Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Gadget Bag: Ultimate Landscape Accessories
Indispensable gear for a modern-day Ansel Adams to have in the field
In the days when he was trekking throughout the American landscape, Ansel Adams was often traveling on roads that we would barely recognize today. Anyone who has been to one of the popular national parks like Yosemite, Sequoia/Kings Canyon, Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon knows of the smooth multilane blacktop that leads right up to a well-staffed gate and a modern visitor's center. When Adams was going to these places, he was bouncing along on rutted, hazardous dirt and mud roads that snapped more than one rear axle on his car. Getting in and around Yosemite Valley was an expedition, not a day trip.
Were he here today, Adams likely would be venturing into the same sort of wilderness, bypassing the crowds and well-maintained asphalt in favor of fire roads and other paths that barely qualify for the title of "road." For the modern-day landscape photography road warrior, here's a selection of indispensable items.
Have you ever looked at a 4x5 transparency up close? Held one in your hand? The image positively glows. Seeing your images right out of the camera on a tablet screen is even better. Using a camera connect cord, you can transfer images directly to your tablet in the field. Seeing photos on that screen compared to the DSLR's monitor is like the difference between seeing a 4x5 versus a 35mm transparency. The Apple iPad Mini is an ideal size for carrying into the field. Smaller than a full-sized tablet, but larger than a smartphone, it has a 7.9-inch (diagonal) display with 1024x768 resolution. The real utility of the tablet is that you can get a better look at the image in the field where you have a chance to reshoot if something goes awry. Adams composed his images on the ground glass of a large-format view camera, often using a loupe to confirm critical focus and to check details in the frame. A tablet gives you the same capability.
The Photographer's Ephemeris
To be in the right place at the right time is the ultimate quest of any nature photographer, but very few of us have the time to fully scout locations and hope that the sun, moon and shadows all will be right. Apps like The Photographer's Ephemeris help you to maximize your efficiency when your time is short. The app is available for Android and iOS, and a free version is available for your home computer. You may not get as perfect a photo as "Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico," but you'll be able to accurately predict the moonrise and be in position anywhere.
A landscape photographer should have a tripod. As good as DSLRs are with their high-ISO abilities and as good as lenses are with their image stabilization, nothing beats a tripod for ensuring sharpness. You'll find outstanding models from a range of manufacturers—Really Right Stuff, SLIK, Flashpoint, Manfrotto and Gitzo, just to name a few. While Adams often used a heavy, but sturdy wooden tripod, today you have the option of carbon fiber, which is lighter and easier to haul.
Living in the digital age means you need power. It's just that simple. The view cameras that Adams used never needed batteries, but the gear you're going to be carrying into the field—a modern DSLR, your smartphone, a tablet, a GPS—all of it takes batteries, and without power all of it's worthless. The new Energizer 180-watt cup charger fits in your car's cup holder and plugs into a cigarette lighter socket or directly into your car battery. There's a standard AC plug, as well as four USB plugs.
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