Let’s get you set up with the right photography gear for your trip to the Wild Atlantic Way. Before we talk about that though, let me caution you against rushing out and buying a bunch of new gear for your trip. I wouldn’t do that. It is very likely that you don’t need it. As most of you have already learned, great photographs are much more about the skill and creativity of the photographer than they are about the camera or lens or other gadget. Further, on prior trips to Ireland, I’ve seen people have portions of their trips ruined because they had a new camera they were not familiar with. If you are not intimately familiar with your camera, it only takes one faulty setting to shut you down until you figure it out.
What will you be shooting?
When you are deciding what photography gear you will bring, of course you need to decide what you are actually going to be shooting. Different types of photography mandate different gear. For example, if you are shooting landscapes, you will likely want a wide-angle lens, and a tripod will be mandatory. If you like taking pictures of people, then you will want a little bit longer of a lens, and you might want a flash. And if you plan to photograph wildlife, you’ll need a very long lens.
So what will you photograph in Ireland? It will vary from person to person, but for most people the answer is: “a little bit of of everything.” The only thing I can say for sure is that you will be taking pictures of the beautiful landscapes and the ruins. Beyond that, most people shoot a variety of things. Some people photograph people – whether they be friends or strangers. I know others who like to take close-ups of things. I feel certain we will have a few wildlife photographers with us. Others just walk around and photograph whatever captures their fancy.
For this reason, I’m going to assume you are going to be rather general in terms of what you photograph in Ireland. I’ll assume you’ll be shooting the scenery, but that you’ll also want to photograph everything from ruins, to wildlife, to interesting characters in the pub.
Let’s talk first about cameras. Remember that I really don’t think you should be buying a new camera for this trip. Use what you have – assuming it is a DSLR or mirrorless camera made in the last 5 years or so. But if you are due for an upgrade or just want a new camera, what should you get? If you are just starting out, I would get an entry-level DSLR or mirrorless camera. Something like a Canon T7i, a Nikon D5600, Sony a 6500, or something in that range. You need the ability to control the exposure settings so your phone or a compact camera won’t do, but just about any DSLR or mirrorless camera will work just fine.
If you have been photographing a while, then you likely have a pretty good idea of what’s out there. In addition, you are likely already tied to a specific brand, since each company’s lenses only work on that company’s cameras. Your search will be fairly narrow. Beyond that, however, you might wonder if there is anything particular to our upcoming Ireland trip to look for in your camera. The answer is no. Again, remember that you are likely to be doing a little bit of everything in terms of photography in Ireland, so your camera doesn’t need anything special. In any event, if you want to talk specifics, just email me. Be warned, however, that I’m likely going to try to talk you out of upgrading unless your camera is really old. But if you are due for an upgrade I will try to help.
You might be worried about the size and weight of your camera, and therefore be considering a mirrorless camera. Many places in Ireland do involve some hiking, but it is not terribly difficult. On our tour, we will have only one hike of more than a mile (Three Castle Head), one more possible hike (12 Bens in Connemara) and two places where we will have an uphill climb (Skellig Michael and Dun Aengus). It isn’t like we will spend the whole trip hiking around. We will do some walking around towns and such, but it should not be too difficult. Therefore, I really do not think you need a mirrorless camera. I personally will be carrying a DSLR, and never on one of my prior trips to Ireland have I found myself wishing I had a smaller, mirrorless camera.
That said, there is nothing wrong with buying a mirrorless camera. If I was starting from scratch today I might actually go that route. However, there is no need to switch to mirrorless for your trip to Ireland.
Do you need a backup camera? This is a personal decision as well. Many people would not dream of going on a trip such as this without a backup camera. Their rationale is that if something were to happen to their camera, the trip would be ruined and it would be a catastrophe. That might be true. Personally, I have never brought a backup camera with me on any trip. My rationale is that if if something were to happen to my camera on the trip, I’d just go buy a new camera immediately, but I don’t see why I should incur that rather large expense until I absolutely have to. I acknowledge that it might take a day or two until I could get to a camera store (or have one delivered), but I’m willing to do that rather than pay for an extra camera.
Frankly, at this point I have older cameras that I could use as a backup, but I’m not even sure I will bring one because of space and weight considerations. That might be an option for you if you have an older model camera laying around.
Ultimately, it comes down to what you are comfortable with. For me, spending the money on a camera I hope never to use just isn’t something I want to do. If you are like me, don’t get a backup camera. Others might be nervous or worried about their camera if they didn’t have a backup. That feeling would be a damper on the trip. For them, I say you should buy (or, better yet, rent) a backup. It is up to you.
The next question is what lenses to bring. This is really going to depend on what type of photography you plan to do.
Standard and Wide Angle Lenses
You are going to want a standard focal length zoom lens, commonly referred to as a “walking around lens.” Typical focal lengths of these are 24-70 mm, 24 – 105 mm, and 28 – 135 mm. Many cameras come with an 18-55 mm kit lens, and this can work just fine for this purpose.
These standard zoom lenses will do a variety of things for you. You can use the wide-angles to capture scenery shots. You can zoom in a little on disrete subjects. You can also zoom in on people, which you should do, since people’s features generally look better when you use a longer focal length. You can get capture wildlife if it isn’t too far way. In short, you can do a little bit of everything with such a lens. I’d keep this on your camera most of the time.
Many scenic shots – whether it be a remote countryside shot, or a picture of an Irish village – will call for a wide-angle lens. Typical wide-angle lenses are 14-40 mm and 16-35 mm, but there are many others as well. Just keep in mind that the lower the number the wider the angle. These allow you to get the entire scene before you in your shot. If you’re not careful, the really wide-angle lenses will also capture your shoes! I recommend bringing one of these and keeping it in your bag. You’ll run into scenes that require it.
In my view, the first two lenses we’ve talked about are no-brainers. You’ll use them a lot in a lot of different circumstances, and they are not too big and heavy. But now we are getting to a real question mark, which is the long, telephoto lens. Typical focal lengths are 70-200 mm and 100-400 mm. There are even 500 mm and 600 mm lenses, and these are big!
This lens will cost you, literally and figuratively. They cost a lot of money, particularly fast lenses. And they are heavy. You’ll be lugging this thing around a lot, and it adds a lot of weight. So should you bring it? That depends on how much you expect to use it. Personally, I’ve struggled with this decision on every trip I’ve made to Ireland, and I feel like I’ve chosen wrong every time. Most of the time, I bring a bigger lens, but then I hardly ever use it. In the end, I find myself wishing I hadn’t brought it. On my last trip to Ireland, however, I decided not to bring my bigger lens. Of course, this was the trip where there were many occasions I wanted to use it. In the future, I think I will bring mine. As with most things, the decision is personal.
Long lenses are obviously good for wildlife and subjects that are far away. They are also good for photographing people. They are sometimes also really useful for photographing landscapes, particularly where there is something in the background that you want to draw into your picture (such as mountains). High focal lengths tend to compress what’s in the frame and make objects appear closer together.
If you have a collection of lenses, you’ll have to decide which to bring. One key point I want to get across to you is that you will tend to use the same lenses in Ireland that you use everywhere else. If you have a favorite lens you use all the time, bring it.
If you don’t have the lenses you are going to want for your trip, don’t rush out and buy them. Rather, consider renting a lens. There are many places you can do this, and two well-known places in the U.S. are LensRentals and BorrowLenses. Renting lenses can save you a fortune. If this lens is something you are only going to use on your trip to Ireland, there is no point in buying it. Just rent it and then return it after the trip. Even if you think you might want a particular lens after your trip, renting it lets you try it out first. It is a great way to make sure you actually like the lens you are considering.
You are going to want a tripod on your trip to Ireland. If you don’t already have one, it is a very important consideration because they are so important to your shots and because they can be so big and heavy. There is an old saying in photography that you want a tripod that is stable, lightweight, and inexpensive, and you can have any two of those attributes that you want, but not all three. For the most part, that is a true saying.
The biggest difference in stability, weight, and cost is the materials used to make it. The cheapest tripods are plastic, and are to be avoided. Avoid buying your tripod from a big-box store, and be worried if the tripod costs under $100. They aren’t stable, and therefore are worse than useless. On the other end of the spectrum are carbon fiber tripods. Carbon fiber is stable and very lightweight, and thus works great. The problem is the cost. You will often double the cost of your tripod to save about a pound in weight. That’s fine if you have the money or you really need to shave the weight. Otherwise, I’d go middle of the road and get a good solid aluminum tripod.
Generally, you’ll want one that stands up tall, but folds down small enough so that it doesn’t take up your entire suitcase. In recent years a number of manufacturers have started making lines of travel tripods that fold up pretty small. What’s more, they generally come with handy pouches that sling over your shoulder for when you are out walking around. The one I personally use is by a company called MeFoto. They make a small version called the Backpacker, a medium version called the Roadtripper, and a larger one called the Globetrotter (which is what I have). Manfrotto makes a very similar line of tripods, which are also very good, called the BeFree tripods.
Honestly, when it comes to bringing a tripod to Ireland, I’d tend toward a bigger, sturdier one. You will have to give some thought to how to pack it, but once you get it to Ireland I think you’ll be happy you brought it. We should have plenty of room in our vehicles for it, so transporting your tripod around Ireland won’t be a problem. Further, as mentioned above, we won’t be doing that much hiking (when we do hike, just leave it in our hotel or the vehicle), so you won’t have to carry it very far. Most of the time you’ll only have to carry it less than 100 yards.
If you aren’t someone that uses filters in your photography, I’m going to recommend that you get an start using one. It is a 6-stop circular neutral density filter. Neutral density filters come in different sizes, so be sure to get one that fits your walking around or wide-angle lens.
If you are not familiar with these filters, what they do is cut down on the amount of light allowed into the camera. You will primarily use it when you are photographing along the coast, which is a lot of the time when you are talking about photographing the Wild Atlantic Way. Why would you want to cut down on the amount of light being allowed into the camera? So that you can slow down your shutter speed. When you do that the water from the waves or current will move through the frame during the exposure process. That will result in varying degrees of blur depending on your settings. This will allow you to create everything from a flat, serene water surface to just a bit of movement of the waves. It will add an immense amount of to your photography. Here is an example of what they do for you:
Neutral density filters come in a lot of different shapes and sizes. They have rectangle ones that you attach to the front of your camera with a special holder, for example. But I recommend you get one that screws directly onto the front of your lens. It makes things much simpler. They also come in different strengths (measured in stops of light). Common strengths are 3-stop, 6-stop, and 10-stop filters.
I recommend you get a screw-on 6-stop neutral density filter for your Ireland trip. You will use this quite a bit in Ireland. You get get other strengths as well, but this one will do most of what you need.
I cannot really tell you if you will need a flash unit in Ireland. If you think you might be photographing a lot of people, you’ll probably want a flash. If not, you won’t. I typically bring one, but rarely use it.
If you don’t already have a flash unit for your camera, and are thinking about buying one, don’t rush out and buy a flash made by your camera manufacturer. Instead, let me offer a cheaper alternative. There are a few different brands of cheaper flash units that work just as well as those of the camera manufacturers. The ones I use are by a company called Yongnuo. Whereas a Canon or Nikon flash might cost you over $500, the comparable Yongnuo flash will cost you only about $100. And they work just as well! Many professional photographer friends of mine use them. I honestly don’t know why anyone buys the name brand flashes. These things just blast out light and it isn’t like their light is any better. Here are some Yongnuo flashes for Canon and Nikon shooters:
- Canon: YN 600 ER-RT ii
- Nikon: YN 685 Wireless TTL Speedlight
Yongnuo doesn’t have much for Sony, but here is a page showing some resources for Sony shooters. Keep in mind there are other manufacturers of cheaper flash units besides Yongnuo. They are just the brand I know best.
Here are the things I would be sure to bring, along with some “maybe” items:
- Yes, Bring It! Maybe No, Don’t Bring It
- Camera (duh, I know) Backup camera Big lights
- Standard/Mid-Range Lens Telephoto lens Astro-photography gear
- Wide-Angle Lens Macro lens
- Sturdy Tripod Flash
- 6-Stop Neutral Density Filter Other filters (3-stop or 10-stop ND, polarizer)
What you bring is ultimately your decision. Everyone is different, so what you bring will differ from what someone else brings. There is no right and wrong answer. You just want to avoid, as best you can, lugging around a bunch of heavy equipment you don’t use. At the same time, there is nothing worse than not having what you need. How do you thread that needle? I have found the best way is to consider the following two principles when packing.
- First, is it something you use all the time? If so, then bring it. You will not become a different person in Ireland, so if you use it all the time, you will use it there.
- Second, if you are on the fence, leave it at home. Lots of times, people start thinking they are going to do things in Ireland than they do at home. I do it myself. I invariably start thinking I’m going to take very tight shots and even macro shots when I’m in Ireland, even though I never do it at home. Then I get to Ireland and end up taking the wide-angle and moderate range shots I normally take.
Finally, take a look through our itinerary at this stage. Look at the locations and try to visualize some of the shots you’ll be taking. What sort of lens do they require? What sort of other gear do they require? Use the answers to these questions to help you make your decisions. This will become clearer as we move forward, but you an start getting an idea now.
I will give you some tips about how to pack and transport all this stuff in an upcoming article.