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Gear & Apps

10 Things Every Nature Photographer Should Have In Their Bag

By Will Nicholls on February 22nd 2016

Besides your camera, there are some very handy accessories that you should be packing into your camera bag as a nature photographer. Over the years, I’ve had a lot of moments where I’ve wanted to tear my hair out because I didn’t have that essential accessory to hand. I’m not talking about big, expensive pieces of kit – but little things that can just make your life easier if you spend time outdoors with your camera.

1. Camera Bag Rain Cover

This is probably one of the best investments for your camera bag. Most nature photographers will find themselves far from shelter in order to get that perfect shot, but once the rain descends, then all is often lost. Even if your bag is waterproof, it’s unlikely to withstand a real downpour. Having a lightweight rain cover to shield your bag from the elements is a must-have. They work with elastic so they are easy to use and ‘one size fits all’.

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2. Spare Batteries & Memory Cards

This is definitely one of those ‘basic’ tips for things to carry, but it’s nevertheless just as important as any other. Running out of power or memory on a shoot is the worst thing, and you don’t want to have to sit sifting through photos and deleting them to make space for other shots… which you’re probably missing anyway while you’re staring at the camera’s LCD.

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Keep multiple batteries with you for your camera (I carry 6, although that’s because sometimes I am away from power for days at a time). Make sure you carry multiple memory cards with you that are cleared. I am guilty of not clearing my cards all the time, and I hate that moment when I load up a new card to find old photos on it – do I delete them? Have I backed them up already? Uh oh!

[REWIND: 5 COMMON MISTAKES THAT WILL RUIN YOUR WILDLIFE PHOTO]

3. Manfrotto BeFree Tripod

Not everyone likes to lug around a big, heavy tripod. Sometimes you just want to handhold the camera instead of carrying a lump of metal around just in case you need it. Well, Manfrotto have created a tripod just for these situations. The Manfrotto BeFree Tripod is designed for travelling, and weighing at under 1.4kg (less than a laptop); it really isn’t a burden to strap to your bag.

This is great because you can carry it, so you are ready for those unexpected moments where you really need a tripod. Perhaps you’ve spotted an opportunity for a long exposure photograph, or you want to perfect your framing.

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4. Hex Keys & Other Tools

Telephoto lenses have their mounting foot secured to the lens through little bolts that require hex keys to be tightened or loosened. Should one of these start to wiggle loose, it is really important that it is tightened quickly. Despite the increased risk of your lens falling off the mount, it introduces wobble and makes it hard for you to hold the camera steady on a tripod.

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It’s definitely worth carrying a multi-tool, too. Tripod plates are constantly coming loose, and I often resort to using my car key to do a pretty poor job of tightening them. They come loose again pretty quickly with this method, and it’s definitely not a safe way of mounting your treasured kit.

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5. Binoculars

If you’re in the wildlife photography game, then you probably look through your lens trying to spot something at a distance. This means lifting a big heavy telephoto up to your eye, taking a photo and zooming in on the LCD. It’s really impractical, and actually is a lot of effort, come to think of it. I used to do this all the time, until I bought a small pair of binoculars to keep in my bag. This makes it easy to check out objects at a distant, often in an effort to locate the animal I’m trying to get near to.

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6. Map & Compass

If you’re wandering around in the wilderness, then you really should take a map with you. Go one step further and take a GPS if you want, but a map & compass should do you fine unless you’re really out in the sticks.

There’s nothing worse than getting lost, especially as the light is getting low outside and the temperature is dropping at the end of the day. Come prepared so that you can get yourself back to safety easily.

7. Cleaning Wipes

These are absolutely great – and only a recent addition to my bag. I use to just carry microfiber cloths around for cleaning my camera lens, but these Zeiss Cleaning Wipes are even better. They’re soaked in cleaning fluid and allow you to wipe away any dust that might be in the way. The fluid then evaporates in the air, leaving your lens streak free.

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While they are great for cleaning most dirt, you must be careful about rubbing any grit on the lens into the glass. Have a read of this for more instruction on how to properly clean your lens.

8. Head Lamp

This is a real must, especially if you’re working at night photographing the stars. A head lamp not only keeps you safe, but it helps you to see dials and other things when setting up your camera. The elastic strap keeps it positioned out of the way on your head, freeing up your hands to use the camera. Again, they’re lightweight and easily stuffed into your bag for the moment they are needed.

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9. A Snack

Take some kind of energy bar with you. They keep you going when the going gets tough – plus it’s one less excuse to go home, allowing you to keep shooting through the hunger of a long day! The same goes for water – especially if you’re out for a long time. Carry enough with you, as once you get thirsty, it is often all you can think about. Even if you’re only anticipating a short shoot one day, make sure you take something with you as we’ve all had those moments where we want to stay out with our cameras as long as possible.

10. What do you think?

For my tenth recommendation… well, it’s over to you! Please share in the comments what pieces of equipment you keep with you in your camera bag that you couldn’t do without (excluding your camera obviously!). While I know what works for me, there are often things I haven’t thought about. Share away!

Will Nicholls is a professional wildlife photographer and film-maker from the UK. He is the founder of Nature TTL, a nature photography blog filled with tutorials, inspirational features and kit reviews. You can download his free eBook: 10 Top Tips to INSTANTLY Improve Your Nature Photos.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Dan Sifuentes

    The Manfrotto BeFree Tripod is one of the best on the market. I wrote my own review of it. Check it out and write a comment so I know what you think. Here’s the link: https://www.digitalcamcentral.com/manfrotto-befree-tripod-review/

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  2. Alexander Panzeri

    1. Zeiss cleaner is very interesting, however I add LensPen (in particular the new bundle with 3 different pen with “white” carbon)
    2. When I do astrophotography or just trekking in cold or variable weather is useful have the plastic bag used to cover the seat of the car (you know, when you bring the car to check):
    – it helps to protect your bag by rain (snow when shooting a downhill race or a ice rally sportcars …) above and below (often grass is wet or there’s mud);
    – if you have a sleeping bag or the night is colder than forecast said, the shape of this plastic bag is perfect for it and gives you an extra warm layer, also it protect the sleeping bag from the dirty;
    – it’s cheap/free extremely lightweight and volume-less (if well fold/rolled up)
    – the only bad things are the factories logos and that is not ecofriendly if lost around…
    3. head lamp: always from astrophotography, check that it has a red light option so you will not break your night vision and disturb less animals (and your shots too, a red light is more easy to correct than whiteblue led shock), and at least splash-proof humidity is always ready to condense;
    4. (also for sailing and astro) a towel (I use that for the gym , because long and narrow): you can have everything to protect the camera from water, but your hand/face are wet and you have to change a memory card or a lens or a battery and water go in…; also help to fry all instrument, it can be used as cushion for long exposure, o pillow if you need to sleep… or use your fantasy…
    for now that’s all folks

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  3. Jeremy Huynh

    – USB battery emergency charger for headlamps, hand torch, mobile phone.
    – Thick survival sheet : Compact way to keep you and your behind warm and dry when it’s cold and the ground is wet.
    – A knife + lighter : For survival/emergency situations.
    – Your best friend :) I never go too far in the wild ( = out of sight of my vehicle) alone. Which sometimes is enough to take great shots. Sometimes not.

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  4. John Cavan

    Some tips are time of year… In the winter, a regular event here in the Frozen North ™, a pair of mitts and a cable release is a pretty handy way of avoiding getting your hands cold while getting that snowy shot. Just tuck the release inside your mitt and near your thumb.

    Another, especially if you have a few people along (a wise thing in the Canadian wilderness) is glowsticks. Good for keeping tabs on people and can be used as a light source when working the controls. Using a red or blue won’t mess with night vision as much either.

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  5. Hagos Rush

    I have supplemented the waterproof backpack cover by getting a waterproof camera bag – just don’t submerge it :)

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  6. Paddy McDougall

    Always let someone know where you are going and when you expect to be back charge your phone. In Scotland, Avon skin so soft is a must for the midges in summer!

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  7. Richard Olender

    Number 1 should have been last because I am going to need a much bigger bag if I am going to carry around all that stuff

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  8. Andre Queree

    A plastic garbage bag and some rubber bands has been useful for me in the past. For covering gear, lugging stuff, ground cover, etc.

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    • Matthew Saville

      I definitely always carry some plastic bags with strips of gaffers tape on them. Ziploc bags are nice because they’re sturdier than trash bags / baggies, so you can stick and unstick strips of gaff tape to them without them ripping.

      However, I’ve found that one great thing for me as a timelapse photographer is, random old camera bag covers. They’re not big enough to be a rain cover for a whole camera backpack, but they’re perfect for covering a camera on a tripod when you’re going to leave a camera out overnight.

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  9. adam sanford

    And goodness gracious, where is Matthew Saville on this topic?
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    I expect a dissertation on size of sensor size and weight vs. volume tradeoffs on this topic.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Glad to know my geekiness is missed, Adam. Unless that was sarcasm. :-P

      There’s just so many different kinds of nature photographers, some don’t stray very far from their vehicles and have tons of cash to spend, others are relatively broke and go on multi-day, 20+ mile backpacking trips.

      But, fear not, I’m certainly working on content aimed at this type of adventure photographer…

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  10. adam sanford

    Nice writeup. +1 on an ultra-light tripod, I use the Gitzo 1542T and love it.
    I’d also add:
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    1) The basics — shutter release cable/button, pouch of ND grads / NDs / CPL, ball head, L-plate, tripod collars (if you need them), etc.
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    2) Small tarp if the ground is really wet — I use a compact single-person tent ‘bottom’ so that I don’t have to carry my bag or leave it in a wet/muddy/sandy place.
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    3) Sandbag.
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    4) Layers. Temp will change rapidly and I prefer being able to feel my fingers. :-P
    .
    In truth, the list never ends, but I’d peg those four as musts in my book.

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    • Tom Blair

      Sandbag I always keep mine in the truck.Use that on the roof or inside the door and hanging it on tripod

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  11. Tom Blair

    Learn to use your vehicle as cover and good gore technical clothing

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  12. Daniel Thullen

    Thank for the refresher Will. They are all great tips. The hex key/multi-tool tip is excellent advice one doesn’t see everyday.

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  13. Steven Hopkins

    Great tips. One often overlooked and highly valuable piece of equipment is a green laser pointer. This serves two purposes. One, it is great for showing others without making too much noise what you want them to look at before taking that once in a lifetime shot. Secondly, for emergency situations, the green laser pointed up at the sky can help search and rescue crews locate you in tough and dark situations.

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