Shooting in New River Gorge – what worked? What didn’t?

My latest photography trips to West Virginia were taken during the early fall of 2007, so please disregard the date this article was written.

West Virginia is one of the most scenic places I’ve ever been to.  You could be standing on top of a mountain, admiring the view, then climb down the mountain to discover a whole new bit of scenery.  Stick to the rivers and you won’t be disappointed.

Fall Foliage over a waterfall in Babcock
Fall Foliage over a waterfall in Babcock

Focal Lengths: I lugged a lot of gear on my second trip to WV, but that was mainly because I was going to a photography meet.  One of the reasons for going to a meet is to see some of the gear you may not have seen before.  I took my Canon 300mm f2.8L IS and only used it once just to say I used it.  Unless you’re shooting birds, there is no need for a lens that long in the Gorge.  Most of the time I was reaching for either the 17-40mm or 24-105mm and occasionally I put the 70-200mm on for tight landscape shots.

Turning rapids into mist with a 30 second exposure
Turning rapids into mist with a 30 second exposure

Filters:

One of the best purchases I ever made was a very dark neutral density filter (B+W 3.0 to be exact).  It turns day into night, so you can have some incredibly long exposures at lunch time!  Imagine being able to photograph waves breaking on the beach, in the height of summer, with 30+ second exsposures!  Well, it also comes in handy when shooting rivers.  Get one – you’ll love it.  A friend bought a graduated ND filter for the meet.  I actually do most of my graduated work in Photoshop, but once he got the hang of using that filter he had some incredible shots!  The pro, who was on the trip with us, told me later to keep using Photoshop if the scene allows for two bracketed exposures.

Naneu Pro K3 Backpack
Naneu Pro K3 Backpack

Bags: On my first trek to WV I took my Lowepro Photo Trekker II AW and hated lugging that monstrous thing around after realizing I didn’t need everything I brought.   Before taking the second trip, I did some research to find a bag that would be good for riding a bicycle with and discovered the Naneu Pro Adventure K3.  It is the most comfortable bag I’ve ever had on my back!  It gets a little tricky to manage gear when you’re carrying two 1D bodies, but it can be managed.  The only other thing to be careful of is how you setup your tripod because it is angled at the back of your head…and it does hurt when your head makes contact with a tripod!  There is a backing on this bag that keeps the canvas outside off your back.  This cuts down on how much sweat accumulates when you’re out in hot conditions.

Stability: Aside from glass (lenses), this is the most important part of photography gear.  If you’re getting ready to upgrade your tripod or head, or you’re new, this is an area to go all out in.  I’ve been through quite a few tripods with Bogen/Manfrotto being the middle ground and Gitzo being the top of the line and I can say that I will never do anything less than Gitzo again.  This was my first time putting a set of Gitzo legs through a hard trial in setting up on slimy rocks, loose dirt, and all kinds of funky angles.  The 3530S legs worked perfectly in anything condition.  They’re also made of carbon fiber, so they’re very light-weight.  Other people were

Sandstone Falls with the 70-200mm
Sandstone Falls with the 70-200mm

mostly using Bogen legs and had to mess around with them a bit more to get them to stay in place.  I also suggest some sort of shutter remote switch for taking those longer exposures.  I use a Canon wired remote switch and ususally wrap the cord around a tripod leg or the ball head to keep my hand from possibly shaking things during a long exposure.  The smallest shake can ruin a shot, and that is why these stability pieces are so critical!

You: Jumping from boulder to boulder across a rapid river, or ascending a rocky mountain trail can be slightly on the trecherous side.  You need to be physically able to handle the conditions.  Don’t forget you’ll also be carrying some expensive camera gear that gets heavy over time.  Some good hiking shoes or seriously grippy running shoes are a must.  Don’t forget to bring plenty of water – I have an insulated water holster attachment that goes on my camera bags by nalgene and brought a cooler filled with Gatorade and Dasani that stayed in the car.  Most places are within a mile or two of a parking lot, so it isn’t like you need to carry more than just a single 20oz. bottled water around the Gorge.

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