It’s in the Bag

Gary Hart Photography: Winter Storm, El Capitan in the Snow, Yosemite

Winter Storm, El Capitan in the Snow, Yosemite
Sony a7RIII
Sony 12-24 G
1/20 seconds
F/16
ISO 50

Ready for some irony? One reason I switched from a Canon DSLR system to Sony Alpha mirrorless (about 5 1/2 years ago) was that Sony’s bodies and lenses are smaller and lighter, yet today I’m probably carrying the heaviest bag I’ve ever carried. What I hadn’t counted on when I made the switch was that smaller gear meant more room in my camera bag, which gave me two options: a smaller camera bag, or more gear. Guess which option I chose. Since people ask all the time about my gear, and it’s been a couple of years since I actually shared it all in one place…

Let’s peek in my camera bag

The contents of my camera bag has evolved over the years, from the vanilla 16-35, 24-105, 70-200 lens lineup that most landscape photographer carry, to my current setup that allows covers 12mm to 800mm (1200mm if you factor in the APS-C crop option) at all times—plus the option to go up to 1800mm (factoring in the APS-C crop factor) if I need it.

Here’s what’s I carry today:

Always in my bag

  • Sony a7R IV camera body: My primary body—61 amazing megapixels.
  • Sony a7R III camera body: My backup/second body—peace of mind in case I break/lose my primary body; or if I want to have two cameras going at the same time (because you’ll never hear me say 42 megapixels isn’t enough).
  • Sony 12-24 f/4 G lens: Though I don’t use it a lot, this lens has allowed me to photograph things I never could, and I love that it’s compact enough to keep with me at all times.
  • Sony 16-35 f/2.8 GM lens*: This focal range is covered by other lenses in my bag, but I love the lens too much to leave it behind—crazy sharp, and f/2.8 means it’s fast enough for night photography in a pinch. Plus, it’s a whole lot easier to use with polarizing and neutral density filters than the 12-24.
  • Sony 24-105 G lens*: This is my workhorse—what a fantastic focal range! Really sharp, too.
  • Sony 100-400 GM lens*: Replacing my 70-200 with this slightly bigger lens doubled my focal range—and it’s a fantastic match with the Sony 2X teleconverter.
  • Sony 2X teleconverter
  • Filters (in a Mindshift filter bag attached to my tripod): 72mm and 77mm Breakthrough 6-stop polarizing ND filters, Breakthrough 2-stop hard graduated neutral density filter
  • Other stuff: Several lens cloths, headlamp, insulated water bottle, extension tubes, Giotto Rocket Blower, and a couple of RX Bars (because photography always trumps meals).

* Plus a Breakthrough polarizer

Mindshift Backlight 26L bag fully loaded
Notice how the compactness of the Sony bodies and lenses allows me to pack almost everything on its end? This is the primary reason I’m able to get so much gear in my bag.

Specialty Equipment (not in the picture—stays behind until I need it)

  • Sony a7S II camera body: For Milky Way and other moonless night photography—it’s “only” 12 megapixels (remember when 12 megapixels was huge?), but this camera sees in the dark.
  • Sony 24mm f/1.4 GM lens: For Milky Way and other moonless night photography—I can’t believe how compact this lens is.
  • Sony 28mm f/1.8 G lens: For Milky Way and other moonless night photography—this one’s even more compact than the 24mm.
  • Sony 90mm Macro: I use this lens a lot with extension tubes to get super close for my creative selective focus work (wildflowers, fall color).
  • Sony 200-600 G lens: When I want to go big on a moonrise/moonset—sometimes I’ll pare it with the 2X teleconverter and really go crazy. I also use this lens with extension tubes for selective focus fall color.

Support

  • Really Right Stuff 24L Tripod with a RRS BH-55 ball head: Sturdy enough for whatever I put on it, in pretty much any conditions. I also like that, fully extended with the head and camera, it’s several inches taller than I am—without a centerpost.
  • Colorado Tripod Company Centennial 2-Series (Breakthrough Filters affiliate) with a RRS BH-40 ballhead: This recent addition is my new travel/hiking tripod. Without extending the centerpost it’s not quite as tall as I like, but it’s a couple of inches taller than the RRS TQC-14 I’d been using before, and just as sturdy.

About this image

In my Canon days, and my first couple of years with Sony, the focal-length range I carried at all times was 16mm – 200mm. With Canon it was mostly a size thing—I just didn’t have enough room for much more than my DSLR body and 16-35, 24-105, and 70-200 lenses. When I switched to Sony, even though Yosemite has some scenes that are too wide for a 16mm lens, I figured Sony lenses covering the same focal range would be sufficient.

Then one spring morning in Yosemite, I was photographing a flooded meadow when a friend loaned me his Canon 11-24 f/4 lens (which I adapted to my Sony a7RII body with a Metabones adapter), and I was in love (with the lens, not my friend). Wow! Even though I knew I wouldn’t use an ultra-wide lens very much, the ability to go wide when the situation calls for it suddenly opened up a whole new world. But as much as I’d have loved a Canon 11-24 of my own, it was just too big and heavy (not to mention expensive) to live full-time in my bag.

Gary Hart Photography: Spring Reflection, El Capitan and Three Brothers, Yosemite

Spring Reflection, El Capitan and Three Brothers, Yosemite
This 11mm image with a Canon 11-24 lens, adapted to my Sony a7RII, is my first ultra-wide image.

Just a year after that ultra-wide epiphany, Sony released its very own ultra-wide lens. Not only is the Sony 12-24 f/4 G lens just as sharp as its Canon counterpart (at about half the price), the Sony 12-24 is less than half the Canon’s size and weight. I was so excited when I realized how compact it is that I instantly reconfigured a few partitions in my camera bag and voila, it fit —without having to jettison anything.

That’s a long-winded way of explaining how I happened to be able to capture this image at a spot in Yosemite that for most of my photography life was too close to photograph El Capitan and its reflection, top to bottom, in a single frame. My brother and I had arrived in the park the previous afternoon, got a room at the lodge, and hunkered down against the incoming storm. What had been forecast to be 3-5 inches of overnight snow had just been upgraded to 12-16 inches, so we knew we’d wake Tuesday morning to something exceptional. A peek through the curtains in the predawn darkness confirmed a world of white with the snow still falling hard. Checking the Yosemite road conditions hotline, I learned that not only were all park entrances closed, all roads in Yosemite Valley were closed.

I dressed and trudged through the snow in the twilight to survey the photography potential near the lodge and found the view of Yosemite Falls completely obscured by clouds. The cafeteria was open, but serving nothing because the employees couldn’t make it to work. At the adjacent Starbucks I found only two people had been able to negotiate the snowy darkness to get to work—it turned out to be the Starbucks manager and his wife, a non-employee drafted into action and put on the front line.

On my way back to my room, I swung by the parking lot and checked my car. About the time I identified the white lump that was mine, Yosemite Falls made an appearance and I hustled back to the room for my gear, but within a couple of minutes it had been re-swallowed. My brother and I spent most of the rest of the morning watching the skies, waiting for the views of Yosemite Falls or Half Dome to clear enough to photograph, or simply for the snow to slow enough to allow us to photograph some of the closer views. We the snowfall finally abated, we ventured out into the elements and forged a trail through the snow to the bridge beneath Lower Yosemite Fall, because any photography is better than no photography.

Shortly after returning to the room we got a call from the front desk telling us outbound Highway 140 had reopened. We had no plans to evacuate, but I took this as a signal that the valley roads would be open too (otherwise, what use would there be to open 140). So we dug out my Outback (no small feat) and hit the road. With snow still falling, we spent the next few hours circling Yosemite Valley, stopping occasionally when a view appeared, waiting for the storm to clear.

We were at El Capitan Bridge when blue sky appeared. Being here in the snow reminded me of an image I’d captured here a year earlier using my 12-24. I’d been blown away that I could get that entire scene in a single vertical frame, but wished there had be more blue sky. But here was a second chance, this time with blue sky, and I set up real fast to reprise that composition.

As I had the first time, I was able to keep my camera level (my lens exactly parallel to the ground) to avoid distorting the trees on edge of the frame. Focus was easy because at 12mm, depth of field feels nearly infinite. Metering was a little trickier than the first time because El Capitan was brighter, but I knew my Sony a7RIII could handle it. Not sure of the best way to handle the falling snow, I tried a few ISO and f-stop combinations, and ended up going with the one that gave me a shutter speed that turned the snow into small streaks of white (the snow showed up better this way).

It’s pretty amazing (and a little disconcerting) how close I came to duplicating that earlier composition. The biggest difference is the trees that have been removed in the last year, victims of the drought and pine bark beetle.


An Ultra-Wide Gallery

Click an image for a closer look, and to view a slide show.

2 Comments on “It’s in the Bag

  1. Pingback: Lenses: The Long and Short of it | Eloquent Images by Gary Hart

  2. Great write up, lots of information on you lenses and gear as well as how you came about shooting the image. Yosemite is probably my favorite place to shoot. I like trying to get reflections and have a few I’m happy with. Have you any images you are happy with involving Ribbon Falls or Illouette? Perhaps Nevada Falls? Love your winter reflections and hope to see more. Thanks for sharing your insights and work.
    Regards Raymond Marlow

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