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Plan to fail, but be prepared with a backup plan. There is always a problem when you're shooting. I can think of only one assignment where there wasn't, and we're talking about thousands of assignments. The worst-case scenario happened to me when I was in the middle of nowhere in Alaska photographing salmon. Both my underwater camera housing and my dry suit started leaking. Fortunately, I had a backup Nikonos that I was able to use until the new housing was flown in from Washington, D.C., a week later.
No luck with the dry suit though. I just covered it with duct tape and got used to the cold. Even above water I always shoot with two cameras, and I often bring a third or a fourth just in case. The extra bodies came in really handy in eastern Siberia when I was camping out in a tent in the winter for a story on reindeer herders. Three of my cameras failed, because of the extreme cold; it was 30 below zero. My fourth one kept on clicking.
Now I put a lot of thought in to packing my gear. The first obvious question is, what are the conditions? But a really important consideration is whether I'll have an assistant or a guide to help carry the gear. The reality is that I can't bring all the gear I want to bring on my assignments. It's always a balance between weight and the essential equipment. For example, I'd love to have an extreme telephoto on every shoot, but it's heavy and it's not practical for the remote shots.
So a compromise is to bring my 70 to 200 mm lens. It's an F28, and also bring along the 2X tele extender. That way if I need a longer telephoto, I can get it up to a 400 focal length. With the 2X, I do lose two stops, but I'll tell you, I gain a lot in flexibility. When I'm shooting weddings, I use my 70-200 f/4. It's even lighter. Again, I lose a stop, but it's so easy to hold that I can lower my shutter speed to compensate.
So you've probably noticed that I shoot Canon gear, but I'm an equal opportunity photographer when it comes to cameras. I use the Canon above water and a Nikon below, and there are lots of other great manufacturers out there too. The main thing to remember is that your equipment is a tool. A carpenter needs a hammer to build a house, and you need a camera to make pictures. So whatever system you use, just make sure you know how to get the most out of it. I am a just-in-case photographer.
I make three copies of every photograph I take: two are on my hard drives in my studio and one copy is stored offsite, just in case. I make a list of all the gear a need for every assignment I shoot, and I double- check it right before I leave, just in case. I literally have nightmares about showing up without flash cards, so I keep a couple in my purse, just in case. My gear list will change depending on what I'm shooting.
For landscape and nature, it will include long lenses, wide angles, a macro and a close-up ring, speed lights, a monopod, a tripod, and a remote trigger. Now it also will be essential for me to bring lens tissue, a couple of towels, boots, rain gear, a tarp, plastic garbage bags, food, and water, and three or more containers of mosquito repellent, especially in Alaska. You do not want to be caught without it.
Some of these lists might be kind of short, like the one I used when I photograph weddings. I don't need the long telephoto lenses, but I do need reflectors and a cloth that I can use to protect the dress from the grass. So the bottom line is, the more thought and research you put into it before you leave the house, the better your chance is for success.
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