Field-Ready Accessories; What I Bring “On The Road”

There are many accessories that not only make life pleasurable in the field, but also add greatly to the picture-taking experience. Here are some of my favorites, most of which go with me depending on what my course of action might be:
First on my list is a good, heavy-duty, but light to carry tripod. My choice for comfort and support is a carbon-fiber model. Two actually, one of which supports my usual array of camera bodies with lenses up to 300mm, the other has a Wimberley gimbal mount for those large, sometimes overburdening super telephotos. Not everyone needs to go the carbon-fiber route, so when shopping for one take your camera and mounting plate and scout around for a tripod that meets your requirements. Aluminum, carbon fiber, and wood are all available depending upon your needs and budget. Locking mechanisms are vital to the smooth operation of any tripod and range from twist-lock collars to levers to locking knobs. Center columns are good and should be removable, especially if you like to photograph what I call the “ground story.” The true test of a good tripod is to extend it out to its limits, then push down on it to see if the legs bow inward. If they do, move on.

On a slightly overcast day, a polarizer was the secret to the success of this photo. Notice the movement of the water, the brilliance of the fall colors in the background.
All Photos © 2009, Stan Trzoniec, All Rights Reserved

Next, you’ll need a ball head to hold your camera. If you want the finest amount of tweaking in the field, stay away from pan heads that have 2-3 levers sticking out from all sides. Instead, move on to a ball head offered by the folks who manufacture tripods and independents like Kirk, Studioball, or Really Right Stuff. Like everything else, you’ll want to check for the maximum load capacity, additional controls for friction, rotational movement, and the angle of motion of the head itself. Embedded bubble levels are good and aid when setting up for a panoramic shot.

The Singh-Ray ND filter came in handy here to catch the motion of a passing train in New York State. Exposure was 2 seconds in late afternoon.

Lens Accessories
Don’t leave home without your polarizer! Commonly used to darken the sky, too much of a good thing will make the heavens look almost black. On rainy days, reflections on the landscape will be held at bay, yielding some startling images. Graduated filters aid in cutting down excessive planes of light. A bright sky over shaded foreground is a prime example. Grads come with soft or hard edges between the light and dark sections of the filter. Neutral density filters are another handy item that can cut down on the light coming through the lens, something always useful when the light is bright and you want to cut down on shutter speed to make waterfalls turn into silky motion studies.

Depending on your requirements, you can purchase a heavy-duty tripod (left) for longer, heavier cameras and lenses or (right) a handier, lightweight tripod for most of your work outdoors.

Tele-converters extend the reach of your lens by adding focal length to longer lenses. Using a 1.4x converter makes my 70-200mm f/2.8 lens an inexpensive 105-300mm (but at the cost of one f/stop of light). Multi-element close-up lenses take little space in your backpack and come in handy for extending the closest focusing distance of any lens.

My Wimberley Plamp always goes with me. Great for securing wildflowers against the effects of the wind, I also find this tool helpful in both the studio and outdoors for holding items like a reflector or mirror. Attached to the tripod, it extends outward and around obstacles to avoid interference within the outer edges of the frame.

With a sturdy tripod, cable release, and by putting the mirror up before the long exposure, I was able to get this photo of a steam engine at night.
This scene was taken in Colorado with a tripod, cable release, and a Vari-ND filter.

I cannot stress the need for a good backpack. Wide, over-the-shoulder straps and a hip harness go a long way in eliminating back pain after a day in the field. Accessibility is paramount, of course, as is the ability to get a piece of equipment in a timely manner. Protection within by padded partitions keeps photo gear in topnotch condition, and the capability to carry a water bottle or strap on a tripod are more benefits. Like a tripod, backpacks are a personal item and should be tried on at a local camera shop, not ordered casually by mail order.

Tele-converters are an inexpensive way to bring something closer at about 1⁄10 of the price of a super telephoto lens.