Shooting the Yukon Quest 2011: Gear List and Lessons Learned

The 2012 Yukon Quest is fast approaching, and I often get asked what gear people should bring along to take photos of the Quest.

I don’t expect people to run out and buy the latest, greatest camera or lens, since photographers have gotten great shots of the Quest no matter what gear they use. Bring what you have!

However, I’ve learned that there are certain pieces of equipment that are going to help you out immensely.

Here’s what I took on the Yukon Quest:

Cameras:

I took 3 camera bodies for the 2-week journey. If you’re serious about shooting, you’ll likely want a backup camera in case one dies, and having extra bodies allows you to have lenses mounted on different bodies. This way you won’t miss a shot because you were changing lenses.

5D: Probably considered an “older” camera now, but is full-frame (allows great wide angle shots) and takes beautiful photos in low light. Con: Autofocus is not great for fast sports or low light.

30D: Another older camera, which I used for the majority of the photos on the 2011 Yukon Quest. Great camera.

20D: Backup camera.

Lenses:

You can get great shots with most lenses, at least in the day. However, at night, you may have trouble getting great shots unless you have a fast lens (wide aperture) or a lens with great autofocus. My lenses were:

35mm f/2.0: Fast lens, great for low light shooting.

17-40mm f/4.0: A nice wide angle lens – it spent a lot of time on my 5d. The lens autofocus drive died in Fairbanks – not too sure if this was due to the cold or not. However, it’s fairly easy to use this one as a manual focus lens in a pinch like this!

70-200mm f/2.8: Incredible lens, very versatile. It’s fast and lets in lots of light for low light shooting. Autofocus is wonderful, and it gets you nice and close to the action, especially on a crop-sensor camera like the 20d or 30d.

Lensbaby: I rarely used this special effect lens, but it’s good to have something to get a few different looking photos.

Lighting Gear:

Lighting gear was essential to many of my shots, especially night shots. There is almost no light at some checkpoints, so I had to use flashes to light up the mushers and dogs. I used remote triggers so that the flashes could be set up down a trail, or off in the distance, to try and create more interesting light. Even if you don’t have remote units, make sure you learn how to use your flash properly, it will be essential at times!

-3 x Pocketwizard Plus II’s (for remote flashes. Very reliable even in -40)

Pocketwizard MiniTT1 (For triggering my flashes that are hooked up to the Pocketwizard Plus II’s)

-Various pocketwizard and flashzebra sync cables

-2 x 430EX Flash units (used for action shots at night – there is often very little light at checkpoints.)

-580EXII Flash unit (used to trigger 430EX units in fast moving situations)

-2 Light stands

-2 Silver umbrella

-2 White shoot through umbrella

-Softbox

Honl Speed Grids and straps

Flashzebra umbrella adapters  and PC to flash hotshoe adapters

Monopod (yes, I list this as lighting gear. I’ll explain why in an upcoming post)

Other:

Perhaps the toughest challenge in shooting the Yukon Quest is keeping your camera powered up. I’ll detail some interesting experiences with my batteries in another post. However, my advice is simple. Bring a lot of batteries, keep them charged, and keep them warm in any way possible.

-7 Batteries (BP511A). All 3 cameras used this battery type.

Quantum Turbo Battery

Quantum CD30 BP511 adapter (allowed me to use the Quantum as an external battery for my camera. I would strap the Quantum to my body, keeping it warm. The cable would run from the Quantum into my camera, keeping the camera powered up. I never even came close to running out of battery power this way, even standing in -30 for hours at a time.)

Computer:

The race is amazing. You will be taking many, many photos. So make sure you have backup. I used a laptop to download my images from my card, and then backed them up again on an external hard drive. You may find other solutions that work as well.

-Laptop

-External hard drive (500gb)

Clothes

It’s cold out there. Very cold. So do some research, buy or borrow (I borrowed!) some good outdoor clothes. You’ll need to be comfortable, or you won’t be taking many pictures.

Get out there, have fun, and you’ll learn to love the cold. I did!

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