Packing For A Photo Trip

Packing For A Photo Trip

This weekend I leave for a two-week trek and photo shoot in the Canadian Rockies, one of the most wondrous places on Earth. As a photographer I can’t say enough about it. My neighbors to the north are indeed blessed to have such staggeringly gorgeous scenery.

As I start getting my batteries charged (literally), my lenses cleaned, cameras checked and supplies ordered, I thought it might be helpful to share with my readers what I’m packing to take with me and why, though I’ll skip the clothes list here.

Every time I go on a photo assignment, I agonize over what to bring with me. I’m a “senior” photographer (again, literally) and am limited nowadays in what I can shlep. I also have to go through TSA and customs and wrangle with overhead bins and short-tempered flight attendants. We’ll get to my choice of camera luggage in a moment. What I always start with in my planning is what subject(s) I intend to shoot and what I will need to accomplish that. Then I whittle down the list based on carrying capacity and other factors.

It’s The Landscape, Stupid!

I think of the Rockies and I think of bears, coyotes, wolves, elk… the usual glory shots. But this trip is all about landscapes and though I might regret it at times, I decided to discipline myself and limit my photography to what I was hired to record. Besides, do I really want to lug a Nikkor 200-400 lens with me “just in case?” Truthfully, I do, but I can’t. I won’t. (Repeat after me, Les: do NOT take the 200-400!).

I shoot both Hasselblad and Nikon digital, so I am going to go heavy (literally) with the Hassy system this time and use my Nikon on this trip for specialty shooting. If I were there to shoot wildlife it would be the exact opposite. I’ll pack my H4D-50, 28mm prime, 50-110mm zoom, HTS 1.5 tilt-shift attachment and my 300mm prime in case I see wildlife. Wait, no, nix that last lens! Besides, it’s too damned heavy for this trip anyway.

I’ll also take my Nikon D800, and 70-200 f2.8 zoom, with 1.4 teleconverter, in case I see wildlife. No, really, this time I mean it. A photographer has to protect himself, right? Besides, I like the 70-200 for panoramas. I’ll also take my Nikkor 14-24 f2.8 zoom for Milky Way night photography and other scenics.

And, of course I’ll take a tripod, actually two tripods; my Gitzo 3541 with Really Right Stuff BH-55 ballhead and leveler base, as well as my delightful new Me-Foto tripod for hiking, which is less than half the weight of my Gitzo setup (see my review of the MeFoto here).


For accessories I’ll bring an assortment of filters, mostly Singh-Rays, including several Graduated Neutral Densities, since I like to get it “right” in-camera. I also use polarizers.

I simply cannot be without my Hoodman loupe, which allows my decrepit eyes to see the LCD screen clearly, even in bright light. Of course I’ll have tons of batteries, a comprehensive cleaning kit, Lenspens, microfiber cloths, camera rain jackets, head lamp, right-angle viewer, cable releases, and too much other paraphernalia.

Be Safe

I also carry a slew of safety equipment when I’ll be hiking alone, especially in bear and cougar country. I recently switched from the SPOT system of satellite communicators to the DeLorme InReach SE, which allows two-way messaging. I carry on my belt a Gerber multi-tool, which to me is invaluable, since it contains a pliers in addition to typical knife, screwdrivers and critically important beer bottle opener. I also pack an iPhone, which mostly does not work for safety in back country (hence the DeLorme), but does offer me other app functionality.

I also carry bear spray, a whistle to announce myself so I hopefully don’t have to use the bear spray, insect repellent and sunscreen. My first aid kit varies, depending on whether I’m hiking alone (minimal) or with others (minimal plus).

On my tripod I attached a small pouch that holds various Allen wrenches I might need for adjustments to the tripod and my Really Right Stuff camera brackets.

Pack It!

Now, into what can one pack such a disparate collection of gear? First, I put most of my accessories in a padded bag that I put in my checked luggage (an REI Wheely Beast). My cleaning equipment I have in a separate bag. I also disassemble my large tripod and pack that in checked baggage, along with my hiking tripod.

Now comes the fun part; which carry-on bag to choose. I will sometimes choose to just carry my backpack, but on this trip I will stuff my backpack with clothes and assorted other items and place it in my checked bag (yes, my REI Wheely Beast will swallow my backpack). On this trip I’ll use my ThinkTank Airport International V2.0, which I’m convinced is the best bag in the industry. I should be able to get all my above-mentioned cameras and lenses in there with no trouble. Plus, it has room for my 13" MacBook Air.

Even though my Airport International will take all my gear, I’ll still take my ThinkTank Urban Disguise 50 V2.0 with me as my “pocketbook” carry-on. That way I can keep my laptop, iPhone, ear buds, gum, snacks, etc. The ThinkTank system allows me to mount my Urban Disguise onto the handle of the Airport International for seamless transport. I like that.

On the Trail

I am really, really excited about rigorously testing my new-ish MindShift 180 Rotation backpack, a spinoff of the fabulous ThinkTank folks.

I’ve already worn it on several multi-hour hikes in a nearby park, but I have yet to run it through a thorough field test. So far I can say that this thing promises to be the best pack I’ve ever carried. Stay tuned for my exhaustive field test report when I return from the Rockies and an immediate follow-up trip to Iceland. As my regular readers know, I prefer real-time field tests, rather than techno tests that tell me nothing about how the gear will perform under real-life conditions.