I am keeping with my tradition of a holiday list 2017 for landscape and wildlife photographers. I have decided not to avoid most photography gear as there are several other lists addressing that equipment. Rather, I am recommending other gear that I have used and tested this past year that you might not even know that you really need it! Much of the following is not found in photography stores!
An Extra Jacket!
One day last winter, I drove over an hour to wildlife area to photograph some of the migrating birds. I stopped before I arrived at my location to photograph a scene beside the road. The temperature was around 25 degrees and I was wearing several layers including a ¼ zip polartec sweater. As I opened the rear passenger door of my SUV to retrieve one of two jackets I had packed, I realized that both were still sitting on a chair in the kitchen. I hastily grabbed my gear and took my photo as I shivered. Next, I asked for directions to the nearest town with a store where I could purchase a jacket. I found a farm supply store and the first fleece coat was $75, the second I found was $49, and I finally found one for $19 (in camouflage pattern!). I purchased the jacket, a hunting orange hat, and gloves for reasonable price. The jacket resides in the back of my SUV when the weather turns cold. Just a few weeks ago, I loaned it to a hiking buddy who forgot his jacket! Watch the sales and find medium weight jacket you can keep in your vehicle for the days you are forgetful! (I found the large farm supply stores have some great buys.)
One day last winter, I was searching a wildlife area for American White Pelicans with no luck. When I was about to pack up and head home, I saw a flock fly overhead and land behind a stand of trees. I started hiking on a wide path, but one that was covered with briars and tall, wet grass. It was not a pleasant hike in blue jeans as the temperature was in the mid-40s. My wife gave me a pair of these upland briar pants soon after and I love them. I have hiked during colder weather through heavy brush, wet grasses, thorns, and briars. These pants are great. You stay dry and nothing penetrates the legs. However, you will need something to remove the briars. One item on my list last year was a Quickie 8.5-inch Palmyra Gong brush. It does a great job of removing burs and other sticky things as well as mud from your boots.
Sitting in a blind in weather below 40 degrees is cold. When I tell folks that I spent my day in a duck blind in cold weather, they give me a strange look. Dressing with the proper clothing is the key to staying warm. I really like these LL Bean wool pants. They are heavy and very warm. On the coldest day I can add some long johns and remain warm all day. They are also great for hiking in cold weather. These pants are washable, so no trip to the cleaners. You can find variations at different retailers, but I have found the LL Bean pants to be superb!
Plastic bin for my vehicle
When I go shooting, I hate having to load everything into my SUV. My wife suggested that I purchase a plastic bin (a 32 qt. deep bin works fine). This bin stays in my SUV all year. It has a variety of gear including a bean bag I use on my window when photographing birds, snow shoes for my tripod (last year’s list ), hats, and a host of other gear that I use. It also holds my extra jacket. I do not keep a lid on my bin as it over packed. The bin makes it easy to organize my gear and easy to remove it when I need my SUV to transport one of our dogs. It is also the right size to put behind the driver’s seat when friends go with me and we need more space in the back.
If you are landscape photographer, then you are often on location before the sun rises or after the sun sets. Hiking or setting up or packing your gear in the dark is not fun. My daughter recommended this head lamp as she and her friends are rock climbers and often hike after dark. I did find one difference. Having 6 to 10 climbers walking together with these makes for a lot more light than one solo photographer! I generally carry a 1200 Lumen Cree flashlight, but prefer the head lamp when setting up my gear. I also keep a variety of flashlights in a net pouch in the back of my SUV.
I do not think anyone plans on getting lost when hiking, but it does happen. A friend who is a very experienced hiker, told me a story one time of how he got lost by taking the wrong turn on his return trip in the middle of the summer. While I am not good at reading a compass, this GPS will help you return to your vehicle. When you start your hike, you click a button to mark the location of your vehicle and then turn it off. On the return trip, you turn the device on and the “compass” points you in the direction of your car. It does not have a map like Google maps or provided turn by turn directions. It simply points to the location of your car. You will need to follow a path or trail in that direction, or go cross country. Again, I do not plan on getting lost, but I want a plan if I do!
As a Boy Scout, I was taught to always be prepared. Thus, I always pack a lot of gear in the winter for changing conditions. Before sunrise, it can be very cold and I need heavy gloves. By 10:00 am it warms up and I need lighter weight gloves. The same goes for hats. I came by this bag by accident. I saw it on a Cabella’s website and added it to my wish list to investigate at a later time. Well, my wife found my list on Amazon and gave it to me for Christmas. It is a great bag with multiple pockets and this one even has a red LED light on the inside so you can find your gear in the dark. I store my camera bean bag, gloves, gators, hats, hand warmers, and other winter gear in it. The two side pockets are plastic giving the contents some protection. The bag is kept by the door with my hiking boots so I remember (almost always) to pack it in my SUV! As you can tell, I have discovered hunting gear is great for photographers!
If you have seen a photo of Ansel Adams in the field, then you might have noticed his wide brim floppy hat. There is still a reason for such a hat as you can use it to shade LED from the sunlight while you evaluate your image. I have three Tilley hats and love them all. I wear these three from late spring to early fall. They are great for hiking as they are ventilated and let the heat escape. They also shade you from the sunlight and help keep some bugs away.
A few years ago, I had an appointment with my dermatologist to learn the biopsy results of spot on my arm (I gave up some flesh that day). I was wearing a typical short sleeve polo shirt and when the doctor walked into the exam room he said, “You do have a long-sleeved shirt in your car?” Now, who wears a long-sleeve shirt when it is 90 degrees and 100% humidity? I do. I was told to NEVER go out without a long-sleeve shirt. My new dermatologist told his nurse that I am the model patient as I do what he says! I have a variety of sun shirts that I start wearing once I no longer need a jacket. The following are my favorites; however, you can find different brands from a variety of outdoor stores. I like the ones with zipper pockets, and always long sleeves.
I have many different colors of this shirt and wear them until the temperature goes above 80 degrees. They are quite comfortable and roomy enough to allow you to move your arms with ease. Generally, they go from the dryer to a hanger, but my wife will sometimes make me iron one if I am going someplace that would frown on a few wrinkles.
A few years ago, I was photographing a dog show during the summer and was getting overheated wearing one of my other sun shirts. A friend told me about the Coolibar shirts and stressed how lightweight and cool they were. I immediately ordered one. She was correct. I now have several Coolibar sun and fishing shirts that I wear when the temperature is above 80 degrees. They are great for any photography excursion I take in hot weather. They dry quite rapidly in the summer air. I have also been known to keep an extra one in the car on hot days when I am hiking so that I can change for my drive home.
Over the past couple of years, I have tried a number of camera bags. I have back problems, so I try to travel light and with a well-made pack. Before this bag, I purchased a true back pack and added two padded camera inserts. It was ok, but it took forever to retrieve my gear and then put it back. I have a few ThinkTank bags, the parent company of Mindshift, and I am impressed by their quality. I decided to purchase the Firstlight 30L bag as I wanted a bag that would ONLY hold one camera and maybe an extra lens (I can also strap my tripod on the outside). It is great with a full-frame camera and 24-70mm lens and it still has room for filters and another lens like the Nikon 16-35mm lens. It can also hold a full-frame camera with Sigma 150-600mm lens. The pack is comfortable to carry and easily adjustable. But, there are those days when I need more gear and I carry my old Gura Gear Kiboko 30L with nearly every piece of gear I own. Such trips typically result in a visit to my doctor and then several visits to a physical therapist. Such a decision only makes sense if I got a great photo.…
Polar Bear Coolers Nylon Series 12 Pack Black and Cooler Shock
You have probably seen those very expensive coolers that cost a lot more than even 24 cases of the best beer. I was doing some research for a good cooler to use as my old one was worn out. I found this Polar Bear cooler that is great. I also purchased four, 10”x 9” Cooler Shock envelopes. You fill each envelop with a prescribed amount of water, seal with an iron and freeze. The water activates a gel that is really cold. The envelops are made from some type of plastic. I initially used one envelop in the cooler and my food stayed cool all day. On one very hot day, I used two cooler packs and put my sandwich between the two. Four hours later, my sandwich was frozen! I highly recommend the cooler and cooler packs for use all year. Place your sandwich to the side and not between the two ice packs! I can add a small bag of ice for my ice tea and it remains frozen for a full day of shooting. I keep my ice packs in a chest freezer for maximum cooling.
Every list needs something that is not too expensive. I discovered the Mindshift Contact Sheet and decided it would be a great addition to gear. I use to when I have to put my backpack down on the wet ground or when I need to get on the ground to photograph a wildflower. It is lightweight and compact and great addition to your gear. The Contact Sheet lives in an outer pocket of my backpack.
I hope you enjoyed my list this year and that it has some items that you really need! Best wishes for the holidays and many days of great shooting in the coming year!