Professional nature photographers should all have a good library of cameras and lenses to make their photographs come to life. In addition to these few essential items, there are a few accessories that will make your life much easier and set your photographs apart from the competition.
A filter is generally either a square or circular piece of glass that screws onto your lens in some fashion. Many different filters exist to modify how a photograph is captured. Some filters darken photographs. Others can make your photos have warmer or darker tones. And some filters are simply used to protect your lens. Nature photographers can find uses for filters of all kinds. Here is a quick summary of available filters and their applications.
UV filters are generally used to protect your lens. If you are carrying around lenses that cost you in excess of a couple hundred dollars, a UV filter is worth every penny. Beware though, some cheaper UV filters can reduce image quality on digital cameras. By keeping the filter clean, the difference should hardly be noticeable.
Consider UV filters an insurance policy for your lens. They are must haves for any photographer.
Polarizing filters act similarly to polarized sunglasses—they minimize the amount of reflected light that captured by your camera’s sensor. This means that blue skies will be darkened, reflections from water are lessened, and there will be less contrast between land and sky. Be careful with polarizing filters though as they often decrease the amount of light that touches your sensor by two to three stops.
Neutral Density and Graduated Neutral Density Filters
Neutral density (ND) filters evenly reduce the amount of light to reach your camera and thus it will reduce the shutter speed. This allows photographers to smooth out moving water, and it can also make moving objects completely disappear. The effect of ND filters will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but you must be careful to keep you camera steady with a reduced shutter speed.
Graduated neutral density (GND) filters are very similar to ND filters except the GND has a gradient of clear glass to tinted. Often, a GND filter can be used to darken the sky at the top of your frame while the bottom of the photo renders as normal.
Warming and Cooling Filters
The glass on warming and cooling filters is tinted to adjust the white balance of photos. Since you can add warm or cool tones during post-processing, these filters are less used than in the days of film.
A lens hood attaches to the front of a lens and is primarily used to keep light from hitting your lens from the side. By reducing this side light, the possibility of lens flare is diminished and photos will generally have much richer tones. A lens hood is simply a must for any nature photographer.
Lens hoods also have the added benefit of protecting your lens by keeping foreign objects away from the fragile glass.
Tripod Or Monopod
A tripod is a necessary for any nature photographer who shoots water photos or shoots during low light conditions. To get the smooth glass-like effect on lakes and waterfalls, you must have a slow shutter speed that is generally no more than an eighth of a second, which is too slow for even the most steady of hands. When your camera is mounted on a tripod this is no longer an issue (although should set your camera on the two second timer so no shaking is picked up when you press the shutter release).
In addition to a large tripod, nature photographers should also consider owning a beanbag tripod or a monopod. A beanbag tripod is essentially a small bean bag to rest your camera on while you take shots with a slow shutter speed. The beanbag allows you to level your camera and keep it away from anything harmful on the ground.
A monopod is the exact same thing as a tripod except it has one leg instead of three. A monopod will not give you the stability that a tripod does, but it is much easier to carry around.
Macro Ring Lite Flash
A macro ring lite flash is pricey and should only be needed for serious flower photographers. This accessory is a flash that will properly illuminate subjects that are extremely close to your lens.
Compact Flash Cards
As a wilderness photographer, there is a high likelihood that you will be out in the back woods for days on end, and the last thing that you will want is to run out of memory on your camera. So, before you go out on your next wilderness adventure, be sure to stock up on extra compact flash cards. It would be smart to buy a few smaller sized cards instead of one big one—you just never know if your only memory card will wind up floating at the bottom of a river or lake.
Wildlife photographers who shoot at a high burst rate should definitely purchase high-speed compact flash cards. Your camera can only take photos as quickly as your memory can process information. If you only shoot landscapes, save yourself some money and only purchase standard memory cards.
As with compact flash cards, you do not want to be left out in the woods without any battery power left to power your camera. One extra battery should be all that you need. Anymore than that would just be excessive.
You will certainly need a good camera bag to contain all of your gear, and the wilderness photographer should look into the purchase of a waterproof bag. There are many waterproof camera bags on the market that have a waterproof pouch to hold your gear and another pouch that acts more like a daypack. Lowepro makes a very good waterproof camera bag that is extremely versatile and great for long day trips in possibly rainy conditions.