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Outdoor photography encompasses a whole host of genres, like: landscapes, nature, macro, wildlife and even low-light, thus it can be the perfect opportunity to try new techniques and compositions that are outside your traditional comfort zone. So while you might have set off to capture some fascinating vistas, you might stumble upon a collection of unusual looking fungi and want to photograph that too, which is great as long as you’ve packed the right kit. The key here is preparation, because once you’re out in wild it can be a long trek home if you’ve forgotten something. Whatever you’re heading outdoors to capture, here are a few things to consider before you leave.
Guide to Outdoor Photography
If you plan on packing everything, including the kitchen sink you’ll need to invest in a large, lightweight yet hard-wearing backpack, ones with Velcro padded dividers are a great choice if you’re planning on packing a selection of cameras and lenses. Ideally waterproofed ones are favourable, for obvious reasons and you’ll be thanking yourself later if you’ve bought one with soft, broad shoulder straps.
Bags with zippable pockets will ensure you don’t lose your keys and wallet in the wilderness, but they are also great for securing smaller accessories such as memory cards; a handful ranging in capacity, a lens pen and cloth; for smudge-free glass, spare batteries or battery unit, and a selection of filters. It’s also a good idea to carry some small change with you in case you need to use a pay phone, toilets or parking.
For most of the subjects that outdoor photography encompasses, a tripod will be necessary. Select a lightweight one such as one made of carbon-fibre, which is not only lighter to carry than most aluminium ones, but is much more rugged and durable. Opt for one that has a low minimum height (i.e. one where the central column doesn’t prevent you from getting down low enough to capture land-level macros).
A good selection of lens covering a range of focal lengths will ensure you’re covered whatever the subject, from wide-angle focal lengths for landscapes to telephoto reaches for wildlife. If you’re budget doesn’t allow such luxury than you might want to consider a zoom lens for varying between all focal lengths, and perhaps one sharp prime lens for ensuring macros and nature subjects are captured in stunning life-like detail.
The all important plastic bag, in fact pack a couple. Never has one item been so useful to the outdoor photographer, and what’s more, they are incredible versatile, take up practically no space and most importantly – are free! If you’re caught in an unexpected downpour pull it over your camera, poke a hole in the bottom and slid the lens through the hole, then make a seal with your lens hood from the outside – et voila a waterproof camera shield. Want to lie down to get a close up of those flowers but the meadow is muddy? Lay down a line of plastic bags to stop you’re clothes getting wet and dirty. Want to shoot a long exposure landscape but the wind is blowing the tripod? Collect a few rocks or stones in your bag and attach it to the tripod’s centre column. There are 101 uses for a plastic bag, if not more!
Unless you’re a Bear Grylls (adventurer) type and are used to fending for yourself in the wild, it’s wise to take a few precautionary measures before you leave home, especially if the location you are heading to is dangerous, isolated or you are planning on going at night. These may seem like some obvious precautions, but actually it could make the difference between life and death.
Ensure the battery on your phone is fully charged and to stop it draining in the cold keep it somewhere warm, like close to your body such as an inside jacket pocket. It’s a good idea to put a few helpful apps on your Smartphone too if you can such as Maps, Compass, First Aid, Find My Phone – in case you become lost or injured, plus photography relevant apps such as an app that tells you of your location’s sunset/sunrise times, one that can work out hyperfocal distances or even act as a light meter.
Tell at least one person where you are going, the route you’ll be taking and when you expect to return. Perhaps offer to text or call them when you arrive at your location and also when you are on your way home again, just to put their mind at rest.
Double check your vehicle is topped up with gas and oil, and that the tires are correctly inflated and are in a good condition. If you are travelling some distance, or off the beaten track, it is a good idea to carry a small amount of fuel in a jerry can, to get you to the next gas station. Check the lights are working and pack a couple of spares. Keep a copy of your breakdown details just in case, but minimise the need of having to call someone out by having a spare tire and jack in your trunk.
Check the weather forecast before you go to avoid adverse conditions (unless this is what you’re after) and wear/pack the appropriate clothing. Depending on the type of climate you are working in you may want to consider packing a few extra items in the trunk too, such as; a change of clothes and shoes, a blanket, spade/snow shovel, flask of hot tea/coffee, food, water, and sunscreen. A First Aid Kit and flashlight may also come in useful.
Comfort and safety is the name of the game here rather than looking like a trendsetting explorer. A pair of hard-wearing hiking boots, or shoes with ankle-support, will keep your feet and legs as comfortable as possible when trekking over long distances. Consider the weather and dress appropriately so; waterproof clothing if it’s raining, thermals and insulated clothing if it snows light, bright cottons if it’s hot. Clothing with plenty of pockets is always a bonus as they are ideal and convenient place for keeping lens caps, cards, filters and cloths at arm’s reach. A hat is surely obligatory if it’s super cold or super sunny out, so opt for an insulated woolly one, or a wide brimmed white one respectively. If you’re venturing out after dark and are near roads or highways be sure to wear reflective or bright clothing so that you stand out, warning drivers to veer round you.
Read part 2 of our complete guide for tips, tricks and techniques for shooting on location and editing advice, coming tomorrow.