Before I get started I should mention this isn’t an article on photographic equipment. This is about the often ignored non-photogtaphic equipment that will actually make shooting easier that no outdoor shooter should be without
Being the middle of winter, you would think an article like this would be mistimed, but South Africa still has fairly warm winter days compared to the rest of the world, especially when outdoors. I made the mistake of thinking that once and I sorely regretted it at the end of a winter day. Precautions taken in summer should still be taken in winter, it’s just that in summer it is even more vital to follow these guidelines.
These guidelines are something I learned by trial and error from a few years of shooting outdoors in the heat of summer. Camera bags are heavy enough so it’s not often a shooter will want to carry another bag with other odds and ends. The following are aids that are carefully thought out to be as small and light as possible so as to not add any further burden to your carrying weight and to be able to fit in your camera bag but at the same time work as effective as possible. When shooting outdoors it’s all about efficiency.
Photography isn’t a sport, but it can be very physically demanding on your body much like sports. So similar measures should be taken. For example, when I shoot motorsports I tend to start shooting at 8 in the morning and finish at 5 in the evening. That’s a whole day in the sun while walking long distances with heavy camera bags on your back. That can easily leave you physically exhausted at the end of a day. Here are some measures to help you survive the day better.
- Gummy bears/peanuts and raisins. When shooting sports you don’t have time to go off to get a bite to eat and when shooting wildlife in the middle of nowhere, the nearest Golden arches will probably be a long drive away. Keep small, high energy packets of food that can take up as little space in your camera bag as possible. Gummy bears give sugar for energy (also 0% fat) and taste good. Sugar needs protein to bind to in the body’s system to prevent sugar rushes and then sudden crashes. Peanuts are high in protein so help prevent sugar crashes and also give further energy on top of the sugar from gummy bears. I learned this the hard way after shooting for several hours in the heat. I became extremely light headed and felt on the brink of passing out. I was forced to go off in search of something to eat and landed up missing a lot of one of the main races I was supposed to be covering. Not eating has a negative affect on your images as well. When your blood sugar levels get low, your hands become shaky. You don’t need me to tell you shaky hands are bad for sharp photos. Other alternatives you can try is biltong, Super C’s, dried sugared fruits, ect.
- Wet wipes and a small face towel for sweat. When shooting, your face is permanently planted against the rear of your camera. In the heat of the day you will sweat and inevitably leave your camera’s LCD with a greasy layer making it hard to review the images on the screen. Another area I found the wet wipes to be beneficial was on more mental level. Having sweat running down your face gets very irritating and distracting. Not to mention when sweat is in your eyes and it starts to burn. Obviously you can’t shoot if you can’t see. Keeping your face fresh, clean and clear allows you to focus and concentrate harder on the task at hand.
- Stay hydrated. Water is great but it’s not as useful as isotonic drinks in this situation. Water hydrates you but it doesn’t replenish nutrients and salts lost from sweating. Isotonic drinks are designed to replenish what your body loses through physical strain. Drinks like Poweraid and Energade are perfect. I recommend a bottle holder that can attach to either your belt or camera bag. Or even better, a camelback which can hold a larger quantity. A single bottle would be consumed very quickly. If using a camelback then I recommend buying bottles of concentrated isotonic drinks that can be premixed which work out cheaper for large volumes. Although because most shooters have camera backpacks with their gear in, chances are you’ll probably have to wear the camelback over your chest instead of over your back which would leave you looking rather odd, but if it prevents you from getting heat stroke, then it’s a well worth the strange stares. Or buy a camera bag with a built in hydrapack like the Lowepro Dryzone (it’s also waterproof)
- Bank bags for waterproofing all accessories like batteries. All my spare camera and speedlight batteries and even my microfiber cloth are all kept in ziplock type bank bags. I keep my batteries in there in case of the event of rain. Having water on electrical contacts will destroy the batteries. My microfiber cloth I keep in a bank bag because it keeps it clean. Why clean a dirty lens with a dirty lens cloth that has been exposed to the inside of your camera bag?
- Small can of deodorant that can fit in your bag. After several hours in the sun, it’s not a bad idea to top up on some “shower in a can.” Other than making it less embarrassing to be in public when it’s a really hot day, as soon as you feel the cold air come out of the aerosol can, don’t be surprised if you’re tempted to use the whole can just to cool you down. You’ll be glad you brought it along, even if it’s just a momentary relief from the heat.
- Small tube of sunscreen.
- Disposable rain jacket. These are cheap rain jackets vacuum packed into an extremely small packet (saving space in your camera bag.) and can be thrown away once used. This one item has saved me on more than one occasion when the heavens opened up. They can be bought from outdoor and camping stores.
- If you’ll be shooting in the middle of nowhere, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to take a utility knife, small first aid kit, space blanket and a flint, just in case the unthinkable happens and you get stuck in the wild. Think Bear Grylls and Ultimate Survival.
- And of course, you’d be quite silly to go without a hat and comfortable walking shoes. A photographer’s vest with many pockets for extra storage for small items will also free up some space in your camera bag for all the extras you’d want to carry for your trip. Vests are particularly helpful for shooters who don’t have large camera bags and do not want to have to buy another.
The last item is more of a luxury item and isn’t necessary, but it is nice to have to keep you occupied when waiting around for the opportune shot which can often take ages. Music has a way of passing the time. My iPod has kept me in great company over the years when shooting alone