When people ask me what I do for a living, I like to tell them I am a “professional nomadic landscape photographer.” Weird title, I know. But it truly describes who I am and what I am doing.
I worked in a camera store from the age of 16 through 33. Over the years I built a steady, reliable career, but it was also the epitome of what would become my downfall: routine.
As so many Americans are, I was infected with “the dream”: graduate college, get married, buy a house, have kids. But somewhere between getting married and buying a house I had a mental breakdown. I realized the “American Dream” wasn’t the dream for everyone, and certainly not for me. Divorce and depression followed.
After visiting the Grand Tetons one year, I watched the sunrise over the mountains and thought to myself “Oh yeah, I forgot ALL this is out here… ALL the time!” After that, my life would never be the same. I was jolted out of my “home-work-gym-store” routine, and I could never go back to it. After all, MOUNTAINS were waiting for me!
On a whim, I ran to my local RV dealership and bought a teardrop trailer. No questions, this would be my new home. I quit my job, gave away all my belongings, and began my career as a landscape photographer living full-time out of a teardrop trailer.
I had one mission: show people things they would not normally see, to inspire them to do things they would not normally do.
An unintended consequence of living on the road was that I got to learn what was really important to me. With limited space for belongings, you are faced with a serious question of what matters most to you in life. Obviously, my camera gear is on the top of that list.
I would safely wager that in terms of overall possessions, I have a higher percentage of camera gear than any other photographer I know – simply because I own so little. That being said, I LOVE my camera gear and I like to have as many options as possible available.
As a landscape photographer I hike a lot and I never take all of my gear with me. While there can be surprises on the trail, the key is to ask yourself what you expect to see and how you expect to shoot it. Then, take only the gear necessary for that shoot. Let’s break it down.
First, we need a camera. I shoot nearly all of my images with my Nikon D850. However, if I am on a paid or important assignment, I always have a backup, in which case I will carry my Nikon D810 as well. You never know when something will go wrong (like me being clumsy!).
Next, we need lenses. As you can see, I have no less than eight lenses in my gear photo! The answer is “no!” I do not carry 8 lenses with me on a 10-mile hike! Or any other hike for that matter. For each shoot, the key is to assess where you will be and what you expect to see.
My three go-to lenses are the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8, the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, and the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8. These 3 lenses are easy to carry and generally give me the entire range I expect to need whether I am shooting a wide-angle canyon or isolating in on the details of mountain peaks.
I do have other lenses that I like to have in specific situations. For instance, if I am on a hike that I am likely to see wildlife on, it is worth the effort of carrying my Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 and maybe even the Nikon 1.4x vs. III teleconverter. Or, if I rather expect to see some beautiful wildflowers and insects, I might bring my Nikon 105mm micro f/2.8 to catch the close-up magic.
Tripods are definitely an important part of my life. When I think about a tripod, it is not only a tool that helps me keep my camera stable and to take long exposures, but it is an important mental tool.
When I use a tripod, I am forced to slow down and to compose my image with intent. My favorite tripod is 3 Legged Thing’s Winston. I like him so much that I have two! But for shorter day hikes where I know I won’t be using a big lens, I also like to have his little brother – 3 Legged Thing’s Billy. And I even have a couple Iggy’s for my cell phone and go pro!
Then there are a few underrated accessories that you just have to use to believe! My Hoodman Eyecup, Hoodman Hoodloupe, and Schneider Optics B+W filters make all the difference in my shooting and processing still imagery.
As a final note, I have become quite fond of this new thing the kids are doing called “vlogging”! While most of my video comes from my iPhone X and Nikon D850, there are some accessories I have found quite useful including: my Westcott Icelight 2 for constant lighting, my Saramonic RX9 and TX9 microphones, and my DJI Mavic Air for an easy aerial perspective.
I am a huge proponent of the idea that a photographer’s gear is merely the tool they wield to create their inspiration. Without the passion, there is no product. Adventure on!
Inside Mandy’s camera bag:
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