Backpack Basics: Gear for a Day Outdoors

With July coming to an end, summer in the North East is in full swing and what better time to get out and shoot than the present. Whether you are shooting portraits or landscapes, in the daylight or under the stars, sometimes the best way to stay motivated and make sure you are having fun with your photography is to keep things simple. While I don’t go bare-bones with one camera and a lens, if I am out adventuring, chasing a sunset, or on a day trip hiking through the forest, I like to keep my gear minimal. While each piece of equipment has various uses, here is a look into my camera bag and different ways you can use each piece of equipment.

Camera

Let’s start off with taking a look at camera bodies. While it has changed over the years, currently my go-to body is a Nikon D750. I have had this camera for about six months now and so far it has performed great. I have used it in scenarios varying from weddings to surf sessions, and if I am heading out for a day of adventure and shooting it most definitely comes along. This camera performs well under low light and is capable of shooting fast enough frames per second to capture the most fast-paced action as it unfolds in front of you. I love the price point of this camera. While it is more expensive than your average entry level DSLR, it doesn’t completely break the bank. Which is nice especially when you are bringing your gear into an area that could potentially be harmful or dangerous for your camera. I take every precautionary step to ensure the safety of my equipment including protecting my camera a with a rubber case from easyCover. But if something was to happen to the camera, you will not be left in debt or with a camera that could take serious saving to replace. I also use a Mieke battery grip, to add some extra battery life to my camera. The battery grip includes a wireless trigger which can be nice when you are shooting long exposures or self-portraits.

Depending on the situation, sometimes I will bring my Nikon D7000 along for the ride. Aside from this camera’s notorious autofocus problem, there is something that I love about it. If I’m looking to get that little bit of extra zoom, the crop frame sensor is a good way to cheat. Also, it freezes action tremendously well at 1/8000s. The D7000 is a solid, rugged camera and it makes a great extra body to throw in your camera bag. I have had this camera for awhile and while I don’t use it as often as I used to, I just can’t seem to part with it.

Lenses

While the lenses I use definitely change for each shoot or trip, on an average day of shooting I have several that I always have in my bag. To keep it basic, I always bring a 50mm f/1.8. This lens works great for shooting portraits or whenever you want a wide depth of field. It can work as a landscape lens in some situations or be used for capturing lifestyle images. Another lens that I like to bring is a Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8. While this lens is made for DX sensors, I still love using it. The D750 has the option to shoot full frame or crop frame, and when using this lens I set it to crop frame. I mostly use this lens for shooting under the stars. At f/2.8 it can really open up and let in some light and amazing detail. The wide angle of this lens can be great for capturing lifestyle images and really make you feel as if you are in the moment. While there is some distortion around the edges, personally I don’t find it too distracting. The last lens that I bring with me is a Nikon Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8 ED VR2. I can’t say enough about this lens. I truly love it. It is amazingly sharp and at f/2.8 the depth of field is beautiful. The image stabilization does wonders when shooting a moving subject. The lens is weather sealed and rugged with a detachable, rotatable tripod collar that is very useful. While a longer lens would be nice at times when shooting surfing or a subject that is far away, I can always throw it on my D7000 and get a little extra zoom. This lens is truly a jack of all trades and I have used it for shooting everything from landscapes to portraits, all with crystal clear results.

Speedlight

The speedlight that stays in my bag for almost every adventure is a Yongnuo YN-568EX. For right around $100 you can’t beat this speedlight in my opinion. Pared with the Yongnuo YN-622N Wireless Flash Trigger, this setup can be a fun way to add some light to your subject. I also bring a Vello light bouncer to soften the light. While I don’t always use the speedlight, it can be a great way to add some backlight, brighten a subject, or just add another element to your photo. On a side note, while I don’t always bring it with me, I have a Impact Quikbox Softbox with Shoe Mount Flash Bracket (24 × 24”) that does a great job of diffusing light and is awesome when shooting portraits. While it’s a little to large to fit in a backpack, it does fold flat, is light, and can be carried quite easily. Having a portable softbox that you can bring anywhere with ease can add a nice element to your work. Having beautiful diffused light outside of the studio can be a game changer when it comes to lighting a portrait. I always make sure to throw in an extra pack of batteries in case I run out of power.

Tripods and Light Stands

Having a good tripod is always essential. I carry a Manfrotto with a quick release head. While it’s an older model, it is sturdy and easily adjustable. I also carry an Impact light stand for my speedlight. It’s light and durable and can easily be strapped to a backpack.

Extras

Alongside all this equipment, I also carry a GoPro Hero 4. Having a GoPro handy is great. Sometimes if I am shooting surfing, I will pass off the GoPro to one of the surfers and let them shoot photos from the water or take video clips if we are working on an edit. It’s also great for shooting behind-the-scenes footage, B-roll or time-lapse. The GoPro app connects directly to my iPhone and I can view and edit photos on my phone. Aside from a Nikon battery charger, the only other thing I keep in my bag with me is a few rolls of film and a Yashica T4 super (weatherproof). A few months ago, I read Austin Rogers’ article, “Get Thee to a Goodwill: How Buying a 35mm Point and Shoot Will Change Your Photography.” I won’t lie, I’m addicted to shooting with this point-and-shoot and it really has changed the way I take photographs. Give Rogers’ article a read and I’m sure it will change yours as well.

Wherever you are, my goal is to encourage you to get out and shoot. While I believe you can certainly get by with a lot less gear than everything I mentioned, my point is to just talk about the basic equipment that I can fit in my backpack and show some examples of how it can be used. No matter what you shoot, getting out and shooting more, using new equipment, and changing the way you think about taking photos will help you to become a better photographer.