Montana-based photographer Gordon Wiltsie is one of the world‚’s foremost expedition photographers, having recorded the exploits of many great explorers, including Alex Lowe, Conrad Anker, Will Steger, Jon Krakauer, David Breashears and Norman Vaugh
By Mark Edward Harris
Outdoor Photographer: What photo equipment are you working with these days?
Wiltsie: I went to digital capture about a year ago, although I've been digitizing my slides with a Nikon scanner for years and am relatively proficient in Photoshop. To save weight, I chose the Nikon D200, a fabulous camera that closely emulates my Nikon F100 film camera.
My favorite lenses are wide-angles. I have a 12-24mm ƒ/4 that has more than proven itself. My next step up is a 35-70mm ƒ/2.8 that I’ve had for years and may be one of Nikon's best pieces of glass. Then I have an 80-200mm ƒ/2.8 that, again, I’ve had for years, but that's a solid piece of glass, with "heavy" being one of the definitions of solid. After that, I have a fixed 400mm ƒ/5.6, which is light enough to carry and also razor-sharp. Mix in my old 20mm, 24mm, 28mm and 105mm lenses, and I have a great collection of well-traveled antiques.
My biggest complaint is that the D200 won’t properly flash-sync with my old SB-28s, SB-26s or SB-24s. With three family members in college, it’s hard to invest in new camera gear, but a couple of new flashes and long sync cords are at the top of my list.
One final caveat about equipment for expeditions is that you always need an old standby. I never go anywhere without an FM2 and 50 rolls of film. That camera will shoot at any speed without batteries, down to -50 degrees F, and just keeps on ticking.
Outdoor Photographer: How do you protect your gear and yourself from the extreme elements you encounter?
Wiltsie: In my early days of expedition photography, I couldn’t find a relatively waterproof camera case to hang around my neck that gave me instant access to the camera. I designed and sewed my own camera and lens cases. To date, I’ve yet to see anything better.
The other huge concern in extreme elements is condensation. If you take a cold camera into a warm, steamy tent or room, it will instantly fill with water like the pitcher on a Kool-Aid package. That may or may not be okay, but if suddenly a sunset erupts and you go back out into the cold, you can destroy every moving piece. In that situation, take along a slide-lock plastic bag, put the camera into the bag before entering the tent, and you won’t experience any problems.
As for protecting myself from the elements, I dress in multiple layers of modern synthetic clothing. I use strong tents, thick sleeping bags and try not to spill pots of water all over everything. But now we’re talking survival, not photography, and that’s an art of its own.
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