Gear Up Your Photo Vehicle

Accessories to turn your car into a photography companion
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Photographers such as Galen Rowell famously traveled light and bounded up mountains with nothing but a camera and lens. He camped in high-alpine environments for days on end, and while he had the gear he needed, space and weight were at a premium so that gear was selected very carefully. You may shoot the same way, but chances are, you’re not a pro and your time shooting needs to be carved out of a 9-to-5 job, which necessitates a different style of getting into scenic backcountry. You probably rely on your car to get you pretty close and to serve as your mobile base camp. That’s not a bad way to work at all. In fact, many top pro nature shooters do exactly the same thing. Your car provides an efficient way to get around, obviously, and to get the most out of it as a photo vehicle, you can add some accessories that improve its utility.

Using designated fire roads, you can get yourself into some remote backcountry locales. Having the right gear will let you get your best photos and keep you safe.

If you’re considering work away from your home and you’re not going to be in hotels or motels at night, having an auxiliary power source is a good idea. Digital technology and electronics have made photographers particularly heavy users of electricity. It’s not like the film days when your camera might be limited in its capability, but if the battery ran out you could still do some shooting. Today, a camera without a battery is a paperweight. And it’s not just batteries. We tend to carry a lot of other gear into the field, like tablets, laptops, hard drives, cell phones, GPS and more.

If you’re plugging in every night, that’s one thing, but if you’re planning on spending several enjoyable days and nights car camping, you’re going to need power. You can carry a grip of spare batteries, but buying a lot of special camera or laptop batteries gets expensive and you can still run out. Goal Zero Escape 150 Explorer and Adventure Kits are well suited to our needs as photographers. Each kit consists of a solar panel and power pack. The solar panel charges the pack by day and you can plug your devices directly into the pack by night.

Goal Zero Escape 150 Explorer Kit

The Escape 150 Explorer Kit retails for $499 and includes the Escape 30 Solar Briefcase, which fully charges the power pack in about six to eight hours. The Escape 150 Adventure Kit retails for $359 and comes with the Boulder 15 Solar Panel, which fully charges the power pack in about 10 hours. For more demanding use, the Goal Zero Extreme 350 Adventure Kit costs $769 and comes with the powerful Extreme 350 Power Pack and the Boulder 30 Solar Panel. The Boulder 30 fully charges the Extreme 250 pack in 12 to 24 hours. For more information and to find the perfect kit for your power needs, go to

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Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7-inch Tablet

The Tablet As Viewer, Storage And All-Around Photo-Processing Device
The iPad changed the way we can view photographs, and for a lot of photographers, it’s not only an excellent viewing device, but it’s also a viable storage device when you’re in the field. And while the iPad is the leading tablet, there are plenty of other options from the likes of Samsung, Sony, Panasonic, Acer and others. (For a brief rundown of tablets for nature photographers, see the recent Gadget Bag article at The great thing about all tablets is the way photos positively jump off their bright, vibrant screens. Using a simple camera connect kit, you can attach your DSLR directly to a tablet and download the memory card.

Sony 32 9.4-inch
Tablet S

On a road trip, you can enjoy hands-free use of your tablet with the Valet Seat Bolt Mount from The Joy Factory. The simple, sturdy mount gives you hands-free use of your tablet, and it’s fully adjustable. The carbon-fiber construction resists shaking and looks good. In addition to the Valet Seat Bolt Mount, The Joy Factory makes a number of other auto tablet mounts, including a suction cup device that attaches to the inside of the windshield or other car window. Contact: The Joy Factory,

Nik Software Snapseed

As we said, the consensus among pros is that a tablet makes a great tool for viewing photos, but it’s not necessarily a great tool for storing photos on the road. That’s because many pros shoot constantly, and they shoot uncompressed RAW files. On a given excursion, it’s not unheard of for a professional nature photographer to shoot upward of 100 GB worth of images. However, if you’re like many OP readers, your capacity needs are probably considerably less, and a tablet may be a perfect choice for you. Once in the tablet, you also can view and edit the photos with a variety of apps. Snapseed from Nik Software has become one of the most popular apps for nature photographers who want to have some sophisticated imaging tools on hand in a simple interface. Contact: Nik Software,

Kirk Enterprises Multi-Purpose Window Mount

Window Clamp
Shooting from a car can work out great, especially for wildlife photography. The car is like a blind in a lot of situations. Using a window mount like Kirk‘s Multi-Purpose Window Mount gives you a sturdy platform that can handle a large telephoto lens and a heavy DSLR. It’s designed to be used inside the car window, but it also can be used as a “low pod” on the car roof. Contact: Kirk Enterprises,

The Puffin Pad

A lower-tech window support for your camera and lens is the Puffin Pad. It’s made of what the company calls automotive foam and topped with memory foam to conform to the contour of your gear. The Puffin Pad is lightweight at 3.4 ounces, and it slips right over the car window. Contact: Puffin Pad,


THE pod has been a popular nature photography tool for many shooters because of its versatility and simplicity. You can use it as a window mount in the car, or you can mount it on the roof, or really any other mostly horizontal surface. It’s a beanbag that’s available in different sizes and configurations to match your gear, whether it’s a DSLR and telephoto lens, a camcorder or a point-and-shoot camera. Contact: THE pod,

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Garmin GPSMAP 62sc

For day-to-day navigation around town, most of us rely on a smartphone, but out in the field, especially if you’re getting into some remote backcountry, a smartphone can’t be relied upon. For nature photographers, a GPS is still a necessary item for the camera bag. The Garmin GPSMAP 62 line of GPS units is robust, with useful features. The GPSMAP 62sc has all of the usual tools like a compass, an altimeter and a large color screen, but it also has a built-in 5-megapixel camera. The camera gives you a simple and effective location-scouting tool. Contact: Garmin,

SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger

We’ve written a lot about safety in the outdoors. One simple, compact device that can save your life is the SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger, which lets you send emergency messages and gives your exact location. The SPOT also can transmit less dire messages like “I’ll be home in time for dinner” that you can custom program. For keeping your family informed or for calling in life-saving personnel, the SPOT is something every nature photographer who follows the trails less traveled should have. Contact: SPOT,

K-Tek Tadpole

Compact Video Pole
We’re big fans of compact video cameras like the Contour and GoPro HERO. These little camcorders can deliver excellent image quality, and their small sizes allow them to be mounted in ways to give you some startling perspectives. To get the most out of a small HD camera, a lightweight pole and a suction cup mount are two excellent options. The K-Tek Tadpole line is lightweight and lets you get the camera up or down into some interesting positions. On a road trip, you can experiment with holding the Tadpole out the window to give you some dramatic “on-the-go” footage. Contact: K-Tek,

Filmtools Gripper
3025 Suction Cup Mount

One especially interesting use for compact HD cameras is time-lapse and so-called “drive-lapse” moviemaking. You can keep your DSLR free to shoot whatever comes along while setting the compact HD camera to shoot the time-lapse frames. Drive-lapse is the name given to time-lapse shot while a car is in motion. Think of those YouTube videos that show a cross-country drive in three minutes. As a nature photographer driving into the backcountry, you can set up the Contour or GoPro on a suction cup mount and shoot your entire excursion in the time-lapse mode and put together a nice two-minute drive-lapse of the trek. Give it a try. It’s pretty fun, and your friends and family will love it. There are a lot of suction cup mounts available. One heavy-duty model that can accommodate a DSLR, as well as the compact video camera, is the Filmtools Gripper 3025 Suction Cup Mount. Contact: Filmtools,

Mountain Hardwear Phantom 32

Car-Camping Necessities
One of the best aspects of a road trip is that if you come across a scene in the afternoon that you think will look great at dawn, you can decide to make an impromptu overnight stop and your car can serve as a shelter. It may not be the most comfortable bed, but sometimes these are the small prices we pay for truly special landscape photographs. Having a sleeping bag tucked into the car goes a long way toward making a cool night comfortable; there’s really no need not to have one. The Mountain Hardwear Phantom 32 is a down bag that fits snugly and keeps you warm down to some pretty chilly temperatures. Of course, it’s also a solid tent-camping sleeping bag should you be doing some backpacking. Contact: Mountain Hardwear,

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