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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Gear Up For The National Parks

Accessories to help you make the most out of any national parks shooting excursion

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Quite another story from Death Valley, the west side of Olympic National Forest in Washington is the rainiest spot in the Lower 48, averaging 12 feet of rain per year. You’ll want to pack rain gear, layered clothing and protection for your photo gear up there. All eight of the national parks in Alaska can get very cold, too—add pocket hand warmers to keep batteries (and fingers) functioning and very warm (but layered) clothing that also can protect your camera from the cold between shots.

Virgin Islands National Park doesn’t get particularly hot or cold, but it does get hurricanes—be sure to check the weather forecast before you leave. Such areas also tend to be humid, so bring appropriate clothing and moisture protection for your photo gear—silica gel works well.

Once you’ve researched your destination thoroughly, you’ll have a good idea of what’s there and the conditions you’ll encounter. The next step is to imagine your way through a location shoot and see what you’ll use—then make sure you bring it!

Note: You’ll find useful information on the accessories mentioned here and more in the Gear section of the OP website (www.outdoorphotographer.com) and those of our sister publications, Digital Photo (www.dpmag.com) and Digital Photo Pro (www.digitalphotopro.com).

Backup Camera
It’s not a bad idea to take a backup camera, if you have one, especially if you’re traveling to a distant park. National parks have lots of great scenery, but few camera repair shops. If you’re shooting in a rainy or seaside environment, a water-resistant (or waterproof) camera can get you shots you’d miss with a less protected camera.

Most people think of a lesser camera when they think of a backup camera, but if you’ve been considering an upgrade to a better/newer DSLR, this may be a fine time to do it, and then use your current DSLR as your backup. (Note: Check out all cameras to make sure they’re in good working order before you leave on your trip.)

For landscapes, you want a wide-angle lens. A wide-angle zoom provides compositional flexibility in a single unit, saving weight and minimizing the need for lens changes in the field. But you also may want to carry a longer lens for a different perspective so you can zero-in on more distant landscape details. For wildlife, you need a long lens—at least 200mm for a Four Thirds System DSLR, 300mm for an APS-C DSLR and 400mm or longer for a 35mm or full-frame DSLR. Again, a zoom that includes that focal length provides some compositional flexibility when you’re traveling light—and zooms that go out to 300-500mm can be purchased for far less cost than prime lenses of those focal lengths. A teleconverter takes up little space and can increase your long lens’ focal length 1.4x, 1.7x or 2x. The camera manufacturers, Kenko, Pro-Optic, Sigma and Tamron all offer converters, but follow the manufacturers’ instructions as to which converters to use with which lenses.

In most national parks, you’ll concentrate on landscapes and wildlife, but many locations have photogenic flowers and insects. A macro lens will let you move in close for dramatic frame-filling shots. An extension tube (or set of tubes) enables any lens to focus closer than it normally can; Kenko’s Auto Extension Tubes maintain the camera’s TTL metering, saving you the bother of compensating for the light lost by using extension. Close-up lenses look like clear filters and reduce a longer lens’ minimum focusing distance. Close-up lenses are convenient and relatively inexpensive, but reduce sharpness a bit, especially at the edges of the image. Bear in mind that a lens with extension tubes or close-up lenses attached won’t focus out to infinity, while a macro lens can.


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