Welcome to part two of the My Kits series, in which I outline what gear I use and why I use it in my work as a professional outdoor photographer. In the first post, I broke down the essentials of my Commercial Photography Kit, a system built around image quality and gear redundancy, with little consideration paid to size and weight. In this second post, we’ll look at the kit I use for Action Sports Photography. Each individual item, or the whole shooting match can be rented from BorrowLenses.com, which I recommend either as a solution to avoid the overhead of owning equipment, or as a means by which to experiment and test as you work to build your own perfect kit. But before we get into the nuts and bolts, a bit about how I shoot, which will shed some light on why I make the gear choices that I do.
There is one sure thing that I’ve learned about shooting sports: to get the best images, you have to be an active participant in the activities. That means that I set out with the intention of skiing, climbing, biking and paddling right alongside my athletes. This serves the purpose of giving better access and connection with my subjects, and also ensures that I cover enough ground to see a lot of opportunities to create a variety of images. The downside of this immersive approach is that I have my work cut out for me when it comes to bringing my equipment along for the ride. With this in mind, I’ve created a kit for action sports photography that I think hits the sweet spot between performance and weight and allows me to push my boundaries as a participant in adventures and capture the best images I can along the way.
If you read through this gear list, and think I’m crazy for carrying so much weight, fear not. My next post will be about my Backcountry Photography Kit, which trades in some technical performance for a huge size and weight savings, and can be easily taken most places in the world.
Nikon D4s – My primary camera body choice is the same for my Commercial Kit and for this Action Sports Kit. Why? Because it’s the best damn camera I’ve ever used. Sports cameras need to be fast, and this one does 11 frames a second while brilliantly tracking focus of rapidly moving subjects. The batteries last forever, the high ISO performance is mind boggling and the camera is so comfortable, it feels like an extension of my body. If you get the sense that I really, really like the D4s, you’re catching on quickly.
Nikon D750 Backup – Backup bodies mostly suck because they are usually just bricks of metal and circuitry adding bulk and weight to your already hulking backpack. But, if you make your living with photography, there’s no excuse to stop shooting because of a glitch with your camera. I’ve found the Nikon D750 to be an acceptable compromise with performance that reasonably replaces my D4s (24MP Full Frame, 6.5FPS, same ISO performance, same focus performance) at a far more reasonable size, weight and price. Stay tuned for future posts in which this little beauty becomes my primary body.
Nikon 20mm 2.8 – Here’s where I really start shaving bulk off of my kit so that I can be a little more fleet of foot. By far the best wide angle solution for Nikons is the amazing 14-24 2.8. I own it, and love shooting it, but at 35 ounces, it’s heavier than my 24-70 and my 70-200 (f/4). That’s just crazy talk. At less than 1/3 the weight and a fraction of the size, the 20mm 2.8 gives me a wide angle solution that is sharp and fast with minimal distortion and old school durability. It’s not the most versatile lens in the game, but it does the job and comes with a very small impact on the backpack.
Nikon 24-70mm 2.8 – The work horse. I could probably get away with shooting a whole assignment with just this lens and my D4s. Everything that needs to be said about this lens has already been said. It’s simply one of the greatest lenses ever made. Action, landscapes, portraits, you name it.
Nikon 70-200mm 4.0 – Two years ago I did a happy dance because Nikon finally caught up with Canon in releasing an extremely capable 70-200 f/4 lens with state of the art technology including 4 stops of image stabilization. It’s 40% lighter than the f/2.8 version while only sacrificing minimally in low light performance, which I find is mostly compensated for by the brilliant high ISO performance of the D4s. If you carry your own gear much further than your car or office, I’d seriously recommend looking at this lens.
Indoor Carbon Fiber CT113 Tripod with Kirk BH-3 Ball Head – Dirty secret: I really don’t like shooting with tripods. I find them slow, bulky and creatively inhibiting. If I can handhold a shot and get a clean image, I’ll do it every time. But, tripods are a fact of life, so all of my pro kits include one. For Action Sports, I opt for an fairly lightweight carbon fiber tripod that can handle a 17 lb. load while tipping the scales at under 3 lbs. The Kirk Ball Head is the same theory, heavy enough to do the job, but as light as I feel I can get away with. Tip: hang a weight (like your camera bag) off of the center column of you lightweight tripod in order to add serious stability.
EN-EL 18a Batteries – Rule 1: Never ever run out of batteries. These amazing batteries for the D4s generally go for at least a full day of shooting, but I keep at least 3 of these on me at all times.
EN-EL15 Batteries – These D750 batteries are not quite as power packed as the D4s batteries, I generally plan to burn through 2 of these per day of heavy shooting, so I carry 3-4 in my kit.
Lexar Professional 1000x 128GB CompactFlash Cards – These cards are beyond amazing in speed and capacity. I never have to wait for the cards to keep up with the camera, and rarely have to change cards, which keeps me shooting…which is the whole point.
SanDisk 64GB 280MB/s SD Card – These are new, fast and awesome, I love them as the memory cards for my backup D750.
Giottos Rocket Air Blower – For keeping the outside of the camera clean in dirty environments and for blowing debris off of the sensor once I have access to a clean area in which to expose and clean the sensor. This is often used in conjunction with sensor swabs and cleaning fluid.
Not included in this kit: Lighting equipment, remote triggers and various grip equipment. Select projects will call for some of these elements, but since each of these scenarios is unique, I didn’t include the gear in this post, because the intention is to outline the essential pieces of equipment I always bring in my Action Sports Kit.
Stay tuned for the next post in which I continue to shave weight to build a perfect Backcountry Photography Kit for more immersive adventures. Also, share your thoughts and questions in the comments below, I love to talk shop!
Full Disclosure: BorrowLenses.com supports select projects of mine with the necessary equipment, and I share the benefits of utilizing their services. I have been a customer of BorrowLenses in the past, and will continue to utilize them beyond the scope of this arrangement. I hope you will find them a great solution as you seek new and exciting ways to explore the world of photography and video.