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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

My Favorite Things


The gear Elizabeth Carmel relies on for her landscape photography


Lake Tahoe, California. Elizabeth Carmel used a split neutral-density filter to control the contrast in this scene.

I hope Oprah won't mind if I use a tagline she made famous. This month I would like to share some of my favorite outdoor and photography gear. I get many emails asking for my opinions on equipment choices, and while I'm unable to respond to most of these requests, I'm more than happy to share my choices in this column.

I'll start with some basic gear, then move on to my #1 requested opinion about the "big girl" camera equipment I use. It's the little things that can make a difference. Having the following items when you're headed outdoors to shoot landscapes can help you get where you need to go safely and comfortably, which always results in better photo ops. Be very selective about what you put in your camera backpack—there's no need to be loaded down with gadgets and gizmos you most likely won't use and that add too much weight to your pack.

Petzl Zipka headlamp. This little guy puts out a huge beam of light, and I love that it has a retractable cord that makes it very stashable. There's no bulky headband getting tangled with your other stuff. If you're not out setting up in the dark at sunrise, you're missing out on great photographs, so a good headlamp is essential.

iPhone. It replaces all the other gadgets I used to carry like a GPS and pocket camera. My favorite apps are Focalware and The Photographer's Ephemeris for sunrise/sunset locations, MotionX-GPS for a good GPS program and Simple DoF for depth-of-field calculations. There are many other great articles written for OP about the best photo apps, so I'll refer readers to those for more detailed info. For carrying the iPhone on a backpack, I use the Clik Elite Accessory Pouch that fits over a backpack hip belt and makes getting to the iPhone easy.

Polar Bottle insulated water bottle. This keeps water cold and fits in a backpack side pocket. I'm not a big fan of the water bladders that require drinking from a hose; they're a hassle, and the water tastes funny. When hiking, just drink water; no need for sugary sports drinks that flood your body with too much sugar, which eventually will make you tired and want to go home.

Personal emergency beacon. This item gives peace of mind when traveling alone in remote areas. Popular brands are the SPOT and the Fast Find PLB. I always keep one in my camera backpack, near my two-ounce bottle of emergency bourbon.

Lightweight Gore-Tex® hiking boots. These boots are my work shoes, which I always wear photographing. You may need to go off-trail or cross creeks to get to the best photo spots, so wear good lightweight footwear that's waterproof and has ankle support. You don't really need big clunker boots. Running shoes and tennis shoes don't work well for landscape photography. In my workshops, I often see people with flimsy tennis shoes, and they have trouble with traction on rocks and getting their feet wet.

Lightweight, waterproof rain jacket. A rain jacket can protect you from wind and rain, and help prevent hypothermia. Get the lightest one you can find that's made with Gore-Tex® or a similar waterproof material. Patagonia, Marmot and Arc'teryx are good brands. Get a large size so you can wear an insulating layer underneath it. Keep it in your pack with a lightweight wool cap, and you'll be protected from most inclement weather.

Good non-bulky gloves. Gloves are important when photographing in most places, since even in the summer it can be very cold at sunrise. I discovered my all-time favorite gloves during my cross-country ski-racing days, Yoko Gore Windstopper gloves made with Gore-Tex® fabric on the back. The palm is a very soft pliable leather that stays warm and dries quickly. They're also thin enough in the fingers to handle camera controls, but still keep your hands warm.

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