A detailed accounting of the equipment I regularly use for photographing action sports like skiing, biking, and snowboarding, including cameras, lenses, must-have accessories, and even the bag I carry everything in – all in this installment of “What’s in my Bag” – Action Sports Edition.
When it comes to outdoor photography, I find that nothing beats F-Stop Gear’s line of Mountain Series and Ultralight backpacks. I’ve recently started using their smallest model – the Guru UL – for action sports photography outings, primarily because:
- The bag is small enough to wear without being a burden but is still large enough to carry the gear I list below. Specific to the F-Stop bag + ICU system, the Guru is the perfect depth to tightly hold a medium sloped ICO whereas all of their larger bags are deeper and as a result let the ICO move around a bit while in motion – something I don’t appreciate when moving fast down a mountain.
- An internal frame combined with wide, padded, and adjustable straps keep the bag comfortably secure on my back while skiing/biking/boarding.
- My camera gear is easy to access without getting the bag straps and front panel wet and/or dirty (which in turn would make me wet and/or dirty).
- Two external mesh pockets easily hold a water bottle while an internal pouch will also accept a hydration bladder with a hose routing flap through the top pocket.
- Several zippered pockets provide ample room for non-photography accessories.
For more info, see my Complete Review of the F-stop Guru UL backpack.
My primary camera is currently a Canon 5D Mark III dSLR. With a full frame sensor, weather-resistant construction, and a 6 frame per second shutter speed – this single camera can handle everything from low-light indoor use to outdoor landscape and action sports photography. I attach a Canon BG-E11 battery grip whenever shooting sports for better camera function control in portrait orientation.
Many professional photographers will carry a second camera body as a backup. I find this unnecessary for many of my action sports projects since I’ve never had a complete camera failure and most of those shoots wouldn’t be hugely impacted by a slight delay in having to run home to grab a replacement camera. I do bring a second camera body for all commercial projects where failure is not an option.
I had previously used the Canon 7D Mark II for action photography, primarily for the 9.5 frames per second shutter speed and virtual zoom benefits provided by the 1.6X crop sensor. But since I often enjoy mixing landscape and action sports in the same beautiful location, the Canon 5D serves me better. 6 fps is plenty fast with the right technique and a full frame sensor produces an image quality that easily lends itself to digital cropping when the lens zoom wasn’t quite long enough.
I recently replaced a Canon 70-200 f/4L IS lens with the Canon 70-200 f/2.8L IS II version. Both take fantastically sharp photos, have great image stabilization, and obviously cover the same focal length. But similar to the flexibility of the 5D3 camera, the f/2.8 lens can handle multiple needs, including indoor sports under low light conditions and the occasional use of a 1.4X teleconverter while still maintaining an f/4 aperture. The 2.8 aperture also gives me flexibility for portraiture work. Other outdoor action sports photographers with less diverse needs might prefer the lower cost and lighter weight f/4 version of this and similair telephoto lenses.
For wider angle shots, I carry the Canon 24-70 f/2.8L II lens. While this lens doesn’t provide any image stabilization like the Canon 24-105 f/4 IS II lens, camera shake isn’t really a problem when photographing sports at shutter speeds around 1/800th of a second. In the same theme as above, the diversity of f/2.8 makes this lens a workhorse for other photography genres.
I’ll oftentimes bring a Godox TT685C wireless E-TTL speedlite with an accompanying Godox Xpro-C TTL wireless transmitter. Having this sort of portable flash helps fill shadows or add some additional “pop” with a bit of backlighting. Both manual and E-TTL modes are available and easily controlled from the on-camera transmitter. The Godox brand is 1/4 the price of the name brand Canon speedlite / wireless transmitter and works just as good for me, especially when paired with Amazon’s extended warranty and accidental breakage protection.
Even when traveling light, a couple must-have camera equipment accessories that are always packed in my bag include:
- Extra memory cards (in both SD and CompactFlash)
- Small Giottos Rocket Air Blaster for blowing dust off my lens glass or camera sensor.
- VisibleDust EZ Sensor Cleaning Kit Mini, which is rarely needed, but can be a lifesaver.
- A few Zeiss Pre-Moistened Lens Wipes
- Microfiber Lens Cleaning Cloth
- Peak Design Capture Camera Clip V3 for temporarily clipping a camera onto the backpack arm strap for quick access
In addition to all the photography gear listed above, the following general accessories are always in my pack before walking out the door:
- A water bottle from my local bike shop that will fit in both my backpack and bike bottle cage
- Suncloud Sunglasses and a protective case for safe storage while in the backpack
- Lightweight rain jacket
- Snacks – I personally love the Clif Blocks Energy Chews and Clif Organic Z Bars
- Travel sized sunscreen that clips to the outside of my bag instead of accidentelly spilling liquids on my camera gear inside