Photo Gear on the Road


[This post is part of The Accidental Photo Adventure]

To my comrade’s dismay, I came “loaded for bear”. In my mind, we were spending 2.5 weeks and a couple thousand dollars each to make this trek, and I refused to come home empty-handed due to gear failure, or because I didn’t have the right gear. Although he’d disagree, I didn’t actually bring the kitchen sink – since I’d be flying home with my gear, I still had to be judicious about what I brought.

  • Laptop, charger, 12v power inverter, backup drive, card reader – the inverter allows the laptop charger to be used in the car.  Be sure to get an inverter that’s powerful enough for your laptop (e.g., my Mac’s power supply is 85 Watts).  You won’t find one for the cigarette lighter that’s more than about 100 Watts because the lighter’s fuse maxes out at ~120W.  If you need something beefier, it’ll have to be wired into the battery directly. The backup drive doesn’t need to be big; 100GB will probably get through a trip, and most USB drives are at least that big.
  • 2 camera bodies (Nikon D300/D300s) – I have two bodies specifically to have a backup at critical events like this, so you better believe I was bringing both.  Usually the crop sensor isn’t a problem for me when shooting landcapes because I’ll do panorama stitching, but there were a few times I really envied my pal’s full-frame camera for wide-angle action shots (like at the balloon festival).  I don’t usually carry 2 bodies on a shoot except where I know I’ll need to switch lenses back and forth (again, like at the balloon festival).
  • 14-24, 24-70, and 70-200mm lenses – Normally, the 24-70 is my default lens, but on this trip I found myself rarely taking the 14-24 lens off the camera.  I usually stitch landscapes and shoot vertically at around 50mm, but these landscapes were so vast that I needed most of the 14mm width, even in vertical orientation.  The 70-200 came along (as did a 1.4x teleconverter) for Mt. Rushmore, Yosemite, and in case we came across wildlife.  Sadly, that lens didn’t get used at all, due to our change in plans.
  • Tripod with a geared head – I use a tall aluminum tripod, which is a little heavier than carbon-fiber and about half the price.  By the time I add the jumbo geared head, the rig is so heavy that carbon-fiber only makes a dent in the weight, so I’m not interested in spending my money there.  For landscapes, I can’t say enough good things about having a geared head – it lets you make very small adjustments to just one axis at a time; someday, I’ll do a more detailed post on it.  For a lot of the low-light / sunset photos, there’s no shooting without some kind of tripod.
  • 150mm Graduated ND filters & brackets – These had been on the top of my list for over a year, and I finally bought them for the trip; if this didn’t justify the purchase, nothing would.  My experience was mostly very positive.  I was very happy to have graduated filters for my 14-24 lens, and I used them a lot.  I also bought a jumbo 10-stop ND filter, which was a disaster on the 14-24mm lens, but worked fine on the 24-70mm.  More on that in a separate post, but the issue is with the 14-24 lens, not the filter.  I was able to use the filters on my other lenses by buying an adapter and a 77mm wide-angle ring.
  • Rechargeable batteries and chargers (camera and AA) – I’m a big fan of rechargeable batteries.  They’re expensive to get started, but they pay for themselves pretty quickly if you pay attention to how much you’re spending on disposable batteries.  Not to mention the environmental impact.  I use Battery Caddy to store my AA batteries (and this AAA version); it’s designed by a pilot and meets FAA rules for transporting batteries on aircraft – I put used batteries in the holder upside-down.  The MH-C9000 charger is pretty advanced, and has a rejuvenating mode that’ll breathe new life into rechargeables; it also has a 12v power cord option.
  • 2 speedlights with radio triggers – for creative lighting.  For off-camera use like this, the inexpensive Yongnuo YN560-II is comparable to an expensive Nikon SB-800; I prefer the PocketWizard triggers for their range and reliability, though there are many cheaper alternatives.  In retrospect, these could have been dropped from the list; I’d included them for some specific concepts that were probably too ambitious for such a fast-paced trip.  Don’t use US radio triggers outside the US (the frequencies aren’t legal to use elsewhere); they could be confiscated at Customs.
  • Flashlights – a few varieties, all LED-based for best power / battery life.  A headlamp for hiking and working with gear before sunrise; a small light for the pocket, and a more powerful light for heavier use.  These all use rechargeable batteries.
  • FRS 2-way radios – We definitely should have used these more often when we wandered different ways.  I highly recommend the much more powerful GMRS radios, though the powerful frequencies are technically limited by the FAA to communication between family members; they also require an FAA license, which just involves an online application.  Don’t take these internationally, as the frequencies are not legal outside the US.
  • GPS (a cheap unit that runs on AA’s)
  • Xrite Color Checker Passport
  • Cold-weather clothing (coat, gloves, hat, muffler)

All this fits into 2 medium-sized suitcases that weigh 45 pounds each. (I’ve flown with this gear before.) The bodies, lenses, and laptop all (barely) fit into a camera backpack, which is my only carry-on bag.  For those who don’t realize, 50 pounds is the cutoff for “overweight” luggage, which incurs a $50+ fee each way per bag.  In some airports like Sydney, Australia, they simply refuse bags over 50 pounds.  And, yes, I weigh my luggage before going to the airport, sometimes coming within a half-pound of the limit.

My tripod is one of the challenges, both in weight and size. To check it, I remove the head and pack it in one of the suitcases that’s taller than average. The speedlights, triggers, and radios get split between suitcases; while these components aren’t cheap, they’re not as fragile as the bodies and lenses, and my carry-on backpack was full.  With this gear, I usually hit the weight limit long before the bag is filled, and clothing is used for creative padding (like placing radio triggers, etc. inside socks to buffer them a little and prevent scratching).

I’ll update this post with more detail later, including commentary on some unexpected pieces that prove particularly valuable.

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Intro | Day 1: Getting Started, Zion | Day 2: Zion
Day 3: Red Canyon, Bryce Canyon | Day 4: Capitol Reef, Canyonlands
Day 5: Dead Horse Point | Day 6: Monument ValleyDay 7: Grand Mesa
Day 8: McClure Pass, Aspen, Garden of the Gods | Day 9: Wolf Creek Pass
Day 10: Durango & Silverton Railroad, Albuquerque Balloon Festival
Day 11: Pre-dawn Balloon Launch, The End | Trip Prep | The Gear
FotoMomenti – My Comrade’s Portfolio

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