Landscape photography inevitably takes us to some very beautiful locations. Beauty can take many forms of course but on the Isle of Skye, every view is seemingly worthy of a photograph.
Earlier this year I had my second visit to this amazing location, the largest island in the Inner Hebrides archipelago, which is connected to Scotland’s northwest coast by bridge. For this trip I had my good friend Darryll Jones along for the ride.
During this trip I would have the use of a very special camera indeed, an Alpa A-series, kindly supplied by Phase One. The A-series is a very valuable camera indeed, a real work of art, I needed a bag that would protect this camera and give me the reassurance I needed to head out into the wilds with such valuable kit. Additionally, I needed a bag that would also accommodate a 600mm lens, enter the Manfrotto Bumble Bee 220PL.
I generally prefer to travel light, employing the use of lightweight mirrorless cameras, for this trip however I had a lot of hefty kit to test. The Alpa with three lenses and a Sigma 150-600mm Sport lens. Luckily the Bumblebee is able to accommodate the 150-600mm lens and this is now the biggest bag I own, this amount of kit was much heavier than I am used to carrying around! Additionally, I had my Manfrotto 055 CXPro3 attached to the back of the bag, this was held securely on those long walks to higher ground, held in place by the handy tripod connections.
The construction of the Bumblebee 220-PL is very robust indeed, the bag employs Manfrotto’s ‘Camera Protection System’ (CPS), which gives a very reassuring feel. Whilst in use the padded shoulder straps and hip supports sit comfortably, being fully adjustable, the hip supports reducing some of that weight from your shoulders. The Bumblebee’s internals are fully customisable, consisting of two large zipped compartments, which I removed to accommodate my very rather eclectic mix of equipment, additionally lots of padded dividers allow you to place your kit in the desired position.
The Bumblebee’s other features include a laptop compartment, a rain cover which also doubles up as UV protection and several zipped pockets for accessories. The rain cover saw plenty of use on the Isle of Skye, being one of the wettest islands of the Inner Hebrides!
I’ve needed to carry much more kit around with me of late as I’ve been doing a lot of testing. For the past couple of months I’ve been using the Bumblebee 220-PL for most of my outings. I’ve taken this bag up mountains in quite extreme conditions, I’ve used it for coastal photography which can be a real equipment killer. I’ve not been particularly careful when handling it and it’s not yet showing any signs of wear and tear. Add to this the robust build of the bag, it’s many features such as being completely customisable internally, and the comfort, I can highly recommend this as a bag for Professionals and enthusiasts alike. When you need to carry a large amount of photography gear with complete protection, the Bumblebee 220-PL is a fantastic option.
Prior to photography completely taking over my life a couple of years ago, I had more time to pursue my other passions, outdoor pursuits such as cycling (road and mountain bike), hill walking, canoeing and wild camping. Landscape photographers do get out into the outdoors a lot, but it is often under pressure to get the good shots, which can leave little time to fully immerse ourselves and appreciate the natural world that surrounds us. With this in mind, the idea of combining photography with a little adventure is very appealing, not simply turning up at a location and shooting. For a while I’ve been looking for the perfect backpack that would be able to carry and protect my expensive camera gear, yet also be as comfortable and feature laden as a dedicated outdoor backpack. The Manfrotto Off road Hiker 30L Backpack looked good, just the type of pack that I’d been looking for, eager to test out the pack I planned a little 40km mountain bike ride followed by a 14km hike on the North Yorkshire Moors to put it through its paces.
I began the bike section of the route through some of the lesser known trails of Dalby forest, which has a variety of technical manmade trails, hidden bridleways and long forest fire roads which lead out on to the expansive heather moorlands of this distinctive landscape. It was a dreary old day, grey with flat light, as a result it was a challenge to capture anything striking. I love a challenge however and I hope you enjoy this selection of images captured through this varied landscape which is very close to my heart.
Despite the dull skies it was a joy to be out riding through the forest, stopping to take photos when something of interest catches the eye, such as the Sun momentarily breaking through the clouds, framed by the silhouette of the trees. All the while hardly realising that I was wearing the Off road Hiker, such is the comfort of this backpack. In terms of comfort the Off road Hiker is up there with the very best non-camera specific backpacks from manufacturers such as Osprey, both on and off the bike.
With the bike section of the day out of the way, I loaded my bike into the car and headed off on foot out of the forest towards the Moors. Choosing an interesting route past some rather impressive geological formations known as the ‘Bride Stones’. Conditions were still very flat and overcast at this point but I had to capture a few shots of these intriguing ‘Stones’. In conditions such as these we have to imagine how best to portray the subject, here I’ve opted for a moody monochrome long exposure. To achieve the effect of capturing the sky’s movement you’ll need a tripod and a long exposure filter such as the Lee Big Stopper.
On the hike section of the route, the Off road Hiker’s comfort impressed again, with the weight equally dispersed over the soft hip support straps and my shoulders not feeling any resistance at all.
The Off road Hiker not only excels with regards to comfort, it is a very well thought out pack indeed, with all the features expected of a dedicated outdoor activity backpack. The pack contains a removable Manfrotto Protection System case which as the title suggests protects the camera and is designed to hold a Pro DSLR, 70-200mm lens and an additional lens. The backpack converts into a total hiking backpack by unzipping the internal divider and removing the camera bag. Another interesting feature is the camera strap on the front of the backpack which allows the camera to be kept secure on the chest when it is carried. Also included are the very useful zip pockets on the side-hip straps, many attachment points/straps enabling you to carry items of your choice, should they be a tripod, walking poles, crampons etc, etc. It really is possible to tailor this pack to your own outdoor requirements. For me, it is the perfect lightweight daypack and now that I’ve trialled it, I can’t imagine going on a bike or hike without it. Brilliantly thought out for the active photographer with a sense of adventure. I’d like to see a similar pack for those multi-day wilderness trips, with extra room for overnight kit such as a lightweight tent, bivvy and sleeping bag. Some photographers may need to carry many more lenses than this pack can accommodate but if your adventure involves minimal camera gear I cannot recommend this pack highly enough!
Below are a few images from this adventure showing the kit that I carried with me, also see the link above for more details of this backpack.
As a professional landscape and fine art photographer, my favourite subject to capture, should I be forced into choosing just one, would have to be coastal photography. The coast line provides us with a dynamic, ever changing environment that is both visually stunning and challenging to the photographer. All of the elements are thrown at us, wind coming in from the sea can be ferocious, whipping up sea mist and completely soaking our beloved kit; snow, hail, rain, sand, all potentially damaging to those delicate precision tools that we use for image making. On top of that, there is our own safety to consider, slippery rocks waiting to catch you out and incoming tides that may threaten to leave us stranded!
With all these potential hazards then, we need to know that our kit is going to be protected for those precarious walks and climbs in between taking the shots. I spent a couple of days in Filey on the rugged Yorkshire coast with the Manfrotto Advanced Tri Backpack to protect my kit.
On day 1 I headed over to the famous Filey ‘Brigg’, a rocky outcrop that juts out into the North Sea, it’s a wild place with crashing waves and is as close to the sea as you can feel without actually being immersed. On this day, a little too wild, the wind was so strong that the planned long exposures had to be abandoned, in fact the wild conditions meant just coming home with a few handheld shots, as even keeping a tripod on the ground was proving difficult; as such, after several hours I abandoned as cameras were unable to be exposed to the elements for little more than a few seconds without being completely wet through from sea mist, snow and rain!
Thankfully, day 2 proved much more rewarding. I arrived shortly before sunrise, but also at high tide which meant a climb down the steep promontory onto the rocky outcrop below. The Advanced Tri backpack, is designed to be worn in three ways, in the ‘X’ position (straps crossed over your chest), the sling position, or my preferred position, old school backpack style with the straps over my shoulders. This position was excellent for climbing and the pack feels very secure even with the tripod out back. Once down onto the Brigg, I was excited to see that the sunrise was going to be a good one. Tripod and kit was accessed very quickly and I was rewarded with a spectacular sunrise over the sea, surely one of the most magical experiences in life!
After the magic of sunrise and the dramatic lighting conditions, it’s not all over. The coast offers so many more photographic opportunities. Have a good explore of your chosen location, look at the details, rock formations, sand, pebbles, seaweed, all offer interesting subject matter that can make for nice abstract imagery. You’ll find countless textures and colours, even take in the sounds, try and make a connection to this coastal environment and portray it as you feel it, this is the key to engaging photography.
The advanced Tri Backpack suits my needs as a very adaptable, comfortable and durable design. Although designed for a pro DSLR with battery pack and attached long-range zoom plus 5-6 additional lenses, it’s easy to customise the bag to your own needs by moving around the dividing partitions enabling you to fit your own kit. In my case a Sigma SD1 Merrill with 10-20mm lens and a the much smaller Sony A7R with 24-70mm lens, plus accompanying accessories, such as remote release, spare batteries and cards for each. In the top compartment I store a set of Lee filters which just leaves enough room for a bottle of water and a snack (landscape photography is thirsty work!). I can also attach my Manfrotto 055 CXPRO3 Tripod with the straps provided. The backpack is able to carry a 15” laptop or tablet, should you require such wizardry on your outings.
Lastly, you could write an entire book on coastal photography techniques, but here are just a few of my personal tips for successful coastal photography.