Many times you will find photographers who specialize in one type of photography or subject matter. In nature, we have underwater photographers, landscape photographers, bird photographers, wildlife photographers, adventure photographers, and so on. I guess that if you build up a clientele and specific images from you is what they want, you shoot what pays the bills. But that seems a bit limiting to me. As a generalist, I go out and shoot the light. I look for great subjects. These might be landscapes, they may be extreme macro or intriguing wildlife. So I have to be ready for many different possibilities. Sometimes I wish that I would limit myself to one or the other. This would sure cut down on the gear that I carry. The more techniques I learn, it seems the more equipment I carry. Not always with me, but at least in the car. Adding video (along with audio capture) now adds even more to the mix.
These are typical from April 5 in Cades Cove: They vary from landscape to wildlife to macro.
So, what should a general nature photographer start out carrying in their pack?
1 to 2 camera bodies- In the old film days, one body would have slow speed film (Fuji Velvia which I shot at 40 ISO) and then a higher speed film for wildlife or just higher shutter speeds. Now with the capability of changing your ISO between shots in the same camera, carrying 2 bodies into the field is not quite as important. Carrying 2 bodies when you travel is important, because you never know when disaster may strike and if you only have one camera body, your trip may be doomed.
Wide angle lens – I keep a 17-35mm F2.8 lens in my pack all the time. I love the field of view from really wide angles. Remember that you loose the extreme wide angle if you camera is not a full frame camera. Then a lens like a 12-24mm lens (which is the same as 18-36 on full frame) on your APS-C sensor camera will do.
Medium Zoom – in my pack is either a 24-85mm (with macro capability) or a 24-70mm lens. Both are good lenses. The 24-70mm f2.8 Nikon is an extremely sharp lens, but weighs a ton. I have made the mistake of carrying only a wide angle zoom and a telephoto zoom and then find a scene that was inbetween.
Telephoto Zoom- a 70-200mm f2.8 is my mainstay lens for this range. With a 1.4 convertor, your reach is out to almost 300 at f4.
These 3 lenses are always in my pack. I frequently add my 200mm f4 Nikon Micro along with a 24mm PCE Micro (tilt shift lens) and a 16 mm f2.8 Nikon fisheye.
Usually along in the car is my 200-400mm f4 Nikon big telephoto. This is my wildlife lens but it is also handy in doing extreme compression of a scene.
Through in a cable release, a circular polarizer, a bulb blower, and a lens cloth and I am good to go.
Oh, in case you’re wondering, the fuzzy thing on top of my pack in the bottom right hand corner that looks like a mouse is my Sennheiser MKE 400 microphone for shooting video. It just has a fluffy windscreen on it that cuts down wind noise outside.
All of my equipment fits into my Think Tank Airport Acceleration bag, which works well for plane travel as well and 4-8 mile hikes.
I carry my tripod with me everywhere I go and use it once I have scouted around and found my position and framing for my subject. I have been using the FEISOL Elite Tripod CT-3372 Rapid tripod that I really like. My wish for FEISOL is that they take this tripod and add another section to it so the overall height is taller. I still use a Really Right Stuff Ballhead, but FEISOL also makes ballheads that look really good. I just haven’t used them to render any type of judgment.
But what do I use if I find myself without all of this equipment? I pull out my iPhone and snap away if there is a great subject and great light. My wife uses a small point and shoot all the time for her photography when we are out shooting. (She claims she isn’t a photographer, but her work is good and she is my best scouting partner, finding things I miss and scouting while I am shooting. If I could just tear her away from her lab more often to go with me.)