Essential Photography Gear for a 7 Day Wilderness Canoe Trip

Sep 1, 2016

JP Danko

JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand.

Essential Photography Gear for a 7 Day Wilderness Canoe Trip

Sep 1, 2016

JP Danko

JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand.

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Photography Gear for A Canoe Trip

I recently returned from a seven day wilderness canoe trip to Algonquin Provincial Park with my family.

The purpose of the trip was half family vacation and half extended photoshoot for my portfolio at Stocksy United.

Backcountry canoeing with an eight and ten year old meant that we had to stick to a relatively moderate route – but paddling roughly 60 km in total with 10 km of portages also meant that we had to pack as light and compact as possible.

So when it came to photography gear, I could only bring the essentials – but what camera equipment do you really need to pack for seven days in the woods?

Essential Photography Gear

I use all prime lenses, so if you have zoom lenses you can substitute an equivalent zoom. Since prime lenses are generally a lot smaller (and therefore lighter than zooms), I find that two or even three primes that cover the same focal range as a zoom are roughly equivalent in total size and weight – but use your own judgement to figure out what works for you.

Camera Body

My camera of choice is a Nikon D800 – its a fantastic landscape and low light camera and not overly large compared to say a D5.

The D800 is also incredibly rugged – I don’t baby my gear (including occasionally shooting fireworks at it) so I brought a camera that I knew could survive a little rough treatment.

Photography Gear for A Canoe Trip
Nikon D800 with Sigma ART 35mm f/1.4 and warming polarizer

Batteries

I brought three batteries. I was on my last battery by the end of the trip (but I was also doing some live view work which eats battery life like crazy). I opted to bring spare batteries instead of a solar charger because a solar charger is larger and heavier than a few spare batteries.

Storage

I also brought two 32 gig CF cards. I ended up taking around 1000 photos over 7 days and both cards were full. In hindsight, I should have brought at least another 32 gig card as a spare / overflow (or you know, be more careful before I hit the shutter release…).

Wide Angle Lens – 35mm

I think a 35mm is the most versatile lens there is – so I made sure to pack my Sigma ART 35mm f/1.4.

I absolutely love this lens for outdoor photography – it’s wide enough to use for landscapes and tight enough to use with people without a lot of obvious distortion. Its also perfect for environmental portraiture, which is my primary style outdoors.

Photography Gear for a 7 Day Wilderness Canoe Trip
Nikon D800 with Sigma ART 35mm f/1.4 and warming polarizer

Ultra Wide Angle Lens – 20mm or 14mm

You can’t go on a canoe trip without an ultra wide angle lens.

My Nikon 20mm f/1.8 is my usual go to ultra wide angle lens – however, for this trip it was in the shop so I decided to pack a Nikon 14mm f/2.8 instead.

In hindsight, the 14mm can’t be used with front filters and distortion in the corners is much more noticeable than with a 20mm. (In fact, the look of the 14mm is so close to the look of a fisheye, it would be more practical to just bring the much smaller and lighter fisheye).

Nikon’s 20mm f/1.8 is also a little smaller and much lighter than the 14mm.

I did get a few great images with the 14mm, but at the expense of a little angle of view, I would have much preferred the 20mm.

Photography Gear for a 7 Day Wilderness Canoe Trip
Nikon D800 with Nikkor 14mm f/2.8

Filters

A polarizing filter is essential for landscape photography, so I brought a standard 77mm polarizing filter along with a warming polarizer that I have been using lately (it’s just like sunglasses for your camera!).

I also packed a 1.2 neutral density filter (necessary for photographing running water with a low shutter speed during the day).

Photography Gear for a 7 Day Wilderness Canoe Trip
Nikon D800 with Sigma  ART 35mm and 1.2 Neutral Density Filter

Remote Camera Shutter Release & Tripod

If you’re planning on doing any long exposures of the night sky, you’ll also want to make sure you have a remote shutter release and a tripod. I brought a Joby Gorillapod and my trusty Vello Shutterboss.

Ahead By A Century Inspiration from Tragically Hip
Nikon D800 with Sigma ART 35mm f/1.4 on Joby Gorillapod triggered with Vello Shutterboss

Cleaning Supplies

The last thing you want to do while on an extended camping trip is rely on your shirt to clean your lenses – so I bought a set of lens pens along just in case.

Nice To Have Photography Gear

Along with the essential photography gear, there are a few other items that are nice to have.

Normal Lens – 50mm or Short Telephoto 85mm

A 35mm is great for almost everything, but sometimes you need to get a little tighter for details or portraits where you want to isolate your subject.

I brought a 50mm Sigma ART f/1.4 but I only used it a few times.

In the future I think I will bring a short telephoto lens instead – like an 85mm f/1.4. The 35mm can fill in for a 50 in most cases, but an 85mm would give me a lot more ability to separate my subject from the background.

Photography Gear for a 7 Day Wilderness Canoe Trip
Nikon D800 with Sigma ART 50mm f/1.4 and warming polarizer

Fisheye Lens

A fisheye is a bit of a gimmick – but the Nikon 16mm f/2.8 Fisheye is actually very compact and lightweight. I did end up using the fisheye on a few occasions to capture images that would not have been possible with any other lens, so I’m glad I brought it along.

Photography Gear for a 7 Day Wilderness Canoe Trip
Nikon D800 with Nikkor 16mm f/2.8 Fisheye

Filters

I brought a set of graduated neutral density filters with me because you never know when you’ll really need a graduated ND and it’s really frustrating if you don’t have one available.

Luxury Photography Gear

I had a few images in mind before I left that required some specialized equipment – so I packed what I call luxury items along specifically to capture those images.

Seaport Digital Megamast

OK – this is a totally impractical item to bring along on a wilderness canoe trip (read our full review here) – but I really wanted to capture at least a few aerial style images of the canoe. Weighing in at 15lbs and 62 inches long – I had to strap the megamast to the canoe during portages – increasing the weight of my ultralight 17′ kevlar canoe from 42lbs to nearly 60lbs.

That is a BIG difference in weight that is really noticeable after a few hundred meters on a portage.

Photography Gear for A Canoe Trip
Nikon D800 with Sigma 35mm f/1.4 ART with warming polarizer and Seaport Digital Megamast

Remote Live View & Control

It’s easy enough to guestimate the scene that you’re going to photograph from the top of the Megamast – but for moving subjects remote live view is necessary for composition. To solve this problem, I packed in a TP Link router and my mobile phone with the DSLR Dashboard app installed (Android or iOS) (here’s how to set it up step-by-step for only $40).

Photography Gear for a 7 Day Wilderness Canoe Trip
Nikon D800 with Nikkor 14mm f/2.8 from Seaport Digital Megamast with TP Link Live View

Strobe and Radio Triggers

I didn’t bring a strobe with me on this trip, but I wish I did. I wanted to do a few of those images with the glowing tent – but without a strobe it was impossible to get enough light from our flashlights unless it was completely dark.

Telephoto Lens

I’m not a wildlife photographer, so I never have much use for a long telephoto. However, depending on where you’re travelling, a long telephoto can be useful for landscape photography as well.

Telephoto lenses are big and bulky, so for this particular trip I didn’t bring one.

My 7 Day Canoe Trip Camera Bag

Here’s a photo of everything I had with me (except the Seaport Digital Megamast). I was able to just barely stuff everything into a little Lowepro over the shoulder camera bag – which weighed in at 14 lbs. The Megamast added another 15 lbs for a total of almost 30 lbs just for camera gear.

Packing for a 7 day wilderness canoe trip camera gear

What Essential Camera Gear Do You Take With You?

If you’re trying to pack as light and compact as possible – what camera gear would you take with you?

What would you leave at home?

What’s the one camera and lens combo that you couldn’t live without?

Leave a comment below and let us know!

Photography Gear for A Canoe Trip
My view for 90% of the trip. BTW – never stand up in a canoe – unless you want to get a cool perspective from the back with a fisheye…
Photography Gear for A Canoe Trip
And my view for the remaining 10% #MrCanoeHead

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JP Danko

JP Danko

JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand.

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7 responses to “Essential Photography Gear for a 7 Day Wilderness Canoe Trip”

  1. Erwin R Avatar
    Erwin R

    I’d bring my DSLR with a 24-70 Lens. I’d rather have a little longer shutter speed / higher ISO for the loss of light, compared to the primes…

  2. James Avatar
    James

    JP, you should really consider/test-out the Nikkor 16-35 ƒ4 – though it’s not all that fast, it does have a decent VR, takes 77mm filters, weighs nothing and performed well beyond what the nay-sayers on the web would have you believe.

    Before I purchased mine, I caught a YouTube video in which the poster had a D700 with the 16-35 attached sitting in a running shower for well over 15 minutes, that sold me!

    1. JP Danko Avatar
      JP Danko

      Thanks for the suggestion!

  3. Ryan Avatar
    Ryan

    For me the most important thing is my Pelican case(s). They weigh a few pounds, but sure beats dropping you camera bag in the drink at a rough landing. (I also keep a few essentials under the bottom foam, like spare printed map and spare car key)

  4. Fyrblade Avatar
    Fyrblade

    With the gear and family, do I dare ask how many back and forths you had to do during portages?

    1. JP Danko Avatar
      JP Danko

      No back and forth – you do portages in one go! I had about 100lbs in total, wife had 60 and kids 10 each. Our longest portage was just over 1km which is about the limit before significant swearing sets in.

  5. TT Avatar
    TT

    I really enjoyed your insight, I recently donated some Canon gear to the bottom of a river in Algonquin so this post really speaks to me. I have been looking at other companies and formats than Canon – I had a 50D from 2008 – and decided I should move on to FF or a Fuji APS-C. I’m between a 5D MkIII or the D800 but I really enjoy the Nikon primes.

    Thanks!

    P.S. you should send some of these to Ontario Parks! I’m sure they’d love to publish some.