Gear I use

Gear I use: Lastolite Ezybox Pro Square softbox

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I’m often shooting environmental portraits of people in my assignments so I can a.) increase the scope of the images I shoot and b.) give clients a wider choice of photography they can use to tell their story and engage with their customers.

Nearly all of my photography is conducted outdoors, as opposed to a studio, so when shooting portraits there's a limit to the amount of lighting equipment I want to carry, unless it's essential and I've hired an assistant. My focus is on having gear with me that is lightweight, multi-functional and easy to use.

The type of light modifiers I would choose for environmental portraits include an umbrella, a reflector/diffuser, a softbox or a grid. Softboxes are my preference but, as with umbrellas, the larger the modifier the softer the light and when you're outdoors it's more difficult to control larger pieces of equipment (especially in the wind) so I'm often looking for something that’s in between.

The Lastolite Ezybox Pro Square is a medium-sized softbox (60cm x 60cm) that allows me to diffuse and direct light but not weigh me down. I find it to be an ideal piece of equipment for shooting in outdoor locations in remote places. (I can double it up with a diffuser to soften the light more if need be).

Out of the box it comes with an outer and inner diffuser (both removable), a speed-ring and clamp, two stabilising rods and a packing case. You can buy a telescopic handle as an accessory but I usually just ask a companion to hold the flash using the clamp provided or we’ll mount it on a monopod instead.

What I like about the Lastolite Ezybox Pro Square softbox

  • Ease of use - It’s very easy to set up and I can be ready to shoot within minutes

  • Directional light - It's easier to control where you want the light to hit with a softbox, as opposed to an umbrella which blasts light everywhere

  • Functionality - It accepts two Nikon SB-910 speedlights with Pocketwizard TT5 transceivers attached or, with the addition of a spigot (purchased separately), a single Elinchrom Quadra RX or ELB400 strobe head

  • Packability - It collapses flat to fit inside the provided packing case (which in turn neatly fits inside a F-Stop Satori camera backpack)

What I would change

Nothing really, other than glueing the blunt protectors which fit on the ends of the rods which are used to stabilise the softbox as I’ve lost three of them.

Alternatives

  • Lastolite Ezybox Hotshoe - Accepts just a single speedlight but it’s super easy to use.

  • Lastolite Ezybox Speed-Lite 2 Plus - I have the original version, which I find difficult to fit onto my Speedlight, especially with cold hands, but Lastolite have changed how you attach it in version two of their product

Gear I use: Travelling lighter (Photography equipment)

David Hetherington scrambling on steep slabs high above Llyn Llydwa during an ascent of Y Lliwedd on the Snowdon Horseshoe in Wales.

David Hetherington scrambling on steep slabs high above Llyn Llydwa during an ascent of Y Lliwedd on the Snowdon Horseshoe in Wales.

Professional photography equipment is heavy, there's no getting away that fact. Metal cases, mounts and barrels on the larger camera bodies and 'fast' lenses raise durability and quality but they also increase weight. By the time other equipment is factored in for a job (e.g. wide-angle lenses, telephotos, fish-eyes, strobes/flashes, radio triggers, batteries, light stands, modifiers, etc.), you can easily be looking at 10kg+ of equipment needing carried to create images.

Sometimes, I don’t need or want to take a lot of gear (even with an assistant) or I’m physically not able to. On such occasions, here is a list of 5 pieces of equipment I'll use when I need professional-quality images but I want to reduce the weight (e.g. I'm shooting someone on a hiking or biking expedition or the trekking stage of an adventure race);

  • Nikon D810 camera body - My main camera these days is a Nikon D4s for sports and a Nikon D810 for landscapes but, if I’m looking to reduce weight, I’ll happily take the D810 for sports (or, if the weather is poor, perhaps fall back on a D700 camera body I have used for a long time (I’m much less bothered about my D700 being ruined than I would be with my D810, even with camera insurance).

  • Nikon 16-35mm F4 lens - The lightest option I’d take would be a Nikon 24mm F2.8 lens (which works well with my older D700 camera bodies) but the high resolution of the D810 camera body is very unforgiving and I prefer newer solutions such as the 16-35mm F4 VR or 24-70mm F2.8 ED VR lenses. (My eyes always stray to my awesome Nikon 24mm F1.4 lens but having a versatility of a zoom trumps it when it’s a ‘one lens to do all’ day out).

  • Westcott 5-in-1 reflector - Not taking any lighting equipment means you're a slave to the ambient light, which isn't always ideal. If you plan to shoot environmental portraits, a 5-in-1 reflector is a lightweight alternative that enables you to, e.g. diffuse the light, fill in shadows or change the warmth of your shots to match the sunset. A Tri-grip reflector would be easier to hold but I find the original, collapsible models easier to pack.

  • Joby Ultrafit Sling Strap - A simple camera strap that screws into the bottom of the camera. It's easy to adjust and I find it comfier to use than the default camera straps. I wear it across my chest and it's long enough to cinch the camera down near my hip when I'm moving.

  • Zing Pro SLR neoprene case - I used one of these years ago on an expedition to the Southern Patagonian Ice Cap but it appears to have gone to that place things go where you're sure you've not thrown them out or sold them but you can't find them anymore. I recently purchased a new one and it's a really neat solution for protecting your camera against bumps and moisture, being a single piece of thick neoprene that you place your camera in and seal over the lens.

  • Exped Packsacks - AKA dry-bags. Professional cameras are fairly weatherproof but they're not invincible, as my frequent repair bills will testify to. Using the Zing camera case means my camera and lens is not as protected from the elements as, say, in the Lowepro Toploader Pro camera bag I usually carry outdoors. Placing the camera inside a dry bag inside my rucksack or camera backpack when I'm not using it gives me a really compact and weatherproof solution I have complete confidence in.

So there you have it. Six pieces of photography equipment I find useful when I want to travel light but still take professional-quality photos.

(Another option: Check out Nikon’s latest mirrorless cameras. Or perhaps Sony, whose full-frame camera bodies are lighter than Nikon or Canon’s. (I carry the Sony RX100 for outdoor photography when I’m not working for a client and I want to travel really light but still wish to capture decent quality images)

Gear I use: iWorkCase on-location workstation

Scottish mountain runner and Salomon-sponsored athlete Donnie Campbell running near Brevent above Chamonix in France. An opportunity for me to use the iWorkCase to review and rate shots with a client on location to help speed up time in post-production and delivery.

Scottish mountain runner and Salomon-sponsored athlete Donnie Campbell running near Brevent above Chamonix in France. An opportunity for me to use the iWorkCase to review and rate shots with a client on location to help speed up time in post-production and delivery.

When shooting outdoors, it’s often difficult for me to view images on my camera’s LCD screen and check focus, especially when it’s bright and sunny outside. For personal work this isn’t too much of an issue (the autofocus technology on today’s cameras is very reliable) but for commercial work - although I’ll always pitch to shoot at dusk/dawn or in late afternoon light - a brief often dictates the need to shoot all day and it’s imperative an Art Director and I can see the LCD screen, even at high noon, so we can check composition and ensure critical focus.

On really sunny days, I’ll make use of a Hoodman loupe, a lightweight device which fits over my LCD screen and shields it from the sun so we can see my images. It works perfectly but I find it tricky to simultaneously hold the camera, play back the images and zoom in whilst using the loupe.

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The iWorkCase is an on-location workstation specifically designed for Apple Macbooks. I believe it’s an ideal solution for outdoor photographers on commercial advertising shoots and for portrait and architectural photographers and others who have a need to shoot outside the studio and check capture on location.

I’d first seen the iWorkCase in YouTube footage posted by US photographer Joey Lawrence. It was in the background of a ‘behind the scenes’ video Joey had posted of an environmental portrait session he had with US actor Michael K Williams. After a bit of research on Google, I worked out what the product was and I sent the manufacturer an email.

iWorkCase is the brainchild of Daniel and Immanuel Maeir from Germany. The principal parts of their iWorkCase location workstation are simple. Included in the price is a waterproof and shock-resistant laptop case (which Immanuel confirmed as a Pelican 1490), a firm, pre-cut foam inlay matched to the dimensions of your Macbook (I purchased an iWorkCase 2 Retina / Special Edition for a 2013 Macbook Pro but you can buy other inlays to suit your model of laptop - also available are 15" and 17" Macbook versions), a foldable screen to shield your screen from the sun, a thick cloth that enables you to completely block out the light, a piece of plastic that lifts your computer off the foam unit to aid the circulation of air and an external coupling plate that accepts traditional screw-in or Arca-Swiss tripod attachments. There’s also an additional, optional iWorkTablet attachment (not for iPads, which I first thought, but for using a mouse or Wacom tablet) and Hyperjuice 1.5 150 or 1.5 220 batteries for working as long as possible.

(What’s not included in the iWorkCase is the means to transfer images from your camera to your laptop. After some research, I opted for a Camranger wireless transmitter device to send images wirelessly to my Macbook and a Tethertools USB cable as a backup).

What I like about the iWorkCase

I really like the ability to see and share images on a big screen immediately after I’ve shot them. I also love being able to take my laptop out in the field in a super protective, waterproof case. These advantages however are the forte of the CamRanger wireless transmitter and the case manufacturer, Pelican, rather than the iWorkCase itself.

What Daniel and Immanuel have done is build on the above and designed a really fast, simple way for a photographer or digital technician to set up a laptop for tethered shooting on location. The parts they’ve chosen are top quality materials, they’re simple and they work well - the foam inlay and accessories (purchased separately) are situated underneath the laptop and the sunshield unit and black cloth sit on top. The sunshield especially fits quickly and securely and you’re ready to start shooting in minutes. Neat touches like the feet on the case for using it without a tripod, the velcro attachment for the cloth (and the air circulator) and the air circulator itself show that they’ve thought about the product in use and it appears they’ve designed it (and updated it after feedback) for optimal use.

What I’d like to see improved

  • Comfort - The carrying strap provided with the iWorkCase isn’t very padded and I found it uncomfortable after a period of time. I use a spare strap from a Lowepro Toploader AW75 camera bag.

  • Space - I’d prefer to be able to store more items underneath the laptop (e.g. tethering cable) so all the technology I needed for on-location photography was in one place. The iWorkCase 2 workstation has pre-cut space to accommodate a few memory cards, a Hyperjuice MBP 1.5 150 or 1.5 222 battery, a CF card reader and up to three portable hard drives, depending on size (definitely not three WD ones). If I choose not to take a battery, the CamRanger does fit in, as does a tether cable, but it’s a very neat fit and I’m wary about damaging the laptop when I close the case (something the manufacturer warns against). There’s also a risk I’d run out of power plus there would be less foam and therefore less protection for my laptop. It’s not a great hardship for me to carry the additional tethering items separately

Alternatives

Lighter weight options - All the options above are fairly heavy and not always appropriate for shoots far from the beaten track. If I do have a need to view images on a separate device on location and I want to travel lightweight, there’s the option to take just the black cloth from the iWorkCase plus the CamRanger and carry my laptop in my backpack. I could also share images from my camera to an Art Director’s iPad or iPhone with the CamRanger and use the cloth to shield the screen. These solutions aren’t always ideal, but they do work.


Gear I use: CamRanger Wireless Transmitter

The Balmoral Hotel lit up during the Edinburgh Festival Fireworks. A perfect opportunity for me to test the CamRanger in my home town in Scotland.

The Balmoral Hotel lit up during the Edinburgh Festival Fireworks. A perfect opportunity for me to test the CamRanger in my home town in Scotland.

I first took notice of CamRanger when I saw the wireless transmitter device being used in a video posted on YouTube by German action sports photographer Lorenz Holder. He was using the CamRanger to trigger his camera remotely using his iPad, which was also replicating what his camera was seeing (similar to Nikon’s Live View).

Naturally, I was curious (not just because Lorenz’s work is excellent) but because, as part of an on-location workstation I was setting up, I was interested in technology that would enable me to capture images on location and immediately view them on my laptop or iPad without the need for a tethered cable. CamRanger, I’ve found, is such a device. It offers a number of other solutions (e.g. off-camera live view as Lorenz was using above - plus the ability to adjust your camera settings as you view the live view - as well as focus stacking for macro photography) but I mainly use it for its ability to share and rate images on-location so I or an Art Director can confirm we’re capturing images that meet the client’s brief.

CamRanger is simply a small plastic Wifi router. It works by generating its own Wifi signal - in town or in the backcountry - that you can connect your mobile device, tablet or laptop to. Plug the CamRanger device into your camera using the USB cable provided, switch it on to generate a Wifi signal and then, once the devices are paired, you can control your camera or share images to a third party device using the CamRanger app.

These are the CamRanger features I find of most value;

1. Sharing images on my iPad - Client Mode on the CamRanger app provides you with the ability to take photos and have your images display as high-resolution JPEGs on your (or a client’s) iPad. To do this, you set your camera to shoot Raw files + Basic JPEGs and make sure the CamRanger app is installed on the iPad and Client Mode is switched on (Note - Client Mode is not available for the iPhone). You can then simply hand the iPad to the client or Art Director and ask them to use the in-built Rating system (1 to 4 stars) to mark up their preferred images for selection or for further review.

2. Sharing images on multiple iPads or mobile devices - Separate from the CamRanger app is the CamRanger Share app. You can download the CamRanger Share app to a number of separate devices and then use the main CamRanger app to wirelessly shareimages to multiple people, e.g. a Creative Director and an Art Director or an Art Director and the client. A nice feature of the Share app is you can selectively share images and only share the images you choose.

3. Sharing images on my laptop - US-based photographer Von Wong provides details on his website for how to synchronise CamRanger with your laptop and import images into Adobe Lightroom using the ‘watched folder’ functionality.

The reasons I prefer using my laptop (as part of my on-location workstation) rather than an iPad or iPhone are;

a.) I can use the full-screen option in Adobe Lightroom to view images more clearly

b.) I can have a backup - I carry a Tethertools USB cable in case the wireless approach doesn’t work (it’s not yet not worked but I like the comfort of an alternative option)

c.) I can backup images on location to a portable hard drive using an automator script or GoodSync software. So I have a copy of my images on card, on my laptop and on a hard drive before I’ve even got home.

4. Camera LiveView - Sometimes, when shooting landscapes, you don’t want to or it’s difficult to look through the viewfinder. LiveView on the CamRanger app allows you to position your camera anywhere within a reasonable distance and view the composition directly from your iPad or iPhone.

What I like about CamRanger

  • It’s small and lightweight - which is always a bonus when I have to carry gear into remote places

  • The ability to be able to review images on a bigger screen - all images have a tendency to look in focus on a small LCD screen

  • It forces me to shoot slower and really think about the work I’m producing - valuing quality over quantity

  • It enables me to receive sign-off for images on location - meaning I can focus on these images in post-production and deliver work quicker for my clients

What I’d like to see improved

  • A proper full screen view on the iPad - rather than a 7/8th view with a logo along the bottom

  • Pinch and zoom - The CamRanger is always reminding me to double-click to zoom in on images on playback

  • The ability to set Client Mode on the iPhone - simply because it’s more lightweight to take outdoors than an iPad

  • Longer battery life - I find using the CamRanger chews through my Nikon D4S camera batteries much quicker than normal. The CamRanger battery life I find more than sufficient but I carry a spare just in case

Alternatives

Gear I use: F-Stop Satori 62 litre Camera Backpack

F-Stop camera backpacks. Quality solutions I believe for carrying camera gear when you’re photographing outdoor and adventure sports activities

F-Stop camera backpacks. Quality solutions I believe for carrying camera gear when you’re photographing outdoor and adventure sports activities

A few years ago, to save space, I went through an exercise to rationalise all the rucksacks and backpacks I owned. I did have a few. There was an 80 litre expedition pack by Aiguille Alpine, two climbing sacks from Deuter, a Lowepro Photosport camera backpack, a Lowepro Vertex AW300, a lightweight OMM adventure racing pack and a tiny Camelbak for day trips. Amongst a few others.

Despite having a choice of many packs, I’d never quite felt comfortable with the options I’d purchased for carrying the bulk of my camera gear when I was out on a photo shoot, away on a few days trip or planning an expedition.

Aside from the obvious choice of Lowepro, there were a few dedicated camera backpack companies I was aware of, from reviews on the internet and from word of mouth. One of them was the US company F-Stop (www.fstopgear.com). What put me off F-Stop initially was their cost - they’re not cheap - and back in 2015/16 they had well-documented supply chain issues (I’ve never seen so many negative comments about a company that remains in business). What intrigued me though was all the positive comments from existing customers, even some who had been waiting for their purchase for a while (an indication perhaps as to how much value can be placed on the power of a good brand).

In June 2016, I took the plunge and ordered an F-Stop pack from their website. To my surprise - given some people’s feedback of lengthy delays - it arrived within 7 days. The speed of my delivery was perhaps due to the fact that the product I’d ordered was an F-Stop Satori, which was a previous model F-Stop were selling at a discount on their web store. (At 62 litres, the Satori was the largest backpack F-Stop offered until they introduced their Sukha (70 litre) and Shinn (80 litre) models as part of their 2015 Mountain Range series).

The F-Stop Satori 62 litre backpack appears to have been a classic of F-Stop’s previous range (along with the 37 litre Loka - which I’ve also since purchased), before they overhauled their range in 2015 and brought out their replacements. What remained unique about F-Stop’s proposition (until I believe LowePro came out with a similar solution) was the application of their Internal Camera Units (ICUs). These ICUs are a system of storage cases that fit inside all F-Stop backpacks, leaving space for your spare clothing and equipment. The packs have a really friendly user interface because the shell of an F-Stop pack opens from the back as well as the top which makes accessing your camera equipment very easy.

The ICUs I use are;

  • X-Large - This takes nearly everything I would use on a mobile shoot (2 Nikon camera bodies, 3 lenses, 3 speedlights, Pocketwizard transceivers, etc.). It’s only really suitable when not much clothing is needed, e.g. if I’m shooting from or close to a vehicle. I can, however, still easily fit a warm jacket, hat and gloves, plus waterproofs inside the pack.

  • Medium Slope - For overnight trips where I want to carry sleeping equipment along with my camera gear, F-Stop’s Medium Slope ICU is ideal. In the space around the ICU, I can fit all my bivvy gear (a synthetic -7 degrees C sleeping bag, a bivvy bag and a sleeping mat) plus a dry bag with hat, gloves, light fleece and a duvet jacket, as well waterproofs in the outside pockets. This is on top of the ICU holding one large camera body, two large lenses plus my remote camera triggers and other bits and pieces. When I’m not on the hill, the ICU easily converts to neatly store all my Speedlights and lighting gear.

What I like about the F-Stop Satori backpack

  • Laptop sleeve - I didn’t like this initially as it’s too big for my 13 inch Macbook Pro (it’s sized for a 15 inch laptop), but when I use a Medium Slope ICU it’s an perfect size to fit a folded up Thermarest NeoAir winter sleeping mat and a bivvy bag.

  • Big zips - The pack is built to last and there’s nothing in the quality of construction that makes me want to baby it.

  • Wand pockets - These are not all mesh. A small thing perhaps but it means they’re less easy to damage when you carry heavy equipment in them, e.g. a tripod.

  • Comfort - I find the pack super comfy to carry (I’m 6'2" tall). It’s stable enough that when I’ve filled the pack with bivvy gear and a Medium Slope ICU I can actually jog down hills with it.

I could go on as I really like this pack. No-one paid me to communicate this and I’m super fussy.

What I’d change

Really, very little. If I had to be picky, it would be that, out the box, unlike F-Stop’s similar model, the Tilopa (and, previously, the Loka), the only way to attach a tripod to the Satori pack is on the side and not the front. Carrying a 2kg tripod in one of the side pockets makes the pack very unbalanced (I could purchase a carbon-fibre tripod to save weight but I like the one I have). There are straps you can buy for the Satori, which should, I think, enable you to mirror the Tilopa way of carrying a tripod on the front but they are very expensive - 30 euros including postage back in 2016 for just two straps. (I don’t mind paying premium prices for good gear but I draw the line at paying 30 Euros for two nylon straps). I’ve resorted instead to carrying my tripod using a strap over my neck and shoulder and resting it on my belly (risking, unfortunately, that I look like I am pretending to hold a machine gun).

Other very slight niggles are I’ve not yet found a way to attach a 56cm Lastolite EzyBox Softbox to the outside of the pack (but neither have I on any of my other packs) and if the pack was slightly bigger - probably like the Sukha - I could carry a stove and a warmer duvet jacket inside for open bivvies in the Winter. Finally, although it doesn’t take long to take the pack off and get your camera out, nothing I have beats a Lowepro Toploader AW75 camera holster for ease of use when I’m shooting documentary-style and I need to capture action as it happens (e.g. when I need to move with athletes whilst on a trekking shoot or mountain biking expedition).

Alternative options

  • F-Stop Tilopa - very slightly smaller and, as mentioned above, possibly better ‘out the box’ at carrying a tripod

  • F-Stop Ajna - At 40 litres, more suited I’d imagine to day trips (and they’ve chosen what I feel is a poor way to enable you to carry a tripod)

  • Lowepro Whistler - A similar solution from Lowepro (I used their Vertex 300AW model before switching to the Satori)

  • Shimoda Designs - A company started by Ian Millar, who I understand was F-Stop’s chief designer before they parted ways

Gear I use: Joby Focus tripod

An almost full moon rises above the slopes near the summit of Männlichen, a 2343m high peak in the Swiss Alps. Captured with the aid of a Joby Focus Tripod.

An almost full moon rises above the slopes near the summit of Männlichen, a 2343m high peak in the Swiss Alps. Captured with the aid of a Joby Focus Tripod.

Proviso - I’ve been supported by Joby in the past which you may feel affects my ability to be impartial when discussing their products. Before I had a relationship with them, I used their Gorillapod SLR extensively.

A common theme when I share thoughts on the gear I use is how lightweight an item is. Simply because the lighter the weight of my pack the easier it is for me to move quickly and keep up with the athletes I’m photographing. If there’s one piece of camera equipment however I usually don’t want to be lightweight, it’s a tripod.

With tripods, you get what you pay for and if you don’t go for one of the professional models and shell out some serious cash you run the risk of your images not being tack-sharp. Professional tripods and ball-heads however, even if the tripod is made of carbon fibre, are bulky and heavy and will slow you down. They are best suited for jobs when you hike in e.g. at dawn to a location and stay there until dusk, or when you’re shooting dedicated landscape shots.

So what do I take on occasions where a great landscape opportunity may arise, e.g. on a multi-day trekking shoot in the French or Swiss Alps, but it’s not the sole purpose of the shoot?

The Joby Focus tripod is a small, strong but lightweight tripod that is multi-functional and ideal for occasions where you may need a tripod but you’re not 100% sure. I find it to be an ideal trade-off between carrying my main tripod and nothing at all when I’m looking to travel light for the following;

  1. Time lapse photography - e.g. to photograph moving clouds

  2. Landscape photography - usually mountain landscapes at dawn or dusk

  3. Long exposures - e.g. in conjunction with a 10-stop ND filter

  4. Flash photography - a tripod can double as a light stand

What I like about the Joby Focus tripod

  • It’s strong - it will easily hold the weight of a Nikon D4S and a 70-200mm f2.8 lens

  • It’s multi-functional - the adjustable legs let you wrap it securely around a number of objects in the outdoors, e.g. a tree branch, rock, fence post, etc. Plus it doubles up for use as a light stand and it can also provide you with extra reach if you have to hold a flash. I can also use it as a shoulder mount when shooting video.

  • It’s easy to carry - it’s held perfectly by the tension straps on the base of a Lowepro Photosport 200 AW backpack

What I’d change

  • I’m always wary of losing the tripod plate if the tightening screw comes loose. There’s a touch of magnetism on it but not enough to stop it falling off. Perhaps they could introduce a safety leash.

  • Sometimes I wish it was a little taller, perhaps twice the size - this would help when using it as a light stand but obviously it would make it heavier and more bulky to carry

Alternatives

  • Joby Gorillapod SLR - lighter still but not as strong (3kg weight limit as opposed to 5kg for the Focus). Ideal for consumer gear or as a light stand.

  • Camera bean bag - not as functional but serves as a relatively stable base for landscape shots

  • The world around you - The lightest option of all. Use whatever is around you to stabilise the camera, e.g. rucksack. stones, etc.

Gear I use: Sekonic L-308S light meter

Portrait of Scottish multi-sports athlete Joanne Thom, captured after I checked the flash exposure using the Sekonic L-308S light meter

Portrait of Scottish multi-sports athlete Joanne Thom, captured after I checked the flash exposure using the Sekonic L-308S light meter

Why use a light meter when the in-built meters in today’s cameras are so good? It’s true that modern cameras have highly reliable meters and take a lot of the guesswork out of photography but, even today, light meters can be invaluable in certain situations, such as when you’re shooting environmental portraits and using flash.

Prior to using a light meter, my tried and tested approach to flash photography was to take an ambient reading by using the camera’s P mode. I’d then switch to Manual and dial in the P settings, increasing my shutter speed to lower the ambient light (bearing in mind that if I went below a shutter speed of 1/250s and I wasn’t using high-speed sync I’d get banding). My next step would be to add any number of flashes, in manual mode, starting them off at low power and adjusting the power up and down as required or moving the position of a flash itself. (I could also have used the flashes in TTL mode to get an automatic reading but I prefer manual).

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This approach works fine but there’s a lot of guess work involved in choosing the power of the flash to get an accurate exposure. Sometimes I’d be farther off than I’d expect and it would take a number of tweaks before I had the exposure I wanted. Which isn’t incredibly bad but I really want to be quicker and more accurate when I’m on a job with a client.

After some research, I purchased a Sekonic L-308S light meter. What this simple, lightweight meter lets me do is establish a ballpark aperture (read flash exposure) for my subject depending on the shutter speed and ISO values I want to use, and not guess. This is useful as it saves me time and helps, I believe, add another layer of professionalism to my work for my clients (especially if I am showing them unedited shots on location, e.g. using an iPad).

How I use a light meter for flash photography

  • Dial my desired shutter speed and ISO settings into the light meter and position it in front of the athlete / model’s face.

  • Trigger the flash using a handheld Pocketwizard Flex TT1 transmitter and note the aperture reading the meter has produced. (If required, I’ll change the shutter speed and ISO settings until I receive the aperture I want).

  • Dial the light meter settings into the camera, place the TT1 on top and start taking shots.

  • Make any adjustments, as required. (If the light changes dramatically, I’ll start again).

There’s plenty of other things the Sekonic L308-S can do (see the instruction manual) however if I’m outdoors I use it simply to get a ballpark flash exposure and, for that purpose, I’d recommend it as lightweight, simple to use and reliable light meter for adventure sports photography (though see my words below about using a sync cord).

What I like about the Sekonic L-308S light meter

  • Ease of use - Trigger the flash using the light meter and it immediately gives you a suggested aperture reading for the shutter speed and ISO you want to use

  • Adjustability - If you don’t like the effect you get with your selected shutter speed or ISO simply change the values in the light meter and it will give you a new reading. Dial these into your camera and you’re ready to go again.

  • Reliability - It’s simple and it works quickly and reliably every time (though see words below re cordless mode)

What I’d change

  • Functionality - It won’t fully work with my Pocketwizard wireless transmitters. I’d need to trade up to the Sekonic L-358, 478DR, L-758D or L-758DR models instead.

  • Reliability - There’s a cordless functionality but occasionally it doesn’t work in bright light outdoors and especially if you’re too far away from your subject. I bought a 5m sync cable to remedy this and it works 100% of the time.

  • The shutter on the Lumisphere (light reading bulb) commonly opens up when I remove the meter from its case. As it’s sensitive to damage, I’d prefer a simple locking mechanism to prevent this.

Alternatives



Gear I use: Pocketwizard Flex system (TT5/TT1/AC3)

Pocketwizard’s Flex system helping me to add pop to the colour of Gorewear athlete Naomi Freireich’s clothing during a mountain biking photo shoot in the North-West Highlands of Scotland

Pocketwizard’s Flex system helping me to add pop to the colour of Gorewear athlete Naomi Freireich’s clothing during a mountain biking photo shoot in the North-West Highlands of Scotland

When I first started to use flash in my photography, I quickly realised the benefits of getting the flash off my camera so I could engineer a nicer light on an athlete or model.

To do so, I started off triggering my speedlights with a simple TTL cord. This allowed me to hold a speedlight in my left hand and the camera in my right (making use of the angle of the light and a Lastolite Exybox softbox to improve the quality of the light on my subject).

Pocketwizard-TT5-TT1.jpg

Using Nikon’s TTL technology, I was able to use my speedlights in automatic mode (which initially I thought was useful until I found manually adjusting flash power was a much easier way to learn) but I found it was difficult to hold my camera with one hand, especially with a heavy telephoto lens, and tricky to adjust the camera and flash settings. A few other limitations with the TTL cord were its length (0.5m, though I could daisy chain two cables together) and I could only use a single flash. Using a cord I found soon lended itself best for use in off-the-cuff portrait photography (or, these days, as a backup) rather than action sports.

For outdoor and adventure sports photography, I decided my requirements were the ability to:

  • Trigger two or more lights wirelessly from a distance

  • Adjust the power of my lights, also from a distance

  • Shoot at a faster shutter speed than my flash sync speed

  • Make use of TTL technology when I chose to

Nikon’s CLS system, which is embedded in all my cameras, does the above but US company, Pocketwizard, had not long announced their Pocketwizard Flex system, which provided some additional advantages. I ordered three Pocketwizard TT5s, a TT1 and an AC3 controller.

What I like about Pocketwizard Flex

  • High Speed Sync technology - Both Nikon CLS and Pocketwizard provides the ability for you to fire your lights above the usual flash sync speed, using High Speed Sync mode. HSS works great but it reduces the power of your flash and I’ve found I need to add 2 or more speedlights to accommodate the loss of power. (Pocketwizard’s Hypersync technology (HS) also enables you to fire your lights above your flash sync speed but it doesn’t involve as much loss of power. I’ve tried to enable Hypersync using my SB-910s but I’ve never been able to get any consistency. Pocketwizard say that HS works best with strobes with longer flash durations, alongside cameras with smaller sensors. They recommend High Speed Sync for shooting above your sync speed with Speedlites).

  • Radio frequencies - The Pocketwizard Flex system gives me the ability to trigger my lights from far away without having to be in line of sight of my camera. I generally stand between 3-15m away from my subject when using flash but I have triggered my lights from much further away. (Pocketwizard claims a working distance for their Flex receivers of c.330m)

  • Usability - Both systems provide the ability for you to adjust the power of a number of different flashes individually without moving your feet. But with the Pocketwizard AC3 controller, I can go from 1/64 power to 1/1 power (with 2 stops in between each with just a simple turn of a dial)

  • TTL technology - I prefer using my flashes in manual mode but I do find TTL to be useful for certain scenarios (e.g. in unpredictable situations when you’re photographing events as they unfold, such as the UCI Mountain Biking World Cup)

  • Multiple radio channels - When there’s lots or other photographers at an event, it’s useful to be able to change channels to stop other photographers triggering your flashes (and vice versa)

  • An upgrade path - The Pocketwizard Flex system is compatible with the Elinchrom brand which I hire occasionally and will upgrade to (though I usually choose to use Elinchrom’s Skyport transmitter instead)

What I’d like to see changed

  • Reliability - When I first started using my Pocketwizards, I lost count of the number of times they stopped working mid-shoot. They were at times so unpredictable it was infuriating. I believed it was to do with the TT1 transmitter. It would quite happily work five times in a row and then stop working for no apparent reason. Resitting it on the camera or rebooting everything (switching off all units then switching them back on again from the top down) didn’t always work but then they’d magically start working again five minutes later. My firmware was up-to-date and, frankly, it was driving me up the wall. I eventually realised it only happened when I was shooting with my AC3 set to Auto mode. If I switch my speedlights to TTL mode and put my AC3 on Manual mode, my TT1 fires my speedlights every single time. I just can’t use TTL, which I can happily live without (as TTL can be unreliable and I value reliability).

Alternatives

  • Nikon Creative Lighting System (or an Nikon SU800 commander)

  • Calumet Pro Series 2.4 GHZ Wireless Transceivers - A previous version of these were the first wireless transceivers I purchased. They don’t support TTL but, as referred to above, I prefer manual mode these days. I do still use them as they double up as a shutter release for landscape photography (which the Pocketwizard Flex can do but you need to purchase a separate cable).

  • Elinchrom Skyport - In 2018, I generally prefer using more powerful strobes for lighting subjects outdoors (such as Elinchrom’s ELB400 or ELB1200 models). In that case, I’ll use Elinchrom’s Skyport Plus transmitter instead to trigger my lights.

Gear I use: Sony RX100 Mark V

Alaskan-based adventure photographer Dan Bailey and David Hetherington ascend the lower slopes of Beinn Sgulaird, a Munro in the West Highlands of Scotland

Alaskan-based adventure photographer Dan Bailey and David Hetherington ascend the lower slopes of Beinn Sgulaird, a Munro in the West Highlands of Scotland

I’ve long wished for a camera I can carry with me for personal trips into the hills that is not as heavy as my Nikon professional DSLRs and lenses but still has great enough image quality so that, if I do capture something worthwhile, I can add the images to my stock image library and use them, at least, for editorial photography submissions.

Sony-RX100.jpg

I recently purchased a Sony RX100 V compact camera to trial on non-working days out in the mountains. My first outing with the Sony RX100 was in the West Highlands of Scotland on an ascent of Beinn Sgulaird (a Munro) and its neighbour, Creach Bheinn (a Corbett). I was joined by my friend David Hetherington, who I’ve enjoyed numerous trips with, and fellow adventure photographer, Dan Bailey, who was visiting Scotland from Alaska with his wife on a 50th birthday present tour of the whisky distilleries of Islay.

The Sony RX100 V certainly is a compact camera (it measures 101.6mm x 58.1mm x 41.0mm and it weighs just 300g) but it’s not like any compact camera I’ve used before, with a wide range of functionality that includes full continuous autofocus at 24 fps and 4K video shooting. Early indications are that it will be a really good compromise for me compared to carrying a DSLR and it ticks a lot of positive boxes. I do though need to play with it more before I’m fully sold on leaving a DSLR behind on personal trips.

What I like about the Sony RX100 V

It’s lightweight and it has arguably the best image quality in its class - My primary reason for purchasing the RX100 was so I had an alternative to heavy camera gear when either I wasn’t working, the weather was poor, the landscape was ‘not worthy’ or I wanted to take photos when out running in the hills. Great image quality was my next priority and, whilst the RX100 raw files are not DSLR quality, the reduction in weight compared to the acceptable drop in image quality is I feel a worthy trade-off for the above occasions. The images definitely appear to be good enough for editorial submissions, which is what I’ll very likely use them for.

Button programming - Professional DSLRs are super easy to use in the mountains. All the key controls I make use of regularly (exposure settings, ISO adjustments, exposure compensation, etc.) are at my fingertips and are easy to use, even with big gloves on. The gloves aspect can’t be said for the RX100 but you can easily customise the controls to suit your preferences. I’ve programmed the camera as follows;

For Shooting:

  • Front dial: Zoom

  • Left button: AEL toggle

  • Right button: AF/MF Ctrl toggle

  • Centre button: Focus standard (Enables me to move autofocus point when in Flexible Spot mode)

  • C button: Focus area

  • Function button (Top row): White Balance, Steadyshot (Movie) on/off, ISO Auto

  • Function button (Bottom row): ND Filter on/off, Drive mode, Steadyshot (Image) on/off, Center Lock-On AF

For Playback;

  • Function button: Zoom in 100%

Electronic viewfinder - It’s difficult to use a LCD screen in bright sunshine so having the option to look through an electronic viewfinder is very useful. I much prefer composing a shot when the camera is up at my eye.

Wifi - A Sony PlayMemories App (www.playmemoriescameraapps.com) enables you to transfer images wirelessly to your phone, which is ideal if you’d like to share images with someone or post them on social media. I also purchased Sony’s time lapse application.

Continuous autofocus at 24 fps - An essential part of outdoor sports photography is being able to capture an athlete in the right dynamic posture for that sport. The RX100 autofocus options include single shot, 3 fps, 10 fps and 24 fps. The latter you’d think would be ideal for outdoor sports but be aware it will ensure you have a TON of shots to review in your photography workflow. (You probably won’t mind though when you get 'The Shot’).

Battery life - The camera battery is rated for c.220 shots but, with the camera in 10 fps burst mode and operating in sub-freezing temperatures, I shot 1000+ shots in a day. High-definition video I’d imagine would soon chew up the batteries. I’ll always carry at least one or two spares.

What I’d like to see improved

  • Bigger buttons - It’s not impossible but it’s difficult to use the buttons with ski gloves on, especially when switching the camera on and off, changing the exposure compensation or adjusting the drive and autofocus modes. Making the buttons larger however would likely mean a bigger camera body so the law of diminishing returns would apply.

  • Menu - I’m not fully of the view, as are some others, that the Sony RX100 menu is awful but there are some odd choices in regards to where things sit within the menu categorisation. A custom MyMenu option like Nikon offers would be appreciated (though you can program buttons on the RX100 to your liking, see above).

  • A hotshoe instead of a pop-up flash - I’ve no desire to use the on-camera flash and would prefer a hotshoe to which I could attach a remote trigger for long exposure shots or an external Rode mic for video work. Frustratingly, the RX100 doesn’t support external mics and there’s a huge amount of wind noise in videos, even with the settings optimised in-camera (Tip: Ted Forbes, on his 'Art of Photography’ YouTube channel has a great off-camera mic solution for the Sony RX100 V).

  • Included accessories - I bought an AG-R2 camera grip (which I’d highly recommend), a camera strap and a battery charger. For the recommended retail price (MRP £1000) I’d expect Sony to include these with your purchase.

Alternatives

  • Sony RX100 I, II, III, IV - Possibly uniquely, all previous versions of the Sony RX100 are still available (as is a new versionVI with a longer lens). If you’re interested in the RX100, but budget is an issue, check out the features and reviews of the previous models

  • Sony A6500 - If I didn’t have my DSLRs I would choose the Sony A6500 over the RX100. Highly likely with a 16-70mm lens (I feel that 24-105mm on a full-frame body is a perfect do-it-all lens for personal trips into the mountains - I really wish Nikon did a Canon equivalent)

Update -

My second trip out with the Sony RX100 V camera was to the English Lake District, when I visited with a friend who was scouting out locations ahead of a 24-hour mountain running challenge. In regards to the camera itself, I’d stick with my initial thoughts about the controls being difficult to use in big gloves. I was essentially using it as a point and shoot camera in conditions below freezing with strong winds. I also had trouble with the on/off switch, when I was 100% sure on occasions that I’d pressed it - without gloves on - but the camera didn’t recognise my input. And, whilst I felt that 24-70mm gives a good choice of focal range, I think I’d prefer 24-105mm on this particular camera (compared to my Nikon DSLR, on which I prefer using prime lenses - a 24mm f1.4, 50mm f1.8 and 85mm f1.8, which I supplement with two zooms, a 17-35mm wide angle and 70-200mm telephoto lens).

Overall, my first impressions of the Sony RX100 V still stand and it appears to be an excellent camera for my intended purpose. I’ll add more thoughts as I use it more. In the meantime, I’ll share how much I enjoyed the Lake District. It’s roughly the same distance from Edinburgh as it is to Glen Coe (approximately 3 hours) and it opens up a whole new range of mountains for me to explore. I’ve already started some location scouting of my own, as I prepare for a mountain running photo shoot I’ve scheduled for later in the year. I’m really looking forward to going back.

Gear I use: Mobile apps for a photography business

It’s not just photographers who can take advantage of mobile apps. Here, Rachael Campbell prepares to set up her Suunto 9 Baro GPS watch for a day’s trail running (You can pair the watch with Suunto’s mobile app and keep track of your outdoor activities)

It’s not just photographers who can take advantage of mobile apps. Here, Rachael Campbell prepares to set up her Suunto 9 Baro GPS watch for a day’s trail running (You can pair the watch with Suunto’s mobile app and keep track of your outdoor activities)

A list of 5 mobile apps I’ve found useful in helping me manage my outdoor photography business.

1. Evernote

It’s possible you can use Evernote to manage your whole life (See Lifehacker.com) but I like to keep things simple and I use it mainly as a text editor when mobile.

Some of the things I find Evernote really useful for are;

  • Drafting photo shoot or feature ideas to submit to photo editors and art directors

  • Writing blog posts and articles

  • Capturing ideas for future business opportunities, e.g. potential photo projects or interesting photography locations

  • Recording items when I’m on the move, e.g. expense receipts

  • As a means of reminding myself of educational or inspirational content I’ve found on the web or on my travels (Evernote enables you to save a web page, text clipping or photo and save it as a note)

Probably the most useful function for me In Evernote is the simple checklist (I admit I’d find it hard to manage my life without lists). I keep lists for a variety of different things, including equipment lists for my photography gear, lists for my outdoor gear, lists of items I’ve taken on jobs I’ve worked on in the past (e.g. the Patagonian Expedition Race), lists of gear I’ve used in events I’ve competed in that I’ll likely do again (e.g. Cairngorms Loop, Strathpuffer) and lists for more general things such as goals I want to achieve over the next 3 months.

Overall, I love Evernote’s ease of use. When I access the app on all my devices (I use it on my laptop, phone and desktop), all my content has been quickly and seamlessly updated with any changes I’ve made. And it’s free.

2. Things

Things is another app I’d find it hard to operate my business without. It’s not cheap (in fact it’s really expensive for a To Do app) but I’ve tried many others and I find it well worth the cost.

The simple idea behind Things is a task manager that enables you to sort tasks into ‘Today’, 'Next’ and 'Scheduled for later’. I use the app not only as a means to record and complete my things to do but also as a supplement for my diary, entering meeting dates and reminders. Tasks only go in the Today column when I will 100% do them that day. Once things to do are in 'Today’, they have to get done, regardless. I’ve found that using Things has made me much more organised in general and definitely more efficient at completing tasks.

3. Sunseeker

I’m sure there’s an answer but does anyone care more about where exactly the sun is in relation to the sky perhaps more so than an outdoor photographer? Sunseeker is a really usable app that lets you plug in the location you’re shooting and find out not only what time dawn and dusk is but also where the sun will be in the sky at a given time of day. You can also choose a future date and get advance information for the day of your shoot. For location scouting and shoot preparation, Sunseeker is indispensable. (Combine it with Fatmap for the total online location scouting experience).

4. Easy Release

Easy Release is a brilliant app that enables me to create and share model releases on the go. It allows me to customise the release wording to suit my requirements. (To help speed things up on a shoot, I always take the time to share my release wording with athletes or models in advance of a shoot, including it in a production sheet containing all the information about the shoot. Once on location, I can simply complete their personal details, take their photo and email us both a copy of the release).

5. Dropbox

No list of apps would be appropriate, it seems, without a reference to Dropbox, the file hosting and sharing service. For informal sharing and file backups, I use a paid account which I can use for up to ITB of d. For clients, I set up a Dropbox Pro account, and store all the documentation relating to the shoot plus the low-resolution proofs and the final high-resolution images in a password-protected folder.

Dropbox is an excellent app that, like Evernote and Things (and many other apps) seamlessly syncs your content and lets you access it across different devices.

Overall, apps make a huge improvement to my business workflow. I’d be interested to know what you use.

Gear I use: Lowepro Toploader Pro 75 AW

My Lowepro Toploader Pro 75 AW camera bag in the snow near the summit of Beinn Sgulaird, a Munro in the West Highlands of Scotland

My Lowepro Toploader Pro 75 AW camera bag in the snow near the summit of Beinn Sgulaird, a Munro in the West Highlands of Scotland

When I first started focusing on outdoor and adventure sports photography, I spent a long time looking for a camera bag I could easily use to capture photographs when I was on the move (e.g. following athletes in the mountains). I've since moved to a more camera specific backpack but at the time I decided my essential requirements were;

  1. It had to be well padded.

  2. It needed to be weatherproof.

  3. It needed to be easy to take the camera out quickly and put it away again when shooting in bad weather.

  4. It had to take my 70-200mm f2.8 Nikon lens

  5. It needed to be comfy to wear for long periods of time

After much Googling about and repeat visits to the camera shops that were then in Edinburgh, plus observing Vancouver-based photographer Andrew Querner using an older model in the climbing DVD, Higher Ground, I settled on a Toploader Pro 75 AW.

What I like about the Toploader Pro 75 AW

  • Different ways to wear - you can purchase a belt or a harness for this bag, or use the provided 3-point harness attachment. I just put the bag over one shoulder and under the other arm and swing it to the front. I then put my rucksack on and it keeps it nice and secure.

  • Top lid - this is padded. Lowepro say you can put your sunglasses in here but I play in Scotland and sunglasses aren't often required. I find it ideal for spare batteries (tucked inside the mesh pocket) and a compass.

  • Scooped opening - the camera goes in sideways and fit on top of two internal velcro-attached staves. These keep the camera snug and protect it from damage.

  • Front pocket - this is where I store the dry bag and a chamois to wipe the lens.

  • Mesh side pocket - I stuff a ThinkTank PocketRocket memory card holder in here and clip it to the camera bag for security.

  • Zip and clasp closure - You can either zip the bag up or clasp it shut. The zip has big chunky zip-pulls with plastic handles that lets you close the bag with big gloves on (I can even just about do it with mitts on). The clasp saves you having to zip the bag up but I do think it would be better being on a longer strap. I find it slightly fiddly to use.

  • Size - There's plenty room for a Nikon D4S plus Nikon 17-35mm f2.8 or a 24-70mm f2.8. It also fits a Nikon 70-200m f2.8 lens (with the lens hood reversed). It is a very big bag and I sometimes self-consciously feel a smaller model may be a better choice. This goes away though as soon as I use it.

  • Optional attachments - you can attach a lens to the outside too with a 'strap and cinch' system for compatible lens cases. I most often use this though for securing a map case. It's ideal for this.

What I'd like to see changed

  • All Weather Cover - I find this too tight and difficult to put on outdoors. I use a dry bag instead - an Ortlieb 13 litre is ideal - pulling it up over the bottom and clipping it closed at the top. (You can't roll-top it but it forms a fairly weatherproof seal and I can put my camera inside the dry bag if the weather is really bad).

All in all, I think a Toploader Pro is a perfect bag for outdoor and adventure sports photography. It's not bombproof - I fell off a mountain bike whilst wearing it and damaged a lens - but otherwise, I'd highly recommend it.

Gear I use: Lowepro Photo Sport camera backpack

Photographing on the move with the Lowepro Photo Sport during a winter hiking trip to Streap, a Corbett in the West Highlands of Scotland

Photographing on the move with the Lowepro Photo Sport during a winter hiking trip to Streap, a Corbett in the West Highlands of Scotland

Professional camera gear unfortunately is not light and, as a mountain and adventure sports photographer covering both summer and winter sports, I carry a fair amount of equipment. On top of camera bodies, lenses, flashes, light modifiers, stands, etc. I often need to pack enough outdoor gear (e.g. rain jackets, insulated jackets, sleeping bag, shelter, etc.) to stay safe in the environment I am working in.

All this equipment needs to be carried. Conventional rucksacks are fine but to protect my camera gear from trauma and rain, it's best if you place it inside your pack and protect it with padded and/or waterproof cases. This however adds to the weight and increases the time it takes you to stop, take the pack off, unload the contents, use the gear, put it away, etc. Multiply these stops over the course of a day and I'm a.) missing out on a lot of great shots and b.) potentially frustrating athletes / models / friends by slowing them down.

Camera bag for outdoor and adventure sports - Lowepro Photo Sport

A few years ago, Lowepro introduced a pack for the outdoor photography market called the Lowepro Photo Sport 200 AW (view their current model here). It was fairly lightweight (1300g) and has an integral camera compartment which is accessed by swinging the pack round to your front on one shoulder. 

The pack comes with an attached water-resistant rucksack cover (the AW in the title). There's also a separate compartment that sits against your back and houses a water bladder. Personally, I carry lightweight waterproof dry bags for my camera gear and prefer to use the back space for an iPad so I can show clients images from a shoot on location.

I've used the Lowepro Photo Sport for outdoor and adventure sports photography for over 4 years and have found it ideal for hiking, running and mountain biking photography or indeed any mountain sports photography where I need to move around quickly. (These days, I swap it out with an F-Stop Satori camera backpack I also own, depending on my requirements).

What I carry;

  • Camera body and lens (D4S and 17-35mm f2.8 lens)

  • Spare lens (e.g. 70-200mm f2.8)

  • Flash, stands and light modifiers - Reflector, softbox, grid, etc.

  • Tripod - Joby Focus

  • Outdoor clothing/equipment - Duvet jacket, hat, gloves, waterproofs, etc.

For winter mountain sports photography, e.g. mountaineering and ski touring, there's more outdoor gear required (e.g. a thick insulated jacket, ice axe, crampons, emergency shelter, etc.) so I commonly use the Photo Sport in combination with a Lowepro Toploader Pro 75 AW camera bag, wearing the Toploader Pro on the front and the Photo Sport on the back.

In the Toploader Pro, I carry my main camera body and lens along with spare memory cards, lens wipes, dry bag, map and a compass. I use the Photo Sport 200 to carry my spare equipment.

What I like about the Lowepro Photo Sport

  • Longevity - After 4 years heavy use it's battered and bruised (there's more than a few holes in the base and the external water bottle pocket, and the shoulder straps have started to twist) but it's still perfectly usable and comfortable.

  • Bottom straps - I use these for attaching crampons to the pack in the winter (If I'm not shooting mountaineering photography, it also serves as a useful home for a Joby Focus tripod, which I use as a light stand or for long exposures)

  • Zipped hip belt pockets - these are excellent. I fill them up with food items and batteries, memory cards, etc.

  • Cinch strap in camera compartment - this does an excellent job of keeping the contents from bouncing around

What would I change?

  • Size - I'd like the main compartment to be slightly bigger as it's difficult to put the camera back in the compartment when the main pack is full (Lowepro now make a Photo Sport 300 which I reckon is nearer 30 litres in size - see link below)

  • Shovel pocket - The shovel pocket on the front could do having more stretch in it so it could accomodate more gear. I generally use it to house a small reflector.

  • Buckles - The pack's small buckles are difficult to use in winter conditions with cold hands or gloves on

Alternatives

Gear I use: Scottish winter camping kit list

Camping in the snow beneath Sgorr Ruadh, a Munro in the North-West Highlands of Scotland. It took us 4 hours to wade 5km through deep snow to reach this spot, 500m above sea level. At 10:30pm, we were still 1.5km short of the bealach we intended to camp on, my tent pole had snapped whilst I was putting the tent up in strong winds and the pole ripped the fly sheet. Being able to deal with these type of things is one of the reasons I carry a decent amount of gear with me into Scotland’s winter hills.

Camping in the snow beneath Sgorr Ruadh, a Munro in the North-West Highlands of Scotland. It took us 4 hours to wade 5km through deep snow to reach this spot, 500m above sea level. At 10:30pm, we were still 1.5km short of the bealach we intended to camp on, my tent pole had snapped whilst I was putting the tent up in strong winds and the pole ripped the fly sheet. Being able to deal with these type of things is one of the reasons I carry a decent amount of gear with me into Scotland’s winter hills.

Note: This is not a lightweight winter camping kit list.

Far too early in the year, usually from October, I look forward to winter camping in Scotland. Folk often find this strange because I’m not talking about the deep, cold snowy winters of, say Alaska, but the bone chilling, ‘just-above-freezing and the sleet’s blowing sideways’ maritime climate that Scottish hillwalkers rejoice in.

Winter camping in Scotland can be cold and wet. We don’t live in a big country but it’s possible to get far away from the road and relative safety (some roads in winter have no traffic) and with the wind, snow and often freezing rain it would be easy to get hypothermia. It’s important to have the right skills, quality equipment and to be prepared.

Here’s a sample winter camping gear list for Scottish winter (with some kit thoughts and camping tips from 15 years experience thrown in). I use it for a weekend trip where we establish a base camp for two nights and have two day trips.

WEAR

  • Underwear - try merino wool, it doesn’t stink as much after a few days out.

  • Trousers - I’ve tried lots and prefer Powerstretch leggings (thick, stretchy tights – not for the fashion conscious)

  • Socks - thick woollen socks (carry a spare pair). If you wear leather boots, waterproof/breathable socks are very good (look for ones with merino wool inside)

  • Boots - Scarpa Mantas win Trail magazine’s ‘Best in Test’ award most, if not every year. (I use La Sportiva Nepal Extremes, which I find keep my feet nice and warm).

  • T-shirt - long-sleeved zip top made from material that’s not cotton, e.g. merino wool or Patagonia’s capilene fabric

WARMTH

  • Fleece top - lightweight fleece, 100weight, preferably with a hood

  • Windshirt - invaluable. Wear it over the t-shirt or the t-shirt and fleece and it can keep you warm on the move in most weather. (I used a Patagonia Houdini for many years. These days it’s a Montane Featherlite Trail Jacket)

  • Softshell jacket - I run very warm so I only wear this when it’s bad weather up high. I could take a really light option (e.g. a thin Primaloft top such as Rab, Haglofs, Patagonia, Montane) but I find these compress too much in a winter hoolie and I’ve gotten cold. I prefer a Rab Vapour-Rise Guide jacket (even though it is relatively heavy)

  • Duvet jacket - I’ve spent a ton of money looking for a good, thick hooded winter ‘belay jacket’. Current one is Mountain Equipment’s Citadel and it’s super toasty. (I’ve tried down insulation and don’t like it in Scotland in winter for camping trips, even with a water-resistant shell. It gets wet too easily and I don’t like to risk wearing it through the day)

  • Hat - thin wool hat (thicker ones I find get too hot for walking in)

  • Buff - Useful for when the wind is strong and it is around/below freezing (again, I like a thin one so it’s not too hot)

  • Balaclava - powerstretch or merino wool

  • Windproof hat - spare in case of very bad weather (but not often taken as both my fleece and softshell have a hood)

  • Fleece gloves - Powerstretch ones are good for lower down or when it’s not so cold. They will get wet but will dry (relatively) quickly

  • Ski gloves - great for poor weather but if you wear them all day you sweat in them and they usually stay wet for the duration

  • Pile mitts - lightweight pertex/pile mitts, usually taken instead of the ski gloves

  • Pile mitts - sheepskin mitts I keep for emergencies

  • Waterproof/breathable shell mitts (e.g. Paclite) - I can put these over any of the above

WET

  • Waterproof jacket - I like two layers of fabric for the front zip (or the wind/sleet/rain comes through it) and a hood you can disappear into (with strong bungee cord for cinching down – some jacket hoods un-cinch in strong winds).

  • Waterproof trousers - If you’re wearing thick trousers, you could get away with a lighter pair of shell trousers. (Caution lightness against robustness. I’ve trashed a pair of Paclite trousers in 2-3 trips (heel rubbing, crampons rips, etc.).

  • Gaiters - I use an old pair of Mountain Hardwear waterproof/breathable ones. Make sure the loop at the bottom is sturdy or it’ll break easily. (If you tuck your waterproof trousers inside them them you can negate the last point about robustness but you will end up looking like a World War soldier).

SAFETY

  • Map - in Ortlieb waterproof case (essential)

  • Compass and GPS - essential (compass first, GPS as backup)

  • Mobile phone - in dry bag

  • Ice axe - Petzl’s Summit ice axe I’ve found to be a good all-rounder for what I do

  • Crampons - Grivel G12s (10-point ones would suffice for winter walking)

  • Ski poles – running poles (e.g. Black Diamond) are the lightest weight. I prefer their stronger Trail series for winter (flick-lock because I’ve had two Leki screw-tighten poles fail on me).

  • Headtorch - Petzl’s Nao head lamp is great when you’re looking for a tent spot or navigating off technical ground (take a spare battery). I also take a Petzl Bindi as a spare – handy for in the tent)

  • Bothy bag - this seems excessive when you’ve got a tent but if you’re planning to be far away from your shelter all day, you need an emergency option and this is 100% effective. It’s great for lunch stops too. (A 2-man one fits me and a dog. A 3-man one I’d suggest is better for 2 adults).

  • Blizzard bag - I’ve spent an unplanned Winter’s night out in a bothy bag and it wasn’t pleasant. I’d have preferred a second layer between me and the elements. Blizzard’s Active Range model I think is a good compromise between weight and protectability.

EATING AND SLEEPING

  • Tent - a 4-season dome or tunnel tent (I have a Macpac Minaret which has been bombproof, even when damaged - see caption at top of page. I may also take a Hilleberg Akto but I’m not 100% confident in it yet for winter storms)

  • Poles - there’s the option to double up on poles if you’re expecting very bad weather (I’ve never had to)

  • Pegs - long ones plus snow stakes if camping on snow (Useful to take poly bags then too – fill them with snow and attach them to the guy lines)

  • T-shirt, long johns, socks - it’s nice to have completely dry clothes to put on

  • Sleeping bag - Mountain Equipment Classic 750 down bag (much lighter options are available these days)

  • Sleeping bag cover (optional) – Mountain Equipment Ion is ideal (down bags are prone to get damp with condensation)

  • Sleeping mat - Cascade Design’s NeoAir XTherm is lightweight and packs down the same size as a 3/4 Thermarest I used to use. The comfort it provides is well worth the cost.

  • Pillow - I re-use an Exped dry bag. Stuff a fleece top and other clothes in it and you have a perfect pillow. (If you don’t like the slightly cold feeling of it on your face, the stuff sacks that Rab provides with their down jackets are a good alternative)

  • Glasses case - I’ve rolled over on my glasses a few times

  • Book - it’s a long night if you’re in bed just after it gets dark

  • Ear plugs - useful for tent partners but more for the wind

  • Stove, fuel, windshield - MSR Whisperlite (multi-fuel) or a MSR Windburner (gas). I like the latter as you can use it in between your legs (make sure there’s lots of ventilation available when you do so)

  • Water bottle - rigid 1l Nalgene with a wide mouth (doubles as a hot water bottle)

  • Vacuum flask - Taken more on day hikes when 0.5 litre seems a good combination of weight versus amount of use

  • Pot - 1.6 litre MSR pot (there’s smaller and lighter ones but I like to boil a big pot of water and use it to make dinner, fill a flask and fill a makeshift hot water bottle, all at the same time. Saves me continually having to boil water)

  • Mug - it’s nice to have a drink whilst your tea’s cooking and you’ll appreciate your morning coffee more if it doesn’t taste of Thai Chilli Supernoodles

  • Spoon - Lexan

  • Lighter - Light my Fire

  • Pen knife - Swiss army knife

  • Water bottles - 1.5 litres worth of soft, roll-uppable water bottles, e.g. Platypus (It’s nice to not have to walk back and forth for water)

  • Hygiene - Toothbrush, toothpaste, toilet paper, handwash

  • Medicine - e.g. strong painkillers, loperamide

  • First aid kit

  • Repair kit

On top of this, I’ll also have a DSLR camera, a single lens (if not working), spare batteries and memory cards in a Lowepro Toploader Pro camera case.

More reading

Outdoor Fitness article: Adventure sports photography essentials

Outdoor-Fitness-Expert-Gear.jpg

The UK's Outdoor Fitness magazine interviewed me for a monthly feature they call 'The Essentials'. I was asked to explain for Outdoor Fitness readers the kit I use to photograph outdoor and adventure sports activities both in the UK and abroad.

My thanks to Stuart Hood, the journalist who conducted the interview, and Outdoor Fitness magazine editor at the time, Jonathan Manning, for pointing him in my direction.

Gear I use: Mountain Equipment Citadel

Mountain Equipment Citadel jacket. (Product shot used with permission).

Mountain Equipment Citadel jacket. (Product shot used with permission).

I spend a lot of time outside in the winter season photographing athletes participating in hiking and mountaineering activities. I like a jacket that keeps me warm as, despite Scotland not having the coldest temperatures, it's easy to get dangerously cold outdoors.

During the Scottish winter season, the mountain thermometer commonly fluctuates between -5 and +5 degrees C, which is not cold in itself but when you add on strong winds and freezing rain hypothermia can be a real threat.

The world's best insulator for outdoor activities (if you discount animal hide and fur) appears to be goose down. If you're operating at high altitude or in the cold regions of the earth many experts say there is nothing better. Scotland's maritime climate however can kill down feathers in a matter of minutes and what was once a nice, fluffy, warm layer of clothing becomes an un-insulating soggy mess - even beneath a water-resistant shell - and dangerously ineffective. 

Whilst down is still useful for e.g. sleeping bags and very cold temperatures, synthetic insulation such as Primaloft is a more sensible approach for insulated clothing in maritime climates (being generally lighter, warmer and more functional than fleece for the same weight and more robust than down). Over the years, I've had a number of synthetically insulated jackets, including a Patagonia DAS parka, a Cloudveil Enclosure jacket and a North Face Redpoint Optimus (and a Wild Things belay jacket, two Berghaus Infinity Pros, a Berghaus Asylum Belay Parka, a Haglofs Barrier Zone Hoody, a Patagonia Nano Puff, a Rab Generator smock and a Rab Xenon X Hoody). I've not outworn them all - I tend to trade jackets in needlessly when I think something 'better' comes along - but I reckon I've used the type long enough to pass opinion on them.

My current 'I always take it' jacket for Scottish winter (which I will wear out as it is excellent) is Mountain Equipment's Citadel jacket. It has kept me warm during countless photo shoots in the Scottish mountains, in Patagonia, below freezing in Spain and the Alps, and on a cold ledge during an unexpected winter's night out.

For static warmth in damp and cold conditions I'd suggest the Mountain Equipment Citadel is perfect. It’s by far the lightest insulated jacket you'll carry (a size L weighs in at 890g) and it's far too warm too walk in but when you need to stop for any length of time in winter weather and retain body heat for a good length of time, it's excellent.

What I like about the Mountain Equipment Citadel jacket

  • 200g Primaloft One is very warm

  • Elasticated back helps stop cold spots

  • Thick insulated hood

  • Large inside pocket - I place a Nalgene bottle filled with hot water in it for a ready-made hot water bottle

  • Repairability - mine's has a big 'L' shaped rip on one of the front pockets courtesy of a careless dry cleaner in Punta Arenas in southern Chile. Down insulation would have exploded everywhere but I fixed it simply with some McNett Tenacious Tape (an excellent product worth a review in its own right)

  • The original Mountain Equipment Citadel I bought was small in its size, which I thought was odd for a belay jacket (climbers wear these type of jackets over all their clothes for warmth at a belay). Mountain Equipment's customer service however was excellent and I received a new one by return

What would I change?

  • Both velcro wrist straps have ripped off, presumably due to poor stitching

  • I'd remove the stretchy wrist gaskets - they get soaking wet and take longer to dry out than the jacket

  • When not wearing a helmet, I'd prefer the front collar of the jacket to be taller when zipped up so it covered more of my face (A Haglofs Barrier Zone Hoody jacket I have - sadly discontinued - has the best hood I've ever had on an insulated jacket)

Alternatives

Gear I use: Adidas Terrex Boost mountain running shoes

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For a long time, I was happy to wear traditional hiking boots when photographing athletes in the outdoors, arguing that they were stable, dependable and provided me with the necessary ankle support I needed in the mountains (though despite some models having waterproof / breathable liners, they weren't always guaranteed to keep my feet dry, simply because there's a big hole in the top where my foot goes in).

A lot of my work has been photographing runners in a mountain environment. Obviously, runners don't wear boots and, over time, I've gradually seen the benefits of wearing lighter footwear to help me move faster in the mountains. Moving faster means there's more opportunities for shots, more shots means there's more choice and more choice helps me to keep an art director or a photo editor happy.

When I decided to switch from boots to trainers for photographing mountain sports (generally choosing trainers now unless it involves winter snow, ice or glacial travel) there wasn't much choice in my local outdoor shops. They had a good stock of old-school approach shoes but they were usually heavy, waterproof and looked like they'd take a while to dry. Dedicated running shops meanwhile had a great choice of lightweight footwear but mostly with a minimal amount of the tread required to keep you upright on rock, grass, mud and snow.

What I was looking for was something light and grippy and predominantly mesh so even if they did get wet (and they would) they would dry quickly. So I was fortunate when Adidas ran a digital marketing campaign for the Adidas Terrex Boost trainer, footwear they advertised as being built for mountain running.

I bought my first pair of Adidas Terrex Boost trainers online from Rat Race Adventure Sports (a company with an excellent returns policy - they even provided a re-usable bag to put the shoes in, if required). They appeared to fit well so I tried them out, first on the trails in my local Pentland Hills and then on a big day out in the Cairngorms mountains. They performed excellently, even more so when I took them on the steep grass, rock and heather you find off-trail in Glen Coe and Ardgour. They were so impressive I quickly bought a second pair from Rat Race for when the first pair inevitably wears out (which I don't expect any time soon but manufacturers do commonly discontinue niche models).

What I like about Adidas Terrex Boost for mountain running

  • Mesh - Breathable, dries quickly (though it can mean I get cold feet if I'm standing around too long)

  • Comfort - Adidas advertise the Terrex Boost as having a 'sock-like feel'. They're very comfortable.

  • Grip - Continental™ tyre rubber is used for the soles. It provides an absolutely awesome grip on trails, rock and even steep wet grass. I've found it doesn't like wet moss but not many treads do. I've found the grip it gives to be a huge improvement over Vibram.

  • Heels - I'm very hard on the outer heel of my shoes (under-pronate) and soft heels are commonly the first thing I manage to collapse and render a shoe useless. The heels on the Boost are really solid.

What I would change

Only the lace tightening system. Whilst initially hesitant on the practicality of the lace garage (which is at the toe of the shoe compared to Salomon's tongue pocket) I've found them very reliable and I've never had a lace come loose. What does frustrate me though is how difficult sometimes it is to undo the lace tensioner after a day on the hills. On two occasions I've given up and forced the shoe off. (Update - I've found it helps if you pull the tensioner all the way to your ankle first, really tightening the shoe around your foot before you try to release it).

Alternatives

  • Salomon XA Elevate (see below)

  • La Sportiva Bushido

  • Inov-8 Mudclaw 300

July 2019 - Both pairs of my Adidas Terrex Boosts are now past their best. The sole ripped on the first pair when I wore them too often on spiky mountain bike pedals and the uppers on the other pair wore out with age through normal use. I’ve replaced them with a pair of Salomon XA Elevate shoes, which have a slightly wider toe box which suits my foot after an injury.

Gear I use: OMM Classic 32L backpack

Using the OMM 32 backpack on Ladhar Bheinn in the West Highlands of Scotland during a sea kayaking and hillwalking editorial assignment for The Great Outdoors magazine.

Using the OMM 32 backpack on Ladhar Bheinn in the West Highlands of Scotland during a sea kayaking and hillwalking editorial assignment for The Great Outdoors magazine.

I've owned a lot of backpacks. Winter packs. Summer packs. Lightweight packs. Expedition packs. Even camera specific backpacks. What I've always wanted is one rucksack that would suit every activity, although I'm realistic enough to know that's not going to happen.

The Original Mountain Marathon (OMM) Classic 32L pack was the latest backpack I bought. Paired with a Lowepro Toploader AW75 camera bag, it quickly became my 'go-to’ option for outdoor adventures that involved an overnight stay.

What I like about the OMM Classic 32L backpack

  • Size and 'cinchability' - At 32 litres, it holds a lot, despite weighing only 700g. On a recent camping trip to a mountain summit, I used it to carry a tent, a 3-season sleeping bag and a sleeping mat. I then removed everything but the safety essentials and was able to cinch it down well enough to go for a mountain run.

  • Waist belt pockets - These make a difference for me. The OMM hip pockets are nice and large and you don't have to struggle to get your fingers into them, as with some packs. I stuff the pockets full of snacks so I can graze all day in the mountains and ensure there's no energy bombs.

  • Functionality - I wasn't initially convinced that the main closure strap on the OMM 32L backpack - which enables access into the main compartment without unclipping it - is any better or quicker than a traditional buckle. When you want something quickly out your pack though, it's really handy (as is the large, stretchy mesh front pocket). The pack has a removable sit/sleep mat (which doubles as the padding for your back - a great idea but don’t expect to be too comfy if you use it for sleeping on) and it's compatible with a hydration pouch. OMM also gives you the ability to attach items to the outside of the pack, e.g. ice axes, using what they term a Universal Gear Rail.

What I'd change

Not much. Despite on paper being too short for me (50cm back length and I'm 6'2" tall), it's super comfy, even fully loaded. My only gripe would be the mesh material used for the front/side compression pockets is not very robust. It's only been used to hold soft materials such as clothes, energy bars and water bottles but the mesh has torn with what I'd class as minimal use (and I've also had stitching come loose on the side pockets). It's still plenty useable but I'd like to see stronger material being used for these high-wear areas.

The main pack materials however are very robust and, for me, the OMM Classic 32L mountain marathon / adventure racing sack appears to be an almost perfect balance of features versus weight versus comfort. I really like it and it's had a lot of use over many seasons.

Alternatives