It is now less than 7 weeks until I leave for my Road Trip across America. I am sure most people planning a big trip make a list of things that they need to take with them and a camera will feature somewhere on most of those lists. Some people will make do with clearing space on the memory of their phones, others might dust off the digital camera that they probably haven’t used since their last holiday, but when the purpose of the trip is to photograph some of the most iconic landscapes in America, deciding on camera equipment takes on a whole different level of importance.
When fully packed, my camera bag weighs almost 20 kilograms, that is a lot of weight to carry through desert landscapes and up hills of 4,000m, not too mention getting it on a transatlantic flight. With kit valued at £10,000 there is no way that I am letting it out of my sight, so it has to be hand luggage, in fact that was one of the considerations when I booked flights, I choose British Airways as they allow up to 23 Kgs of hand luggage.
With all this in mind I sat down the other day to decide on the kit that I absolutely needed to take with me and what I could afford to leave behind. I already have a list of the shots I want to take and it was a case of going through this and deciding on the best camera and lens combinations needed for each shot. Although I mostly shoot landscapes I will be spending some time in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and hope to photograph the diverse range of wildlife there.
I am actually taking three cameras with me. My two Nikon DSLRs and my Go Pro. Two DSLRs was a no brainer, I own two cameras and taking them both gives me options to have a wide and telephoto lens close to hand at all times, it also gives me some resilience in the event of a breakdown. The GO Pro will mostly be used to shot video, but having a camera on the end of a long pole (a selfie stick) does give me different options, in fact I once won $500 in a competition for a photograph shot on my Go Pro.
Deciding on which lenses to take and which to leave was a more difficult choice. I am lucky enough to own the “Holy Trilogy” of Nikon Lens, the 14-24mm f2.8, the 24-70mm f2.8 and the 70-200mm f2.8. If you are not into photography that probably means very little to you, but with these 3 zoom lenses I have coverage from 14mm all the way up to 200mm. The human eye generally has a field of view equivalent to 50mm on a full frame camera. By comparison to this then 14mm gives an incredibly wide view and 200mm is a significant telephoto. These are three quality lenses that will give sharp fast focusing for almost all the landscapes shots that I will encounter. While these are excellent lenses they are big and heavy, so I have also decided to take my fixed 50mm f1.4 Nikon Lens, it has roughly the same field of view as the human eye, it is small and light and with a maximum aperture of f1.4 it can be used in low light situations without flash.
I have chosen one other lens to take and that is my Sigma 150-600mm f5.6. With a maximum focal length of 600mm this is a beast of a lens, it is big and heavy but will produce result for the wildlife shots. This is the lens that I use for all my rugby shots and it is fairly common for me to catch the action in sharp detail from the opposite end of a rugby pitch. If I can catch the bears of Kirkcaldy Rugby Club with this, then the bears at Yellowstone have no chance!
All the major prizes that I have won for photography have been cityscapes shot with my Nikon 16-35mm f4 lens. Although I will be shooting cityscapes on the Road Trip I have decided not to take this lens. I have other lenses that provide the same focal length and offer greater diversity, I may live to regret this, but had to make some decisions around what was most practical for the trip.
In addition to lenses, filters are a significant part of my photography workflow. Filters adapt and enhance the light as it enters your camera. Many of the effects that filters offer can now be reproduced by software in post processing, but I believe in trying to get as good a shot as possible at the time it is taken. I have decided to take three filters:
- Polarising Filter – this reduces reflections and glare and enhances saturation, it is a must for any landscape photographer and its effect is almost impossible to reproduce with software.
- Three Stop Neutral Density Graduated Filter (ND Grad) – in most landscapes scenes taken during the day, the sky will be significantly brighter than the land, you may not notice this as the human eye is very good at adjusting to it, but a camera is not as flexible and an exposure for the land will over expose the sky. An ND Grad filter brings down the exposure for the sky giving a more balanced overall shot.
- Big Stopper – A big stopper acts like a pair of really dark sun glasses on your camera and reduces the amount off light getting through, this allows exposure times to be extended to produce effects such as long streaky clouds and silky water trails.
These filter are big pieces of glass (6 inches wide) they are not heavy but come with bulky packaging to protect them. There is a big range of other filters that I could have taken but these will be the most practical for the situations I think I will encounter.
I have also prepared a checklist of other equipment, which I will be taking with me when I am out taking photos, just to help you understand the amount of planning and effort that goes into this:
- Two Tripods
- Selection of Go Pro Mounts
- Cable Release
- Remote (non cable) Release
- Two Flash Guns
- Set of Remote Flash Triggers
- Lens Clothes
- Lens Spray
- Blower Brush
- Soft Brush
- Cotton Cloth
- Water proof camera covers
- Spare Batteries for all cameras and every accessory
- Head Torch
- Ear Plugs
- Rubbish Bag
- Note Book
- Small First Aid Kit
- Pain Relief
- Sun Bloc
- Insect repellent
If you are not into photography the question that you will have on your mind right now is why go to all that bother when you can get just a good shot on you phone? There is no denying that the quality of some photography taken on mobile phones is great, but would you really want to get close enough to a grizzly bear to photograph it with your phone or would you prefer to do it from 100 yards away and still get a portrait quality shot? Phone photography is great for viewing on the back of your phone but I often produce prints that are 36 inches long and believe me when I say that at that size you can see every imperfection and a phone shot would just not cut it.