Now that I’m basically done with booking the photography trip of my dreams, the time has come to think about what pieces of gear I will take with me to Yellowstone. In less than three weeks, I’ll be headed to Bozeman, Montana. After picking up a 500 mm telephoto rental lens, a can of bear spray, and a Subaru four-wheel drive, I will be based for a week in Mammoth Hot Springs, in the northwestern corner of the park.
As cold and snow of winter often linger into April and May in Yellowstone, park visitors have to prepare for low temperatures and ever changing mountain weather. That’s the price you pay for getting a glimpse of bison calves, bear cubs, and wolves.
Besides reading Rick Lamplugh’s In the Temple of Wolves and Lee H. Whittlesey’s Death in Yellowstone, I’ve done extensive research on the best wildlife photography spots in the park. I’ve also lined up a couple of wildlife experts, with whom I hope to conduct video interviews.
Now, which pieces of equipment will be essential for this kind of shooting trip? Answer: it depends on what you’re trying to achieve. There is no cookie-cutter approach to selecting gear for your next wildlife photography adventure. But here’s mine:
Gitzo GT2830 3-Section Basalt Tripod Series 2
This is a comparably lightweight tripod that can be unfolded within seconds. After learning that using a telephoto lens without a tripod doesn’t result in tack sharp images, I’ve been carrying this piece of equipment with me whenever I’m in the field. Gitzo recommends this specific item for lenses up to 300 mm. I’ll see how it performs under the weight of my new Wimberley head and the seven pounds of the Canon EF 500 mm f/4L IS II USM rental lens.
Canon EF 1.4X III Telephoto Extender
I’ve been using this piece of equipment frequently with my 400 mm telephoto lens. It’s perfect for getting closer to skittish birds. And although I’m not too wary of getting close to moose and elk, I plan to keep my distance from bison, wolves, and bears. Prior versions of this extender seem to have reduced image quality. In the years that I’ve used this gear, I haven’t noticed any loss of quality. You just need to be comfortable with manual focusing as the extender might inhibit your camera’s autofocus system.
Lexar Professional 1000x 16GB CompactFlash Card
You might wonder why a memory card made it so high on my list. However, as more experienced wildlife photographers will know, the higher the speed of your memory card the longer you’ll be able to continuously shoot without having your camera’s buffer run out of memory. That’s essential for anyone who needs a high frame rate when action unfolds. And I expect to be in this kind of situation a lot.
Canon EF 16–35mm f/4L IS USM Lens
I’m guessing I’ll be focused on taking wildlife shots, most of the time. However, Yellowstone’s natural landscape is too beautiful to be ignored. And Canon’s 16–35 wide angle lens has become my go-to lens when it comes to landscape shots. Recently, I added a Zeiss Milvus 50mm f/1.4 ZE lens to my lineup. It’s built like a tank, and as long as you’re ok with focusing manually, it will provide you with better quality images than Canon lenses. I’ll get back to you on how this beautiful Zeiss lens compares to my other lens options in the field.
Think Tank Photo Airport Commuter
Who would have expected to find a bag on this list? Yet, Think Tank’s bag is perhaps one of the most essential pieces of equipment I’ve ever purchased. It is made of heavy fabric, has plenty of room, and is specifically designed for air travel. Some people don’t like the tripod holder on the side that throws the balance of this backpack off. Other than that, I couldn’t find any flaws with this pretty piece of gear. It even fits under the seat of smaller airplanes. Mine has traveled around the world with me several times.
From May 2nd on, I’ll have five days to explore the flora and fauna of the world’s oldest national park. If everything goes according to plan, I’ll then upload my best images to Commons, Wikipedia’s image repository. Some of my friends on the German Wikipedia have already provided me with a list of plants and animals they’d like me to take pictures of. If you’d also like to add something to that list, please feel free to contact me. Next time you see me post, I’ll be doing so from Wyoming…