Posted by: kerryl29 | March 4, 2019

Equipment Familiarity and Once In a Lifetime Trips

The following post was originally published on 1001 Scribbles (which, sadly, appears to now be dormant) back in 2014, during my multi-year stint as a guest blogger.

So, you’ve got the photo trip of a lifetime planned—Antarctica, perhaps, or the Galapagos Islands or a photo safari in Kenya or Tanzania.  Wherever it is, since it’s the “trip of a lifetime,” what better opportunity to finally break down and splurge on that new camera or new lens or new tripod that you’ve had your eye on for so long time.  Since it is the photo trip of a lifetime, why shouldn’t you have the best?  The top action camera that you’ve been drooling over, to best capture the animals on the Serengeti…the most resilient camera to stand up to the cold and wet conditions in Antarctica…the exotic prime lens to photograph the wildebeest or the penguins or the albatross or the cheetahs or whatever.


Let me just make one suggestion about taking brand new gear on an expensive trip—don’t do it.  Ever.  I understand the temptation; I’ve essentially laid out the appeal in the first paragraph.  Don’t give in.

Sunrise, Medicine Lake, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Trust me, the very last thing you want to do when you’re faced with once in a lifetime photo opportunities on a once in a lifetime trip is fumble around with unfamiliar equipment and—again, trust me—when your equipment is unfamiliar you will fumble around with it.

Bisti Arch Moonrise, Bisti Badlands, New Mexico

A new camera is the worst because it’s the nerve center for everything you’re doing out in the field.  That new camera will have some new features—which you won’t be able to easily implement because—you guessed it—you won’t be familiar with them.  It will also have some new ways of implementing pre-existing capabilities…and you’ll struggle to execute them because—that’s right—you’re familiar with the old way of doing so.  There will be some new buttons, possibly some new dials, certainly some new menus.  And when you’re out in the field, trying to remember where the exposure compensation button has moved to, the cheetah will disappear from view.  While you’re fighting with the new autofocus system, the albatross will fly off.  While you’re trying to remember how the new auto ISO system works and is implemented, the wildebeest will gallop away.

You get the idea.

Bull Elk, Athabasca River, Jasper National Park, Alberta

While a new camera has the largest number of potential pitfalls, other new equipment can have its own issues.  For instance, if you’re not used to using long, prime lenses, you’re going to flip and flop around trying to get used to finding objects with a very, very small field of view…to say nothing of the difficulties you’ll have getting used to obtaining sharp images with a big, heavy (here it comes again) unfamiliar lens.  (A hint—it requires different support and/or technique.)

Bahia Honda Rail Bridge at Sunset, Bahia Honda State Park, Bahia Honda Key, Florida

Even something as seemingly innocuous as a new tripod or head can cause problems.  Each tripod model has its own system of extending and retracting the legs, with different kinds of locks.  Heads have their own quirks—different types of quick release systems, different sized knobs and different levels of tension.  A lack of experience with all of these things will slow you down in the field and lead to the frustration of missed shots.  The same principle applies to other accessories as well.

Kootenay Plains at Sunset, David Thompson Country, Alberta

The point of all this is not to suggest that you shouldn’t get new (better?) equipment.  The notion of having better tools to accomplish a task isn’t a bad one.  But the key is to obtain this equipment, and familiarize yourself with it, long before heading off for that “once in a lifetime” trip.  Do so and you’ll likely return home with once in a lifetime images…which was surely the purpose of the trip in the first place.

Tenaya Creek, Yosemite National Park, California



  1. This is a message worth repeating over and over. When I was in Yosemite, one evening was spent on Sentinel Bridge shooting Half Dome at sunset.The guy on my right fretted the entire time over his camera settings because this camera was new to him. He had someone there helping him, but I don’t think he was ever satisfied. You know things aren’t going well when the manual comes out along with every piece of equipment in the bag.

    • Yeah, I’ve seen things like this myself. It’s never a good scene.

  2. One of my friends used to buy disposable film cameras before heading out on vacation. He didn’t want to mess up his SLR kit, which he invested in heavily. These days, he uses his phone camera.

    • That’s interesting. When does he use his primary camera?

      • He uses his primary camera closer to home where there’s three or four hiking trails and a small wooded area. It’s familiar terrain for him. But, when he hikes an unfamiliar or rugged area, he doesn’t want to be carrying his good gear.

        • [I repeat] Interesting…

          Is the concern the potential for damage to the good gear, or is there some other motivation at work?

        • I think it is the potential for damage to good gear. He dropped one of his more expensive lenses for his 35 mm SLR years ago.

        • I see; thanks for indulging my curiosity.

  3. When I first looked at these images, I thought that first one had a familiarity about it and my eyes followed those paths and trees on the left, the rocks in the foreground, the shape and depth of the lake and the peaks in the distance I realized that indeed it was one of my favourite stops in Jasper Park, Medicine Lake. Ha! Then I read your words. That place changes so much, due to weather, light and level of the lake. That is a wonderful capture. My other favourite destination is the Kootenay plains.Not to say the other images aren’t beautiful, there is something special about good images of favourite places as seen by another person. It gives my heart and spirit a boost. Oh my goodness, wise words about equipment that you are unfamiliar with. I have missed images even by changing the mode I am shooting in without practicing first.

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