gear

What's in my camera bag - 2017 edition

The most typical question I get is what do I currently use for my photography. So here is the 2017 version of the gear I use daily in my photography and also some unusual stuff such as my favorite books at the moment. 

Camera Bag

Let's start with the obvious, the camera bag. I have used plenty of different camera bags most of them from Lowepro. Currently, I use a Lowepro Protactic 450 AW. The customizability and size are perfect for my equipment. 

What's on my shopping list

The f-stop SHINN looks impressive for long hikes when you need to have room for all of your gear and essentials. 

Cameras

I use two camera bodies the Nikon D810 and D800. Mostly I just have the D810 with me, but for longer travels, I have the D800 as a backup. I also use the D800 to shoot timelapse while I have the D810 to shoot stills. 

What's on my shopping list

Nothing. I'm very pleased with the D810 at the moment, but if Nikon releases a successor to the D810, I'm sure I will be considering an upgrade. 

Lenses

To be honest, I have too many lenses at the moment. Most of which I leave at home and don't use at all. I'll be selling those because I don't need them anymore. Recently I received a Laowa 12 mm f/2.8 ultra wide angle lens which is excellent for night sky photography. What I love about the Laowa is the smooth focusing in the dark because of the hard mechanical stop for infinity. 

In My Bag

Nikon 14-24 mm f/2.8 - My go to lens for landscapes and star photography - sharp! 
Sigma 20 mm f/1.4 ART (Canon version here) - My newest lens is a great addition capturing Milky Way - so good!
Nikon 50 mm f/1.4 G - A great low light lens for shallow depth of field. Weights nothing!
Nikon 70-200 mm f/4.0 VR II - Sharp telephoto lens for landscapes and detail shots. 
Laowa 12 mm f/2.8 (only Canon and Pentax mounts avail at the moment in Amazon) - Excellent for astrophotography, weights about half of the Nikon 14-24 mm. 

Lenses I use sometimes but not often enough

Sigma 24 mm f/1.4 ART Nikon (Canon mount) I use this for northern lights, it's sharp from 1.4!
Sigma 35 mm f/1.4 ART Nikon (Canon mount) I hardly put this lens on, sometimes when I capture our dog... 

Lenses I don't use anymore and will be selling

I first bought most of these when I switched to the D800, and since then have been gradually upgrading to the ones I have in my bag. All of these would be good enough for what I do. I think the upgrades have not really impacted the quality of my work so remember that when you first start. 

Nikon 16-35 mm f/4.0 VR - Great sharp wide angle for landscapes with screw on filters.
Nikon 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 VR- Small, cheap and light tele zoom.
Nikon 105 mm f2.5 AI - A legendary sharp lens for tight landscapes and smooth backgrounds.
Samyang 14 mm f/2.8 - Light and sharp astrophotography lens with huge wave distortion  (fixable though).
Sigma 50 mm f/1.4 - As sharp as the Nikon I use, but much heavier, so it has been sitting on the shelf for too long.
Sigma 70 mm f/2.8 Macro - Excellent for macro photography, sharp but slow autofocus.

What's on my shopping list

I will be getting a Nikon 28-300 mm f/3.5-5.6 VR soon as a travel lens, and it is what I will be carrying with me for the long hikes accompanied with an ultra wide angle lens for landscapes and star photography. 

Tripod & Other Accessories

I recently bought a Really Right Stuff TVC-24L Tripod with BH-40 LR Ballhead and quick release lever. I also got the TA-3-FRC Rock Claw Foot for it. These are fantastic for a slippery surface and of course for rocky terrain. The best choice was to get an L-plate for the Nikon D810. It makes it so much faster to change from vertical to horizontal and likewise. The only thing that is a bit annoying is that when it's freezing, the quick lever seems to jam in the middle. If I want to change the camera to the horizontal position I need to slide it from the end of the quick release platform and slide it back and then lock it in the position. 

Remote Controller

I use a standard Pixel remote controller for time-lapse work. And a Hahnel Giga T Pro II when I need more than 20 second's to get in the frame of my shot. Usually, I use the self-timer on my camera to get sharp images with either 2 sec or 5 sec timer. 

Filters

I recently received a set of Nisi filters with the filter holder for the Nikon 14-24 mm f/2.8, and I must admit the holder feels much more robust than the equivalent Lee holder. The only downside to the Nisi holder is that it seems to jam the zoom slightly when you screw it on the Nikon 14-24 mm which makes the zooming feel uncomfortable. 

Nisi Soft IR GND8 (0.9) - soft grad for balancing the exposures. 
Nisi IR ND1000 (3.0) - 10 stop filter, excellent for long exposure. Seems to have less vignetting than the Lee Big Stopper. 
Nisi HD Polarizer - This is a great filter to remove reflections or boost them. You can quickly rotate the holder so it's adjustable. 

Mavic Pro

I recently purchased a DJI Mavic Pro fly more combo to widen my possibilities in capturing different perspectives. I love using the Mavic Pro. The drone is small and easy to operate, and it fits perfectly with the rest of my gear in the camera bag. 

Favorite Resources

I'm currently reading

I used to have a lot of different books lying around my office, but once I got the Amazon Kindle, I have been using it a lot. It's so convenient to take with you rather than all the 40+ large books I have stored in it. I love the look of the display and I can read it in complete darkness when my wife is sleeping, and don't want the lights on anymore. If I really enjoy a book I will get a printed copy as well. 

Tim Ferris - Tools of Titans. Fantastic book with insight to some of the World's most successful people. 
Dan Brown - Deception Point. A fiction book with an unusual and intriguing story of Nasa and science discovery. 

I'm currently watching

Chase Jarvis - Inspiring photographer, entrepreneur and creator
Casey Neistat - Probably the most watched vlogger at the moment
Marques Brownlee - Tech review guy on YouTube
Peter McKinnon - Great source of inspiration and tips for photographers
Tales by Light - Inspiring photography documentary on Netflix

Apps I'm Using

Photographer's Ephemeris - Great tool for sunset and Milky Way scouting
PhotoPills - Another tool to make plans and see the Milky Way location
Star Walk - A stargazing app, great to learn stars and planet's

My Favorite Equipment Part I - Everyday Gear for Star and Landscape Photography

Since I get a lot of questions about my photography gear and tools I use, I decided to create a new series of equipment. As many have said – gear doesn't matter! However, if you have decent gear, it can inspire and help you to create more! I look at gear as tools, when it works great it works with you and won't get in your visions way. When it doesn't work like you would want it to work it controls and limits your vision. Don't fell into the trap of more gear is better because it might not ease the process but rather confuse what to use. For the first part of the series, here is a list of my most used equipment.

 

Everyday Photography Gear

The set I carry 90% of the time with me every time I go out to photograph. You can view this whole set on Amazon Store

Two Camera Bodies

Nikon D810 & D800 — Why do I carry two camera bodies? Well because I tend to shoot long exposures. So when the other camera (usually D810) is taking for example 10 minute long exposure, I go and scout for the next landscape I want to capture or shoot a time-lapse with the D800. When I'm out photographing in the daytime, I keep the wide-angle lens on the D810 and a telephoto lens on the D800. This way if something interesting happens far away I can just grab the other camera and start shooting. 

Lenses

Nikkor 14–24 mm f/2.8 G ED — This is my go-to lens, I use it 90% of the time on my D810. It's super sharp and excellent for star photography with the aperture of 2.8. View my full review of this lens here.

Nikkor 16–35 mm f/4.0 VR  — I bought this as my first full frame wide-angle lens back in December 2012 and used it to capture all of my landscape photographs. I still use this lens but most of the time handheld, because it has a great image stabilisation. It's not as sharp as the 14–24 mm lens, but it's already quite sharp wide open at f/4.0. After my interest in star photography, I wanted a wider lens with a larger aperture, so I bought the Samyang 14 mm f/2.8. 

Samyang 14 mm f/2.8 — This was my most used lens for astrophotography until I bought the 14–24 mm Nikkor. I still use this lens when I want to capture time-lapse at night with the D800 or when I'm scouting. 

Nikkor 50 mm f/1.4 G — I always have at least one faster lens in my camera back in case I want to shoot shallow depth of field or if I wish to capture any behind the scene footage. This lens is so small that I almost always prefer it over my Sigma ART lenses.

Nikkor 70–300 mm f/5.6–6.3 VR — I don't use a telephoto lens too often. I first bought this lens for my first camera Nikon D90. It is a decent lens if you want to add some range to your camera. It is the next lens I will be replacing with the superb Nikkor 70–200 mm f/4.0 VR.

Camera Accessories & Backpack

Hähnel Giga T Pro II — This is my go-to remote controller for the Nikon D810. I use it to capture sharper images and when I need the extra range to take a self-portrait. What I like about is that you have a lot of options you can adjust. When used in cold temperature with gloves it's too small and hard to change the settings without taking the gloves off. 

Lee Filter System for Nikkor 14–24 mm — I always have these filters with me when I'm photographing sunrise/sunset or daylight. These filters are top quality yet pricey.

Lens Cloths — I have at least three lens cloths with me every time I head out to photograph. When using filters, one cloth is simply not enough. These are needed if you shoot near open water or in high humidity. 

Lowepro ProTactic 450AW — I have used quite a few backpacks in my days as a photographer. The ProTactic from Lowepro is the best one I have ever tried and used. The build quality is superb. You can access your gear four different ways. It is very helpful when you have two camera bodies and a lot of lenses in the bag. The customizability of the straps and pockets is fantastic. I carry my Lee Filter pouch with all of my filters and a tripod in the straps behind the bag. The backpack also has two different small pockets in the front strap where you can put a headlamp and lens cloths, which is handy. 

Mobile Phone App

PhotoPills — When I need to capture scenery using my "Vision of Depth" technique I use PhotoPills to calculate the exposure. It's also very handy when scouting a location! It's unfortunately only available for iPhones. 

Tripod

Sirui R4203 L — I always have at least one tripod with me. I use my Sirui tripod most of the time I go out to photograph. I have a lighter tripod for my travels, but I still prefer the Sirui.

Manfrotto MHXPRO–3WAY — I love this tripod head. It's so much quicker to adjust in cold temperatures than the Sirui K-40X which I also use. You don't need an L-bracket for your camera when changing from vertical to horizontal frames when using this Manfrotto 3-Way head. Which makes it quick and easy to find better composition and perspective. 

Manfrotto MT190CX PRO 4 — I bought this tripod for my travels because it's light and fits in my bigger bag. I would recommend getting these Retractable Rubber Spikes with it because there are no spikes in the tripod and these are really important when you photograph in snow or ice.

That's it for the first part of my gear list. I hope you enjoyed reading. The next list will be for the scouting gear I use. Meanwhile subscribe to my newsletter to receive new tutorials and photo gear talk as soon as they are released fresh to your email. I will also make a list of my favorite accessories and tools I use when I edit my photographs, so stay tuned!

How To Photograph Stars & Night Sky, Top 5 Tips

 

I got few emails regarding photographing the stars. So here are few of my tips to photograph stars and what I do to plan before going out. If you want to learn more about star photography, check out my eBook: Star Photography Masterclass

 

1. Location Scouting

This is actually the first thing I do when I plan a trip to photograph the stars. There are various tools you can use for this. I mainly use Google Maps to search for a location that would work good in low light situation. This means that it should be somewhere that has low light pollution. I try to find a place that is at least couple kilometers from a small town or 20 kilometers from a city. I sometimes also go out drive around without a specific place in mind to search for an interesting place.

 

Something About a Tree - Hanko, Finland - Nikon D800, 35 mm f/4.0, ISO 6400, 15 sec.

2. Weather Forecast

f course, you cannot really rely on the forecasts, but you will get a quite good look if there will be clouds in the sky. I also recommend using at least couple of different weather forecast sites to have a wider look at the possibilities in a clear sky. 

 

Sometimes there might be some clouds you were not thinking to photograph, but in that case, you could just try out something different if you can't avoid them. Use clouds as a different approach.

Storm Approaching - Kerava, Finland - Nikon D800, 16 mm f/4.0 ISO 100, 25 sec.

3. Timing

Plan the trip for the darkest moments of the night. This is how you will get most out of the stars. The darker it is the more the stars will show in your capture when you have the correct camera settings. Planning a trip when the moon wont be the brightest also is very important if you want to capture stars. Moon can easily get in the way of milky way.

 

4. Equipment & Settings

So this is not a list that you should go and buy, just my tools of use.

Tripod, or something to keep your camera steady for long exposures. I have used quite a few tripods and I really like what I currently have a Sirui Tripod R-4203L and Sirui Ball Head K-40X

Use wide angle lens if you want the stars to appear as dots not trails. My go to lenses for my Nikon D800 are Samyang 14 mm f/2.8 and Nikon 16 - 35 mm f/4.0 VR. By using a remote controller it allows you to use longer exposures than 30 seconds. I use Hähnel Giga T Pro II  for Nikon and it works nicely for my purposes.

As for settings: Always take photos in RAW file format.

Focus to infinity either manually or simply using one bright spot to focus on. Use the widest aperture your lens has as far as the result is not too blurry. Boost up ISO, I would recommend start from ISO 1600 and go up as much as your camera can handle with a decent end result. I tend to take 30 second exposures to have the stars still when you use something like I have above with a full frame camera. For a crop sensor camera I used 11 mm lens with aperture 2.8 and 30 seconds exposure.

 

Balance - Sipoo, Finland - Nikon D7000, 11 mm, f/2.8 ISO 1600, 30 sec.

 

5. Experiment

The last but not least tip is to experiment on a location, and it's lots of fun! So if you have found a location you think fits for the purposes of taking pictures of stars try experimenting with different exposures and perspectives. Don't just settle on one spot try search around if you see something interesting to include in the frame. In fact, I rarely get the shot I was looking for in one shot.. I take multiple shots and experiment with perspectives and subjects. 

 

Blue Night - Kuopio, Finland - Nikon D800, 16 mm, f/4.0, ISO 3200, 30 sec.

Next tutorial, I will give you an example of what kind of settings I use to combine a photo like below. Also some Lightroom 5 tips on making the adjustments on star photos.

If you liked this tutorial feel free to visit my eBook: Star Photography Masterclass