Gear for the Lightweight Photographer

3h copyThink of the classic image of a photographer in the backcountry. It’s some poor soul wearing a nerdy vest crammed with lenses, grunting and sweating under a heavy pack and a giant tripod while everyone else prances around with light packs and smiles on their faces. They make great images, but probably don’t have as much fun—But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Here’s some gear that will help you take good images, while keeping your pack very light.

Keep the Camera SmallSmall cameras can do more and more every day. Smartphones are still too limited for much creative work work, but good options exist in rugged, point and shoot cameras that are waterproof and shock resistant, like the Olympus Tough, Canon Powershot D30,  and others. Another news sweet-spot solution is mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras that give creative control without the SLR bulk. Examples are the Sony Alpha, Olympus OM-D, the Nikon IV2, or the Fujifilm X-E2.

Software Hacks
If you are using a point and shoot, look on the internet to see if your camera model has hacked software for it. Some clever open-source folks have written programs that can be downloaded onto a memory card that supercharge a camera’s firmware—so they can do things like shoot high-resolution RAW files generally only possible with digital SLRs. One example is the Canon Hack Development Kit that works with their Powershot models.

Go GorillaUntitled-2Tripods are heavy. Gorilla pods, however, are not: they can be balanced on rocks, wrapped around trees, or manipulated six ways to Sunday to get the composition you want. And with the lighter cameras, a small ballhead will do the job.

Catch the ClampUntitled-3Another solution is a camera clamp with a tripod mount on one end. The other end can be clamped on to ski poles, trekking poles, ice axes, paddles, or whatever you can find to get the camera to the right height and hold it steady.

PolarizeUntitled-4Regardless of what camera you have, bring a polarizing filter. They’re designed to screw onto big DSLR lenses, but there’s absolutely no reason you can’t simply hold it in front of a small camera on a tripod. Polarizers have several effects: increase contrast, cut glare, darken the sky, and increase dramatic feel. There’s no visual equivalent for a polarizer in Photoshop or Lightroom. Just hold it good and steady. Use the rotating ring to modify the polarizing effect based on the angle to the sun.

It’s the MemoryUntitled-5Invest in a large memory card with a fast write speed. these are usually USH-II U3 cards.  Don’t worry about the technical jargon—they’re fast, and speed will help you capture action better, and will operate faster in burst mode. And be sure to always shoot at your camera’s highest resolution, in RAW mode if your camera has one.

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