IN THE FIELD: Essential Tools

Whenever I head out into the field, there are several essential tools I always carry with me. My must-bring list has been developed and refined over the years, and is based on those experiences when I found myself item-less and regretting it.

No matter how long or short my time out in the field is going to be, the tripod or the monopod is always with me. If traveling by Jeep, these are the first items loaded up.

The camera bag with all my gear goes in next, which includes my go-to basics: lenses, flash, filters and cable release. I also carry a micro-fiber lens cleaning cloth and a blower brush for cleaning lenses. And my Rainsleeve to protect the camera, just in case the skies let loose. The camera always has a fully charged battery, but I keep a charged spare in the bag, along with extra data cards. A small tablet and pen or pencil to take notes can be easier for me to use in the field, rather than the Notes feature on my iPhone.

Rain gear, or at least a water resistant wind breaker, is handy if the weather is looking unpredictable. If it’s cold out, I don’t try to be brave and not bring gloves. Camera controls are hard to work when you can’t feel your fingers, let alone the buttons on the camera.

I also keep an extra pack of essentials in my Jeep at all times. A map of the region is good to have around when in unfamiliar places, even though I have GPS with me. And a compass to orient myself with the map and to use for sunrise and sunset bearings. I never head-out without fresh water, a blanket and clean towels.

If I know I will be gone for an extended time, I typically will bring along one of my infamous Dagwood sandwiches and a second jug of water. Or at least a few food bars or even a bag of mixed nuts. I tend to get cranky when I get hungry, and there is nothing worse than a cranky photographer. Ask my wife…

While this may seem overkill to some folks, I have refined it to a grab-and-go scenario. Simply because I have learned being prepared for most any situation, rather than regretting that one thing I forgot to grab, has enhanced my experience in the field. And helps me get the shots I want.

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  1. December 7, 2011 at 11:21 am

    What a great idea for a post! I enjoyed reading how you pack for photo shoots. I pack in a similar way. I usually take my tripod, but often end up leaving it in the car. I need to change my ways – for better photos! I recently found a $15 monopod at Walmart, but have not had a chance to use it yet. I have also found keeping a good map in the car is helpful – even though the GPS is available. Another thing I count as essential is one of those spongy rectangles made for kneeling when gardening or painting. Helps avoid pain and muddy knees.

    • December 7, 2011 at 2:46 pm

      Thanks Karen, I really really like the idea of carrying one of those spongy thingys. What a break my knees would get. Thanks for the tip Karen!!!

      • December 7, 2011 at 5:06 pm

        Glad you liked the idea, David. I forgot to mention that they are nearly weightless. Some are only a half inch thick and easily fit in a backpack.

  2. December 7, 2011 at 11:54 am

    Good ideas and I really should follow them. I have a backpack bag with almost all of my stuff in it and it most of the time is being carried by my sherpa, DH. LOL Should invest in healthier snacks for the car for when I forget about time and am out till I’m starving…then again with this weather that probably wont be happening soon.

    • December 7, 2011 at 2:48 pm

      Sherpas are great to have along. You just reminded me of the very first photo expedition that Sharon (sherpa) and I went on when we first started dating. I wonder if she would mind if I told the story.

  3. December 7, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    Great post, David. I think I have everything you said covered. If I don’t remember something, my wife usually reminds me. 🙂

    • December 7, 2011 at 2:49 pm

      Thanks Bob, and my wife will ask me before we leave “do you have everything?”

  4. December 7, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    I went for years without a tripod because I didn’t like hauling it around. I finally put some decent money into a lightweight carbon-fibre tripod and now it’s always strapped on my back when I set out. I sometimes never set it up, but when I do, it’s a lifesaver.

    Now, tell us about that image up there with all those rich tones and textures. I can’t figure out what it is!

    • December 7, 2011 at 2:56 pm

      I used to be like that…have it with me/never use it. Then I got a quick release…that changed everything and then the ball head changed things more!
      Ok, the image for this post is a section of a bronze or more likely brass sculpture. There were four tubular shapes, each about five feet long, two on their sides on the base which had very shallow steps, and two in a vertical position. They kind of resembled ballet slippers although I couldn’t find any identifiers or descriptions anywhere. The section I photographed had great afternoon light reflecting everywhere!

  5. December 7, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    Great info on what you bring, David! It’s essential to be ready for what you expect (and hope) to shot! Great post!

    • December 7, 2011 at 2:58 pm

      Thanks Katie, yeah the old Boy Scout in me is always present. “Be Prepared” It works most of the time…although sometimes I should bring more water!

  6. Lee
    December 7, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    I have to echo Mike’s question: What is the subject of that fascinating photo?
    Thank you for the very useful information. I tend to “wing it” entirely too much and regret forgetting something simple like a microfiber lens cloth!

    • December 7, 2011 at 3:00 pm

      Ok, the image for this post is a section of a bronze or more likely brass sculpture. There were four tubular shapes, each about five feet long, two on their sides on the base which had very shallow steps, and two in a vertical position. They kind of resembled ballet slippers although I couldn’t find any identifiers or descriptions anywhere. The section I photographed had great afternoon light reflecting everywhere!
      I know about winging it. Sharon can always tell If I forgot something…”you weren’t in the zone on this one”

  7. December 7, 2011 at 2:46 pm

    Intriguing image!

  8. December 7, 2011 at 3:08 pm

    Thanks Meanderer, Believe it or not, I felt that parts of the sculpture were more interesting than the sculpture as a whole! Descriptive is in the above comments.

  9. December 7, 2011 at 3:33 pm

    Love the burnished smoke-like effect of the image.

    Sometime, I ought to post a pic of the gear Colin took up Carn Ban Mor in the Cairngorms. I was the tripod-bearer. We never used the tripod, but I’m sure it enjoyed the ‘walk’!

    • December 8, 2011 at 8:45 am

      Funny how sometimes we bring so much stuff and either never use half of it or we still manage to forget something. I would love to see the photos of the gear you guys take along.

  10. December 8, 2011 at 6:50 am

    Wonderful post again dear David, I should listen to all these points too. Thank you so much, with my love, nia

    • December 8, 2011 at 8:46 am

      Thanks Nia, just some helpful hints!

  11. December 8, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    Great Image and great tips. Especially about taking food,water,blanket ect
    . I think we tend to protect our gear and sometimes forget about ourselves!.

    • December 9, 2011 at 9:58 am

      Thanks Vickie, and isn’t that the truth…it’s amazing how thirsty one can get when the known water supply in the vehicle is getting low!

  12. December 9, 2011 at 7:47 am

    I’m impressed with your organisation. And I really like this image, and thanks for letting us know that it’s a section of bronze or brass — it make a lovely abstract.

    • December 9, 2011 at 9:59 am

      Thanks Mufidah, I will have to see if I can get some better overall photos of the sculpture.

  13. Nandini
    December 9, 2011 at 10:15 am

    I have read the comments so I got to know what the subject in the photo is. It’s a beautiful photo, David. I love the colors. And great post! 🙂

  14. December 9, 2011 at 1:34 pm

    Thanks Nandini, Yes I forgot to mention what the image is when I wrote this post. OOPS. I may go back and photograph it in different light to see if there are any changes in how it looks.

  15. December 11, 2011 at 1:21 pm

    Wow! I’m glad I’ve set my standards so low that all I travel with is the SLR and maybe one extra lense and an extra memory card…

  16. December 11, 2011 at 2:23 pm

    Hey Anne! I know it sounds like I bring a whole Jeep load of stuff, but outside of the tripod and water everything else fits into a medium Tenba shootout sling bag. It’s lightweight and if I am away from the car for a long distance it’s not a pain in the rear to carry.

  17. December 11, 2011 at 5:04 pm

    the crop is really abstract and i thought it was rain drops reflected (on metal) till i read your description.

    wonderful image.I like those cuts on otherwise smooth texture !

    • December 12, 2011 at 8:37 am

      Thanks Abu, It’s funny how sometimes just part of an object is more attractive than the whole. The sculpture as a whole is kind of odd(in my eyes) but parts of it are really neat!

  18. December 12, 2011 at 4:33 am

    Very interesting, it’s like going camping! 😀 I like the description ‘cranky photographer’ 😀

    • December 12, 2011 at 8:40 am

      Hey you’re right! It is kinda like going camping! That’s something we used to do every weekend. Cranky photographer…sometimes I do get that way. Can’t think, can’t focus…I want food!

  19. December 15, 2011 at 8:25 pm

    Great post, David! I have to admit I usually carry too much equipment with me, wherever I go. I guess I prefer to be the one people borrow from rather than the borrower! Years ago I found a nice backpack that works for me, just big enough for the “essentials.” One of these days I’ll probably downsize, but I figure if I burn a few extra calories it’s an excuse for the chocolate I keep in the side pocket!

  20. December 16, 2011 at 8:34 am

    Thanks Tricia, It was fun to write about the stuff I bring with me. To some, it sounds like a lot but it all fits in a medium sling bag from Tenba. It works really well and holds everything I need and I don’t feel like a sherpa lugging around a months supply of stuff! Hmmm chocolate in a side pocket is a fantastic idea!! I shall borrow that one!

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