Friday, September 8, 2017

A Trip to Yellowstone National Park - Photo and Hiking Gear

Being a photographer, of course I want to bring my camera gear.  We must also temper that with the fact that we will be doing a lot of hiking as well.

I went out and looked at others photos of Yellowstone just to get an idea of the sites I might want to capture, the terrain we might face and used those as a guide on what to bring.

Hiking Gear
First and foremost, the hiking gear needed to be correct.   If I cannot get to where I want to be, then no amount or photo gear would matter.

Backpacks were a must and I needed 2 of them.  The thing is, that my backpack had very different requirements for me than my wife did for her.  She is very much the pure hiker, happy to take a shot or 2 with her cell phone.  She is much more about the hike than the pictures.  On the other hand, I am about getting to that grand place for the great shot.

My wife's pack was the Kelty 3100 RedWing.  The Kelty is nice because it has a plastic internal frame system to help distribute any kind of load.

My pack was the Mindshift Ultralight 36L.

In our packs, we both carried the following:

Camelbak Antidote 3 liter system
Terra Hiker Rain Poncho
Coleman Camp Toilet Paper
Various high energy snacks
Personal first aid kit
pencil and paper
extra socks
hat (sun shading and winter caps - temps early morning and late in evening can drop down into the 40F range)
Hooded sweatshirt
Lifestraw Water Purification system
allergy medications
a deck of playing cards (for boredom and for potential magic tricks)

I carried additionally the following:

Garmin Oregon 600t GPS system with a bunch of rechargeable AA batteries.

Maps of the parks and hiking trails.

My wife took an Anker 30,000mah charger for our phones.   Cell service is spotty at best through most of the park, but in case of emergency, it would be great to have the power available if need be.

Since we were going to be hiking some potentially long trails and they could be quite far away from some of the more populated centers, I rented a canister of bear spray.

For clothing, we went more with cotton tees and the moisture wicking style of shirts.  I favored more of a cargo khaki short, while the wife went with capri style pants.

I really like the Merrel brand of hiking boots, so my tried and trusted.  Mine are similar to these MOAB 2 mid hikers.  I did have to admit that they were worn out after this trip and did not make the return.

Before trusting any of this hiking gear, the wife and I hiked locally with full packs and all the gear we would have on us in Yellowstone. The last place you want to find out that something doesn't work, rubs you the wrong way or is just plain junk is out on a trail you are not familiar with thousands of miles away from home.  Months before our trip, we took several mile long hikes through various terrains, taking the time to learn our gear and treat the local trails just as we would the Yellowstone trails.    We did quite well, honestly, with only a few tweaks required.

Camera Gear
I wanted to be able to go light, but also wanted to have enough gear with me to be able to handle just about everything I might run into.

Supporting Systems
I thought about a tripod, but decided against it.  I did not want to have to deal with it honestly.  For the type of images that I wanted to shoot, I could not really see if being that much of a benefit to me.

Supporting my camera gear while on hikes was an important consideration.  I already had the Black Rapid system.  It is a fine system, but with the active hiking and the way the back pack fit, I was not satisfied with the Black Rapid for this application.   I purchased the Cotton Carrier system.  This placed the camera directly on my chest and it put it out of the way of the back pack straps.  It was perfect for my trip.  It too was purchased and tested months before the trip began.

I run 2 camera systems.  Micro Four Thirds as well as Nikon.  While both are excellent and have their benefits, the Nikon system came with me.  Why?  There are several factors.  Dynamic range was a concern of mine, as was an all day battery life and rugged weather resistance.

I also auto focus fine tuned all my lenses, so issues with AF accuracy were not a concern.

Camera Kit
The camera kit that came with me was as follows:
Nikon D500 + 3 batteries

Nikon 300/4E PF

Nikon TC14E-III teleconverter

Nikon 18-140/3.5-5.6 VR

Tokina 11-16/2.8

This all fit perfectly in the camera compartment of the Mindshift backpack.  I had no complaints at all of the gear I took.  The Tokina 11-16 is a gem of a lens and worked great for those times when you were locked in close to a thermal and could not move backwards to get a wider field of view.
Here is just one example of  when the wide Tokina helped me get an image without the need of using any kind of post processing stitch:

1/50, f/11, ISO 100 @ 12mm
Morning Glory Pool
The Nikon 18-140, while not the equal to the Tokina or the Nikon 300/4 in IQ, was a great, all purpose lens for the bulk of the trip.

The Nikon 300/4 with the teleconverter, APS-C sensor and 1.3X crop mode gave me enough reach for the majority of images I wanted to capture long ways out.
Here is an example of the reach the 300mm + TC and APS-C sensor gave me:
1/640, f/11, ISO 1000 @ 420mm - Nikon 300mm + TC14E-III + APS-C sensor ~ 630mm field of view equivalent
This all worked out excellently for both of us.  We struck a great compromise between convenience, weight and space.

Whenever going on long trips like this, I like to have an image backup solution.  I've already gone into some detail about that in a previous posting, which can be found here:
Light, Low Cost Image Backup Solution.

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