Photographer Jim Zuckerman talks about the gear he packs for a landscape shoot in the first article of his fifteen-part series on landscape photography.
Jim Zuckerman's images and articles on photography have been featured in hundreds of publications, and he has taught at many institutions, as well as through his own workshops. He is the author of 22 books on photography. To learn more about his work and subscribe to his emagazine, visit his website.
The equipment you carry has a direct bearing on the images you take. It also has a direct bearing on how much back pain you have and how far you can walk to get those great images. If you do a lot of air travel, choosing equipment intelligently and packing it well will enable you to carry it on-board instead of checking it in, which none of us want to do. Therefore, you must carefully consider what you carry and how you carry it.
The first thing I do to minimize my load is make sure my lenses don’t overlap in their focal-length ranges. For example, I wouldn’t carry an 18-55mm zoom as well as a 16-35mm. I also wouldn’t carry both a 70-200mm and an 80-300mm. The lenses I normally carry cover the full range of focal lengths without redundancy. I make one exception: the 24-105mm lens. I carry this because it is the only wide-angle lens I have with image stabilization.
Here is the list of photographic equipment I carry when I go into the field:
- 14mm lens
- 15mm fisheye lens
- 16-35mm lens
- 50mm macro lens
- 24-105mm stabilized lens
- 70-200mm f/2.8 stabilized lens
- extension tubes
- tripod with ball head
- camera body
- camera body backup
- several 16 gigabyte flash memory cards
- polarizing filter
- 1.4x teleconverter
When I expect to encounter wildlife, I also bring my 500mm f/4 stabilized telephoto lens and a 2x tele-extender.
For my macro work, I am content with a 50mm macro lens for many subjects that allow a close approach. For example, lichen, flowers, and leaf patterns can be photographed easily with a 50mm macro. The lens is small, light, and inexpensive. Many photographers prefer a telephoto macro, such as a 100mm macro or a 180mm macro. The advantages of these lenses are that they allow you to work further away from the subject and they compress the elements in a scene, which is often considered very attractive. I don’t carry these lenses into the field for two reasons. First, they are large and take up too much room in the backpack. They add extra weight and would require me to carry a larger pack. Second, I can convert my 70-200mm medium telephoto zoom into a telephoto macro lens simply by placing an extension tube between the lens and the body. One small tube, which is virtually weightless and takes up hardly any space, replaces the need for a telephoto macro.
The photo bag or backpack you use depends on where and how you’ll be traveling and how much equipment you have. It has taken me years to accumulate all the lenses I have, and every time I add a new purchase to my equipment list my backpack configuration can change. In addition, I have different configurations for hiking, shooting near the car, and air travel.
Protecting Gear from Inclement Weather
Water and electronics don’t mix, so I carry with me a clear shower cap. You can often find one in hotel rooms, and I’m sure pharmacies have them as well. They have an elastic band that tightens around the camera and lens, and the clear plastic allows you to see the camera’s controls while keeping rain water off the camera body and most of the lens.
If I am shooting on the beach or doing work in tide pools, I am extremely careful because salt water is deadly. Many years ago, I leaned over to do a closeup of and my light meter slipped out of my top shirt pocket into the water. The meter floated on the surface of the water for perhaps a half second and then I immediately pulled it out. Too late. It was already dead. I had it repaired by the manufacturer, but it was never the same. You must protect your equipment from sea spray at all costs, and if any piece of equipment drops into salt water, you can forget about it. It’s history.
Another thing that I do to protect my gear is use skylight or UV filters. These don’t affect the exposure or the color of your images, but they protect the front lens element from water, snow, and blowing sand. In addition, they can protect the front of the lens from impact damage. A friend of mine picked up his photo backpack and forgot to zip it up, and his 70-200 mm telephoto fell from about five feet onto the concrete pavement when he was in Cambodia. The filter he had on his lens broke, but the lens was perfectly fine.
If you have a wide-angle lens (this is crucial for landscape photography), you’ll want a very thin skylight filter. These are more expensive, but they prevent vignetting at the edges when you are using small lens apertures for complete depth of field.