Back in 2005, my husband & I celebrated our 20th anniversary with a 14 day self-support rubber ducky float down the Escalante River in Southern Utah. It’s a tiny tributary of the Colorado River, with enough water to run it only on a rare spring with enough snow melt. Like the Grand Canyon, it’s challenges are sand, water, and wind: a photographer’s nightmare. A nightmare worthy of careful consideration of what camera accessories to bring with you.
I was just starting to get back into photography and took my new DSLR, a Canon 7D, encased safely in a pelican case, a must in river camera accessories. You’ll see one in a minute. This was a magical year to do this particular river because Lake Powell, really a reservoir that drowned Glenn Canyon (sister to Grand Canyon) with its dam, was drained to an all time low due to drought conditions. Meaning the Canyon itself was beginning to emerge: treasures not seen in 15 years, resurrected. A photographer’s dream come true.
One of these legendary treasures was our last stop before merging with the Colorado. Cathedral In The Desert. As its name would suggest, it truly had that hushed, holy feeling about it. At the end of a side canyon, a delicate tendril of precious desert water trilled down a massive sandstone trough into an emerald green pool. All of this was enshrined in the deep silence of 1000 foot canyon walls. I felt so honored to be there.
A few sea kayaks showed up while we were there, one of them a professional photographer out to document these treasures so few have ever seen (I want THAT job!). I watched him click away, paying attention to how he worked the scene, noticing his gear. He set his very big, very expensive camera on the nose of his kayak to take his life jacket off. Another of his party, for some inexplicable reason, chose that moment to shift the position of the kayak and his camera slid unceremoniously off into the sand. That Photographers’ Paradise had just turned into a Photographers’ Worst Nightmare. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a display of temper and expletives in public. He was enraged, and for good reason. Sand is high on the enemy list for camera equipment. This was a lesson he wouldn’t soon forget, for surely he shouldn’t have perched his camera so precariously, and surely he should have been prepared with the appropriate camera accessories. I was proud to have a cleaning kit with me that went a long way to assuage his temper tantrum.
Given that I was now planning for the Grand Canyon replete with sand, wind and water, and given it was to be for 21 days without a power source or a way to back up, I had some serious issues to plan for. I spent months researching solutions, in particular what I would need for camera accessories.
Here’s a few camera accessories to consider when planning such a trip to avoid your own personal photographic nightmare:
1. Equipment Protection: Purchase a high end water proof Pelican Case of a size to hold what you’re bringing, with padding to keep it snug. And never ever set the camera down on anything except back into the Pelican, always latching it down to prevent it all falling out should you forget it’s open and pick it up. This is essential in camera accessories for the river. It also helps to have a really comfortable strap for the camera. I love Peak Design’s Slide strap.
2. Power Source: EasyAcc makes a compact external battery pack of varying capacities. My Sony A7RII has pretty small batteries to keep it lightweight, with the trade off of not a very long battery life. Consider your battery life and whether it’s better to buy more batteries, have a power pack to re-charge them, or a combination of both. I was also happy I purchased a case to protect the battery pack.
3. Memory Card capacity & back-up: I decided to go with taking a lot of reputable memory cards and no back up device. My research of back up drives for direct download from a card in the field revealed few options, and none that weren’t ridiculously expensive for a Mac. There were more options for PC that were less expensive. My research also led me to reputable sources saying that although it’s a possibility, they’d never had a card fail in the field resulting in loss of their precious images. I decided to gamble and it paid off.
4. Equipment redundancy: I’d never thought of this, even though I was nearly the victim of losing a serious photographic opportunity in the Tetons when my camera fell from my pack onto concrete thanks to a failed zipper. It was suggested I bring an extra camera body and lenses in case of such a disaster. It was an easy thing to do since weight isn’t much of an issue on a raft trip, and I had considered the space needs when I bought the Pelican Case. Imagine the grief you would experience if your camera broke at the start of a wilderness trip like this! It was huge peace of mind. More on that in the next post.
5. Day Pack: And the pack thing? The camelbak my camera fell out of in the Tetons was really old, hence the failed zipper. That story makes a good case for buying a new one, eh? So I did, because on brief day hikes I like the hydration option if offers. There is a dizzying array of camera packs out there to confound and confuse you. I went through a few of them and ended up with a basic day pack. I bought the really nifty Camelbak LUXE & found it meets space needs for my camera, walkabout lens, traveling tripod (the Three-Legged-Thing Rick), a top zippered pouch for my filter case, and a small lunch. The padding on the back is pretty genius for comfort and aeration too. Check it out:
5. Keeping your equipment clean: There are wonderful bundled kits of inexpensive tools for cleaning your lenses and sensors out there. For lenses I brought a couple of microfiber cloths, the standard cleaning solution, a large blower.
For cleaning sensor spots, I bought the Delkin Devices Digital Duster kit from Amazon. It allayed my sensor cleaning fears with clear, illustrated directions and was compact. I made sure to practice before I left (& to be sure to start with clean equipment ;<).
Next post I’ll let you in on what equipment I brought, why, and how it all worked out…