Oh, let me throw this out before you go any farther. You shouldn’t give a hoot what gear I use unless you want to photograph the same subjects in the same manner as me. Try not to get up in the trap of, “if so and so has it, I gotta have it, too.”
Please know that I will not recommend anything that I do not use in my own photography or otherwise know to be a quality product. If you are a gear company and want me to include your product on this page, I’m sorry but it doesn’t work that way. If I come across your product and like it, I’ll include it. If you send me something in hopes that I will write nice things about it, you might be disappointed.
My workhorse camera is the Nikon D850. I use it for nearly all my photography. My backup and part-time cameras are the Nikon D800 and Nikon D7100.
Nikon 16mm fisheye–Great for creating unique images or for shooting in small confinements.
Nikon 14-24mm–My workhorse night-photography lens.
Nikon 17-35mm–I use it for landscapes shot during the day.
Nikon 28-300mm–Great all-around lens. Perfect as a walk-around lens for cities and events.
Nikon 70-180mm macro–An older, super sharp, lens.
Sigma 150-600mm Sports–For wildlife, isolated landscapes, full moon portraits, etc.
I own about two dozen tripods and nearly as many heads. Yes, I said two dozen. I never get rid of a tripod, so most of them are retired models that I use for light stands or to hold accessories, etc. But I use about six tripods regularly. I made two of them using painter’s poles. Those are my “SwampPods.” One sets up to about eight feet high, the other sixteen feet. I use them when kayaking in blackwater rivers and swamps.
My workhorse tripods are from Induro. I use the Stealth GIT404XL for most of my work. The smaller Stealth GIT304 is for when I hike long distances or travel on airplanes. The 304 is larger than some people would want as their big workhorse, but I like big, stable tripods. I’ll gladly trade a little size and weight for rock-solid support.
I’ve used many brands of tripods over the years. Induro is the only tripod that I haven’t had trouble with the legs locking up. I’ve used them for a couple years in all conditions—getting them soaked, freezing temps, etc.—and have never had a leg lock up. I love the large-diameter base that the legs attach to. It’s part of what makes the tripods so stable.
The Induros come standard with big swiveling rubber feet. I much prefer spike feet. Fortunately, the Induros also include steel spike feet, so it’s a simple matter to switch them out.
When I travel and photograph in cities, I use the MeFOTO Globetrotter Classic, which comes with its own ball head. It’s super lightweight and packs up very small, so it’s perfect for carrying on a plane. It’s very uncharacteristic for me to use such a small and lightweight tripod, but the Globetrotter is surprisingly sturdy. When size and weight are primary considerations, such as photographing in the hustle and bustle of big cities, it’s just the ticket.
The other tripod I use regularly is the Feisol TT-15. This tiny tabletop tripod comes in very handy in situations where regular tripods are not allowed. It’s small enough to slip into a back pocket but is surprisingly sturdy as long as you use good technique.
I much prefer ball heads over the pan-tilt type. The only time I use a pan-tilt is for certain astrophotography shots that are hard to get precise otherwise. My workhorse is the Really Right Stuff BH-55, which I usually have on both of my Induros. Most people will prefer the lever-release clamp on the BH-55, but I prefer the screw clamp version. I know I’m in the minority, but I just like cranking that knob and knowing everything is clamped tight and will stay that way.
The BH-55 is crazy expensive. A much cheaper option is Feisol ball heads, which I have also had experienced with. Their CB-50DC is a great all-around ball head, while the CB-40D is a smaller version that works well for all but the biggest telephoto lenses. I also own the Really Right Stuff BH-40, which is the perfect size for my backpacking tripod. I use the Feisol CB-30D on the Feisol TT-15 tabletop tripod.
For general videography, I use dedicated video heads. My workhorse is the Manfrotto 502 Pro Video Head. For backpacking, I carry the Feisol VH-40. It doesn’t provide the same fluid control as the big guys, but it’s very compact and weighs only about 1.5 pounds, so it’s perfect for backpacking and long-distance hiking.
The MeFOTO tripod comes with its own ball head, which works very well.
For attaching the camera to the ball head, I much prefer L-plates. These plates are designed to allow you to mount the camera very quickly in either horizontal or vertical position. With a L-plate, you don’t have to flop the camera into the side slot of the ball head to shoot a vertical. This makes it much easier and quicker to compose and it keeps the center of gravity directly on top of the head, making the tripod much more stable. You can buy inexpensive plates on Amazon, but in my experience, they don’t fit as well or have the same quality as plates from Really Right Stuff or Kirk Enterprises. Here is the plate I have for the D850. This is Kirk’s version of the plate.
I own way too many photo packs and bags, but it seems like I’m always looking for another one. I used to be strong proponent of Lowepro packs. For years, my workhorse was the Pro Trekker and my airline travel pack was the Nature Trekker, which is no longer available.
A couple of years ago, I tried Tamrac packs and like them even better than the Lowepro. I use the Anvil 23 for general usage and the Anvil Slim 11 for travel when size and weight are primary considerations.
I still use my Lowepros for various things. The Pro Trekker stays in my truck and holds a lot of gear. I’ll pull from it and pack into a smaller pack for hikes or travel. I particularly like the DryZone 200, which is totally waterproof. I use it when creek walking and waterfall photography when I might want to swim or get under the falls.
For overnight backpacking, I use a Gregory Baltoro 75 backpack that I stuff with an f-stop Medium Slope ICU. The ICU is just a shell with padded dividers for holding gear, so you can use it in any regular backpack that has a compartment the right size for it.
I should mention that many of my colleagues speak very highly of Think Tank bags and packs, particularly their rolling backpacks. I only have direct experience with their Think Tank My 2nd Brain Briefcase, which I love. I will say, however, that it’s getting harder for me to carry my photo packs on my back. I suspect I’ll be getting a rolling bag soon for those situations where one is appropriate, such as airline travel.
Since I switched to digital, I use very few filters, but I use a polarizing filter very often. Until recently, I used only the Marumi Exus circular polarizing filters. Recently, I bought one of the new Polarpro QuartzLine polarizers. I haven’t used it very much yet, but I’m very happy with it so far.
I no longer use my Singh-Ray graduated neutral density filters for still photography because I can achieve better results by shooting two exposures and blending them in Photoshop. However, they are still helpful when shooting video.
Besides the polarizer, the only other filters I use are regular neutral density filters, which allow me to slow the shutter speed to achieve creative effects with waterfall, river, and wave photography. I also use them for photographing street scenes and highways where I want to show streaks of light from movement. I have the Singh-Ray 2-8 stop Vari-ND filter and the Singh-Ray Mor-Slo 15-stop neutral density filter.
INTERVALOMETERS & OTHER SHUTTER DEVICES
For star trails, time lapses, and other shots where I need to program exposures, I use the Vello Shutterboss Version II Timer Remote Switch. Here is the model I use for the D850 and the D800. If you don’t use the same camera, you’ll need to make sure to get the right one that fits your model.
When I need to trip the shutter remotely, such as when light painting, I use radio frequency remotes. I own systems from Pocket Wizard and Cactus. Both are very reliable and have good range. While Pocket Wizard is the go-to brand among many professional photographers, I find the Cactus units work just as well and are much less expensive. Note that I do not use TTL flash exposure with wireless remotes.
For light painting, my workhorse flashlight is the Coast HP7R. I use it for nearly everything except underwater work. The light’s long-range focusing optic projects the 300-lumen light beam over 1,000 feet, but more important, it keeps the light even across the zoom range and projects a tight beam at full focus. It features the push/pull focusing system that I require as standard issue. In addition to a AAA battery pack, the light comes with two lithium ion battery packs that can be recharged using AC, DC, or USB power sources.
I also keep the Coast TX10 with me at all times when I’m photographing at night. It has white, red, green, and blue LEDs on separate switches, making it very simple and quick to use. For general light painting, where precise color is not important, and you don’t need much firepower, this light is a good alternative to the big boys with gel filters attached. It also is great for setting up gear.
For underwater light painting I use the Coast Polysteel 400 and the Coast Polysteel 600 and 600R. These flashlights are crush proof, drop proof, and most important, waterproof.
I use the Nikon SB700 for most of my flash work. I also have some old SB800s.
LED LIGHT PANELS
I use light panels for general light painting, interior cabin and tent lighting, and for illuminating people for videography. The one I use is the Luxli Viola. This neat little light has a 5-inch screen and an adjustable light output from 0 to 100%. The cool thing about it is that you can dial the color from 3000K to 10,000K or push a button and then dial through the entire color spectrum. It even has Bluetooth capability, so you can control the output on a mobile app. It’s a lot pricier than a flashlight, but if you do as much light painting as I do, it’s a good investment. I also got this battery to supplement the one that comes with the Viola. Between the two batteries, I never run out of power.
GEL FILTERS & HOLDERS
Whether you use a flashlight or flash for light painting, you’re going to want to change the color of the light for some shots. The white light from an LED flashlight or flash might work for some subjects, but after a while, it gets boring. I use gel filters from Rosco for this purpose. Rosco makes several different FlashPacks that have different colored filters. I use the Digital After Dark FlashPack. I worked with Rosco to develop this kit, choosing the colors to go in it.
To holds the filters in front of a flash or flashlight, I designed and sell the GelGrip. If you use gel filters only occasionally, you can get by just fine by attaching them with rubber bands. The GelGrip is made from tough, crystal-clear acrylic that allows full light transmission without imparting an unwanted color cast. It holds the filters securely and mounts to a flash or flashlight using Velcro fasteners, which are included.
When I need a larger gel filter for putting in front of lights that are bigger than standard flashlights or camera flashes, I use filters from Rosco’s Filter Kits. These filters are 12-inches square. They are easy to cut to fit whatever size you need. I use them often for underwater light painting, where I need a filter measuring at least 4-inches square to wrap the head of my flashlights.
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My website required significant customization, especially with the eCommerce aspect. That’s why I integrated SmugMug with WordPress. I couldn’t possibly do this work myself, so I hired a professional website builder. My guy is Patrick Smith at CodeitDesign.
I photograph a lot in the rain, particularly when shooting waterfalls. To keep my camera dry, I use the RainBreak, which I designed and sell. It mounts quickly to any tripod and lets you easily remove the umbrella and handhold while shooting so the vibrations don’t ruin the photo.
To prevent dew or frost from forming on my lenses when I’m shooting at night, I protect them with a LensMuff. The LensMuff holds hand-warmer packets that keep the front element of the lens above the dew-point temperature. As with the GelGrip and Rainbreak, I designed the LensMuff.
When I travel, I use a Think Tank My 2nd Brain Briefcase to carry my laptop, books, and writing materials.