Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Prepare For A Photo Expedition
Tom Bol offers his insight on how to get ready when you’re going to be out for more than just a day hike
"ONE MORE STEP." This mantra is bouncing around in my brain as my body tries to follow suit. Normally taking one step wouldn’t be a big deal, but at 21,000 feet ascending an icy ridge with a huge pack strapped to my back, “one more step” takes on a new meaning. Of course, a lot of my pack weight is photography equipment I think I’ll need to capture a career-defining image. Isn’t backcountry and expedition photography supposed to be about pain and suffering? Not exactly. But one benefit of backcountry photography is the chance to capture an original landscape few others have seen.
My photography career started with documenting extended expeditions to the far reaches of the globe. One month I might be photographing a sea-kayaking trip in Honduras, the next month documenting a mountaineering expedition in the Himalayas. Packing for a two-month expedition is an art by itself. Clothes, food, climbing gear, camping gear, medical supplies and communications fill countless duffle bags. And then you start to pack your camera gear—bodies, lenses, backups of both, flash cards, hard drives, tripods, strobes, stands, batteries, filters, cases—the list is huge! But in the end, it’s worth it because you get so far off the grid that you know you’ll have original images.
Embrace Camera Technology
On my early expeditions, I carried five or more lenses. Why? Because at that time, single-focal-length lenses were optically superior to zoom lenses. Times have changed. Now I carry only one or two lenses on weekend backcountry trips. Many zoom lenses today outperform single-focal-length lenses at the same focal length. I often carry a 24-70mm and a 70-200mm as my two lenses. These lenses will cover 90% of my needs on a short backcountry trip for general shooting. If I know I’m focusing on wildlife, I’ll carry a teleconverter or a 70-300mm.
Another variable to consider is the aperture of the lens. While ƒ/2.8 glass is very bright and offers great low-light focusing, ƒ/2.8 lenses are heavy. Lenses that have a variable aperture like ƒ/4-5.6 are lighter than their ƒ/2.8 cousins. Instead of carrying a macro lens, I carry extension tubes to achieve macro results from a lens I’m already carrying. Extension tubes are a lot lighter than a macro lens.
Camera bodies have the same considerations. Rather than haul a large, heavy pro DSLR into the field, I carry a midrange model instead. It’s much lighter, smaller and a better choice for backpacking. The midrange DSLR may not be as durable, but with a little care, it performs great in harsh conditions and saves a lot of weight.
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