Some Useful but Less Well-Known Tools for Outdoor Photography
Understandably, outdoor photographers pay a great deal of attention to cameras, lenses, and the major elements needed to succeed in this endeavor. But when the situation arises, other, less well-known items can be nearly indispensable. And things happen.
Thankfully, I'm now just shy of the two-week anniversary of my second shot. I'm guessing many of you share a similar timeline, and we aren't too far off. It can't come soon enough. As we all head back out into the hopefully post-pandemic world, it still pays to play it safe. Don't leave home without your hand sanitizer. Even feeling somewhat under the weather could ruin an otherwise spectacular weekend. While this has always been true, it seems even more so today. While I haven't done any extensive backpacking since my youth, I don't shy away from car camping just about anywhere. Restroom facilities rarely see regular service at Forrest Service campgrounds, and I've seen more than one gas station men's room I'm certain was the recipient of even less. Since we're all in the habit of using hand sanitizer, my recommendation would be to keep it that way.
No, not for use after the hand sanitizer. But I've found some version of wet wipes to be handy when out in the field. My hands may get muddy, and that's OK by me. But I don't want to risk having any of that mud wipe off on my expensive gear. If I can keep my hands clean, I can avoid quite a few potential problems. My tripod can surely take getting dirty, but I'd rather not risk my polarizer or even just the screw threads on it. And running water isn't always convenient. Even when I photograph next to a mountain stream or lake, its source is almost certainly runoff from melting snow. I'd generally opt for a wet wipe instead of dipping my hands in water just above freezing. I'd certainly like to have one handy when water isn't available. And if I do end up with mud on my camera body despite my best efforts, I'm sure you agree a wet wipe seems like a better idea than holding your camera under a waterfall.
I often carry a black hand towel in my camera bag. I've written before about its many and varied uses. While one would certainly be helpful in any genuinely messy situation, the list doesn't end there. A microfiber towel represents a reasonable compromise between cushioning density and material thickness for padding things in my camera bag. I've even used one over my head when trying to see the viewfinder under bright sunlight. It lets me pretend I'm like Ansel Adams.
Spare Lens Cap
Almost anything can and likely ultimately will when shooting outdoors. I've dropped things more than once. The first step is admitting it, I suppose. Thankfully, it's nothing more than a lens cap most of the time. But if I drop one over the edge of a cliff, I'm not apt to go in after it. It takes minimal space or weight to carry a spare in my camera bag. It's good to have one for each size lens you will be using. You have my permission to skimp if you've reviewed matters and already have step-up rings for macro work that can fill in any gaps.
Regrettably, I've also managed to drop a variable ND filter in a puddle. If you've ever found yourself in a similar situation, you know that sinking feeling. There's no practical way to deal with things fully until I can get the patient back to civilization. After performing whatever triage I can in the field, I use a ziplock bag to promote social distancing from the rest of my gear. If there's a chance my feet may get wet where I'm hiking, one may serve double duty. I can carry dry socks on my way to my destination and anything that may need to be on my way back.
Duct tape gets all the good press, but it's gaffer tape I want in my camera bag. Duct tape is for things you intend to be permanent. Gaffer tape has nearly the same holding power but doesn't leave any ugly residue when you want to remove it. Either can work for emergency field repairs, but I only need it to last till I can get back home and deal with it properly. Gaffer costs a bit more than its more well-known cousin, but it's more than worth it. In my opinion, duct tape isn't all it's quacked up to be.
For the uninitiated, Loctite comes in liquid form but cures into a chemical formula that strengthens the bond of screw threads. It comes in varying color-graded versions based on how easy it is to break those bonds later. Red Loctite creates bonds that require the heat of a blowtorch to soften, while blue requires only firm arm strength. A few drops of blue Loctite can do wonders for that tripod head that refuses to stay tightened. You may not want to carry this in your bag, but it can be worth having some back in the car deal with pesky screw threads, whether on your tripod head, your laptop, or elsewhere. A small tube can last a lifetime.
String or Twine
Sometimes, the chance of a perfect shot is marred by an errant branch that intrudes on one edge. Rather than resorting to more drastic measures to get it out of your way, might I suggest tying it back with some string or twine? With due consideration, it's often possible to hold the offender out of your way, untying the temporary support when you're ready to move on down the trail. You can use the same length of twine many times over and do no lasting harm to the natural environment. That way, you can keep it healthy, too.
Over the months of the pandemic, we've all gained an appreciation for the simplest of things. Glasses-wearers among my readers may have discovered the miracle of anti-fog sprays to prevent your spectacles from fogging up while wearing a mask. A small amount can keep your vision clear all day. The same foggy problem can affect the front element of your lens when photographing near waterfall spray or in humid conditions, and the same answer may solve it for you. Consult the label on your chosen treatment first to ensure it is safe for use on coated optics before experimenting.
You may never need to deal with some of these problems while on a photography trip, but it doesn't hurt to be safe and prepared if they do. You never know.