Here’s the Gear You Need

Get hard-to-find equipment and books for your photography, astronomy and field expeditions

You’ll find lots of items here that will help you make your photographs the best they can be, and keep you safe in the process. There are essential tools I carry every time I venture into the field, specialty photography filters, cleaning supplies and light painting tools you’ll find useful and more. You’ll also be able to choose from several key astronomy tools that will assist you as you explore the night skies. Finally, I’ve included my favorite photography, astronomy and field guide books to accelerate your learning.

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These are what I take with me every time I go shooting, day or night. You never know when you’ll be out after dark, or if you’ll lose the trail.

Headlamp You need a headlamp with a red light capability. Period. If you’ve never worked with one in the field, you’ll be amazed at how much easier it makes your life. The light is always pointing where you need it and both hands are free. You’re welcome.

Orienteering Compass A reliable compass that allows you to adjust for your local magnetic declination along with a sighting mirror to pinpoint your bearing can make the difference between staying lost or drinking hot chocolate back at your car. Which would you prefer? Check the book section below for a short but direct guide to using it.

Regular flashlight Flashlights somehow continue to evolve. This one is my favorite to date - it’s beam’s intensity is incredibly adjustable from truly dim to nuclear furnace, while its rechargeable batteries keep on keeping on.

Lip balm Nuff said. This stuff rocks.

Hand warmers These disposable hand warmers last for hours, and can keep your hands warm, your batteries happy and your lenses free from frost.

Basic Photography Gear

These are those “extra” items that can really make a difference to your photography. Some just make your life easier while others impart a unique capability impossible to achieve without them.

NOTE - Double check the specifications for your specific camera before you order - the examples shown are for only one camera or lens make or model; lens diameter, for example (77 mm).

Remote Shutter Release (Nikon example) Yes it’s pricey, but mine’s been clicking for almost ten years now. It’s great for locking up for continuous shooting at night, and it gets your hands off the camera to eliminate vibrations during tripod mounted daytime shooting. Gear

Focusing Loupe Use this loupe against your LCD screen to clearly view and get a crisp, tight manual focus on stars at night. It’s also great for blocking the sun during the day so you can see your LCD screen.

Fog Filter (77 mm lens diameter example) The famed Tiffin Double 3 fog filter…your secret weapon for bringing out the beautiful colors of stars. It spreads out the pinpoints of starlight so you can actually make out their colors. Plus it suppresses the dimmer stars - what’s not to like?

FLW Filter (77 mm lens diameter example) Put the FLW filter on your lens aimed at the setting or rising sun’s horizon while the sun is below it and you’ll get an astounding set of colors impossible to replicate in any other way. Try it - you’ll like it!

Canon Intervalometer The Canon name-brand intervalometer giving you total control of everything related to shutter speed and intervals. Pricey but reliable.

Canon-compatible Intervalometer A good off-brand, Canon-compatible intervalometer giving you total control of everything related to shutter speed and intervals.

Nikon Intervalometer The Nikon name-brand intervalometer giving you total control of everything related to shutter speed and intervals. Pricey but reliable.

Nikon-compatible Intervalometer A good off-brand, Nikon-compatible intervalometer giving you total control of everything related to shutter speed and intervals.

Tripod-steadying Stone Bag It may not be the most expensive arrow in your quiver, but wow does this thing make a difference! Hang it from your tripod legs, fill it with stones and your tripod ain’t gonna budge!

Color Checker Passport Want perfectly color-balanced images, especially portraits? Get this color-checker gizmo and all your troubles will disappear. You simply take a photograph of this under the same lighting conditions as the rest of your shoot, then adjust the white balance in Lightroom. Synchronize the remaining photographs and - poof-magic! They all look perfectly natural!

Equatorial Tracking Tripod Heads & Motion Gear

These devices are specially designed for portability, precision and durability. They track the night sky, allowing you to increase your exposure time and decrease your ISO to create sharp, noise-free images.

Polarie I’ve used the Polarie for years and nothing beats its portability, ease of setup and reliability. You’ll need either a second ballhead to attach it to your tripod; then you’re good to go!

Polarie panning adapter You’ll want this gizmo to use the Polarie in a panning mode. It attaches between your tripod or ballhead and the BACK of the Polarie.

Sky Watcher Star Adventurer Photo Package A different equatorial mount aimed at photographers

Sky Watcher Star Adventurer Wedge This device allows you to aim the Sky Watcher (above) at the celestial pole.

Dynamic Perceptions linear motion control package This is the basic system I use for my liner (sliding) motion time-lapses and videos. It works great and is easy to program from your mobile device. Plus, you can easily expand it to increase the motion length and dimensions if you choose.

Adjustable LED light panel This thing is amazing - it produces adjustable, constant, flat light for hours. Awesome for filling a space with light, caping and light painting.

The Pixelstick This tool takes your light drawing craziness to a whole new level. You can import a bitmap version of a digital image, say of your hand, and it’ll allow you to “draw” it in thin air several feet wide! Plus it comes with a library of colored ribbons, flames, fireballs…get the idea?

Amber Tubes Use this tube along with the flashlight above to produce some AMAZING effects. Examples here.

Orange “gel” plastic sheets These sheets placed either singly or folded several times convert your flashlight into a nice warm glow.

Full set “gel” plastic sheets These sheets placed either singly or folded several times convert your flashlight into many vivid colors.

Black optical fibers This little beauty can give you some intense visual options, especially when combined with the flashlight above. Create frothy patterns out of thin air, or brush over someone to v=reveal their outline with ghostly wisps of light.

Astronomy Tools

Planisphere This inexpensive tool will give you amazing insights into how the night sky moves. Use it to determine the best time and date to position any constellation anywhere in the night sky or next to the horizon.

Hand-held red flashlight This little device is great for a tiny little spot of red light to help you make a small adjustment without affecting anything else. Made by astronomers for astronomers.

Mini planetarium Okay. I love this thing. I’ve spent hours geeking out with it, I’ll confess. I packed it in my checked bags during a trip to Australia. Does it work well as an actual “planetarium?” Not really. All the one-star reviews on Amazon are right on that account. But will it IMMEDIATELY show you how the night sky works in a 3D way nothing else will? Yes. It has my full-throated endorsement. Just don’t use it as a planetarium.

Green laser Great for pointing out night sky objects to friends. And SUPER helpful for aligning portable star trackers; just aim through the sighting eyepiece until you’re pointing at Polaris! Done. Be extremely careful of aircraft though.

Binoculars Whenever I’m asked what’s the best telescope someone should start off with, I almost always say a pair of binoculars. These 8x42 binoculars from Nikon will open an easy, reliable window into the sky you’ll never forget.

Mike’s Books

Creative Nightscapes and Time-Lapses Brand new! Creative Nightscapes and Time-Lapses is your all-in-one guide to making spectacular, multi-image nightscapes and time-lapses. Covering everything from conceptualization and planning to post-processing, this book features innovative cookbook-style "recipes" for each composite nightscape and time-lapse project.

Complete Guide to Landscape Astrophotography (2017) The Complete Guide to Landscape Astrophotography is the ultimate manual for anyone looking to create spectacular landscape astrophotography images. By explaining the science of landscape astrophotography in clear and straightforward language, it provides insights into phenomena such as the appearance or absence of the Milky Way, the moon, and constellations. This unique approach, which combines the underlying scientific principles of astronomy with those of photography, will help deepen your understanding and give you the tools you need to fulfil your artistic vision.


Photographing the Southwest - Buy this book, if you’re at all interested in exploring the Four Corners region of Utah.

Photographer’s Guide to Big Sur - I feel a little reticent to share this gem - it’s SO GOOD. Here are all the best places to shoot along California’s famed Highway 1 between Monterey and San Simeon.

Hiking & Backpacking Santa Barbara and venture - Truly a labor of love, this unique book tells you all the trailheads, trails and destinations in this rarely-visited wilderness paradoxically located just outside one of the most densely populated places on the planet.

Arizona Highways Photography Guide - Written by some the experts, this guide will get you up to speed in no time.

Photography Books

Understanding Exposure This is the ONE book that will change your life - photographically, that is. My photography bible since the get-go, you’ll learn everything, and I mean everything you need to know about making images, correctly.

Digital Photography You just can’t beat the direct, easy-to-understand content and layout of these incredibly useful books.

Galen Rowell’s Inner Game of Outdoor Photography Written by one of the true pioneers of my favorite style of photography, this book will have you lacing up your hiking boots and heading outdoors with your camera.

The Photographer’s Eye A uniquely insightful way of thinking about how to compose your shots. Great examples with brilliant illustrations, this book will give you plenty of new insights for creating powerful, compelling images.

Photography and the Art of Seeing This book will turn your thinking on its head - literally! Get ready to shake up your view of the world, slow down and savor the immediate moments.

Digital Nature Photography No, he’s not my dad. Even if they’re both John Shaw! But get this book, seriously - this John Shaw has such a solid, robust background I’m embarrassed to be even commenting on it. This is a masterpiece.

Science for the Curious Photographer Satisfy your inner nerd with all the science, optics and physics you can stand.

Light | Science and Magic Admittedly, I’m not a big user of flashes or studio lighting. Nonetheless, the way this book explains illumination, surface reflectivity and related topics is just beautiful. If you have even a whiff of interest in ever using controlled lighting, this book is the one with the answers.

Astronomy Books

Backyard Astronomer’s Guide Your complete guide to getting started in hobbyist observing. Wonderful illustrations written by two of the legends, this book continues to amaze me with it’s clear language and depth of knowledge. So many good things to say - get it; I guarantee you’ll love it.

Binocular Highlights A great companion for surveying the night sky with binoculars. Broken down by season, there is something in here for everyone.

Pathways to Astronomy Okay - so this was the textbook I used for years when I taught university-level introductory astronomy. Get a used copy of an older edition - they’re generally up to date and a zillion times cheaper than brand new. The great thing about this book is that you can read it in any sequence; you don’t have to just start at the beginning and plow your way through it. Hence the name, “Pathways…”

Turn Left at Orion A great beginner’s guide to stargazing.

Field / Wilderness Books

Be Expert with Map and Compass Here’s your chance to finally master your compass. Taking bearings, following headings, adjusting for magnetic declination - everything you need to know. Lots of practical examples.

Mountaineering - The Freedom of the Hills Perhaps the guiding philosophy of my life, this book gives you tons of hard-won knowledge about how to deal with climbing and life in general at high altitude.

Beyond Backpacking Another one that borders on “advice to live your life by,” this book shows you how to travel farther by traveling lighter…….

The Complete Walker You can’t beat the writing style of this book - and the way it makes hiking and backpacking just sound fun! Drives home the enduring message - get outside and keep moving.