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May 13, 2017
So this is a topic where I can get a little bit nerdy. I really am a strong believer in the idea that gear doesn't make a photographer. But, I can't say that I haven't ever felt that way. Gear in general is tempting for me. I am a techy and it seems that a lot of photographers are. Especially starting out as a landscape photographer, it was easy to spot photographers that I admired, look up what they were using and then try to acquire those pieces in hopes of making my work better or at least more on par with what I was seeing from them. Not only did I spend time trying to figure out what gear other people were using to get the landscape photos they were getting, but because the list was long after looking at several different photographers, I'd end up on photo trips with a huge backpack in order to have all of the equipment I owned, should a need arise for any of it. Nowadays my strategy is a little different for my landscape photography gear and more specifically, my kit for long exposure photography. Gear doesn't make the photographer, but the wrong gear can sometimes break the photographer. To give a quick example: I wanted to get into long exposure photography and found that at the time, I couldn't afford the filters people really recommended (B+W, Lee, Tiffen). So instead, I bought a cokin system with several of their 3 stop ND filters figuring I could stack them for the exposures I wanted. Long story short, I took a trip out to the Oregon coast and quickly found out that buying the kit I did, and then pushing it past its limits (stacking multiple filters) I had ruined the majority of my photographs. The images were soft, had incredible color casts, and weird artifacts from light bouncing between the cheap, stacked filters. Lesson learned. While gear doesn't make the photographer, it broke me on that trip.
I came back from that trip and made some changes to how I thought about my equipment, how I invested in it and (as a result of the sheer frustration of carrying such a large backpack and only using 1/4 of the stuff in it) how I packed. What I've ended up with, is a kit that is super light, has everything I need for the majority of the times I go out and packs enough quality that I'm not at risk of massively pushing it past its limits like I did with the cokin system.
I've been shooting with the Nikon D800 for almost a year and a half now and am still amazed by its performance every time I pick it up. The camera is incredible. I'm not looking to write a review of it at this point, but it's what is in my bag. Coming from being the guy who carried half his studio on his back for several years, it was a big change to start using Think Tank's Speed Freak. The thing is tiny. Having used it for a while now, I will never switch back except for the RARE occasion that I need more than what this bag holds. The thing is weather sealed, can work off of a shoulder strap or a belt and has its own rain fly hidden in the bottom. It's tall enough to take a 70-200 with no issues and allows me to make lens changes, or access gear than I ever could with any other bag. I highly recommend looking into one. It holds everything I'm about to list plus all of the everyday accessories like batteries, cards, lens caps, lens pens etc. This bag was a game changer for me.
Both of these lenses from Nikon are awesome. Very very sharp. Recently, I've been shooting a little more with the 24-120 just because it's easier. They both are 77mm so I don't have to get into adapters or multiple filters for fitting ND filters to them, and they are both weather sealed for when I end up in some rain. Around the edges, I think the 24-120 is sharper than the 17-35, but obviously there are benefits to the extra wide perspective. I highly recommend either. Both are comparably sized and I usually have both along with a small fisheye in my bag at all times. The VR is nice on the 24-120 for whenever I'm shooting hand held.
I've never really gotten into ball heads. I just love the precision of a geared head. I can make very small incremental adjustments on all three planes. Now that I've used it, every time I've tried a ball head, they've felt sloppy. For tripod legs I love this Gitzo set. They're rock solid, have a hook to hang my bag from if I want to weigh them down even more and they have no metal on the leg locking mechanisms at all. That doesn't seem like a huge deal, but when you're gonna be in and around saltwater (even by just a couple of inches) you want equipment that can handle it. This tripod can.
So, after using those Cokins that I ended up hating I switched to B+W screw on filters. I really do like the idea of slide-in 4x4 filters but they take up lots of room in a bag and having to unscrew a filter to set focus in between images just doesn't bother me all that much. I have 10 & 6 stop versions of the multicoated filters and tend to stack them a decent amount for 16 stops. Also, I have a set of Lee Soft graduated filters that I just hold in front of the lens whenever I need them. They take up very little room and are worth their weight when needed. And to be honest, I typically only have the .6 and .9 in my bag.
So these three things are the three accessories I just wouldn't go without. The loupe is incredible! Totally worth the money. I can't tell you how often I've been out shooting in an area where it's so bright, I can't see my camera screen. This allows me to check details, see my results etc. The umbrella is self explanatory. I use it more for keeping rain off the front of my lens than I do for keeping me dry. It packs up tiny and fits right inside my bag. And then there's my camera remote. When shooting long exposures, you want to minimize any and all camera movement. To do this, I handle firing my camera and timing my exposures with this remote. Great tool. It's a must have.
And that about sums up what I typically have in my camera bag when I'm out shooting. For long exposure landscape photography there are a few essentials that you really have to have and then the rest comes down to preference. Pick and choose wisely the equipment you can get away with cutting corners on and then the equipment that delivers a level of quality which doesn't meed your needs or expectations.
For more information, or links to most of these items over at B&H click this link to visit my gear page.
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