My Photography Gear
(For whatever that's worth)

Just what is it with this fixation we photographers have about our gear? We act as if it's those pieces of metal and plastic—not vision—that is responsible for creating images that move our souls. With the new digital age, the situation is even more extreme. Every six months or so we are presented with new cameras and we hear people tell us our old ones are obsolete. Well, to all that I say hogwash!!!!!

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm probably more of a gear head than anyone, but I try to keep it in perspective. Personally, I think many of the posters on the online forums need to pull themselves away from the keyboard and TAKE PICTURES. That's what's it's all about! Photography gear, just like a kitchen utensil, should be chosen because it allows you to perform a task that you wish to perform. You shouldn't care what so and so says or thinks or bought unless the same thing is going to help YOU with YOUR photography.

With this said, you no doubt are wondering why I am now presenting you with a list of MY gear, as if it should make any difference to you. Well, the only reason it should make a difference is if you know me well enough to know that we share similar objectives in our photography. Beyond that, you shouldn't give a hoot what I shoot with. However, I've gotten enough email queries over the years to know that many people do want to know what I use and I know that some of the reasons are legitimate. And, admittedly, it's sometimes fun to read the equipment lists of other photographers. So, here you go.

I have LOTS of stuff. WAY lots. I won't try to list even all the main things. Also, I make much of the gear I use and without a lot of elaboration it wouldn't be helpful to list most of those items. I'll just list things that might have the most relevance to other photographers. This is what I currently use. Ask me tomorrow and it will be different.

Camera bodies

Nikon D700

Lenses (all Nikon)

I keep six lenses in my bag at all times: 16 fisheye; 14-24, 17-35; 24-70; 70-180 macro; 70-300. In fact, these are the only lenses I own.

Tripods and Heads

My workhorse, which I use for general landscape photography, closeups, and astrophotography, is the carbon fiber Gitzo 1325. For a large backup I use an aluminum Induro A313 which, though somewhat heavy, is quite impressive and costs less than half of the Gitzo.

On a recent trip to Venice, my suitcase with the Gitzo didn't make it on arrival and I had to buy a tripod there. I got lucky and found an aluminum Benro tripod (A297) that I like very much. It has a really nice system for switching the center post from vertical to horizontal that I fell in love with. When I got home, I immediately took the center post of assembly off the Benro and modified it to fit on my Gitzo. Then I called the distributor and ordered a new assembly so I could continue using the Benro legs. By the way, in the U.S., Induro is the same thing as Benro.

For backpacking photography, I use a carbon fiber Gitzo 1228. For photographing on beaches, in mud, and for swamp photography, I use a Manfrotto tripod. Don't remember the name, but it's the one that replaced the venerable Bogen 1321. I also made two specialized tripods from painter's roller extension poles. One extends to 8', the other to 16.' I use these to photograph in ponds and blackwater rivers, when I need to shoot from my kayak. In addition, I have a few of other tripods that occasionally come into play for various purposes.

For tripod heads, I greatly prefer ball heads over the pan-tilt type. My workhorse is the Really Right Stuff BH-55 Pro. On the big Induro I have a Giottos MH 3300. The smaller Benro has a Giottos MH 1300, which I switch off with on the Manfrotto. On the 1228 backpacking tripod is a Really Right Stuff BH-40. If I could afford it, I'd have the BH-55 on all my tripods except the backpacker. But at a cost of over $400, I'll settle for owning only one. In my opinion, though, the BH-55 is a bargain—the best ball head ever made at any price.

Camera bags and Packs

I own way too many photo packs and bags, but it seems like I'm always looking for another one. I'm a strong proponent of Lowepro packs. My workhorse is the Pro Trekker and my airline travel pack is the Nature Trekker. I have at least a dozen additional packs and bags that I use for various purposes.

Computer and Software

I use a PC that I had custom built at a local shop. In addition to its four internal hard drives, I have about twenty external drives, which is my method for backing up data. Every file is saved to at least three different hard drives. One copy is stored in a special media safe that is supposed to protect the drive for up to an hour in the event of a fire. Another copy is stored off site. I recently bought a set of 2TB hard drives, which will allow me to dispense with so many drives all over the palce.

I mostly use Photo Mechanic as a browser, and sometimes Adobe Bridge. I own Adobe Lightroom 3, but haven't started using it yet. I convert all my NEFs to DNGs from the outset and then convert the DNGs using Adobe Camera Raw. Most of my processing is done in Photoshop CS5. I sometimes use Photomatix for HDR merging, but do most of my HDR work in Photoshop. I love Nik Dfine for noise removal. I used The Panorama Factory for pans until CS3 came out.

For general photo presentations I use PowerPoint. For music syncs I use Photodex Pro Show. I bought the Producer version because I stupidly fell for a bunch of hogwash from the support rep. Truth is, the Gold Version is all that I would ever need. For scanning 35mm slides I use the Nikon Super Coolscan 4000.

Notice that I didn't tell you how many gigs of ram I have or how powerful my processor is. It doesn't matter. Whatever it is today will be outdated tomorrow.

Filters

Since I switched to digital, I use very few filters, but I use a polarizing filter very often. I no longer use my Singh-Ray graduated neutral density filters because I can achieve better results by shooting two exposures and blending them in Photoshop, but I expect the filters to be a big help when I start shooting video. Besides the polarizer, the only other filter I use is the Singh-Ray variable neutral density filter, which is ridiculously expensive. It allows me to slow the shutter speed to achieve creative effects with waterfall, river, and wave photography. I also use it for photographing street scenes and highways where I want to show streaks of light from movement. The filter is nice, but I haven't decided yet whether I think it's worth $340.

Kayak

I do a lot of shooting from my kayak in the blackwater swamps, rivers, and saltwater sounds along the coastal plain. Places like Merchants Millpond State Park, Black River, and Core Sound (at Cape Lookout National Seashore) are favorites. We're talking shallow waters, rarely more than 12 feet deep, so my two homemade tripods work well for shooting from the kayak. I jam the tripod legs into the soft sand or mud, then attach an old Bogen Side Arm (don't know what Manfrotto calls it now) to the old Arca-Swiss ball head on the tripod and then a small ball head onto the Side Arm. This gives me lateral extension so I can shoot from the kayak without having to lean over the boat. To stabilize the boat, I made a special rigging for 10-pound anchors at the bow and stern. I can lower and raise both anchors while seated. With the anchors set, the kayak stays put even in a strong current. It's a slow, methodical process, but it works beautifully, allowing me to shoot long exposures from the kayak the same as I do on land.

Miscellaneous Stuff

SanDisk Extreme III CompactFlash cards. Nikon SB 800 and SB600 flashes. Pocket Wizards for firing the flashes remotely. Panorama gear from Really Right Stuff. I modified the base from a surveyor's transit for use as a leveling device for the pano gear. Quick release plates from Really Right Stuff. I LOVE the L plates. Nikon MC-30 remote release for general shooting. Nikon MC-36 remote release for astrophotography and other types of timed photography. Weather radio.

Where does it all come from?

First, a full-disclosure disclaimer. No one is paying me to say nice things about them and no one is sending me free gear. (If anybody wants to, I'm all ears!) I promote people and companies because I happen to like their products and the way they do business. Simple as that.

For ball heads, panorama gear, camera plates and clamps and other related camera-support goodies, Really Right Stuff has been my company for some fifteen years. They Really do have the Right Stuff!

For cameras, tripods, printers, software, and general photography gear, I get my stuff from Gary Farber at Hunt's Photo & Video.