Nature Photography Tips    

The 10 Things Every Nature Photographer Should Own

Photographers tend to be gadget-oriented. We walk into camera stores and when faced with a towering wall camera gizmos, our eyes bug out. If we just had that one more accessory: a titanium tripod head, a chocolate colored filter, or a light meter with a built in solar powered bird call.... we'd be nabbing much better shots. I'm as guilty as anyone for having an arsenal of useless camera gear lying around my house! 

But for nature photographers, the most important pieces of gear to have out in the field (aside from a camera and tripod), are not things you'll find in a camera shop. I'm talking about the weaponry that makes it possible, practical and productive to be out in the field. These items have saved my butt many times from certain photographic disaster and have helped me be prepared for incredible photo opportunities. The best thing is that all of these items are quite inexpensive and you'll be able to find most of them in a single pass through your local hardware or outdoor store. So without further adieu, here are the 10 things I consider essential field gear for a nature photographer. Don't leave home without them!

1) an alarm clock
I love the fiery glow of purple-orange light that creeps over the horizon and ignites the sky about a half hour before sunrise. My body, however, is not always enthusiastic about getting up in the dark to trek out to a great photo location. So I always set two alarm clocks (one as a backup) to make sure I don't miss the most exciting time of day. For traveling, I use a compact, battery-powered alarm clock and my Timex watch alarm as a backup. 

2) rubber boots or hip waders
A bit of mud or water should never stop you from getting to a great photo location. This is especially true if you're photographing along shorelines - sometimes the best perspectives come from getting into the water.

3) a shower cap and garbage bag
The shower caps they give you at hotels make great emergency rain hoods for a camera body or lens. They pack conveniently into a camera bag and the elastic band holds them securely to your gear. I carry a garbage bag for the same reason - to put over my big lenses when it starts to rain. These cheap items have saved me thousands of dollars in damage to my camera gear when I've been caught in an unexpected downpour!

4) bug spray or a head net
Nature is full of bugs that want to feed on you, but this shouldn't stop you from photographing. Some of the best wildflower and bird photo opportunities are during the height of black fly or mosquito season. Just be careful not to get bug spray on your camera gear!

5) a repair kit with duct tape and crazy glue
I once dropped my brand new camera body on rock and cracked the battery grip in half. I crazy glued it back together and was shooting again in a few minutes (in fact I'm still shooting with it as is 2 years later). Accidents happen and gear breaks. A bit of preparedness can save your shoot, so always carry an emergency took kit in your car when you go out photographing. Be sure to pack a hex key and sockets to fit all the major fittings on your tripod and head.

6) extra batteries and film/memory
Your photo excursion is cooked if you run out of batteries or film/memory, so always carry spares. It never ceases to amaze me how many photographers I've encountered in the field who've had their batteries die and didn't have a spare! 

7) a headlamp or flashlight
I hike in the dark all the time to be on location before dawn or after dusk. A headlamp and spare flashlight in my camera bag helps to gets me home safely. Sometimes I use a flashlight as an additional light source for a photo, when I need to fill in shadows.

8) a compass
Most people carry a compass in case they get lost and need to orient themselves home. While that's a good reason to have one, I use mine mostly when I'm out scouting photos during the day to know where the sun will rise or set. When I return to shoot, I've already got a good idea of where the light will fall on certain scenes, which increases my efficiency in the field.   

9) toilet paper
It is inevitable: if you spend a lot of time out in nature...nature will call. What more can I say?

10) quality outdoor clothing
Crappy weather often spawns the most dramatic photo opportunities. Being prepared with clothing that keeps you warm and dry in the field is a must. Although this is the most expensive item on the list, it's something you can invest in over time. At the very least, buy a lightweight shell (waterproof/windproof) that you can pack in your camera bag. A pair of quick-dry pants that zip-off to shorts is invaluable for summer shooting when mornings or evenings are cool. I always keep a full spare set of clothes in my car, to change if I need to. Naturally, I have bright red, orange and yellow clothes that stand out in photos (they'll also make it easier for rescuers to find me if I ever get in trouble!).

About the Photos:

1) Showy Lady's Slippers, Bruce Peninsula, Ontario
Canon EOS 1N, EF 100/2.8 macro; Velvia 50

Where I live, these wild orchids bloom right at the peak of mosquito and black fly season. The only way I could concentrate on composing this image was to wear a head net and repellent so the bugs wouldn't drive me nuts! 

2) Reddish Egret fishing, Estero Lagoon, Florida
Canon EOS 1N, 600f/4; Velvia 50 (+1 stop)

Nothing beats wading in a mucky lagoon to get a shot of a reddish egret fishing. I was wearing sandals when I made this shot and the mud was squishing between my toes. I wish I'd had my hip waders instead!

3) Cave Point, Bruce Peninsula National Park, Ontario
Canon EOS 1N; EF 20-35/3.5-4.5; polarizer, Velvia 50
Most people don't consider photographing on rainy mornings, but they can make for wonderful moody images. On this rainy morning, I kept a shower cap over my camera gear and photographed whenever there was a break in the light drizzle. 

Happy shooting!

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