest. It requires teamwork, practice, patience and most of all trust. When flying air to air you’re in one plane and you’re photographing another. The teamwork between the pilots and the photographers is essential. Besides the necessary harness and headset radio the rest of the gear is totally dependent on what kind of plane you fly in. Some are smaller and have less to space to work in, while in others that challenge is gone. Most of the time the lens of choice for myself is the 70-200 and a TC-17e, it’s enough range that the planes aren’t small in the frame but also aren’t just pilot shots. This choice is based somewhat on trial and error but also it allows for the planes to be further away from the photo ship which not only makes the flight more flexible but also safer. Now not always but often the P7000 is in the hot shoe for video purposes. Although not essential having video capabilities makes the flight more fun.
Photos Courtesy of Nikon Press Room