3 week family vacation out west, advice on gear and other appreciated

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by mtbdudex, May 29, 2014.

  1. mtbdudex macrumors 68000


    Aug 28, 2007
    SE Michigan
    Our family trip out west is coming up June-20 thru July-12, 3 full weeks.
    Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, lots of places.

    Going the pop-up camper route. We borrowed this from family friend, gave it a try out over Memorial weekend, here's my boys.
    Our dogs will stay home with my niece/others who will be house sitting.

    Only 1 campsite will not have 120v power, that's a 3 night place, the rest have power and of course our car has 12vdc plugs.

    I'm looking for a camera gear checklist/advice.
    What I have:
    1. 2 DSLR's; 3 week old 70D (wife and I use) and 5 year old T1i (my kids will use this)
    2. Carbon Fiber Tripod
    3. (1) 580EX II Flash
    4. Intervalometer
    5. wireless remote
    6. Lens list: All Canon 15-85, 70-200 L f2.8 IS II, TC 1.4x 2x, f1.4 50, 18-135 kit
    7. Battery grip with 2 additional batteries for each camera
    8. iOptron SkyTracker for astrophotography
    9. Basic Filters; UV and Polarizer (I've not used them on camera in years, currently I shoot "naked")
    10. (2) 64GB Memory cards for 70D, (1) 16GB memory and (2) 8 GB memory for T1i
    11. Camera backpack
    12. Bushnell 8x42 H2O Waterproof/Fogproof Roof Prism Binocular

    What I desire to "shoot"; everything! :D
    Well, wide open landscape's, astrophotography, all the "stuff" we will see on the trip, and all that.

    Potential buy list and why I feel need
    1. Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X116 Pro DX II ; for UWA landscape and astrophotography
    2. ND filter (which one's?); I've never shoot with ND's before....advice here appreciated
    3. Method to dump memory cards to storage device (some astrophotography session may take 100's of images); we have a newer MacBook Pro Retina with 8GB 1600MHz memory and 256GB flash storage but it cannot hold much more, so get a cheap 2TB USB hard drive??
    4. "better" camera strap for 70D than the stock Canon one?
    5. Opteka LTX-80 Lightning Trigger; to help capture any cool storm lightning we happen to come across, $80 at Amazon
    6. other??

    All advice appreciated, including sanity check.
    This is a family vacation, not my private photography session, yet I do want to capture the sights and I may never go to these places again...
    -go minimalistic vs gear aholic?
    -get up early to "get early light photos" while kids sleep
    -I want to get the kids involved, hence they get my T1i + the 18-135 kit lens
  2. needfx macrumors 68040


    Aug 10, 2010
    macrumors apparently
  3. JDDavis macrumors 65816


    Jan 16, 2009
    Man, I am insanely jealous! That looks like a great trip with the fam. I have a few experiences from parts of your planned trip that might be useful. Looks like you are going to see the Badlands in SD. It's beautiful there and sunrises and sunsets are pretty great. High noon is tougher cause the colors in the dirt don't really come out. Be careful if it looks like rain. It can flash flood and roads can turn into mud fests quickly. The Black Hills are great too. Try to visit Sylvan lake maybe early in the morning when the water is really still.

    Not to try to change your agenda or anything but between Hot Springs SD and maybe all the way to the edge of the Teton National Forest (on your displayed route) there isn't much of anything to look at. It's pretty much wide open prarie and high desert. If you go across on 90 and into the Yellowstone on 14 you get Devils Tower, Ten Sleep Canyon, The Big Horns, Cody and a great drive around Yellowstone Lake.

    As far as the Tetons and Yellowstone go... I would suggest getting up early for landscapes and animals. If you're on the east side of the Tetons there is not much to the sunsets (unless you are up on top of a mountain). The sunrises though are great with the light slowly illuminating a fantastic front range. The wildlife moves more in the mornings and the evenings. I'd bring some warm clothes if you are going to wait out first light. Even in late June pre-dawn can be pretty chilly. (and you really want to set up in the dark to make sure you catch it all) Also...make sure you have bear spray with you. Even at the busiest tourist pullouts your likely to be alone pre-dawn. There are so many opportunities for photos in GTNP and Yellowstone. People spend a lifetime photographing there. I would highly suggest making a plan for what you really want to shoot while there. If you search there are many books and sites dedicated to helping you plan to get some of the classic shots. I found this map http://shop.grandtetonpark.org/product_p/20009.htm very useful for planning in GTNP. In Yellowstone early is good too. Better chance for animal sightings and easier to get shots of some of the very popular areas without tons of people in your frame.

    For GTNP and Yellowstone your 15-85 or 18-135 is plenty wide. Something I did in GTNP that I think worked very well was to take my 35mm or 50mm (prime) and turn the camera on it's side (on tripod) and take several images in a row and then stitch them back together as a pano in photoshop. Using the prime made for a better image and was better in low light and turning the camera on it's side allows for a taller pano. The valley is wide open so you can zoom with your feet if you have to.

    As for your gear list:

    I found 300mm to be barely enough for wildlife shots, especially eagles but I did ok with moose and buffalo. Not sure how your 70-200 does with the TC. The serious folks are packing 600mm howitzer barrels. There are actually a few places in GTNP and Yellowstone where you can rent big lenses if you are interested in serious wildlife

    I've never used filters on a digital SLR. I bought some for our trip out there and never used them. I wanted to take some high contrast B&Ws (where the sky is completely black and snow is pure white) but found that filters where unecessary and don't really do much on a digital anyway (angle of the sun is more important). You can do pretty much everything in post and then you still have a full color image with max data. Maybe if your are trying to blur water?

    I'm big on Black Rapid camera straps. A good strap makes a difference if you are lugging that thing around all day or hiking with it. You'll want to have it armed and ready and not stuck in a backpack all day.

    I'd add bear spray, warm clothes, maps (or photo guides), a little food and water, and maybe a very basic survival kit to your gear. It may feel theme park safe in a lot of these areas out west but in reality it's the wilderness and in seconds you can be off the beaten path or in trouble. Especially if you are alone.

    Minamilist or gear aholic? I'd do both. There are many amazing spots that are litterally from roadside pullouts where all your gear can be in the car. For hikes and more adventurous outings strip it down and have a plan.

    Early while the kids sleep? Absolutely. Again...have a plan. Tell the fam where you are going and get there before sunrise in time to set up. (oh...add a headlamp to your gear list)

    Kids involved? Absolutely. Make plans for getting those desired solo shots and plans for involving the kids. Wildlife shots and waterfalls and such seem to be great for the kids. They don't do to well waiting for the sunrise in the dark at 5am for a landscape. (unless they are older).

    I could go on forever. Hope some of that helps.
  4. filmbufs macrumors 6502


    Sep 8, 2012
    Great list above.
    I'll give a big thumbs up to my Black Rapid strap too. I was hesitant to spend the money but it was soooo worth it.

    It sounds like an incredible trip. Have a blast!
  5. themumu macrumors 6502a


    Feb 13, 2011
    RE: ND filter. Not sure about the plain kind, but I find a 2-stop grad ND filter can be a very nice addition when shooting landscapes. I got a cheap round plastic one from eBay a while ago and it's some of the best bang for my $20. Goes into my kit even when I'm in minimalist mode.
  6. JDDavis macrumors 65816


    Jan 16, 2009
    OK, I don't want to derail mtbdudex's discussion into a filter one but I'd like to pass on what I learned cause I had the same thoughts/questions with the same intent of taking pics in the same locations. I'm no expert on anything related to photography or filters.

    What I learned from the "interwebs" is that using a physical filter on a digital camera results in less data being captured by the sensor. My understanding about film is that this in a non issue because film captures substantially more "data" than a digital sensor.

    From experience I believe I have seen this as true in my own results (better image sans filter than with filter). Now couple that with my own experience with having pretty good success achieving the same effect with digital filters in post and the interweb truism that I bought into of "better to have a full color, unaltered digital image (RAW of course) to work with for eternity than a "filtered" versions (less data?) of the same image" might just have some merit.

    Perhaps there very well is a really good use for ND filters (blurring water in harsh light) and grad filters for landscape but I have been pretty happy with getting the full on RAW file exposed correctly (histogram) and then digitally filtering with Aperture and NIK.

    This feedback is specific to taking pictures of say the front range in GTNP. I found much better success with capturing the image when the light and sky was optimal (from dawn to about 10am) then using "real" filters on the camera to filter out harsh light in order to expose correctly. Combination of in camera adjustment of shutter, aperture, and iso seemed to help greatly when trying to take shots of snowy mountains against a bright sky when the light was harsh. I guess digital has a lot more flexibility than film in that regard.

    Nothing wrong with getting the image with the filter and without if you have the opportunity (like in a landscape). If conditions allow for correct exposure then you will always have that image where the sensor captured as much data as possible.
  7. mtbdudex thread starter macrumors 68000


    Aug 28, 2007
    SE Michigan
    This is why I consider this little photog community tucked away inside MacRumors to be the best!
    Jeff - thx for taking the time for detailed response, I'm reviewing your trip tweak tonight with my wife.

    I've not used a filter in 2 years on my lens...so why start up again?
    I'll just shoot in RAW and apply PP afterward.

    My 15-85 does sweet job with wide angles, just was wondering if I'd miss some opportunity that a 11-16 would allow, but then I'd need to swap the lens in/out for that, so hmmmmm maybe you save me $500 :)
    That 15-85 is my walk-around lens, the 70-200 L mkII I use for the other 5-10% shots, it does pretty decent with TC's, I've got both a Canon 1.4x and 2.0x, so hopefully those will give me reach options when needed.

    Black Rapid camera straps eh? I've heard of them before, $62 seems a little pricy but for now I've put one in my shopping cart
  8. nburwell macrumors 601


    May 6, 2008
    Like the others mentioned, ND filters would be helpful; especially if you're shooting in the middle of the day, and want to experiment with long exposures. I know with kids it's tough, but I would try to shoot every sunrise and sunset while on the trip. If the skies are clear wherever you are, skip the sunrise/sunset and stay up late for astrophotography.

    Other than that, it looks like you have a lot of your basis covered. I'm the type of person that thinks you can never have enough memory cards. Especially if you're shooting RAW and/or bracketing your images, memory cards can fill up fast. Plus, memory is pretty cheap these days, so I would look into buying more memory cards before you leave. I don't even have kids, and I'd love to do this trip in a heartbeat. Like you said, even though the trip isn't photography based, make sure you take a ton of images since you never know if you will be able to take a trip like this again.
  9. Apple fanboy macrumors Penryn

    Apple fanboy

    Feb 21, 2012
    Behind the Lens, UK
    I've been looking at one of these. Do they play nice if you have a backpack on though? I have heard there can be issues with the movement.
  10. filmbufs macrumors 6502


    Sep 8, 2012
    Yep, that's the strap. It's pricey but, mercy, does it work well. I adjusted it to hang at my hip on one side and my camera bag was slung over on the other side. Using that strap allowed very easy access to the camera and maneuver around in crowds without issue. Well worth it.

    I also found a place that would give me a 30 day return if I didn't like the strap, so that provided a little relief regarding the cost.
  11. thekev macrumors 604


    Aug 5, 2010
    Oh that is awesome. I hope you guys have a great time.
  12. glenthompson macrumors 68000


    Apr 27, 2011
    Yellowstone is very busy that time of year so getting out early helps beat the crowds. Some wildlife is hard to catch.

    I was at Devils Tower late in the day and got some good shots with the late sun. Badlands are best at sunrise and sunset.
  13. JDDavis macrumors 65816


    Jan 16, 2009
    Yeah the BR straps are a little pricey but I've had mine for 5+ years and it's still in great shape. Believe me...it's been abused. Their have been reports of the camera detatching from the base plate but that has never happened to me. My version's connector screws into the tripod threads. I take it off and on all the time so by default I'm always checking it. That's the only negative I can think of is that my version is consuming the tripod connection but really that's just a slight inconvienience.

    Apple fanboy...I've used mine for everything from all day walking at the zoo to multi day mountaineering trips. I find the "slung" positions the strap gives much more comfortable and secure. I've used mine with a small camera bag that is attached to a belt. So the setup is a small backpack (for climbing or hiking). The camera on the BR strap slung over my shoulder and then tucked inside the small camera bag underneath the backpack (or on my hip). I'm adding straps and weight so of course it is more restrictive but I've found it works pretty well. The camera likes to hang at your hip or the small of your back so as long as the backpack isn't too large it doesn't restrict the movement of the camera. You can wear it for left hand "draw" or right hand.
  14. bankshot macrumors 65816


    Jan 23, 2003
    Southern California
    I'm in a similar situation - planning ahead for a September vacation in my case, just got my new 70D and several accessories. I envy your glass, but I couldn't justify spending quite that much all at once. The new body + 3 lenses I did buy will be quite an upgrade from my old D60 (yes, the D60 from 2002, not the 60D). :D

    Here are just a few notes from my preparation so far:

    - Data backup: we won't have a laptop (haven't owned one in almost 4 years now) so I just got a little device that will allow me to copy files between memory cards and/or a USB drive. I got the Kingston MobileLite Wireless for about $30 on Amazon. It has an SD card slot and a USB port. It connects to your smartphone or tablet via wifi, and the app allows you to copy files between the SD card, USB storage, and the phone/tablet. I just used it this weekend to backup photos from one SD card to another by connecting a card reader to the USB port so I could have 2 cards connected at the same time. Worked great. There are similar offerings from other companies.

    Of course, for you, an external drive for the laptop would probably be sufficient.

    - Phone charging: my iPhone's battery doesn't last as long as I'd like, and I may be using it a lot when out and about (see remote shooting). The MobileLite does offer USB charging from its own battery, but I'm thinking about getting a dedicated backup battery that would have a lot more juice. Many options exist on Amazon etc.

    - Strap - if you like the Black Rapid strap but want a cooler version (and if you shoot RAW), check out this version. ;) I decided against it mainly because the accessories were quickly adding up in $$, and got a recycled seatbelt strap which is pretty cool (but probably not as comfortable as the Black Rapid).

    - Tripod: I highly recommend adding a Joby GorillaPod to your list. I've been using a smaller version for my point & shoot Canon for a few years now, and it's amazing how useful it's been. I plan to get the big one for my 70D soon; Amazon, Adorama, B&H, etc all have it at a good price.

    - Battery chargers: I'm bringing at least 2, maybe 3 chargers so I can charge multiple batteries at once at the end of the day without babysitting the charger to swap batteries.

    - Memory cards: I'm a big fan of using many smaller cards rather than fewer big ones. That way if a card goes bad, you don't lose as much stuff (and hopefully it was backed up anyway).

    - Remote shooting: you have the wireless remote, but I presume you've also played with the 70D's wifi capabilities by now. If not, you should give it a try. :)

    - Camera bag: I don't know if you have a "regular" bag in addition to the backpack, but you may find the backpack a hassle to get stuff out of while out and about (changing lenses, etc). In researching my gear, I found that many pros say they never use the big backpacks, taking only the camera/lens they need and leaving the rest behind. I'm torn on that - I'd love to have the flexibility of having all my options available, but a smaller bag slung to the side is much easier to manage.

    - General/non-gear: I stumbled upon a fantastic YouTube video the other day on travel photography tips. Lots of great stuff for beginners and seasoned enthusiasts alike, including how to find the best places to shoot, the best times (get up early as already mentioned in this thread!), lighting, shooting people, turning boring static scenes into interesting dynamic scenes, and more. The guy does a really good job and is pretty funny, too. Highly recommended.

    Lots of other great stuff on YouTube as well.
  15. Chappers macrumors 68020


    Aug 12, 2003
    At home
    Don't think I'm judging you but - forget all the kit except one camera. Concentrate on your family and enjoying the moments you see together through your eyes not through a lens.
  16. snberk103 macrumors 603

    Oct 22, 2007
    An Island in the Salish Sea
    To the OP: I agree with Chappers. I would also add... for the photographs you do want to take, concentrate on just one 'theme'. For example... waterfalls. Let your family know before hand what the theme. Then you can simply enjoy the non-theme sights with your family (it will take some discipline at times) and your family will then be able to help you scout out the best themes... and will understand and be patient when you ask them to wait for you to get a great shot as part of your theme.

    Otherwise I fear you are either going to drive them nuts because you are making them wait for you several times a day, or you will go nuts because you are always feeling rushed because you don't want them to wait for you several times a day. Either situation could make a dream vacation go sour. With a theme you may only be taking a great photo several times a week... but (in theory) they should be better photos because you won't be stressed about the delay.

    Have a great trip.
  17. bankshot macrumors 65816


    Jan 23, 2003
    Southern California
  18. steveash macrumors 6502


    Aug 7, 2008
    OK here is my take. Having just come back from another trip (photos on my blog) I can say that packing carefully is important. I threw my gear in a bag and unlike usual didn't check things at all. As a result on the first day I found I only had one charged battery and one memory card for each camera. I made it work but it slowed me down.

    While you can never have enough lenses I always find that I take 90% with one lens - usually a standard prime or zoom. Lens choice is always personal and by the end of the trip you will have learnt a lot more about what you like and don't.

    A good strap and backpack is essential if you are carrying heavy gear all day. Black Rapid style sling straps are great but tend to give you man-boobs - you have been warned!

    I always carry an ND filter for long exposures, a CP for water/glass and a UV for very dusty places but don't need them much. I also always pack cleaning blowers, cloths and wipes.

    As a rule I try not to do post processing at a location as it wastes time that you could be spending shooting or just enjoying yourself. It is easy to let the photography take over to the point that you can only remember seeing the place through a lens! Take time to take in a scene before you take any pictures and you will enjoy it more and take better pictures.
  19. Cheese&Apple macrumors 68000


    Jun 5, 2012
    Ah ha! I knew it had nothing to do with my advancing age, too much wine, a poor diet and lack of exercise. ;)

    Gotta go...I'm off to the pub!
  20. snberk103 macrumors 603

    Oct 22, 2007
    An Island in the Salish Sea
    For dinner? ;)
  21. ChrisA, Jun 11, 2014
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2014

    ChrisA macrumors G4

    Jan 5, 2006
    Redondo Beach, California
    It's to late. You have already gone over to the "gear aholic" side. You already have more then you can reasonably cary around. Seriously if you were to buy one more thing it should be a pocket camera or an iPhone.

    The other thing I'd bring is a notebook computer with an SD slot and at least one small external disk or SSD drive. You need a way to move images off the memory card to a backup. I would not re-use the cards as they fill up but I would copy the data to a few places. Even a way-cheap used white Macbook would work fine for this.

    I would not bother with an ND filter. But do bring a polarizer. I used to cary a gradient ND but not after going digital.

    What about lighting for macro? I like to shoot the local plant like and flowers where ever I go and find that a small fold-up reflector is invaluable and a yard or so of white ripstop nylon is good also. Clothspins to clamp the nylon. Those little things matter a lot.

    I like to transport gear in a Pelican case, then take out what I plan to use and toss it in a normal backpack, using a jacket, towel or whatever for padding. The pelican withstands anything, rolls down stair, drops in water, gorilla-like luggage porters,... Without a case like this you are always forced to watch that nothing really heavy is tosses on top of the camera bag, like bicycles, fire wood or whatever.
  22. Designer Dale macrumors 68040

    Designer Dale

    Mar 25, 2009
    Folding space
    Don't forget to record the serial numbers on all your gear and be sure your insurance covers it all.

    You use a physical filter on a digital camera for the same reason that you compose the image and check the depth of field by stopping the lens down before the shot, then review it to see the final product. Because you're a photographer and you have a vision in mind when you see the subject. "I'll take care of that in post" just isn't something a good photographer will say.

    My only advice would be to leave the kids at home. You won't have room for them anyway. But then I don't have children so what do I know?

    Dale aka Old School or just plain Old

    X2 on the Pelican stuff
  23. snberk103 macrumors 603

    Oct 22, 2007
    An Island in the Salish Sea
    Best advice yet. They're only going to watch videos the whole time anyway... :D
  24. Micky Do, Jun 12, 2014
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2014

    Micky Do macrumors 68000

    Micky Do

    Aug 31, 2012
    An island in the Andaman Sea.
    This says it all……

    I reckon less photography gear would be more fun for your family, and ultimately you. Go minimalist.

    Take a point and shoot for the kids to take a few snaps with. One of those tough jobs that can take a knock or a dunking would be ideal. I have one which I often give to kids to have a go with, and it be used in the water as well….. fun, eh?

    Do some things that don't involve photography.
  25. Designer Dale macrumors 68040

    Designer Dale

    Mar 25, 2009
    Folding space
    I was joking. I've followed the OP for a number of years. He lives in a "log cabin" in the Michigan woods and sometimes "sleeps under the stars". His kids are the active outdoors types and are most probably a ton of fun on trips like this.

    This is an epic adventure and leaving the good gear behind would be very regrettable. When I was a young teen my dad took us on a driving trip trip from Ohio to the West coast and back. I was not the photo guy I am today and really wish I could have taken more pictures.

    BTW: The OPs posting nic translates into Mountain Bike Dude (ex).


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