Brainerd – Fellow photographers often ask me about the equipment I use to get quality wildlife images. What brand of camera I use, which lenses, countless other questions.
Sometimes I respond by saying a knowledge of your subject — how to put yourself in a position to get close to your target — is the most important aspect. While that may be a prerequisite for excellent images, so is having first-rate gear and knowing who to use it.
So, what’s in my photography bag?
I’m hesitant to recommend any particular brand or model of gear because there are so many great options. New and better versions of camera bodies and lenses are getting introduced all the time.
My choice in camera and lens brand is Nikon. I employ two D500 bodies and a few small point-and-shoot cameras, also from Nikon. My lenses, all Nikons (beginning with the largest to the smallest) are 600-millimeter f4; 200-500mm f5.6; 70-200mm f2.8; 105 mm f2.8 macro; and a 17-55mm f2.8.
I also carry a 1.4 teleconverter, which increases the focal length of a lens, three different sizes of extension tubes (used with interchangeable lenses to focus closer), a flash, and a variety of other essentials (including batteries, lens cleaner, a small tool kit and a first aid kit).
All of this gear, except for the 600mm lens, fits into a waterproof hard case, which not only protects my equipment from moisture and damage but also is quite handy. When I grab that case, I know I have all the photo equipment I need for a day in the field.
An often-overlooked mandatory item for the wildlife photographer is a quality tripod and tripod head. Most wildlife is active in early morning and late afternoon (low light periods), and sharp images demand a camera mounted on a stable base. I have several tripods, but my preference is a tripod made of lightweight graphite, with a ball-and-socket-type tripod head.
The time of the year and my intended photo subject also dictate the gear I carry.
For example, throughout the fall, particularly during the whitetail deer rut, my backpack includes a folding silhouette deer decoy that I have modified so I can convert it to be either a buck or a doe. I also pack rattling antlers and various deer calls.
I always carry a predator call, too, in the event I cross paths with a coyote, bobcat or other meat-eating critter. The call can lure an animal to within photo distance.
During spring, the same backpack will include inflatable turkey decoys and various calls instead of deer gear.
No matter the season, I always have a camouflage face mask and gloves in my pack. Chemical hand and foot warmers, a warm stocking cap and an extra jacket are necessities, too.
In my vehicle, at all times of the year, I stock a tent-like portable blind. My favorite is a blind sold by Len Rue Enterprises. The collapsible blinds are highly portable, weighing only 9 pounds, and set up in seconds. The photo and view ports are well thought out, too, allowing me to see and photograph from various positions.
And what if I’m caught away from my vehicle in unexpected rain or snow? I simply pack a few plastic garbage bags and a roll of duct tape. It takes seconds to cover and secure my gear.
Hope, a camera and a lens will get you only so far in the field. The proper gear and knowledge of the habits and habitats of your targets are mandatory.
Bill Marchel is an outdoors writer and photographer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.