I’ve been using the pretext of touring my camera bag to carry on a general discussion of photographic gear. So far we’ve covered the camera bag, the camera body itself, lenses and filters. In this installment we will cover miscellaneous items.
If you haven’t seen the previous articles, here are the links:
To complete the camera bag tour let’s look at some of the accessories we accumulate to support our passion for photography.
Let’s begin with that little pouch in the upper right hand corner. It contains, among other things, a microfiber cloth. It is used to clean lenses and filters. It’s important that we keep everything clean including the front elements of our lenses and/or the filters we place on them.
The microfiber cloth is designed to clean without scratching. It can clear away dust and smudges. But I prefer a no-contact method and for that I use my Giotto Rocket. It’s designed to blow dust from our sensors but it blows dust from the front of lenses equally as well. So that’s my first choice for cleaning the lens. If that doesn’t get all the dust I reach for the microfiber cloth to finish the job.
But, as good as those two things are, neither of them can clean water drops from the lens. This of course can occur when you’re photographing near waterfalls, or the surf on the ocean or, in the rain. For these situations, a small square of chamois is perfect. It doesn’t scratch the lens but it soaks up the water.
Since the Giotto Rocket has come up, let’s say a few words about cleaning our sensors. Every time you change a lens in the field you expose the sensor to dust. Some environments such as deserts have more dust than others. And dust spots require a lot of time and effort to remove in the digital darkroom.
Now, you’re not going to clean your sensor in the field but it’s a good practice to clean it every night when you return to your hotel room.
There are three levels of sensor cleaning:
The Giotto sensor is one of several such blowers designed specifically to clean the sensor. Under no circumstances do you want to use canned air of any kind to clean the sensor. They are likely to leave propellants on the sensor and you have a worse mess than when you started.
You also don’t want to use just any blower. You want to use one designed specifically for cleaning camera sensors. What makes them different? They draw in air at the back of the blower and blow it out the nozzle. In this way, any dust particles that are dislodged and floating in the air are not picked up by the blower and shot back out.
That’s level one cleaning.
Level two involves brushing off the sensor with specially designed brushes. The brushes have two key qualities. First, they take on a static electric charge when waved through the air. This is important because dust is usually held to the sensor by a static charge. With the brush taking on a static charge of its own, the dust particles will cling to it instead of the sensor.
The second key property is the brush fibers are never touched by human hands. Our fingers have trace amounts of oils on them which are transferred to objects we touch. Oil on these brushes will pretty much ruin them as the oil can be transferred to the sensor.
Wet cleaning involves a cleaning solvent and specially designed wands. The wands are made of a paper that will not leave lint behind. The solvent is designed to clean up any oil that happens to have accumulated on the sensor and dry without leaving any residue. Where does oil come from, you ask? From the mechanism that flips the mirror out-of-the-way. This can be a problem with new camera bodies but generally goes away over time.
A company that provides these sensor cleaning tools is Visible Dust.
Oh, one more thing. Not pictured above is a hand towel that I carry in my camera bag. When I get back in my hotel room I like to wipe everything down. And if it happens to be drizzling I can drape the towel over the camera and lens to keep them dry.
Hands Off Photography
Most landscape photography is shot with a camera mounted on a tripod which is the greatest tool ever invented for obtaining sharp images. To ensure that the camera doesn’t jiggle when we press the shutter button it’s best if we’re not touching the camera when the shutter fires. There are two ways of achieving this.
In the pouch on the bottom and to the right you see an Intervalometer. This a device that performs three functions. It is a remote shutter trigger, it can be used to lock down the shutter for periods longer than 30 seconds and it is an Intervalometer; that is, it can take multiple exposures of a fixed length over a period of time with a fixed time between exposures. In other words, you can do time-lapse photography with it.
Triggering the shutter is what I use mine for the most. Plug it in to the special port on your camera body and now the camera’s shutter button is in your hand.
This is great for photographing things that require precise timing. For example, I use it when photographing the surf at Big Sur.
But the technique I turn to most often is to use the camera’s built-in timer. Generally, you have the choice of a 2 or 10 second delay. I use the 2 second delay for most of the landscape photographs I take. I press the shutter button and 2 seconds later, the shutter fires. When I’m shooting with my 100-400mm lens I use the 10 second delay. With that much weight on the tripod, any vibrations that start take much longer to dampen out and 2 seconds is often not enough. So the 10 seconds works much better.
But isn’t it interesting that at the precise instant of creation we are not touching our instrument.
By the way, the Giotto Rocket is in the same pouch as the Intervalometer. Also in that pouch is a spare flashlight.
Live view has become a central part of digital photography. There are so many things we can do with it. We can compose our images, make sure horizons are straight, display histograms and even check focus.
When it comes to the latter there is another piece of gear that is a tremendous help – the loupe. You can use it to closely examine the image to make sure everything is sharp. (I also like to magnify the image 10x to get an even sharper focus.)
There’s another use for the loupe. On bright days it becomes difficult to see the image in live view. But the loupe shields the screen enough to make the image visible.
I find that I pull this out often. And, because it has a strap that I can hang around my neck, I get to walk around the rest of the day looking like a cool photographer, one who really knows what he’s doing. It’s a nice effect.
In the pouch to the left of the Intervalometer is where I keep two backup batteries. Simple enough. No much to say about that other than when I head out in the morning I have three fully charged batteries. And they are ALWAYS in this pouch. It’s sad how often I hear people say their battery is running low. When I ask, ‘Where’s your backup battery?” all too often the answer is “Back in the room.”
So I guess the point to make here is, Don’t leave your backup batteries in your room. Select a permanent home for them in your camera bag and keep them there.
(As an interesting side-note, I showed up for a recent week-long workshop and realized when I checked into my room and set up all the electronic gear I had left my battery charger at home. But not to worry. I just cut back on how much I used live view and made it through the entire week on two batteries. This may not work for everyone as I can easily get at least 200 shots on a single battery charge. The real lesson is, ‘Don’t leave your battery charger at home.)
By the way, always keep the protectors on the contact ends of your batteries. Lithium batteries can spontaneously burst into flame. This can occur in a number of ways, one of them being if the contacts short out. Protecting them can reduce the risk of fire. Also, never put lithium batteries in checked luggage when you fly.
The last pouch on the bottom row contains a rain fly for the camera bag. I’ve never had to use it but it’s always there in case I need it. The rain fly came with my Think Tank camera bag. If your camera bag did not include a rain fly, you might want to find a trash bag that will work as a substitute and give it a home in your camera bag.
In the pouch on the far left in the middle is a very important piece of gear – a multitool. It’s surprising how often it comes in handy. Sadly, it gets used most often when I take a group out to Cholla Garden in Joshua Tree National Park. I use it to pull cholla (a bristly form of cactus) out of people hands and feet. But it’s handy for other things as well. I highly recommend them.
Under the multitool as an angle viewfinder. This is really handy when your camera is pointed in a very awkward direction that requires extreme contortions on your part. I’ve used it in Antelope Canyon where the you’re shooting is often very awkward. It makes the job a lot easier.
There’s one more thing to mention. Back in the days when my longest lens was my 70-200mm, I sometimes wanted to get closer to the subject. So, I also have a 1.4x tele extender. This increases the effective focal length by a factor of 1.4. A 200 mm lens becomes 280 mm.
The 1.4x tele extender reduces the maximum aperture by 1 stop. My 70-200 mm lens has a maximum aperture of f/2.8. With the tele extender on, the maximum aperture is f/4.
Lens makers also make a 2x tele extender. I’ve been tempted to buy one but there are two disadvantages. First, it decreases the maximum aperture by two stops and second, it’s not as sharp as the 1.4x tele extender. So, I’ve never popped for it.
Well, not film exactly. Memory cards.
I always keep plenty of spare memory cards. I have a memory card holder from Think Tank that holds eight memory cards. I don’t have that many memory cards, but I do have four extra besides the two in the camera body.
I keep the holder in a side pocket where it is easily accessed. For me, when it comes to pressing the shutter, less is more. I prefer being selective about what I photograph, slowing down, taking my time and only setting up my camera when something really moves me. If I end up with 100 files at the end of the day (and that includes HDR), that’s a pretty typical day. As a result, I don’t run through many memory cards. But when I do run out of memory the extra cards are handy.
I get to photograph with a lot of really good photographers. One thing I hear quite often, however, is, “Oh, I left that lens back in the room,” or “I didn’t bring that lens on this trip.”
Another question I hear a lot is, “What lens should I bring with me?” My answer, which often seems like a smart-alecky one, is “All of them.” Just because most people may photograph a particular location with a wide-angle lens doesn’t mean that when you get out there you may see something that requires a telephoto. The lens you need depends on what you see, not what others recommend, and if you don’t have that lens with you, you’ll only get the shot in your memory.
The same goes for filters, memory cards, batteries, remote releases and all the other gear we’ve discussed in these articles.
I like to keep it simple.
The gear in my camera bag is all I need (and basically all I have). I have lenses that give me focal lengths from 16mm to 400mm (and I can increase the upper end to 560mm if needed with the tele extender). I have enough battery to get me through a week of shooting and then some, I have more memory than I could ever use, I have all the filters I need, I can keep my lenses and sensor free of dust and I even have a multitool to tighten screws and remove cactus spines. It’s all there. And everything has its place. I can find anything in the dark with my eyes closed.
Keeping it simple leaves more time and energy to be creative. And that’s the reason for being out there in the first place.
There’s one more essential piece of gear to cover that is not in the camera bag but rather on it. That’s the tripod. I’ll discuss the tripod and things to take into consideration in the next and final article.