Last summer I joined friends on a walking tour of the coastal cliffs of Cornwall, located at England’s southwestern tip. The undulating Cornish coastline is steep and rugged, with hidden coves and beaches, picturesque villages, fishing harbors, and ruins of vacant mines. This was not a trip geared to photography or photographers, so bringing home good photos that gave a feel for the area was a challenge.
Walking up to 12 miles a day with a fast-paced walking group meant I wouldn’t have much time to set up a shot. A tripod was thus out of the question. Plus, I was carrying a daypack which included two bottles of water, food, a gortex rain jacket and pants, a small emergency medical kit, and suntan lotion. Not much extra room.
My initial decision was which lenses to bring, and how many. For me, this was the battle between zoom lenses and primes. There is never a perfect answer. I don’t have a crystal ball. To resolve my dilemma, I focused on my purpose for the trip. I jokingly call it “my mission statement”. I do this for most trips. For Cornwall, I wanted to have fun enjoying the company of friends while experiencing a very beautiful, special place. I did not want to be overburdened with camera gear.
So, what gear to bring for my hiking days? It didn’t require much thought on my part once I understood my “mission statement”. Heavy camera gear, big lenses, and a wide range of lenses were out of the question. I decided upon my Fuji X-T1 mirrorless camera, plus two very small, lightweight prime lenses–a Fuji 18mm f/2 and a Fuji 35mm f/1.4. Once I was hiking the steep, slippery, muddy trails, I realized that if I had had a zoom around my neck or across my shoulder, I would have risked damage to a lens longer than a prime as I scrambled. I also would have improved my chance of falling due to the imbalance of carrying the longer lens.
By limiting my lens selection, I understood that there would be shots I would not get. I made the decision to narrow my focus and work on the shots I could get. This relieved a lot of pressure during the trip, because I didn’t worry about what lenses I did or didn’t have, or what shots I might have missed.
As far as other gear, I am a believer in walking sticks. They save my knees. Particularly with my heavy pack and steep climbs. I use Manfrotto Off-Road Walking Sticks. One stick has the extra benefit of being a monopod as it has a camera mount attached to the top. I am also a believer in iPhone photos. I have a lot of fun with my iPhone’s camera, and I always have it close at hand. I usually send a few of these photos to friends and family throughout my trips, as a travelogue of my vacation. When I don’t have a tripod with me, I often use the iPhone for panoramic shots.
Trails can be very dusty and dirty. I always bring a small brush to brush away the dust and debris from my lens, and a microfiber cloth. In Cornwall, where there seemed to be a threat of rain every day, I lined my backpack with a waterproof dry bag. I also had a rain cover for my backpack. My extra lens and iPhone were stored in a water resistant fanny pack at my waist, along with camera batteries and memory cards. Access was very easy, even as I was walking. (Everything went in my daypack, once it started raining, and the rain jacket and pants came out, making more room.)
When I show my images from Cornwall, one photograph among all the others is the one everybody looks at and says “wow”. Ironically it isn’t of dramatic cliffs or beaches or quaint picturesque fishing towns. It is the one I truly narrowed my focus on, using my little 35mm prime lens to its best ability. The image is of mushrooms on a tree, in the shaded forest. And why does everyone say “wow”? It isn’t the mushrooms. It is the light.
If you follow the light, you will find stories to be told, whatever gear you happen to have along with you on your travels.
My Gear Checklist:
Water Resistant Fanny Pack
Backpack with Waterproof Cover
Waterproof Dry Bag
Microfiber cleaning cloth
Waterproof rain pants and jacket
Small emergency medical kit
Food and Water