Best kit for wildlife photographers
Wildlife photographer and journalist Graeme Green rounds up his favourite photography gear, from camera rain covers and battery cases to foldable chairs.
No matter what anyone says about good images being all in the eye of the photographer, there’s no denying that equipment plays a part. Having a decent camera and lenses means you’re more likely to achieve better-quality shots, while a kitbag of appropriate accessories will increase your comfort and wellbeing in the field.
Good boots, jackets and waterproof trousers are worth their weight in gold, and a comfortable chair could be the best £99 you’ve ever spent. Photographic gear is not particularly cheap these days, but don’t forget you can always rent or buy second-hand.
Vanguard Alta Rain Cover
Keeping cameras dry is important – though many weather-sealed cameras can take a bit of rain, it pays to keep any electronic as safe as possible. To prevent the rain damaging your cameras and lenses, Vanguard have Alta Rain Covers, which are handy to keep in your kit bag for when the skies darken and clouds gather.
They’re available in four sizes: small, medium, large and extra large, in order to cover a range of lens' sizes, up to a 600mm f/4 lens. They are easy to fit quickly over your camera when the storms hit, and fold down into a compact pouch to tuck away in your bag or pocket.
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SanDisk Extreme PRO UHS-II Card
It’s a small but absolutely essential piece of kit: the memory card. In my experience, more than any other type of photographic situations, wildlife photography absolutely eats up memory. You can be outside for long days photographing all kinds of wildlife, and when you’re in front of remarkable sightings or one-off behaviours, the last thing you want to do is run out of space on your cards, forcing you to flick through the back of your camera to delete images and make room, while unique photo opportunities pass you by.
The SanDisk Extreme PRO UHS-II Card has write-speeds of up to 260MB/s6 to handle rapid shots in succession, and can handle RAW and JPEG. Take as many memory cards as you can afford, and take time to consider just how many hundreds of images you might take in any one wildlife location, so you’re not caught short for memory when the magic is happening. You also don’t want cheap cards that might let you down or lose your images.
Holding cameras in position for any length of time, as you track or watch wildlife, can get wearing on the arms, especially if you’re loaded with a long, heavy lens. There are all kinds of devices to solve the problem, including tripods that mount onto a wound down car door. But I find the simplest and easiest for me to take the weight off my arms is a cushion. My wife made me a small cushion, with a zip at the side, so I can fill it with sand or soil when I get to a country, which saves packing the weight or taking up bag space with a fully loaded beanbag or cushion.
A small cushion under the lens is quick and easy to move around if you’re in a safari vehicle and want to quickly change your position. There are plenty of beanbags to be found, including camo and other designs and with waterproof fabric, on Camera Bean Bags’ website, from the Standard Camera Bean Bag up.
Vanguard Alta Battery Case
When they’re carrying such precious treasures (your memories and artistic creations), it’s worth keeping SD cards safe, and replacement batteries dry. The large Alta Battery Case (pictured) has space to store up to four camera batteries and various SD cards together, so they’re easy to find when you need to make a quick swap, so you don’t lose time as wildlife disappears.
Scarpa Rush TRK GTX
Wildlife photography takes you into all kinds of weather and terrain, not least wet and boggy ground. Keeping feet dry is important. I’ve got a few different pairs of hiking boots, and have recently been using the Scarpa Rush TRK GTX, which are solid, comfortable and tough, but with a lightweight feel. They have a Goretex lining and keep feet dry, good for long days in the outdoors, without feeling heavy or achey on the feet. They’ve also got a good grip and solid ankle support. They’re available, with slightly different coloured designs, for both men and women.
Your camera isn’t the only thing that needs to stay dry. If you’re going to take great photos, and live to take photos another day, it’s essential to keep warm and dry while taking photos, especially when you in the great outdoors elements from dusk to dawn.
I’ve been using Páramo’s Halcon Jacket. The Nikwax Analogy Waterproof fabric provides protection from the wind and rain, without the noisy rustle of other waterproof materials. With good ventilation, it’s cool when you’re moving around a lot, but for a light, thin jacket it’s also surprisingly warm, protective and solidly wind-proof when the bad weather hits. The front lower pockets are also a good size, large enough to hold a lens or two, to keep your hands free. It’s available in green, too, which is a must for plenty of wildlife situations in the UK and abroad.
Trevail Hooded Down Jacket
- Buy now from The North Face
I also really like The North Face’s down jackets as a warming, insulating layer when I’m working outside in the UK or in other cooler countries. It’s extremely light and the fabric is really breathable, so you keep cool and comfortable on the move. But the layers of down insulation do a good job of keeping heat in and keeping you warm when staying still for a while or in colder weather. It compresses down well to fit into rucksacks or kit bags pretty easily. It also has a close-fitting rain hood, which is fine for showers, though you’ll want a more solidly waterproof layer on, like the Halcon Jacket (above) when worse weather arrives.
Fjällräven High Coast Hydratic Trousers
Spending a day with sodden trousers clinging to wet legs is no fun. Fjällräven’s High Coast Hydratic Trousers are wind and waterproof trousers, another essential for spending time in the great wide open, where any weather conditions are possible. They’re breathable, with additional large ventilation zips, and have a generous fit and an elasticated waist, so it’s easy to pull them on over other your other clothes, plus zippers on the leg bottoms so you can take the trousers off over without needing to remove muddy boots. Velcro straps makes it easy to tighten the trousers tight to make them more snug and less likely for the ankles to catch on the undergrowth. They’re available for both men and women.
Haglöfs’ Bow Gloves and Layback Beanie
I also keep warm with a good pair of gloves and a hat. Haglöfs’ Bow Gloves (pictured) have a snug fit, a stretchy material but keep hands warm on cold days, and they have a Smartphone-compatible index finger and thumb, so you don’t need to take your gloves off to reply to a text and say “Do not disturb - I’m out taking photos.”
Made from 100% Merino wool, the Layback Beanie is soft, warm and not itchy, like some woollen hats, keeping your noggin warm but wicking away moisture.
Hide Tragopan V6
Getting successful photos of some creatures, like birds, is a lot more likely if they haven’t all been scared away, or if they don’t know you’re there, which is where hides or blinds come in. They’re popular with a lot of photographers.
Tragopan’s Photo Hide Tragopan V6 is a hide designed for quick, easy deployment. It’s light to carry (3.3kg), with a waterproof material that’s also made to keep it cool inside on sunny days inside the hide, as well as keeping the interior dark, so your shadow or movement doesn’t give the game away to the local wildlife. The hide has several windows for poking your camera through and taking your pictures of blissfully unaware animals.
Helinox Ground Chair or Helinox Chair Two
Most wildlife photographers will have spent time on their chest, on their knees, or sat on the ground, getting wet, muddy or dusty. But if you’re going to be sat still, in a hide or outside, you may as well throw a bit of comfort into the mix. Helinox have several chairs that are lightweight, compact and easy to carry, including the Ground Chair (pictured above), which has a touch aluminium allow frame and clever design. It comes in at just 615g and packs down into a 30cm long bag. This chair offers a bit more comfort, with a higher, wider seat and a high-backed support, with side pockets to keep snacks or small bits of gear. Helinox also have Chair Two, which has an extended back for increased support.