What's Missing From My Bag?

Thursday, June 25, 2009 | |

What's Missing?
See it bigger and with labels on Flickr.

This is the shot that every photographer has to do eventually--the big "What's In My Bag" shot. Only mine has a distinct purpose... to ask you, my photog friends, a question. And that question is:

What's Missing From My Bag?

The relevant background details: I've been shooting a high-end point-and-shoot for the past four years, and finally joined the ranks of the digital SLR crowd last week. Very soon, the family and I are off on a western adventure--mountains and forests, lakes and streams, waterfalls, and (I hope) plentiful wildlife. In addition to the usual family vacation snaps for the grandparents, I really want to come back with some great outdoor/landscape/nature shots. I'm no Moose Peterson and I know I won't become one overnight, and I know that having better gear will not really get me that much closer to "Moose" territory. However, I don't get out to the wild west very often, and I want to make this trip count.

So, the game for today is... pretend Scott has $100 to spend on photo gear before heading west. Give me your best idea of what I should add to my current kit. I have lots of ideas; some fairly conventional, and maybe a few off-the-wall ones. I probably cannot buy a useful lens under my $100 limit, but I could rent one. Believe it or not, there is one place that rents Pentax-compatible gear:

Here's my ideas. Don't feel limited to this list though -- shoot me any idea you come up with that works with and adds to my current setup, with an emphasis on outdoor/landscape/wildlife shooting.

My current 80-200mm, while being a 300mm equivalent on a 1.5 crop sensor, is still not super-long for wildlife shooting, and it's not an especially "fast" lens.
The two possibilities here would be: rent a longer/faster zoom, or buy one of those multiplier attachments. I know a 2x teleconverter will eat 2 stops of light, but hopefully at least in daylight situations it would still be workable.

While my 18-55mm zoom is fairly wide, it might be fun/useful in these settings to have something really wide like the Pentax 12-24mm zoom. Again, we'd be talking about a rental at this point, not a purchase. There are also those wide-angle adapters that fasten on to the front of your lens like a filter. I don't know what the quality of those is like.

Another thing I'd love to play with under the "wide" category is a fisheye. Here again there are several options. I could rent a true fisheye lens, I could purchase a fisheye adapter that screws on to my existing lens. The off-the-wall idea here would be to pick up a Lomo Fisheye film camera. I'm not opposed to shooting film, and a Lomo is an order of magnitude cheaper than buying a real DSLR fisheye lens.

I have a CPL (circular polarizing filter) that will fit both my 18-55mm zoom and my nifty-fifty manual lens. I know a standard part of the landscape photog kit is a graduated ND filter for sky/ground light balancing, or just a straight ND filter for making longer exposures of clouds, moving water, etc. Anything else I should consider in the filter area?

In addition to the bargain gorillapod-clone shown above, I do have a regular tripod that didn't get included in the shot above (it was in my car at the time). Not sure whether it'll be coming along on any long hikes though. I don't have a monopod yet, and that is another good possibility to eat my theoretical $100.

So, now it's your turn... what did I miss? Or how do I prioritize the ideas above? Leave me a comment here, tweet to me @scottdcoulter, look me up on Facebook... etc. I'll collect all your feedback for a follow-on blog post, and will gladly link back to your blog, flickr, or wherever you like. Please pass this link around and get me some exposure. I'm trying once again to get a regular blog posting schedule going, so I'd love to get more folks dropping by.

And for the three of you that have lasted through all the verbiage above,


Jeremy Brooks said...

Pack a few sensor swabs and some cleaning fluid. On my last vacation, I managed to get some crap on my sensor, and we were in rural Kentucky. No camera store in sight. A week's worth of photos all have a big spot, and need extra processing work.

If you are doing any long-exposure nighttime shooting (stars maybe?), add a remote release or cable release.

Plenty of memory cards, and something to dump the photos to every day (this might push you over the $100 limit).

Have fun!

Expecting.Rain said...

I would also consider getting a Graduated ND filter. Where are you going in the West? I hope you have a wonderful time.

Bryan Villarin said...

I'm going to have to say sensor swabs and memory cards, too.

Definitely bring a few more microfiber cloths since it'll probably be dusty.

I haven't had a need for a remote/cable release yet, but if I need to go longer than 30 seconds, I'm doomed.

Have fun!

Mike Hudson Photography said...

Ok, I'll give it a shot... first off, the one GLARING thing I see that's missing, is a camera body cap. Sounds very innocuous, but with that missing, all the dust from the air and your carpet are wafting onto your sensor. (I'm assuming here that the black camera is your digital camera, though maybe you're using the digital to take the picture). In any case, keep that camera covered all the time, and change lenses quickly. You'll be very frustrated when you come back and find dust spots all over your pristine skies. Then you'll spend days or even weeks getting rid of them on the computer. I know– it's happened in the past to me. Get a bulb to blow off the sensor regularly. Some Sensor Swabs (about $50/ pack) are useful too, but most dust can be blown off with a bulb. Price for a bulb ~ $15.

Do you have something, like a laptop, to backup your pics to each day? You may also want to backup the pics to DVD-RWs, that way you have them in two places if one fails. When I go to Maine each Fall, I put the pictures each day onto a portable HD, then onto a DVD-RW. I've never needed the DVDs but if the drive goes out on me, I'm OK. Price for a few DVD-RWs ~$25.

I'd leave one backup camera in your hotel room/ suitcase and not even get it out unless your main camera fails. No point bringing another camera on a hike when the chances are slim that you'll have camera failure. Pack lightly, though don't leave out the essentials.

If you're shooting in the daylight hours (8am-6pm) you may not want your tripod, but I'd STRONGLY encourage you to get up an hour before sunrise and stake out a place to shoot the sun coming up. Shoot a couple sunrises and sunsets and you won't want to shoot during the day, the light is so harsh and boring. Most great landscape pix are shot within an hour of sunrise or sunset. The quality of light is so much better. When I go to Maine, I spend most of the day (after shooting the sunrise) figuring out where the best sunset shot will be. Bring a compass and figure out where the sun rises and sets, then use that during the day to determine where the best locations are for future pix. Bring the tripod- it's bulky and unwieldy, but you'll have sharp pictures, and be glad you brought it. Price for getting up early- Free– and a little missed sleep, which you won't even notice once you see how beautiful the landscape is at that time.

Mike Hudson Photography said...

Part 2:
Make sure you have more than one memory card; get the biggest ones you can afford, at least 4GB should be ok for a day's shooting, depending on your shooting style. I do a lot of panoramas, some of which require 15-25 images for one shot, so I've been known to shoot 8-10GB in a day.

A 2X lens converter sounds good, but most (even my $300 Canon 1.4X) will degrade image quality a little, so I usually don't recommend them. Depending on the wildlife you're shooting, you may be able to patiently just walk closer to your subject. When I shot some bears out East last week, I was able to get within twenty feet (ok- these were small bears!). Deer and elk are usually easy to shoot if you move slowly and use your 80-200 zoom. Open the aperture all the way to throw the background out of focus.

A very useful accessory that a lot of landscape photographers use now is a bubble level that mounts to your hotshoe and helps you get straight horizons. Price ~$20. (

The graduated ND is pretty useful. You can get around it by shooting two images, one for the sky and one for the foreground, then combining in PS, but it's better to get one shot in-camera. My Singh-Ray ND filter cost $100. Lee makes good ones too. A filter holder would be handy too though you can get by without one.

When you get to where you're going, visit the visitor center and gift shops and see what locations are photogenic- what scenes are in all the postcards and posters? Look at the photography coffee table books from the area; read the captions to find out where they were taken, then visit those places.

Hope that helps Scott! Look forward to seeing what you come up with! Where are you going?