My photography essentials, part 2

Wildflower Collage, Sierra Foothills, California

Spring Potpourri, Sierra Foothills, California
Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III
1/125 second
ISO 200
340 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 second of their three questions:

What are your three most important non-photo pieces of gear that you rely on for making your photographs and why do you rely on each of the three?

  • How did I ever get by without a smartphone? Among other things, and in no particular order, it keeps me company on long trips (that are often far off the grid), informs, entertains, guides, provides essential sun and moon rise/set time and location, helps me choose the best f-stop, allows me to manage by business from any location, and even gives me traffic and weather warning. My iPhone (there are many similarly great Android and Windows phones) is 64GB (the largest available) to allows plenty of room to store maps, more podcasts than I can listen to on a single trip, and a lifetime worth of musicOf course a smartphone is be of little value without its apps. When choosing apps, a primary requirement is usability without Internet connectivity. My favorite connection-independent apps are: Focalware, for sun/moon info for any location on Earth; Depth of Field Calculator by Essence Computing, for hyperfocal info; and Theodolite, for general horizon and direction angles (among other things). I also make frequent use of the Dropbox Favorites option, which allows me to pre-download any file for review when I’m not connected.
  • My dash-top GPS is compact enough to slip into any suitcase (there are many viable options; while I use Garmin, interface frustrations stop me short of endorsing it). Because I visit many distant locations that I’m not able to return to as frequently as I’d like, I save every potential photo spot in my dash-top GPS. For example, there are usually many months between my Hawaii visits. Over the years I’ve found far more incredible spots to photograph than my feeble brain can retain. But traveling with a GPS, I don’t have to re-familiarize myself with anything—I just pop it on my dash before driving away from the airport and instantly navigate to my locations like a native. (Or to the nearest Starbucks.)
  • Here’s a just-discovered non-photo essential that didn’t get passed on to “Outdoor Photographer”: After many, many years of trying to find a hands-free way to communicate on my long drives in the middle of nowhere, my new Plantronics Voyager Legend bluetooth earpiece feels like a godsend. Wired earbuds get tangled and have lousy noise cancellation; sound quality makes bluetooth radio connections virtually unusable. And I’ve lost track of the number of earpieces I’ve discarded for some combination of discomfort, poor receiving sound quality, poor sending sound quality, and lousy battery life. I can wear my Voyager Legend for hours and forget it’s there; I can answer calls without taking my eyes off the road; and most importantly, I can hear and be heard as if I’m sitting in a quiet room.

About this image

My GPS guided me to this remote, wildflower-dotted hillside, discovered the previous spring and now a regular destination on my annual spring foothill forays. The wildflower bloom varies greatly each year, so without the GPS sometimes it’s impossible to know whether I’ve found a spot that thrilled me the year before. In this case I found the bloom everything I dared to hope.

Rather than pull out my macro lens, I twisted an extension tube onto my 100-400 lens and went to work. Since there were virtually no shadows, the dynamic range wasn’t a problem, despite the bright, direct sunlight. Metering on the brightest part of the scene and underexposing by about one stop (about 2/3 stop above a middle tone) prevented the brightest highlights from washing out and saturated the color.

Most of my attention that afternoon went to the poppies, but here I concentrated on a group of small, purple wild onions and let the limited depth of field blur the poppies into the background. Clicking the same composition at a half dozen or so f-stops from f5.6 to f16 allowed me to defer my depth of field selection until I could view my images on my large monitor.

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