Perhaps one of the biggest challenges to an SLR photographer is what equipment to carry. The easy answer is all of it — but is that a logical response?
This past Tuesday I was a parent escort on a trip to the local aquarium with my son's biology class. I traveled on a school bus with the students for an hour and a half, and if you've forgotten what that's like, I can definitely say avoid the experience if possible. The seats have shrunk by half, and the manufacturers seem to inject the smell of sweat into the seats. (I'm sure it can't be that I got bigger and learned the value of good hygeine.)
Anyway, I digress. Long before pondering the school bus experience, another question filled my attention as I started preparing my equipment the night before. What to bring, what to bring. The urge is, of course, to bring everything. But that's not always possible — especially if you have to cram into a bus with a bunch of highschoolers. How do you narrow lenses, filters, tripods, and miscellaneous equipment when it is all begging to be taken along?
The first question is what subjects will be available to shoot. Then consider what lighting conditions are available — what are the local restrictions, if any? The easiest way to find the answers is to look at websites if available. You will be able to see what others have shot, by looking at any photo galleries that pop up online, as well as check to see if there are any restrictions on what you can bring in or use.
At my aquarium nothing is off-limits to photograph, so I then considered what my subject matter would be. I was excited to see they were currently running a jellyfish exibition so needed to consider equipment for that in particular, as well as equipment to shoot frogs and reptiles in the rainforest room. I figured taking a light source was not an option, since any flash would only reflect against the glass and setting up a separate light stand would be in danger from the milling crowds. Cutting out lights means only taking lenses and tripod — easier and a whole lot heftier to pack. In the end I decided on taking a standard lens, medium telephoto, macro, and (just to be interesting) the 50mm prime. I also packed the tripod, since I knew I would be shooting in a very dim enviroment and the shutter speeds were going to be a bit long. Like this post.
Here are a few of examples of the photos I took with my pre-planned-and-packed equipment.
The other benefit to planning ahead is that you get to enjoy your time far more. I ended up arriving at the aquarium 40 minutes before it opened, and was allowed to wander the nearly-empty aquarium and shoot to my heart's content before the crowds arrived. I had the luxury of being able to really set up and plan the shot, which is not always possible at a usually-busy attraction like the aquarium. When the doors opened and the public came in, shooting was very tough, and again it came in handy to have all my equipment organized and close to hand where I wanted it.
By the time the crowds became too thick to handle, it was time for lunch and a coffee followed by enjoying the displays as a casual observer. This is another important lesson for any photographer: don't forget to come out from behind the camera and enjoy the experience.