10 Essential Gadgets For Adventure Photography

Get the essential tools you need to get the perfect shot.

By: Andrew Slaton

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Your camera and lenses are the most important tools in your bag. Hands down. But there are so many more helpful instruments out there that sometimes choosing what to pack and what to leave behind is overwhelming. Here are my top ten adventure photography gadgets...don’t leave home without 'em!

Catch A Mauna Kea Sunset, Hawai'i | Photo: Shane Black

1. Filter Holder

Filters help us achieve the look and feel we want in-camera. I hear the excuse all the time, “why use that when you have photoshop?” But to put it bluntly, getting it right in-camera the first time is where we get the latitude and quality that makes professionals stand out from the amateurs. Though I often handhold my 4×6″ ND filters, my Cokin Z Pro Series Filter Holder allows me to hold my filters (up to 3 at a time) in one consistent place, making it easier and more accurate to shoot long exposures and time lapses. The downside though, is at super wide focal lengths, the edges of the holder are visible in the frame.

2. Velcro… Yeah, You Heard Me… Velcro

How did people live without velco?! On most trips I carry a 15ft roll of the stuff. “Why?”, you may ask. Well, I can tell you many uses, but I seem to find more on nearly every trip! Right now I use Scotch Self-Stick Reclosable Fasteners on my tripod legs to fasten my intervalometer and cable releases. When shooting long exposures and time lapses, you don’t want them flapping around in the wind messing up your shot. I also use it on my pocket wizards to fix them to whatever I need; the power packs, stands, flashes, etc. There are so many uses, I could hardly name them all…

Hike to Photographer’s Point, Wyoming | Photo: Andrew Slaton

3. Filter Pouch

My Lowepro S&F Filter Pouch 100 allows me to keep all of my filters in one place, where I can access them conveniently. It clips around the neck of a tripod, and can hold several circulars, 150mm x 100mm NDs, and even a filter holder.

4. Multi-tool

It’s hard to argue this one. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had emergencies where I’ve had to tighten screws on my lens in the field, or cut something, use my pliers to fix a wayward piece of metal, etc. No matter where you are or what you’re shooting, you’ll thank me if you take your multitool, I promise. And I recommend the Leatherman Wave. It has just about any and every tool you would ever need in the field to fix any problem.

5. Small Stand

The Manfrotto 5001B 74-Inch Nano Stand fits in a standard size suitcase. When space and weight are a premium and I’m traveling around the world, this little bad boy gets packed first. It folds down to less than 20 inches, and can easily support speedlights and boom mics. When full size stands won’t do, this compact solution will save the day for you.

Catch a Sunset On Green Knob, North Carolina | Photo: Steve Yocom

6. Geared Tripod Head

It’s an obvious and necessary accessory… a good tripod head. But recently I’ve been introduced to the Manfrotto 410 Geared Head. It was love at first use for me. It’s heavy and meaty, which I love for it’s stability when shooting long exposures. Now I’ll admit, it’s not the best for mobility with video, but I rarely shoot anything but handheld or static shots in video anyway. Its precise controls, and super fast yet secure quick-release plate keep me loyal. It’s perfect for landscape, long exposures, and architecture…the majority of my work.

7. 2X Tele

A good 2X teleconverter is a must for outdoors shooters. It’s all fine and good to have your 500 or 600 f/4, but let’s face it, they are beasts. And sometimes a 5 or 600 isn’t even enough. A good 2X like the Canon EF 2X III Extender will give you what you need with minimal image degradation. I often use it just in conjunction with my 70-200/2.8 so I can have a 400mm reach without the bulk of a prime, when hiking or backpacking. It’s not better than good prime glass, but it’s a supremely valuable tool when space and weight are a premium.

Camp at Alta Lakes, Colorado | Photo: Andrew Slaton

8. PocketWizards

If you shoot portraits, these are a must. Whether you’re using strobes or speedlights, PocketWizard Plus III Transceivers are the best solution to consistency and stability in communication between your camera and lights. Something that most folks don’t know about these little magic machines…you can also remotely trigger your camera. It comes in really handy for wildlife and sports photography. They run on two AA batteries, and they’re quite small, so you don’t have to worry about them taking up valuable space in your bag.

9. Intervalometer

I really don’t know how I lived without this for so long. Seriously. My work was so much more difficult and time-consuming without the Canon TC-80N3. It will control long exposures and time-lapses like a boss. You can tell it exactly how many frames at what intervals…I mean, come on. Remember the days of the cable release with your 35, medium, or large format camera? Yeah, this totally kicks their butts. And what it does most valuably for me, is that it allows me to get a little shuteye when I’m shooting star pictures and night time-lapses. I really cannot say enough about this genius little gadget.

UPDATE: I love the Canon intervalometer, but I’ve recently found a much cheaper, and even improved option! The Polaroid Wireless intervalometer…ever needed a person for your landscape? But… you’re alone! Well, instead of setting your timer and running 30 yards over and over, this little guy makes ‘small person big landscape’ a breeze. Oh yeah, and it has everything else the Canon wired release has… and knock off $80. Prefer to shoot star pics from the comfort of your tent? No problem.

Hike the Golden Cliffs Trail, Colorado | Photo: Kathleen Morton

10. Graduated ND Filters

Again, it’s only been the last few years since I’ve really seen the necessity of my Singh Ray Graduated Neutral Density filters. I’ve already talked about “getting it right in-camera”…. well, this is how you achieve that. Have you ever been shooting a scene and not been able to balance the amazing sky with your perfectly composed landscape? Well sometimes these shots would be impossible without grad and reverse grad nds. There is no Lightroom or Photoshop equivalent, though one can achieve decent results in post-production. You really can’t argue the difference in quality once you start using the appropriate filters. And it opens your ability to convey the emotion and drama you envisioned for your image without it looking too “photoshopped”. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with Lightroom and Photoshop, I use both everyday for very single image I shoot. What I want to do though as I grow as an imaging professional, is to minimize the distraction to my viewers. I want them to get lost in the fantastic beauty of my image…and I don’t want them seeing the tell-tale signs of having to use Photoshop salvage an image.

The fact is…there are so many wonderful little gadgets that help us take our images to new heights of creativity. I would love to hear which I’ve left off the list that are true must-haves.

Hike to Mystic Falls, Colorado | Photo: Andrew Slaton

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.