I wrote this article for the wonderful photographers participating in my upcoming Coastal Maine Photography Workshop at the Spruce Point Inn. This workshop is fast approaching but there is still room for more guests to join us for this amazing small-group learning adventure.
The Coast of Maine is one of my favorite places to photograph. Maine’s rocky shoreline is a place that always inspires me. We are planning our days together during this workshop around the potential for great light and stunning scenery. Hopefully, the advice in this article will help you to select the right camera equipment for our upcoming adventures.
Please let me state emphatically here at the beginning that none of the equipment recommendations in this article are required for our workshop. I believe that there are certain photographic tools that are well suited for our time on the coast together but please do not rush out and buy a whole bunch of new equipment for this workshop. You can capture great images around the ocean with any camera body, a sturdy tripod, and a couple of spare batteries.
This article is for information purposes only and again you are welcome to participate in our program with any type of camera system. Further, almost all of the equipment that I recommend in this article is available for rent from reputable camera rental companies like BorrowLenses.com. Renting a nice lens, or a camera body, for a photographic workshop like ours makes a whole lot more sense than buying something expensive that you will not use often in your regular photographic endeavors.
Camera Body Advice
Working with a modern digital SLR, or mirrorless, camera body can boost your photography workshop experience. The following camera bodies are all excellent choices for this workshop.
Ironically, the Canon 6D and the Nikon D750 are usually the least expensive cameras on this list and yet they arguably offer the best image quality. Other models have more megapixels, sturdier construction, and other features but for image quality at night these “entry-level” full-frame DSLR bodies can’t be beat.
Mirrorless systems like the Sony Alpha a7R II, the Sony Alpha a7r, the Fuji X-T1, and the Olympus OM-D E-M5 are also excellent choices for this sort of workshop. Mirrorless systems like these are much smaller and lighter than their DSLR cousins yet their image quality is equally spectacular. The only drawback to most mirrorless camera systems is that there are usually far fewer lenses available and their battery life tends to be much shorter.
Battery life should not be a problem though on this workshop. Spare batteries for most digital cameras are inexpensive and we will have plenty opportunities to recharge our batteries everyday throughout this workshop. I have been using Watson brand camera batteries lately instead of the batteries sold by my camera manufacturer and I have seen little difference in their performance when compared to my more expensive name-brand batteries.
A couple of spare memory cards are also recommended for this field photography workshop. Opinions on which brands / models of digital camera memory cards are the best and why vary widely. I have no particularly brand loyalty here and am more influenced by price than claims of top-notch performance. I have been buying Lexar Professional memory cards in two packs lately just because I save a little bit of money by buying two memory cards at once.
I suggest bringing a wide-angle lens and one reasonably powerful telephoto lens along on this workshop. Wide-angle lenses are my favorites for sunrise and sunset shots beside the ocean. Wide-angle lenses are also the best choice for night photography if we get a nice clear night. I am particularly fond of wide-angle lens in the 16-30mm range on the SLR lens measurement scale. Canon, Nikon, Tamron, and Sigma all make excellent wide-angle and telephoto lenses.
Recommend wide-angle lenses include:
- Sigma 18-35 HSM f/1.8 Art Lens
- Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM Lens
- Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM Lens
- Nikon AF-S Zoom Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED AF Lens
- Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24mm f/1.4G ED Wide Angle Lens
- Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens
Short telephoto lenses are my favorites for shots of passing sailboats, for closeup shots around the lobster traps, and for portraits. A telephoto in the 100-200mm range should be more than adequate for the eagles, osprey, seals, and any other types of wildlife that we might encounter in our travels together. A telephoto in the 100mm range is also a great choice for portraits of the friendly people that we will meet along the shore and the wonderful hospitable staff at the resort.
Wide-angle lenses are compact and they fit well in most camera bags. The same is not true though for large telephoto lenses. Fortunately, a monster telephoto lens will not be necessary here. You do not need to carry around a huge 500mm lens to have a great time on the coast of Maine.
Recommended telephoto lenses include the:
- 50-100mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art Lens for Canon EF
- Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Zoom Lens
- Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG APO OS HSM
- Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens
- Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM Lens
- Canon 1.4x EF Extender III (Teleconverter)
- Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II Lens
- Nikon NIKKOR AF-S 70-200mm f/4G ED VR Telephoto Zoom Lens
- Nikon TC-14E II 1.4x Teleconverter for D-AF-S & AF-I Lenses ONLY
If you want to add more zoom power to your equipment without adding a lot more weight then consider adding a 1.4x teleconverter tube onto your favorite 100-300mm telephoto lens. Teleconverter tubes are an easy way to add more magnification power without spending a lot of money or carrying a gigantic heavy lens all over the place. Please do your research though because not every telephoto lens will accept a teleconverter tube and not all teleconverter tubes produce top-notch results.
Tripod Legs and Ball Head Advice
Nothing will improve the quality of your landscape photography as much as a sturdy tripod and a solid ball head. Many of the techniques that make photographing by the sea so rewarding, like long-exposure images or time-lapse photography, simply cannot be done without a reliable tripod system. Everything that we will shoot at dusk, at dawn, or at night requires a sturdy tripod.
When it comes to tripod legs there are really two choices: aluminum versus carbon fiber. Carbon fiber has almost every technical advantage but carbon fiber gear is always more expensive. Unless keeping things as light as possible is a big priority for you then aluminum legs will work just fine and there is no need for anything fancy on this workshop.
If you are shopping, please choose a tripod that can adequately support your camera and your heaviest lens. Choose a leg set that will position the camera at a comfortable height for you without extending the center column. When in doubt, always choose something a little beefier than you think that you will need because your next camera body might be heavier than the one that you currently own. Recommend tripod leg sets include the:
- Manfrotto MT055XPRO3
- Manfrotto MT190XPRO3
- Induro Alloy 8M AT213 Tripod
- Induro Carbon CT113
- Gitzo GT1542 Mountaineer
You will also need a sturdy ball head on top of your trustworthy tripod legs. Trying to work with anything less than a solid reliable ball head is an incredibly frustrating experience. Recommended ball heads include the Induro BHL1, the Kirk BH-3, and the Really Right Stuff BH-40.
Yes, the price tag on a Really Right Stuff, or a Kirk ball head, is a hard pill to swallow. My Really Right Stuff BH-40 was not an easy purchase for me to make but it is an investment that has paid off time after time. Nothing has improved my photography as much as this purchase. Remember though that high-quality tripods, and ball head systems, are also available for rent and that there is no reason to spend hundreds of dollars on something that you are not going to use again and again.
Circular Polarizing Filters
A circular polarizing filter is a wonderful help when photographing around water and other reflective surfaces. Recommended circular polarizing filters include the the Hoya HRT Circular Polarizing Filter, the B+W Kaesemann XS-Pro Circular Polarizer MRC Nano Filter, and the Formatt Hitech Firecrest SuperSlim Circular Polarizing Filter.
Move the Before / After slider to see how the Marshall Point Lighthouse looks to the camera with and without a circular polarizing filter.
Strong neutral density filters are also fun toys to have when photographing around the ocean. Neutral density filters are like sunglasses for your camera and they are really useful when you want to shoot at slow shutter speeds under broad daylight conditions. Neutral density filters allow us to create the milky water effect from the motion of the waves around the shoreline even during bright daylight hours.
Unfortunately, high-quality strong neutral density filters from brands like Lee, Formatt Hitech, Hoya, and B&W are very expensive. I will talk more about the different types of neutral density filters during our lecture time together but if you are interested in purchasing one of these tools before our workshop please give me a call or send me an email for more specific recommendations.
Cable Release / Intervalometer / Remote Trigger
None of the items in this category are essential equipment for this workshop but any of these toys can be quite helpful when shooting long-exposures or images at twilight. Simple wired cable releases like the Vello RS-C2II Wired Remote for Canon DSLRs or the Vello RS-N1 II Wired Remote for Nikon DSLRs are perfectly fine for long-exposure photography.
An intervalometer is a fancier type of cable release with an integrated clock chip. An intervalometer can be programmed to fire the camera for you. Intervalometers are essential tools for time-lapse photography projects where we need the camera to shoot frame after frame without any variation. Although all of the different camera manufacturers make their own brand-name intervalometer, this is a place where I see absolutely no reason to pay top-dollar. Third-party options like the Vello Camera Remote are every bit as useful as the name brand products at a fraction of the price.
Laptops and Software
A laptop is not required for this workshop. I plan on demonstrating a little image processing using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom CC, Adobe Photoshop CC, and more each day but the focus of this workshop is not on image processing skills. If you have a laptop that you use for image processing then you are welcome to play along but it is not required.
Clothing Recommendations for our Workshop
September is usually a very pleasant month on the Maine coast. September temperatures are normally in the high sixties during the day and in the low fifties a night. If the fog rolls in though, or the wind begins to blow across the harbor, it can get chilly fast. Function is far more important than fashion here. It is always wise to bring a raincoat, a wool or fleece insulating layer, and a warm hat along on all of our excursions. Good rain gear is always fashionable in Maine!
Wool socks, and a light pair of mittens, are recommended too especially for our sunrise excursions. Hopefully, we will need to wear more sunblock than sweaters on our trips around the coastline but we are going to be up early and out late. Better to have extra layers that you never had to wear with you when we go out than to wish that you had something warmer to put on while we are out shooting. You can always shed an insulating layer if the sun comes out and then put it back on if needed after the sun sets.
We are not going to do a lot of walking on this workshop but we will be clambering in and out of boats. We will also be strolling around the edge of the sea everyday. Please bring shoes with good traction along for our program. Slick leather loafers, high-heals, and flip flops will not work well here. Photography is no fun if your toes are freezing on a wet foggy morning. A spare pair of comfortable shoes for use back at the resort after a day in the field is an excellent idea too.
Finally, one of the best parts of this workshop are our meals. The Spruce Point Inn, and Chef Roberts, pride themselves on the quality of their cuisine. Oh boy, are we going to eat well! Ninety-five percent of our meals together will be informal casual affairs where your everyday workshop clothes are perfectly acceptable.
When dining in our own private dining room, the informal Bogie’s Restaurant, and almost everywhere else that we go you are welcome to wear whatever you would like. For a special epicurean treat though we might dine together one night in the Spruce Point’s signature 88 Restaurant.
Dress code for the 88 Restaurant is best described as “Smart Casual.” Collared shirts and dress trousers for gentlemen and equally appropriate attire for ladies are appreciated. Dressing up a little for one special meal together is all part of the fun for me when staying at such a fabulous historic resort.
Again, your practical everyday attire will be fine for all of our other meals and most of the time we will dine together in our own private dinning room! If you have any additional questions about this workshop please give call me at 406-356-6279.
See you soon!
Coastal Maine Photography Workshop Fall 2015 Participant Slideshow
Click the Full Screen icon in the far right-hand corner of the video frame to watch this video in full 720p HD
Music: Twilight is Here (Instrumental) performed by KP Devlin
Licensed from iStock.com