There are many thousands of products out there that are available to a field photographer and hiker, and it is really hard to determine what products fit your needs. It can be really frustrating, because not all of these products are available for you to see in your local store. Besides, how do you really know if something is going to work for you unless you test it out for a few days?
Here are some our favorite items that my wife and I use while hiking and taking wildflower photos. Everything I show here is highly recommended, I use them all! The list here will change from time to time, as I upgrade my kit or come across new things to try.
Note that for product links to Amazon from this page, I may get a very small commission if you make the purchase through this link. These commissions help cover a portion of my expenses for running this website. And, again, I use everything that I list here.
Please also view my Wildflower Books page, where I list the books that I rely on.
Photography Equipment That I Use
Any good camera can be used if you have the right kind of lens. I prefer to use DSLR cameras because the quality of the camera is still very superior to a smartphone, if you know how to use it. I do use a newer iPhone for some “trail shots”, because that is quick and easy, with GPS coordinates, and I’m not looking for the highest quality..
The Nikon D780 is an amazing camera. Rugged, flexible features, great in low light situations, producing high quality photographs. It is solid and rugged, which I need for field photography. I’ve been using this for a couple of years now, it is wonderful.
The max resolution is 24.5 megapixels, which suits the kinds of photos I’m taking. I almost purchased a Nikon D850, which tops out at an amazing 47 megapixels, but the D780 has a better sensor when it comes to color range and light sensitivity.
Tamron 90mm Macro Lens
My primary lens for wildflower closeups is my Tamron 90mm F/2.8 Di VC 1:1 Macro lens. I find that a good macro lens lets me get the kind of shot that I like. I’m happy to get down on my knees in the dirt (or mud, or water) to get that closeup. You can also stand further back and use a good telephoto lens, but that creates a flatter image and I’m not usually happy with that. This is a rugged lens with outstanding optics. It replaces the Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 60 mm f/2.8G macro lens that I’ve used for years, which also is a great, rugged lens. The 90mm Tamron lens is a bit heavier, but a 90mm lens lets you get a bit further back than a 60mm lens.
Newer LED Light Panel
For most photos I’m using natural light during the daytime. But on occasion I will use an LED light panel, which I can either mount directly on the camera, or mount on a separate small tripod. There are several kinds of these that are available. At this time I’m using the Neewer Ultra-Slim LED Video Soft Light Panel, which is lightweight, rechargeable, compact, rugged, and has both adjustable brightness and color temperature.
Peak Design Capture Camera Clip and Pro Pad Stabilizer
There are two complimentary products that I use from Peak Design to hold my camera: the Peak Design Capture Camera Clip and the Peak Design Pro Pad Stabilizer. The Camera Clip hooks on to my shoulder strap on my backpack or messenger back. There is a plate that attaches to the bottom of my camera, and that plate slips into the clip. I can hike with my camera sitting on that clip, and when I want to take a photograph I just push a button on the clip and the camera is released. This is much easier than using a camera shoulder strap! I don’t have a camera swinging on a strap and banging into things, I don’t have to stop to fish the camera out of my backpack. It is right there, ready to use. The bottom plate also is compatible with my tripod.
I prefer to attach the clip to my backpack shoulder strap rather than to my belt as is sometimes shown in product photos. Sometimes, though, the Camera Clip can be a bit uncomfortable. This is where the Pro Pad Stabilizer comes in – it fits around the Clip to add some extra padding, which is very appreciated.
Note that you need to match the proper Stabilizer model with the proper Camera Clip model. Amazon doesn’t always carry all of the models.
Hiking Equipment That I Use
I’m always searching for the perfect backpack and bag to use to carry my equipment. I want all my camera equipment to be easily available, but I also want room for lunch, water, jackets, and all that. To make things worse, I have different requirements for different situations – sometimes I am going on a hike through the mountains, sometimes I’m wandering through my local wildlife area.
Peak Design Messenger Bag
The Peak Design Messenger Bag is the newest addition, a camera bag that I can sling over my shoulder which can carry my camera and a couple of lenses. It also has room for batteries, other smaller equipment, and a notebook. I’ll use this if I’m leading a tour, or wandering a short distance through a meadow. It has a number of pockets and compartments, it can be opened and closed very easily, and there is access to the interior through a zipper on the top if I don’t want to open the flap all the way. Peak Design is one of my favorite equipment companies, they really listen to their customers and include features that they need!
Mindshift Gear Rotation 180 Backpack
If you are doing day hikes (which is what I do), rather than overnight hiking, you need a camera backpack that can handle all your equipment as well as having room to hold your lunch, clothing layers, and trekking poles. Personally, I want a pack that lets me get to my equipment without having to take the pack off. I’ve tried several, and the one I like the best (so far) is the Mindshift Gear Rotation 180 Backpack. While it is strapped on you can rotate the camera storage portion around your waist just by unhooking a simple latch and then pulling it to the front. The camera storage bag looks like an oversize fanny pack, but when you are hiking it is integrated into the backpack. There is enough room for my camera, several lenses, and a flash unit. The top portion has several sections for storing smaller items (batteries and such), and there is a larger section that can hold my second camera, insect repellent, a couple of sweaters/light jackets, and lunch. There is room on the side for a water bottle (and a place for a “camel” type of water system, if you prefer). It also has a nice setup for carrying a tripod, or your trekking poles. It is a very comfortable backpack with great shoulder straps and a waist strap. The construction is very durable.
I’ve found that a good, lightweight set of trekking poles are an essential feature on many hikes. I’ll hang a set each for my wife and I on my Mindshift backpack. If you have a rough, steep, rocky section of trail, trekking poles can save you from a nasty fall. If you have a slippery log to walk on to cross a stream, trekking poles can keep you from losing your balance and falling in. Are there some branches of a bush getting in the way of that neat wildflower hiding underneath? One of us uses our trekking pole to hold things aside while the other is down in the dirt getting the picture.
Look for a lightweight set that can easily be adjusted for length (and shortened for carrying on the backpack), that have a good, comfortable grip, that have adjustable wrist straps. I use a carbon fiber set from REI, my wife really likes her LEKI Trekking Poles.
Photo Processing Software
Yes, I “process” my photos. I don’t “Photoshop” them (as in, altering them) to any significant degree. Digital cameras usually don’t take perfect pictures when you are out hiking in variable conditions. You may need to adjust the exposure, reduce “noise” introduced by the camera itself, crop the photo, and so forth. Sometimes I’ll play with “focus stacking” and use software to merge several photos into one, so that you can see all of the details of a wildflower that was shot in the field under less than optimal conditions.
I use a number of software tools to do my final processing, and I’m always exploring new products.
Adobe Lightroom Classic
I used to only purchase desktop software, where you could buy something and own it forever. However, Adobe has finally convinced me that a subscription for their software makes sense. I have the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan. They are continually providing worthwhile updates, and the subscription price is reasonable. You get both Lightroom and Photoshop, along with a large number of mobile apps that I use on my iPad. Lightroom is a key product for organizing photos, removing spots, as well as adjusting exposure, cropping and so forth. My main use for Photoshop is to create collages and posters (I don’t do major editing of photos).
I’m beginning to explore the complexities of “focus stacking”, where you take multiple photos of your subject at different focus points, then mix those together to get a combined photo that has ALL of the elements in focus. Believe me, it isn’t easy, but the results are very interesting! You need software that can stitch these photos together, using only the parts that are in focus. Adobe Lightroom Classic has this capability, but it doesn’t always give you great results. My tool of choice is Zerene Stacker. I will be posting photos that I’ve created with this at some point, when I find the time.