My photography essentials, part 1

Morning Light, Yosemite Falls from Sentinel Dome, Yosemite
Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II
1/50 second
ISO 400
105 mm

A couple of weeks ago the editors at “Outdoor Photographer” magazine asked me (and a few other pros) to contribute to an upcoming article on photography essentials, and it occurs to me that my blog readers might be interested to read my answers. Here’s my answer to the first of their three questions:

1. What are the top three most important pieces of photo gear for you to create your particular style of landscape photography and why is each important?

(Since we all need cameras and lenses, I stuck to optional items.)

  • At the top of my list, and it’s not even close, is a tripod/ball-head combo that’s easy to use: sturdy, light, and tall enough to use without a (destabilizing) center post. More than just a platform to reduce vibration, my tripod is a compositional aid that allows me to click a frame, evaluate my image, refine my composition and exposure settings, and click again. I often repeat this process several times until I’m satisfied. Using a tripod, the composition I’m evaluating is sitting right there, waiting for my adjustments; without a tripod, I need to recreate my composition each time. Another unsung benefit of the tripod is the ability to make exposure decisions without compromising f-stop or ISO to minimize hand-held camera shake. I’m a huge fan of Really Right Stuff tripods and heads.
  • Adding an L-plate to my bodies was a game-changer—not only does it make vertical compositions more stable, they’re closer to eye level and just plain easier. In my workshops I often observe photographers without an L-plate resist vertical oriented shots, either consciously or unconsciously, simply because it’s a hassle to crank their head sideways, and when they do they need to stoop more. And some heads are not strong enough to hold a heavy, vertically oriented camera/lens combo. But since switching to the L-plate, my decision between a horizontal or vertical composition is based entirely on the composition that works best.
  • Given the amount of travel I do, not to mention the hiking once I get there, I need a camera bag that handles all my gear (including my tripod and 15” laptop), has room for extra stuff like a jacket, water, and food, is comfortable for long hikes, durable, easy to access, and (this is huge) fits all airline overhead bins. I’ve tried many, and the F-stop Tilopa is the only one I’ve found that meets all my criteria.

*    *    *

Because people always seem interested in the equipment I use

For what it’s worth, I have relationships with a few photo equipment vendors that allows them to use my name, and in return I get a price break on their equipment. But I’ve never been one to play the endorsement card to great benefit, or too allow the whole freebie/discount thing affect my recommendations. For example, I’d never heard of F-Stop Gear when they asked if I’d like to be one of their staff pros. When they offered to send me a bag to try, I made it very clear that I’d only use or endorse it if I liked it better than anything else I’ve tried, but they sent it anyway, no strings attached. I’m happy to say that I absolutely fell in love with my F-Stop Tilopa, and haven’t used another bag in over three years  (before that I used different bags for different needs).

Likewise, I used (and sung the praises of) Really Right Stuff heads and L-plates long before RRS had ever heard of me. I own four Gitzo tripods, and while I think they’re great, I have to say that my new Really Right Stuff tripod (TVC-24L) is demonstrably better—lighter, sturdier, and easier to use—than my Gitzo 3530LS. And I’ve always found RRS customer service second to none.

Now if I could only get Apple to notice me….

About this image

Follow the light. Here atop Sentinel Dome it would have been easy to concentrate on one or more of a variety of dramatic subjects, including El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, and Cathedral Rocks. But the best light this morning was the warm sunrise glow on an anonymous tree and a clump of wildflowers.

I’d spent the night in the back of my truck a few miles down the road from the Sentinel Dome trailhead. The hike is only about a mile—it’s relatively easy in daylight, but I wanted to be atop the dome about 45 minutes before sunrise, so I did the whole thing in the dark (not something I’d recommend unless you’re extremely familiar with the trail, as I was). Since this was late June, sunrise was around 5:30, which meant an extremely early morning. As it turned out, the sunrise, while magnificent to experience, wasn’t terribly noteworthy photographically.

As I started my walk back to my truck, the light on this tree stopped me. I positioned myself to align the wildflowers, tree, and Yosemite Fall, moving as far back as I could to allow a telephoto that would compress these three primary elements. I dropped low and focused to emphasize the wildflowers and weathered tree in the warm light, relegating unlit Yosemite Falls to background status by allowing it to go slightly soft.

5 Comments on “My photography essentials, part 1

  1. Thank you so much for your expérience share! It really useful for me!

  2. Gary,

    I can’t agree more with you about tripods, L-plates and Really Right Stuff. Recently, I had to replace a leg extention for my Gitzo Tripod and it took weeks to get them to respond to me and finally mail me the part. I love the tripod but I know I would get immediate service from Really Right Stuff and they probably would not charge me for the part like Gitzo did. So my next tripod will be Really Right Stuff and I will always recommend them over Gtizo.


  3. Great write up Gary. However, with your history with iPhones, I don’t think Apple could afford to “notice you”.

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