Photography Gear Recommendations
We recommend you spend a little bit of time reviewing the information below, particularly if you are uncertain of what camera gear to bring, or if you feel you lean towards the beginner side of the spectrum in your technical skills.
Our guides don't have a specific brand of model of camera that they recommend. They have enough experience in the market place that they have seen lots of different brands and models and they have come to the conclusion that it's the photographer, not the camera, that gets great pictures. You'll find that most of our guides shoot more than one brand and / or model, finding that certain features work better in specific circumstances and they appreciate that ability to chose the tool that best fits the situation at hand. More often than not, when talking to long term shooters, you'll find that their allegiance is more tied to their glass investment than it is a specific brand.
What we will do here, is list a set of features that we think are important to have in the camera you might bring, or one that you might be considering buying. Not only would it best if your chosen gear supported these features, listed below, but you should know how to find them on your camera. That doesn't mean you have to know the features inside and out, that's what we are here for, but at the very least you MUST bring your camera manual with you to the workshop. Doesn't necessarily have to be in print form, could be on your phone, tablet, computer, but at least somewhere where we can look up feature information when we need to.
Manual Exposure Mode: Our guides all believe in the value of knowing and being able to use "Manual Mode" on your camera. Now this doesn't mean we think you have to shoot in this mode all the time, in fact a high percentage of the time we don't, but being able to use "Manual Mode" conveys that you have a fundamental understanding of an exposure and have the ability to selectively control and override what the camera's meter is telling you. You'll find that a lot of professional / technically competent photographers actually shoot in
"Aperture Preferred Mode" most of the time, taking advantage of the speed of the camera's decision making process in this mode, yet still being able to creatively control composition on the fly. If this is a new concept to you, don't worry we'll be talking about this throughout the course of the workshop.
You'll also find that we are pretty much against using "Program Mode" or "Automatic" as we don't want our cameras making "average" exposure and correspondingly "average" composition decisions for us. Long story short, don't give away creative control or sacrifice your understanding of exposure selection.
Bulb Mode: In all reality it's best to think of "Bulb Mode" as an extension of "Manual Mode". "Bulb Mode" essentially is the control that allows you to get to extended exposure times and begin to work with creative filters and / or light reducation filtration on a much more controlled basis. Most modern DSLR's, in "Manual Mode", have a limitation of a 30" (30 Seconds) exposure as the longest built in exposure time. "Bulb Mode" allows the usage of much longer shutter speeds, which allows for much wider creative latitude in terms of long exposure and specialty lighting / filration. We will spend a reasonable amount of time in our workshop, employing and leveraging these longer shutter speeds to create significantly more impactful images of landscape scenes.
One thing worth considering, while using "Bulb Mode", is the triggering mechanism you are going to use. Certainly a contact cable release is fine, but that requires you to be the time. In our experience, photographers are much happier, when doing copious amounts of long exposure work, using remotes that support the setting and tracking of exposure time. If you have any questions about this, please let us know.
Manual Focus Mode: No we are not going to make you shoot in "Manual Focus Mode" for the entire workshop. Sure purists have their say here, but the reality is the "Autofocus" capabilities, within most modern DSLR's, for exceeds are ability to focus as fast as reliably. That being said, there are times, during almost all of our workshops, where the exposure techniques we will be using (long exposure, focus stacking, dynamic range management) where "Manual Focus" is preferred, it's really a necessity. Luckily most camera manufacturers recognize this desire and have factored that into their designs. For you, it's good if you know how to quickly go in and out of "Manual Focus" on your camera and / or lens.
Histogram Display: Ah yes, the histogram, you all them, right? We maybe you do, maybe you don't, or just maybe we just started spouting Greek. No matter your level of knowledge we are going to spend a lot of time thinking about the histogram. It is important that we readily understand how to interpret that data that's beeing presented in that tiny little graph, but we also want to know when and why we want to utilize that information. By the time one of workshops are done, you are going to clearly understand that proposition as well as become hooked on the advantages that that data provides you while shooting, editing and preparing output.
Some additional camera thoughts…
Here are some additional features that we think come in handy. It's important to understand that not every camera body may have all these features and that's okay. While these features are handy, we can also make these approaches to exposure work manually as well. If your camera has them, study up, if not don't sweat it we'll make do. At the very least get yourself a rough idea about what we mean when we are talking about the features below. We will covet them in the workshop for sure.
Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB): Some of the scenes that we are going to encounter will raise issues with our camera's dynamic range capabilities (without getting too technical here, we see more range of light than our camera's do, so this is one mechanism for combating that shortfall).
Focus Stacking There are just some scenes that call for more depth of field than you can squeeze out of your lens and maintain an acceptable image quality. In these situations, the ability to progressive move the focal plane, at an ideal aperture setting, provides just the component images needed to create an exquisitely detailed resulting picture.
This is likely a penetrating glimpse of the obvious but, memory cards are where your pictures are stored. No memory card, no photographs…sound ominous enough? Seriously bring more than one, heck bring three (3) or four (4) and bring them in something that protects them (i.e. waterproof, dust proof, etc.).
Some things to consider as you are thinking about memory cards for your camera.
Speed: As far as memory cards go, the faster the better and in more ways than one. Faster memory cards empty the camera's temporary buffer faster, and get you back to shooting faster. In a lot of cameras, the speed of memory card effects the frame rate of the camera. Yes I know we are not shooting sports here and burst rates of 14 frames per second aren't a common need, but high dynamic ranges sequences almost always benefit from a speedy frame rate. Not to mention, as that bear is walking by, do you want to wait for your camera to save that last image? Not us!
Capacity: When it comes to memory cards, size does matter. More often than not, this decision comes down to overall capacity of a card versus its cost, but with memory card prices continuing to spiral downwards, the should be getting to be a bit of a no brainer. Long story short a couple of big cards can be great, but a handful of smaller cards can cost less. Hey it's your wallet!
So here's the long and short of it: Memory cards can and will fail, it's only a matter of time. In a lot of cases even with a card failure you can still rescue the vast majority of the pictures. What you can't do, is find a place to by another memory card out in the wild and some of the towns that we stay in might not have them readily available. This is a problem that is easy to avoid and be prepared for, bring a spare or two or four.
Sometimes this can be a question that's hard to clearly (yes, we know the jokes are getting worse…) answer. Camera lenses come in all shapes, sizes, capabilities and most importantly price points. We'll provide some recommendations here and tell you what we like to use and then you have to let your conscience, your wallet and your other half decide. You don't have to bring the sames lenses we do, this isn't a contest. What you do have to do is love the lenses that you have, get to know them well and we'll make them do great things while we are out in the wild.
A quick venture into the generic part of the lens discussion will have us making a couple of over-arching observations. One we tend to stick to what is called "faster" glass. All this means is, when considering lens choices, you will find most of our guides select lenses with bigger apertures when they can. This allows for more light gathering ability, equating to faster potential shutter speeds and ultimately less images sacrificed to movement / blur that can happen at lower shutter speeds. This is a little bit of a sticky conversation, because tripods, image stabilization, etc. can mititgate this issue, but by and larger the "faster" the glass the more exposure options you have at your finger tips.
The other feature that landscape photographers tend to look for, is that of lenses that do "internal focus". Essentially this means, that focus is obtained by components within the lens construction doing the necessary movement, while the outside, or external, elements do not move while focus is obtained. This may sound like splitting hairs, but if you are using polarization fileters, you will greatly appreciate this design feature.
Wide Angle: Throughout the course of the workshop, your wide angle lens is likely to be your "go to" lens and for good reason. Our workshops are designed around scenic vistas, sweeping landscapes and iconic scenes that require a wide ranging field of view to take it all in. The typical choice for this lens will be a 24-70 f/2.8 lens. This particular combination of focal length range and the corresponding wide, constant aperture, makes this one of our "goto" lenses. It provides a compelling field of view and its wide open aperture capability can help in the creating of some outstanding out of focus background elements.
Standard: While we are out in the field, there may not be much call for a "standard" focal length lens (when we say standard focal length we mean 50mm for a full frame camera and 35mm for a crop sensore camera). This standard focal length lens for most cameras is the lens that closely approximates the field of view that your eye would normally see. Portrait images are generally viewed as being more aesthetic at this focal length, than their wider focal length counterparts as the human brain more nautrally relates to the representation of the objects in the scene. All that being said, we generally always tend, as photographers, to have at least one lens along, in this focal length, for impromptu street shooting and / or people shots.
Telephoto: Telephoto lenses have the distinct advantage of bringing far away things in closer. Sometimes this can make the difference between a compelling wildlife shot and an image that has a critter in it somewhere. The down side to longer focal length / telephoto lenses is that they naturally are bigger and weigh more. It can be a challenge to travel with such lenses and they typically require some addtional support mechanisms as well. On the other hand, if the workshop is likely to see lots of wildlife. The we recommend the longest lens that your back and wallet can manage. In recent years 150mm-500mm and 200mm-600mm lenses have become more popular, have seen significant increases in quality, couple with significant decreases in price.
Macro: You will never have a macro lens with you when you see the perfect macro subject in the field, at least that's the way it seems. Sometimes going out to shoot for the day, meanse picking a lens or two and living with the capabilities you have included in your camera bag for the day. However if you are interested in macro and you have the capacity to carry it, bring a macro lens along can open up another line of imaging for you while out in the field. Workshops that are in the Spring and Fall tend to offer more impromptu macro opportunities and having a macro lens along for these can open you up to some great images.
Night Sky: If the workshop you are going to attend specifically calls for a number of night and / or star trail shoots, then you will want to specifically consider a lens for that type of imaging. Basically speaking wider focal lengths (something in the 15mm – 35mm range) are called for in capturing those wide sweeping views of the sky and wider apertures save the day with exposure times (consider lense with apertures of f/2.8 or wider as your best tools in this quest). See the specific workshop description for a run down of the lenses that we think we appropriate for that workshop.
During the course of almost all of our workshops we will be talking about advanced exposure techniques that are made possible by the use of specific filters. Don't worry about the word "advanced", that doesn't mean they are difficult, just that we haven't explained them to you yet. By the time you are done, shooting in the field with us, you'll have these advanced techniques nailed and you will be making them a part of your regular repetoire'.
A good set of filters can be invaluable in the field. Not only should the quality of the filters be considered, but the way that they attach and detach from your lens is an important consideration as well. Read on for our recommendations on both systems and the filters that are used with the.
Filter Systems / Holders:
Before we talk about filters, let's take a quick look at filter holders. Traditionally filters have screwed onto the end of the lens, using threaded rings that mimic the thread pitch on the front of the lens itself. While this provides a secure mounting mechanism, it also confines that filter to only be used on a lens with a matching thread pitch for mounting it. In more recent years filter system have become all the rage and these systems allow the filter holder to be moved from differing lens sizes via a series of correspondingly sized adapter rings.
We are all in favor of this type of system, as while it has a little bit higher up front cost, it does offer a lower overall cost when it's used across multople lens front ring sizes. Make sure, that if you go that route, the system you select allows for simple connection and removal of the holder from the front of the lens. Ideally something that gently snaps on and snaps off is best, as it tends to have less chance of shifting the focus of the lens.
A polarizing filter not only provides some level of control of off angle light, but it can also significantly impact the contrast in your images. Long know for creating more dramatic, impact skies, the polarizer is a perennial favorite of almost all serious landscape photographers.
A neutral density filter works exactly as it names implies, applying density which cuts light out of the seen and doing it neutrally so that color is not shifted with the reducation of light. This is where the simplicity ends. While neutral density filters aren't necessarily hard to use, it can sometimes be a little difficult to get dialed into higher quality options. There are lots of inexpensive neutral density filters available in the marketplace, but care should be observed when selectin them for your use. Do some research via Google, or the search engine of your choice and see what previous buyers have to say about the one you are considering. Avoid ones that are noted for introducing color shifts into your images, your post production editing time will thank you.
Cable Release / Remote
This conversation is a pretty quick one and bascially our purposes here is to keep your hands off the camera body. Why, because some of the techniques we will be exploring will utilize exposure techniques where movement of the camera, even the slightest amount, will ruin the image you are taking. Long exposure, high dynamic range and focus stacking images all benefit dramatically from solid camera support and no movement while the frame(s) are being captured.
Okay, so what do we recommend. Ideally a remote release that's both a timer, intervalometer and works wirelessly is best, but then those cost more. Good cable releases that offer timing and intervolemter functionality, but need to be connected cost less. A cable release that is simply a contact button, will get your where you need to be, costs almost nothing, but requires you to be the timer.
It is worth noting, cell phones apps are available that provide a lot of the above mentioned functionaliy and they can be good choices as well. But take it from our guides, make sure that you understand if your cell phone battery dies, your specialty exposure opportunities our over until that battery gets recharged.
Tripod selection is a topic that requires some good supporting information (yes…groan, but we couldn't resist). A solid tripod for almost all of our workshops, is a necessity, as the exposure techniques we will be exploring require a rock solid camera support. Our intention, as we are shooting in the field, is to think through our images, maximizing the scene in front of us, so a tripod is a critical element in this contemplative process.
There are lots of tripod brands out there and we, over years of use, have setteled on the ones we like best (just ask we'll be happy to share our thoughts with you). Generically speaking we favor tripods that can end extended to heights a foot or two above the user (just wait till you're standing on a hill, it will all become clear then), are more or less opposed to ones that have center columns and really look for tripod solutions that allow quick release of the camera and swaps from portrait to landscape perspective with ease. Typically these are tripods that offer a l-bracket type solution with a clamp based attachment to the head of some type.
It seems as though every photographer must know the sinking feeling of having a shot in front of them and even worse a dead camera to go with that shot. Don't forget to throw any extra batter pack or two in your camera bag / backpack. Keep this in mind, there may be times when another photographer can help you, but for the most part battery packs are becoming more and more proprietary so you may end up out of luck in the field if your battery dies and you don't have a spare.
Another thought, worth sharing, cold weather (if you are at a workshop with cold weather, can really zap a battery pack a lot quicker than normal. If you are in the outdoors and it's cold out, keep your extra batery packs close to your body. Inside pouches and pockets work best, as they allow the battery to stay closer to your body heat and potentially last just a little bit longer. It's even possible that that battery pack, that you thought was drained, can have just a little more juice in it when warmed up a tad.
Camera Bag / Backpack
For the most part this discussion is going to be mostly about camera backpacks, mostly because from our point of view that's the most practical approach to wlidlife and landscape photography. Not we're not saying a backpack is the only way to go, but to us it seems to offer the greated amount of flexibility and comfort all at the same time.
Some general things to keep in mind:
- The larger the backpack the more stuff you will put in it. This is not a horrible thing, but it is important to keep in mind, that weight will seem heavier and heavier as the day wares on. Try to consider the likely shots you will encounter on a given day in the field and keep your gear down to a list that meets the shooting requirements for that day. It will always come down to this; you will bring stuff along you don't use and you will forget something that you wish you hadn't. Make the best of what you have with you!
- Try to select a pack that allows you to bring along some other essential items. You won't be planning to spend longer in the outdoors than you originally thought, but being prepared came make a huge difference. Snacks, layered clothing options and hydration can go a long, long ways. Make sure you consider some room for those items.
- Last but not least, if you hate backpacks and like a shoulder based camera bag, who are we to tell you no. Do what works best for you, but remember we are here to offer guidance if you are interested in our opinions and experience.
Some of our workshops will have varying degrees of exposure to humidity and / or water. This can range from on-going mists and rain, all the way up to and including hikes that involve multiple water crossings to get to our shooting location of choice. Refer to the workshop's itinerary and description to determine if a workshop that you are considering might involve this type of exposure.
In the event that you are attending such a workshop, you should definitely consider pickup up some dry bags to put inside your camera bag or backpack. Dry bags allow you to easily drop contents into the bag, much like a stuff sack and then provides a roll down opening that provides a fairly water tight seal.
Dry bags are by no means perfect and for the most part they are generally not designed to be submerged for any period of time, but they do server their purpose well for that occasionally burst of rain or that poorly place footing that lands you in the river bed.
You'll find dry bags in varying sizes and even differing colors. Our guides use smaller dry bags that allow them to easily get to one piece of bagged equipment at a time, preferring this approach over larger dry bags where they have to dig for their desired item. One typically approach is a dry bag for the camera body, big enough that it allows a lens to stay attached. Each additional lens has its own dry bag and then maybe an additional couple of dry bags for things like cable release and other electronic items. If it doesn't get bothered by moisture then those items are just place in the backpack normally.
One other consideration, one configuration, that is favored by seasoned landscape and wildlife photographers is a tripod setup that allows the photographer to hike with the tripod over their shoulder with the camera attached. This setup allows instant access to the camera and a fairly nimble ability to move quickly from scene to scene and shot to shot. These photographers, when involved in shooting with potentially humidity and moisture, will utilize a dry bag that's not only big enough for the camera and attached lens, but with enough additional slack that the bag itself can be sandwiched between the camera and the tripod clamp. Ideal for moving quickly in the rain or river crossing, but flexible enough to get the camera out rapidly when needed.
As important as photography is to our workshops you'll find that we place an equally important emphasis on post-production concerns. A wonderful raw capture is exactly that, raw. In order to bring out its true potential that raw file will require the benefit of subtle and not so subtle editing steps.
In order to take advantage of everything that our workshop offers, we recommend that our participants bring laptop computers, with the following software installed:
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom CC
Adobe Photoshop CC
If any of the above software titles are foreign to you, or items that you have previously not consider owning, don't get to worried about it. We can and will get you up to speed with them quickly and if you are still on the fence about purchasing them, all the titles are offered in 30 day trial versions. So you can try each application without the commitment of expense until you are sure you like them.
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom
Many photographers think of Lightroom as the leading choice for imaging workflow. The software provides a host of tools that allow for ingest, review and culling of recently captured images. These capabilities make rapid collection of images and their corresponding assessment much easier to manage. The organized filtration by exposure metadata allows for timely assessment of previously selected exposure settings and gives unparalleled assistance in post shoot exposure evaluation. This review and evaluation can prove to be invaluable in diagnosing and correcting technique shortfalls on a timely basis.
Early on, in our workshops, we like to take some time out to look at the images that our participants are capturing. We find that this early assessment allows us to make course corrections for the shooter and guide them to better images. Nothing worse than attending a workshop for five to side days, only to get home and find that you were plug by some minor technical difficultly throughout and came home with nothing that makes you happy about your experience.
Once we have a handle on using Lightroom's workflow tools, we will move on to exploring Lightroom's Develop Module features. The Develop Module, in Lightroom, features Adobe Camera Raw based non-destructive editing, which is a wonderful way to try different editing steps on images, knowing that going back to the original raw image is always possible. A number of the global editing features present in the Develop Module give the editor rapid, effective methods for dialing in image crop, white balance and overall tonal adjustments.
Our guides will share, with you, carefully considered workflow strategies, that they have discovered through many years of editing, which provide for an optimum image editing experience and at the same maintain the integrity of the image's histogram and quality. There is a specific optimized order to fine art image editing and we will share that flow with you and explain the benefits, to you, of doing so.
Adobe's Photoshop, after decades, still reigns supreme as the digital image editor of choice for almost every professional, serious and even amateur photographer. Its host of adjustment, filter, retouching and composite editing features are unrivaled in both quantity and quality. The wealth of publications, tutorials and helpful presets in existence, often times free of charge, make this application's capabilities accessible to most everyone.
Our guides have extensive experience with Photoshop and even offer Photoshop based curriculum to camera dealers, user groups and educational institutions near there home bases. They have become extremely proficient at using the application most effectively and are more than happy to share this knowledge with our participants. During all of our workshops we carve out time to spend exploring editing some of our recently captured images in a group setting.
Our guides purposely break image editing into a number of distinct steps:
In pre-editing we are typically concerned with two specific steps:
- Image crop
- White balance / color temperature
In global edits we concern ourselves with image edits that effect the exposure and tonality of the image as a whole, with a constant subjective eye on the entire frame and the histogram as our quality boundary. It is worth noting that we don't always make, or even recommend, these global edits. It is important to differentiate between an effective edit and one that sacrifices one region of the image for another.
- White point
- Black point
In local edits we concern ourselves with image edits that effect specific areas of the image, while at the same time avoiding other image areas that we don't want to effect. If we apply these localized edits as additional image layers, we can carefully construct a final image as a set of interactive adjustments that can be both modified and undone as desired. Our overall goal here is to still maintain the approach of non-destructive image editing, even though that's not a constraint enforced by default within Photoshop. Our guides will teach you a finelyt tuned editing process that you will be sure to adopt as your own.
Close to being one of our final editing steps, we consider the benefits of image sharpening and the effect that it will have on various output paths. We have a number of observations, in regards to image sharpening, that we will be happy to share with you.
Noise reduction is an interesting post-processing step, in that it both smooths out some of the inherent roughness in a digital image, while at the same time reducing sharpness. Our observation here is that it becomes a bit of a balancing act. Our guides will share with you some thoughts on where this balancing point should be and how output intentions effect that. Additionally there are some very compelling reasons, that we would like to share with, why this should be your last editing step.
Third Party Plugins
Our guies are familiar with and regularly use a number of Third Party Plugins and they are happy to share their experience with these products with you the workshop participant. While there are tons of presets and plugins available in the marketplace, the ones most popular with our guides are:
- Google's NIK Collection
- Topaz Labs
- OnOne Software
Generically the things that most plugins can do are achievable in Photoshop directly, however these plugins allow these effects to be delivered much faster, in a focused manner requiring less steps by the editor of the image. Let our guides, share with you the editing shortcuts they have learned with these valuable and sometimes even free tools.