Ten Ways to Upgrade your Gear for Outdoor Photography

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Before your sense of wanderlust gets the best of you, consider upgrading your camera gear before heading out on your next outdoor adventure.

1. Clean Your Gear

Your first order of business should be to make sure your camera bodies and lenses are clean and in proper working order. To learn more about cleaning and optimizing the performance of your cameras, camera sensors, lenses, and other photo essentials, refer to the tips I offer in Spring Cleaning: Tips for Getting Your Photo Gear up to Speed

2. Foul Weather Capes, Covers, Skins, and Hoods

Aside from making sure your camera, batteries, and metering system are all in proper operating condition, you might want to consider enclosing your camera in a protective camera cover. Depending on the manufacturer, these protective covers, or “skins,” are made of silicone, Neoprene, or plastic/resin composite materials. Protective camera covers are available for almost all current DSLRs, mirrorless cameras, point-and-shoots, and cameras with long telephoto lenses. Camera skins are available in a wide variety of colors, including camouflage.

Protective covers, which offer an added measure of physical and cosmetic protection for your camera, are available in a choice of colors for DSLR, mirrorless, and point-and-shoot cameras.

Rain, snow, sleet, and other forms of condensation are one of the realities of outdoor photography, but if you’re prepared, it’s possible to turn a lemon of a day into a day full of lemonade. Rain capes, or rain hoods as they’re commonly referred to, are essentially raincoats for cameras, and they’re designed to keep your camera and lens dry when shooting in rain, snow, and other types of nasty, wet weather.

Rain capes make it possible to continue working when the weather starts going south.

3. Weatherproof Camera Bags and Backpacks

Regardless of the season, if you plan on spending time outdoors with a camera, sooner or later you will no doubt encounter foul weather in the form of wind, rain, snow, ice, or any combination of weather conditions. To help keep your gear dry, we strongly suggest you invest in one of the camera bags or backpacks we stock that feature easy-access rain covers.

The Tenba DNA 10 Messenger Bag is one of many camera bags and backpacks that feature built-in rain covers.

Each of these bags features thin, weatherproof rain covers that are typically hidden behind a flap or open seam at the top or bottom of the bag. When the weather turns, all you have to do is reach in or open the flap and pull the weatherproof cover over the exterior of your bag or backpack. Once in place, you cannot access your gear, but then again, neither can the weather—and that’s the point.

4. Lenses

It would be foolish for me to even try to recommend lens upgrades for outdoor photography not knowing what kind of lenses you, the reader, already own, and what kind of photography you enjoy and plan on pursuing. However, what I can do is offer a few suggestions based on my personal approach to choosing the best lenses for upcoming projects.

Assuming you are currently shooting with either a (D)SLR or mirrorless camera, are you shooting with zoom lenses? If so, consider shooting with a fixed focal length prime lens or two. The advantage of shooting with fixed prime lenses is that they are available with notably wider maximum apertures and, in most cases, closer minimum focusing distances. Fixed focal length lenses allow you to not only get in tighter and have more control of depth of field, but with few exceptions, fixed primes tend to be sharper than their zoom counterparts.

If you only use zoom lenses, try shooting with a faster, closer-focusing fixed-prime. If you only shoot with fixed primes, perhaps it’s time to shake things up and try the flexibility of using a zoom.

Conversely, if you are currently shooting with prime lenses, you might want to go for a zoom lens, which enables you to recompose quickly and optimize your compositions without having to move physically closer or farther from your subject. I love my set of fixed prime lenses, but when shooting from a fixed position, I find zoom lenses to be indispensable.

Only shoot wide? Maybe it’s time to try shooting long .Only shoot with longer lenses? Maybe it’s time to try getting closer to the action with a wide-angle lens.

Tired of having to step farther back when shooting with your widest-angle lens? It might be time to get a wider-angle lens. If you’re currently shooting with a 28 or 24mm lens, maybe it’s time to try a 21 or 18mm lens. And do keep in mind that B&H stocks rectilinear ultra-wide-angle lenses as wide as 10mm, which takes in a relatively undistorted angle of view (AoV) of 130°.

5. Filters: UV, Polarizer, and Neutral Density

One of the challenges of outdoor photography has to do with controlling glare, reflections, and ultraviolet (UV) light. UV light, which can add a bluish cast to your landscapes, can be easily managed by using a UV filter.

UV filters cut through ultraviolet haze, improving contrast and color levels without affecting your exposures.

UV filters are available in a choice of strengths and in a wide choice of thread sizes and formats. If you plan on shooting by large bodies of water, at high altitudes, or in snow-covered landscapes, you should consider using one of the higher-density UV filters, which are specifically designed to neutralize the higher UV levels found in these and other comparably reflective environments. Though you can easily warm the color temperature of your photographs post-capture, warm-tone UV filters can be used to warm the colder tones of UV radiation.

Tip: When using warming (or cooling) filters, make sure your camera isn’t in AWB mode, which can easily negate the intended effects of these filters.

Glare from the sun and polished surfaces desaturates color and contrast, and in worst-case scenarios, can totally blow out your highlights. The best way to eliminate or minimize reflections is by using a polarizing filter, which like UV filters, are available in a wide range of thread sizes and formats. Polarizing filters also punch up blue skies against white clouds. They should be considered essential for landscape photography.

Polarizers eliminate stray reflections and pump up color saturation when shooting landscapes.

Polarizing filters are easy to use. You simply mount one in front of your lens and rotate it until you see the colors begin to deepen as the reflections fade from sight. The only downside to these filters is that they eat up anywhere from 1.5 to 2 stops of light, but the results are well worth it.

Enhancing filters, which add a nice dollop of pop to fall colors, should be included among your “must-have” filters if you plan on shooting fall foliage.

Enhancing filters amplify colors when shooting landscapes. When shooting under flat lighting conditions, they add a dose of “oomph” to your color photographs.

Neutral density (ND) filters are invaluable for blurring flowing water or other moving elements in a photograph. For controlling density toward the top or bottom of the frame or evening out the broad ranges of light and contrast between foregrounds and backgrounds at sunrise or sunset, graduated ND filters, which are available in neutral, as well as color variations, are the best tools for scenes in which there are extreme differences in exposure going from one side of the frame to the other.

To learn more about filtration, here are a few additional Explora articles about using filters for outdoor photography.

6. Remotes

We don’t always have the option of physically pressing our camera’s shutter release. When shooting long exposures, manually triggering the shutter release can easily result in camera movement. There are also times in which in order to get the shot we have to mount the camera in a location or position that makes it hard to access the shutter release. At times like these you have two choices: the camera’s self-timer or a remote control trigger release.

Remote triggers, which are wireless or hard-wired, enable you to release the shutter without touching it, close or far from the camera, making long exposures possible with minimal camera shake. Many remotes enable you to shoot time-lapse photographs, focus or zoom, and other tasks.

The problem with self-timers is that they limit you to set time delays (e.g., 2 seconds,10 seconds, etc.), which kills any measure of spontaneity. Conversely, remotes enable you to trigger the shutter in real time. They come in two types—wired and wireless. Wireless remotes are also available in a choice of flavors—RF (radio), IR, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi.

In addition to being able to fire your camera in a hands-free, vibrationless manner, depending on the make and model, many remotes also enable you to shoot time-lapse imagery, focus or zoom your lens, and perform other functions.

7. Camera Supports

This is a topic unto itself—depending on your specific needs—with a plethora of options. When choosing a camera support, be it a tripod, monopod, or tabletop/mini tripod, you should have a set of criteria to use as a guideline. Things to consider include weight: heavier camera gear requires a heavier, sturdier support. Here, too, you have choices. Though they’re pricier, carbon fiber tripods are notably lighter than their aluminum counterparts. Your shoulders and back will also appreciate the lighter payload.

Camera supports are available in a variety of shapes and sizes, depending on your particular needs.

If you don’t want to carry a tripod or simply do not have the room, you can always turn to tabletop and mini tripods, which while smaller and somewhat more limited than a full-size tripod, offer more stability than hand holding in low light. Mini tripods and similarly compact camera supports also enable you to position your camera on ledges, shelves, rocks, not to mention in small and hard-to-reach nooks and crannies.

8. Quick Release Systems

If your current tripod head doesn’t have a quick release (QR) system, it’s never too late to either get a tripod head that has one or purchase an OEM or third-party aftermarket QR system. Available from a number of manufacturers and in a number of configurations, QR systems enable you to mount and dismount your camera quickly, easily, and equally important, securely. And because the baseplate and camera plate align exactly the same way each and every time you attach a camera to it, QR systems enable you to maintain a constant camera position even when you have to mount and remove the camera from the head repeatedly.

Quick-release systems, which enable you to mount and dismount your camera quickly, easily, and always in alignment, are available in many configurations. They even make them for GoPros!

9. Gloves

Until somebody invents cameras with built-in heating systems, the best way to keep your hands and fingers in good operating order when shooting in cold environments is with a good pair of photographer’s gloves. I use gloves with “grippy” surfaces and fold-back fingertips for accessing camera controls without having to remove the gloves entirely. B&H stocks many sizes and styles of photographer’s gloves, including so-called standard gloves, fingerless gloves, and mitten-style gloves, ranging in size from XX-Small to XX-Large.

A good pair of photo gloves—or mittens if you prefer—enable you to continue working your camera controls when it’s wet and cold.

10. Tool Kit and Flashlights

Depending on how far into the wilderness you plan on trekking, it’s not a bad idea to have a small tool kit on hand, because you never know when a loose screw or jammed filter will mess up your day—and these things do happen. Kits containing multi-bit screwdrivers, wire cutters, pliers, scissors, and other basic tools can often save the day.

There’s nothing like having the right tool for the job when something breaks or goes wrong. Ditto that for filter wrenches and flashlights, because you never know when you’re going to have to deal with a jammed filter while exploring a cave or ancient ruins.

At the very least, you should carry one of the many Leatherman Multi-Tools we sell at B&H. I know many photographers and assistants who never leave home without one. You might also want to consider a simple, inexpensive screwdriver tool kit, preferably with smaller flathead and Phillips-head bits. If you use filters, you should always have a set of filter wrenches on hand to loosen stuck filters, because if you don’t have one with you, you know you’re going to need one.

I don’t go on any photo outing without a compact flashlight, which aside from helping me find my way when exploring caves and ancient ruins, also helps me find all of the tiny things that always seem to find their way into the corners and crevices of my camera bag.

Did I miss anything? If I did send your comments along in the Comments field, below.

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