Come Prepared for the Unexpected

Author: Amy Novotny


When photographing mother nature, we know that nothing is guaranteed.  To make efficient use of our time and resources, we check the weather forecast or follow animal migration patterns, but we cannot always predict events accurately.  Furthermore, as we develop our skills as a photographer, we begin to accumulate more equipment–lens, filters, lens hoods, etc–in attempt to be prepared for various types of photography.  These items can result in an equipment bag that can eventually be too heavy for us to carry.  Unfortunately, this often results in being very selective in which equipment we carry to a shoot.

In the past month, a group of photographers joined me in two different shoots with two different purposes: wildlife photography of the Sandhill cranes in McNeal, Arizona and landscape photography of a sunset at Watson Lake in Prescott, Arizona.  In the first shoot, four of us drove down south to capture the migration of the Sandhill cranes and to photograph the birds returning to their roosting spot in the evening and their subsequent departure in the morning.  Having never shot wildlife outside of a zoo and not having a lens of focal length over 200 mm, I rented a lens from a local camera shop that suited my camera and reached a focal length of 400 mm.  Unfortunately, an accident at the shop led to that lens becoming unavailable and they attempted to provide me with an alternate lens that reached 600 mm in focal length, but they were not confident that the technology matched.  I decided to bring the rest of my lens with me as a precaution.

Upon reaching McNeal for sunset, we went out to the trail to photograph the birds. One of the other photographers only brought her 500mm lens with a tripod, and due to the weight and bulk, left her other lens at home.  Unfortunately, I soon learned that my rented lens would not stabilize despite seeking help from the other tech-savvy photographers.  I could not capture the birds without blur, and initially, I was very disappointed.  

The other photographer with the 500 mm lens enjoyed the shoot immensely, as she had the appropriate setup.  However, as the sun began to set, I walked around and spotted a nice water scene and pulled out my trusty wide-angle lens for some landscape photography.  Soon, the clouds began to light up with pink and orange hues that became a deep red and turned into one of the most vibrant sunsets I have ever seen.  I did not stop shooting for 45 minutes, as what had been an initial disappointing shoot turned into one of my favorites.  The photographer with the 500 mm lens tried what she could with her current equipment and just enjoyed the sunset with her eyes.

One solution to the equipment challenge that I learned on the second photography trip to Watson lake is that some people bring a cart to haul their extra equipment.  This worked well on flat trails but became problematic on uneven rocky trails.  Others bring a couple of zoom lens that cover both wide angle and telephoto needs.  The purpose of this second trip was to catch the reflections of the Granite Dells rock formations on the still waters of Watson Lake at sunset.  The clouds were not present as we had hoped, but the lake was full of waterfowl.  Thankfully, I had brought my telephoto lens, and since the cormorants were close enough to the hiking trail, I was able to practice wildlife photography with my 200 mm lens.


Even though mother nature can be unpredictable, it allows for great opportunities.  Finding the balance in selecting which lens to carry is difficult when preparing for a trip and when hiking is involved, but being prepared for the unexpected can be a pleasant surprise.

Amy Novotny is a Volunteer Trip Leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.