The D750: A Hiking Companion

The D750: A Hiking Companion by Ian Hanson (www.thespurtrail.comInstagram):

There’s nothing like setting goals for yourself and then actually accomplishing them.  For every 100 ideas that I set for myself, I probably truly accomplish zero of them.  That’s why, when I finished hiking the Superior Hiking Trail (if you’re not ready for an AT or PCT adventure, this is a good start) I was almost a bit confused.  I stared out across the final overlook, from Minnesota into Canada, and realized there was no more trail to walk.  I was on the last paragraph of the guidebook and that was it.

My advice for anyone with an itch to hike, is simply this.  Pack as light as you can.

I do not take my own advice.

So what happened?  How did it all pan out?  What did I do for camera’ing over twenty-five days in the woods?  Did I find the perfect travel companion?  Was there anything else I’d wished I’d had?  Would I do it again?  I guess I’ll just have to tell ya.

I was caught wanting to be both light of weight and capture great images.  No way of knowing what I would come across (ok I had an idea, and sure I could have GOOGLED it, but there’s no adventure in that), I had to decide what my intention was.  I decided against preparedness for all situations, and went the more hike-friendly solution.  My most worn down D750 (it was only going to get dirtier) and my oldest lens, the 50mm f/1.4 G.

How did I do it?

The trail was completed in three separate trips.  And full disclosure, there’s a short forty-mile section I haven’t completed, because while technically part of the trail it does not have campsites available and actually passes through one of Minnesota’s larger cities, Duluth.  I will have to do that at a later time, when I have the time.  For now, the essence of the trail is complete.

It has to be completed in sections because as a wedding photographer who has never winter camped…I really only have wedding season to do it.  I am not the guy who can hike three hundred miles between Saturdays.  I took advantage of a couple free weekends to get some longer trips in.

Three different seasons, Summer & Fall 2017 and Spring 2018.  I guess maybe I’ll try and snowshoe the last 40?  As far as the hiking gear, I tried different things each time.  The only things that were consistent between each outing were the camera setup.  Add in the largest GorillaPod I could find at Best Buy and this was the lightest setup I could take.

Now I know why people are gravitating away from DSLR’s when they are traveling.  I think a lot of it boils down to intention.  If the intention of a trip such as this 300-mile hike is to do the mileage as fast as possible, dragging a heavy camera setup you won’t use that often will detract from the experience.  If you’re planning to have some time to shoot, then adding a little weight for the options of a second lens or heavier zoom might be the right decision.  Again I don’t take my own advice and I tried to do both.

Section Hiking

The first section was where I figured everything out.  Where do I carry the camera.  How long will the batteries last? (FOREVER)  Images from the beginning and the end of the day look better than the midday stuff, so I can simply put it away and use my hands to swat mosquitos.  June in northern Minnesota is a very beautiful and buggy time.  I also learned how out of shape I was.  Still, I impressed even myself by making it from Duluth, all the way up the coast of Lake Superior to Silver Bay.

The second section was slower, and hands down the most fun.  For some reason, my bag was the lightest of the three trips.  I was trying out a bivvy sack instead of the tent I’d had before.  I was now an ambassador for a local gear company so I had a focus on getting some shots of their product.  To top it all off, I was talking to everybody!  My friend and I had very low daily mileage goals, so I was free to wander, chat, and take pictures of everything.  This section I covered the least ground, from Silver Bay to Crosby Manitou State Park.  October was probably the most beautiful of the three trips, and I would highly recommend going in the fall.  Also, it was the coldest.  Go figure.

The third section, I had to haul my butt fast.  I had to average fifteen miles a day in order to get done in time.  A couple days I had to hike just over twenty to make up for shorter rest days.  Which I required because of the long days.  Because of all of this, and because spring foliage lends itself to really spottily lit forest images, I mostly hiked.  Photos were almost an afterthought.  Which is sad but hopefully a learning experience for me.  This section took me all the way from Crosby Manitou to the border with Canada, where a very nice photographer had helped me leave my car nine days before I got back to it.  The bugs weren’t bad in mid-May but as I neared the end of the month…well let’s just say I think I found where mosquitos were invented.

So, is the D750 a valid travel partner?

I should say so.  The RAWs have lots of room for editing after the fact.  The flipping screen, was handy in so, so many situations, I only wish it would flip sideways when holding it for a low angle portrait as well.  Matched with a decent lens such as the 50mm f/1.4 G I was able to capture sharp, beautiful images.

Sure I often wished for something wider or something longer.  But I made do, took a lot of images I ended up stitching together for panoramas, and decided in my head it was ok to miss great wildlife images.  I saw very few so there weren’t many missed opportunities.  That’s where intention comes in.  One day I’ll buy a 500mm f/4 and go back looking for moose.  Until then, it’s back to the drawing board to find the next adventure.

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