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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Big Trip


See how National Geographic photographer and Outdoor Photographer columnist Frans Lanting gears up for an expedition. You probably won’t ever need as much equipment with you, but there’s a lot to learn from his approach.

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What gear to pack? What to leave at home? If you don’t have it, you can’t use it, balanced with the fact that too much equipment can slow you down and you miss the opportunity to put yourself in a position to get the shot in the first place. This never-ending balancing act has to be addressed before hitting the road for a photography assignment, whether it’s to another part of the country or halfway around the globe. Few photographers have had to fill in the blanks correctly to these questions that can make or break an assignment more often or for a greater variety of destinations than Frans Lanting.

“Every trip is different,” Lanting explains, “but they tend to fall into a few categories, ranging from a casual trip in which photography isn’t the primary focus, to a domestic shooting trip, or a compact overseas assignment and, finally, a serious expedition with all the bells and whistles. I adjust what I bring according to climate requirements and logistical problems and, of course, photographic needs. Obviously, going to Antarctica requires a different solution than when you’re going to the tropics.”

Lanting’s massive and well-organized multi-shelved equipment storage space in his studio in Santa Cruz, Calif., is stocked with every conceivable piece of well-tested camera and expedition gear. It includes a large array of camera bags, photo backpacks and rolling cases. “I threw my back out in Borneo the day I turned 40 from carrying too many heavy tripods and long lenses around the jungle,” says Lanting. “That’s when I swore off shoulder bags. They contort your spine. Now I only carry backpacks, chest pouches and waist belts, and I transport my equipment in rolling cases as much as possible.”

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Lanting’s most basic kit consists of a Nikon D90 camera body with a Nikkor 18-200mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 VR lens in a Tamrac pouch or daypack for casual outings, and he’ll bring along a small Gitzo GT1540 tripod with a Really Right Stuff BH-25 ballhead if he feels he needs it. Both items fit easily into a single piece of carry-on luggage or get checked in a suitcase at the airport.

For a short domestic assignment, Lanting will fill up a Tamrac or Think Tank rolling case that he can bring into a commercial plane as a carry-on. It gets loaded with one or two camera bodies. His current workhorse is a Nikon D700 with 17-35mm ƒ/2.8 and 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 Nikkor lenses, a set of two tele-extenders (a TC-14 and a TC-20), one or two Nikon SB-900 Speedlight strobes with SC-17 cords for off-camera use, compact Lumiflex softboxes and a bunch of other peripherals. His Gitzo GT2540 tripod with a heavier Really Right Stuff BH-55 ballhead gets checked in a duffel or a Tamrac 6060 rolling studio soft case, as is his preferred lens for working with wildlife, a Nikkor 200-400mm ƒ/4. With that lens, he often uses a projected flash device made by Visual Echoes that extends the reach of his strobe. A versatile Really Right Stuff flash bracket connects that projected strobe rig to all his telephoto lenses. Since he went digital, Lanting has far fewer filters in his bag because of white balance options on his camera and the ability to correct things later in Photoshop. But he still packs a set of graduated neutral-density filters made by Singh-Ray, which also produces the warm circular polarizers he considers essential items for any photographer.

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