Gear for the Brown Bear Photography Adventure
Our Alaskan Brown Bear trip is fast approaching and I wanted to take a few minutes to post some information for those of you who plan to join us. For those of you reading this that may still have an interest we do have two spots open for the spring adventure. The dates are June 18-25. Give Tanya a call if you’re interested.
Summer brown bear photography in Alaska has a few special requirements. I’ll start with clothing then move on to photography equipment. First and foremost when in the Alaska wilderness you want to make sure you stay dry so I highly recommend bringing a good quality rain/waterproof jacket. Not necessarily a rubber coat but Gore-tex or equivalent is ideal. I’ll be wearing a Mountain Hardware breathable outer shell. I’ll also have a fleece inner coat in case the temperature drops, as it can in the north. I’ll be wearing a capalene t-shirt under a heavier outer shirt. The capalene is essential for keeping you dry next to the skin and makes a huge difference if you somehow get wet.
On the bottom half of my body I’ll be wearing a pair of Carhartt pants. I won’t discuss the underwear. That’s up to you. You can figure that one out. Outer shell will be a pair of breathable waterproof pants. I like the ones that have a zip all the way up the side. A full zipper makes it easy to get them on and off when the skies clear or you get back to the lodge. On my feet will be a pair of my favorite knee high boots made by Muck Boots. They also have other brands such as LaCrosse which are every bit as good as the Muck Boot. I probably would have bought the LaCrosse had that style ben available at the time. I’ll be bringing a warm hat and baseball cap as well as light gloves. You should also bring a bug headnet. Typically the bugs aren’t bad when I’ve been shooting brown bears but you never know. Each year can be different than the last. That should cover it for clothing and outerwear. For all your gear a good place to shop is Cabela’s, REI is another favorite store or I’m sure you all have something local you might prefer. Cabela’s is hard to beat. They have everything for the outdoors.
As far as camera equipment goes, this is what I’ll be bringing. For certain I will have my 200-400 zoom, 70-200mm, 24-70mm, 105 macro, a 10-20mm and two Nikon D300s bodies. I may also bring my 600mm but that’s not for certain. Typically a 200-400 on a 1.5 factor D300 body is plenty of reach for the brown bears. If you have a 500mm or 600mm lens feel free to bring it along. A good tripod is essential. I use a Gitzo GT3541 carbon fiber. It’s light and packable and holds a 600mm just fine with a mid-sized Kirk ballhead. Gitzo is also making some very nice, redesigned ball heads that I haven’t tried but I’ve seen them and I’m very impressed. Make sure you bring a rain cover for your larger lenses. I don’t use anything fancy. My main rain cover is the leg of an old Gore-tex rain suit. I cut it down the middle, put Velcro on each side and call it good. It’s light, functional and was inexpensive since the gore-tex suit was a throw away after I ripped the seat out on a sharp rock.
To carry my gear I’ll be using a Lowepro Vertex 200. It’s a backpack and the easiest way to carry your equipment in the field. We won’t likely be carrying our pack long distances but you want to be able to get it on your back and carry it easily if needed. You can read more about my experience with Lowepro and why I think they have the best options in the business for camera backpacks.
Other incidentals you might want to consider are filters such as a polarizer, a split neutral density and any others you might enjoy. They can certainly be helpful for landscapes. Don’t forget your lens cleaning cloth or paper, a hand blower for cleaning your sensor, I like to carry a chamois for drying wet cameras if they get caught in a mist and bring some bug spray. I haven’t had issues with bugs on my brown bears shoots but like I said earlier you need to have something just in case.
That’s it. It will be an amazing trip I can assure you. Especially for those who have never spent time on the ground with an animal the size of a brown bear. We’re able to do this safely because coastal brown bears are different animals than the grizzlies we know in the interior west. A big part of the safety factor is our group size, we use telephotos lenses and we respect the animals first and foremost in all cases. It’s exhilarating and they are truly spectacular animals. It’s especially fun if we’re fortunate enough to see mothers with cubs. This is probably my most enjoyable shoot of all I do.