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What’s In My Bag: Keeping Light With The 'Bear' Necessities

Alpha Universe: How did you decide what to bring for the trip to Alaska with the Alpha Imaging Collective?

Mahesh Thapa: Mahesh Thapa: I prepare my bag based on the trip. For Alaska, I received a full itinerary beforehand, so I knew exactly what to expect—mainly glaciers, alpine lakes, bears, and night photography. I was able to pack based on that plan.

Alpha Universe: What cameras did you bring?

Mahesh Thapa: I brought three bodies with me: Sony α7R II for the landscapes, Sony RX10 III for plane and helicopter rides, the Sony α9 for the bears.

The Sony RX10 III has a 24-600 mm f/2.4-4 lens and it’s a great general purpose camera. I like to carry it on a Peak Design clip on my belt or shoulder strap. When I’m hiking, it's convenient to grab it and get a shot of an animal darting by or if something interesting catches my attention. In those situations, I don't have time to take my bag off, open it up, and get everything together. With the RX10 III immediately handy, everything is just right there.

Alpha Universe: What about your lenses?

Mahesh Thapa: For the α9 and α7R II, I brought just two lenses. The 16-35mm f/2.8 Sony G Master and the 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 G Master. I brought the 16-35mm f/2.8 mainly because it's a fantastic ultra-wide angle zoom for landscapes. With a maximum aperture of f/2.8, its also great for astro-photography. That’s important because space is so limited on flights and I wanted to make sure that I was traveling as light as possible.

The Sony 100-400mm G Master came along mainly for the wildlife. I knew we’d have a chance to photograph bears, and the lens was excellent for that purpose. Its auto focus speed and accuracy on the α9 is just outstanding.

Alpha Universe: Lightweight and compact were clearly priorities for you. What else did you bring that was essential?

Mahesh Thapa: I always, always, always carry a tripod. In fact, my philosophy is, I'd rather not carry an extra body or an extra lens if it means having to leave my tripod behind. Because I do a lot of low-light photography and value precise composition, having a tripod is essential.

Typically, I carry a “traveler” type of carbon-fiber tripod, as they tend to be on the lighter side. I mainly use it for my α7R II and the 16-35mm, which is not a heavy combination so the tripod doesn't have to be super heavy-duty.

A remote release goes hand in hand with the tripod. I carry both a wired and a wireless remote. I like the immediate effect of the wired remote. I don't have to aim the remote a certain way. The downside of a wired remote is that I have to open up a side port which isn’t ideal in inclement weather. So, when the weather is less than ideal, for example if it's rainy or misty or I’m at the beach, then I go to the wireless remote. Plus, they are nice backups for each other in case I lose one or one gets damaged.

Alpha Universe: You do a lot with the PlayMemories filter-type apps. Do you also use on-camera filters?

Mahesh Thapa: I used to carry a lot of filters, but some of the PlayMemories apps that I can install in the Sony cameras have allowed me to reduce the number of filters I pack. Now, all I carry is a polarizer, a five-stop ND filter and a ten-stop ND filter. Those filter effects can't be recreated in software. On this trip I had circular, screw-on type filters that attached to the front of the lens so I also brought a filter wrench because sometimes when the weather changes, the filter can get stuck to the lens, and you may not be able to easily twist it off. Also, because my lenses have different filter sizes and I wanted to carry just one set of filters, I brought 82mm filters and step-down rings.

Alpha Universe: What about the non-photo gear in your bag?

Mahesh Thapa: I always carry a headlamp. That's great for night photography to look at controls and I make sure the headlamp has two lights. One is a bright white light and the other is a red light. The red light is really good for when you don't want to disturb other photographers. It doesn't project a very bright light but still allows you to see.

I carry some small tools that I may need to fix the tripod or tighten up my bracket. And I try to carry a pen so I can take notes or make a journal entry. For this particular trip, I brought a little device made by SOG Knives. It's a multi-purpose tool that has built in scissors, a pen, and a screwdriver. That was great for Alaska.

Spare batteries are always good to have and I also carry a small 8000 milliamp power bank which I can use to charge all sorts of things.

I find that a cleaning cloth is incredibly important. There are a lot of expensive cleaning cloths out there but the one that I find to be the most useful is my yellow microfiber towel that they sell at Costco. It comes in a set of 30, costs about 15 bucks and it's super absorbent, washable and reusable. I carry that with me on every trip.

For this trip, I also brought along bio-friendly toilet paper and bug spray, just in case. You just never know when either or both might come in handy.

Mahesh Thapa is a member of the Alpha Imaging Collective. You can see more of his photography at starvingphotographer.com. Follow him on Instagram @starvingphotographer 

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