Gadget Bag: Ultimate Landscape Accessories

Indispensable gear for a modern-day Ansel Adams to have in the field
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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.

Apple iPad Mini

Apple iPad Mini
Have you ever looked at a 4×5 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 4×5 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 1024×768 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.

Really Right Stuff TVC-33 Tripod

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.

Energizer Cup Charger

Energizer Cup Charger
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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Stetson Open Road Hat

Everyone needs a hat. Adams liked the Stetson Open Road. It probably won’t make you a better photographer, but then again, it can’t hurt.

B+W Red Enhancer Filter

The idea that you can fix everything in Photoshop is simply wrong. To get the best prints, start with the best exposure in the field. Glass filters are every bit as relevant today as they were when Adams attached a red filter to his camera and photographed Half Dome. Heliopan, Hoya, Kenko, Singh-Ray, Flashpoint, Schneider, B+W and other manufacturers all make a range of on-camera filters. You’ll pay more for features like brass construction and various types of glass. Choose what you can afford, and make it a habit to keep them in your bag at all times.

National Parks Pass
At $80 per year, the National Parks Annual Pass may be the best bargain on the planet (seniors, military, the disabled and parks volunteers enter for free or at significant discounts). The pass covers the entrance fees at more than 2,000 federal recreation sites, including national parks, national wildlife refuges and land managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Every nature photographer should have one. Adams would have.

Nik Software Silver Efex Pro

Nik Software Silver Efex Pro 2
Nik Software Silver Efex Pro 2 gives digital landscape photographers a level of control over images that’s vastly superior to a traditional darkroom. And one of the best aspects of the software is that it’s intuitive to use. You can drop control points on the image to affect contrast and tonality in precise areas or globally, depending on the look you’re trying to make. There are plenty of presets or you can go fully custom. You can use Silver Efex Pro 2 with any digital file, so whether you’re shooting with a DSLR or making new high-res scans of your film archive, the software will work.

DeLorme inReach GPS

DeLorme inReach
Nature photography always has been something of a solo activity. When you’re wrapped up in the moment, searching for the perfect composition, seeking the ideal light, it’s easy to lose your bearings and become lost. We’ve all become accustomed to using smartphones for communication and navigation, but the places for the best images are frequently out of cell range. A GPS isn’t a luxury item; it’s mandatory equipment. The DeLorme inReach takes the GPS a step further, allowing limited communication in addition to the usual GPS features. The inReach connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth (using a free app) and allows you to compose and send messages (up to 150 characters). You can use it in the event of an emergency or simply to let your loved ones know when to expect you for dinner. For the socially-minded, you also can post to Facebook and Twitter and to shared maps.

Flashpoint CS100 case

Flashpoint Universal Case
Ansel Adams was known to bring a lot of equipment with him into the field. At the time, he might not have been too worried about walking away from a loaded vehicle for a few hours while he sought the perfect vantage point. This is a different age, and one of the best ways to discourage thieves is to keep your gear under wraps as much as possible when it’s in your car. The Flashpoint CS100 case is large, rugged and lightweight, and it doesn’t scream “photo gear.” You can use it as your bag of bags to transport all your gear in and out of your car at the end of the day, and during the day, it keeps any equipment that you leave in your car reasonably camouflaged. The Flashpoint CS100 has a rigid lexan core surrounded by closed-cell foam and hook-and-loop compatible fabric. You can customize the interior layout of the case simply by moving the dividers.

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Subaru Outback

As your primary “viewfinder,” a rugged and dependable vehicle is number one on the list. Adams knew the value of cargo space, and while you may not be spending weeks at a time on the road, having the space to carry your camera gear, camping equipment and the myriad other necessities that a modern landscape photographer requires is just as important today. You won’t have to worry about having the space for spare axles, which should free up the space to carry a bigger tripod for some unique perspectives. The Subaru Outback we’re showing here is a popular choice for the modern photographer. It’s reliable, and has all-wheel drive and ample space for your stuff.

The OP American Landscape Contest
Do you have a passion for landscape photography? Send in your best landscape photos to our 2013 American Landscape contest. All winners and finalists will be published in a special book commemorating the contest, and the winners will be published in a feature article in Outdoor Photographer. You can submit as many photographs as you’d like. Enter now! Go to