Top 3 Lens Choices For Your Back Country Photo Adventure

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By Bryan Bishop, Photographer & Adventure seeker – BB Image Website

You are about to embark on a wilderness trip that will bring you into the far reaches of the forest. Just like your many past adventures, you have had all of your gear packed for days and you’re just figuring out the last few things you want to bring.

For me, the photography gear is the last piece of this puzzle.  There are far too many options, not to mention how heavy it would be to bring every possible piece of gear that I want. As a Lifestyle Adventure Photographer, I face this challenge often. Each day I have the constant battle between what do I need to bring in order to achieve the perfect photo verses how much extra work and weight will it take to get there?

In my experience, there are three main categories a photo can fall under: low light, landscapes/portraits, or long distance; and each of these three scenarios require you to have the right lens. The combination of the right lens and the technical knowledge of how to properly use it will make the difference between an average photograph and an extraordinary one.

#1 Low Light Lens – Nighttime, Stars, and Northern Lights

On your first night, miles away from any light pollution you start to realize how beautiful and how many stars there are. An endless number of them that only real darkness will show. Suddenly out of darkness a familiar light appears in the Northern sky. This dancing light is the is the Aurora Borealis and you have a front row ticket to the show.

When you find yourself in this situation you are going to need a Fast Lens. Speed(F-Stop) in a lens determines how quickly it can take in light and you want one that can capture the greatest amount of light possible in the fastest amount of time. For this I recommend maximal aperture; with a lens between f/2.8 to f/1.2. I like to carry either a 14mm or a 24mm f/1.4 – 2.8, It is wide enough to shoot large landscapes and fast enough to shoot on the darkest of days. Now if you’re not keen on spending a few grand on a lens, both Nikon and Canon make a 50mm 1.8 for around $300. It’s not a wide-angle so you have to crop down the shot, but it is still a great disposable lens that is light weight, small, and versatile; not to mention a great price.

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Pro tip

When shooting stars or Northern lights, use a tripod and a remote shutter. If you do not have a remote shutter, use a 10 second timer for your shots. Start out with the widest f-stop for example 1.2 or 2.8, around 20 second exposure, and adjust accordingly for your image. Start with an ISO of 2000, ISO may be increased/decreased however; too much ISO will cause noise or grain on the image, and too low, you wont have enough light captured.

#2 Portrait/ All around lens

Many of us don’t travel alone; we bring along our family or friends and we want to cherish these moments spent with them. A 24-70mm F2.8 stabilized is my ideal lens of choice and probably the most used lens in my kit. It has the perfect range to work with both land and people, yet it is still small enough to easily manage. As you start to get into 70mm having a stabilized lens can help a tremendous amount.

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No matter the situation you can usually get away with a 24-70mm even if you didn’t bring a wide angle or low light lens, as a good 24-70 f2.8 will do both in most situations.

For any typical portrait you will want to: place your subject in a third of the photo and set up your camera to have enough ambient light to light your subject. Due to the fact that most people move, you never want to shoot less than 1/100 second or you will get noticeable blur. Making good use of the light you have available to create shape is a must also try to avoid front facing flash or shooting with your subjects facing the light directly.

#3 Telephoto – Wildlife

While many people may think bears and wolves are beautiful animals they are not easily approachable; nor is it recommended that you approach such animals to capture a photo, regardless of how beautiful the photo may turn out. This is why I always carry a long telephoto lens with me on my adventures; you can take a great close-up picture without getting too close. I personally love to bring out the 100-400mm f4 which can be topped off with a 2x extender for the really far shots.

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While shooting a telephoto, a 1 mm movement on the lens can be feet of movement at focal length. Which is why having a good lens with stabilization and/or shooting using a tripod is favorable as it reduces motion blur caused by the lens moving. Telephoto lenses are not typically fast (given most budgets), even expensive telephoto lenses are f5.6 or smaller which means that typically these lenses are not used during low light or night time shooting.

Pro Tip

Shooting at 800 mm from a canoe is hard. To compensate for the movement of your lens shoot fast at 1/600 or higher. When I am shooting at 800mm the lowest fstop I can get is f11, to compensate for the lack of light,  my iso is set to 1000.

The Go To

If you’re looking to save space, reduce weight, and capture an unbelievable photo, I recommend going with a 24-70 to the base of your choice and don’t forget the shutter release and some basic cleaning tools. This will give you a decent range from a wide angle to small zoom. Finally, for added spice you can always add in a 100-400!

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