It’s fall here in the US, and photographers are out and about, capturing lots of color in mountains and forests. But the early morning chill in the air and the honk of migrating geese remind me of my favorite fall place: Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico.
Bosque del Apache was the site of my first photo workshop, and where I was bitten hard by the Bird Photography bug. Not only is Bosque a great place to learn bird photography, it’s become an annual “meet and greet” for the outdoor photographer community. Photographers of all levels, either on a workshop or on their own, invade the little town of Socorro and comingle, exchange ideas and socialize both in the field and the various hangouts around town. I’m trilled to be going back this year with Rick Sammon and Juan Pons for a great workshop.
If you’re heading there for the first time, you can take advantage of those of us who make it an annual pilgrimage, and plan ahead for your gear and supplies. You won’t be heading to a remote place like Africa, so if you forget something, you can always pick it up at a local store. However, Bosque is so enchanting you won’t want to miss a single minute of shooting time by shopping!
Let’s start with non-photographic gear. You’ll be in desert air, with wild temperature fluctuations throughout the day. In the before-dawn when we set up, it can get cold. For most of us, I mean really cold. I’ve spent many mornings in below zero temps at Bosque. By afternoon, it can reach 70! So, dress in layers. Invest some good outdoor clothing and supplies. Check the weather ahead of time! Here’s a good non-photographic gear list:
- Good windproof outer shell parka.
- Long underwear. My favorite is made by SmartWool. Expensive but worth every penny.
- Warm socks and sock liner. Again, SmartWool.
- Warm shoes. We won’t be hiking, but warmth is the key here.
- Gloves that allow you to work your camera. AquaTech Sensory Gloves are our best sellers, and for good reason. You may also want to get a pair of thin gloves or liners you can wear under the AquaTechs, like FoxGloves.
- Hand warmer packets. Get these ahead of time. You’ll need them, and the local Walmart will be sold out as lots of folks get them on their second day after frozen hands on their first!
- Hiker’s Headlamp. These are really handy for early morning setups. Try and get one with a red lamp to save your low light vision. Yes, you’ll look funny, but you’ll be very glad you have it!
- NEOS Overshoes. If you have room in your bags, these could come in handy. Some shots, like the iconic Bosque shot with mist and cranes, might require you to stand in some shallow water, depending on the reserve’s water levels. Not a requirement, but they might be nice to have.
- Hats. One stocking cap (SmartWool!) to cover your ears in the morning, and a billed cap for the day.
- Sunglasses, sunscreen and lip balm for the desert day.
- Water. Pick up some water when you get to town to keep in your room. The dry air really takes it out of you.
As to photographic gear, Bosque del Apache is a place where you can find a use for nearly every piece of photo gear you own, from a point & shoot camera to your longest lens. If you could pack every camera and lens you own, you’d be able to use it. Certainly, you’ll want to bring your longest lens, along with your sturdiest tripod and head. Bosque is a great place to practice flight shots, as the Sandhill Cranes that fly around are big and slow. If you are looking for an excuse to purchase that 500mm lens, or a new tripod or gimbal head, now’s the time. You’ll never find a better place to learn how to use them.
In addition to your longest lens, bring your shortest, widest lens you have. Bosque provides some wonderful landscapes and “birdscapes” during spectacular sunrises and sunsets. In addition to the refuge, the area has some cool buildings and old cars, as well as the Very Large Array of radio telescope dishes made famous by several movies. There are lots of uses for your wide angle lenses. Since there are not a lot of mammals at Bosque, other than the occasional coyote, middle range lenses such as a 70-200 are used only occasionally. If you have to pare down lenses in your travel bag, go for the extremes.
Speaking of camera bags, a roller bag such as the Think Tank Airport Security works best at Bosque. Bring as much gear as you can! We won’t be shooting far from our vehicles — you can’t leave the road in the refuge. As such, you can bring a bag or two that hold your gear, and you can “pack heavy” instead of paring down your stuff to fit in a backpack.
You’ll be able to shoot quite a bit from your car at Bosque if you like. A gravel road circles the refuge and folks drive it looking for shots. When you see a bunch of cars parked, chances are something good is going on. To shoot from our car, you can bring a beanbag. The Apex Beanbags are nice in that they have a tripod mount on top of them for your gimbal head or ballhead. Bring your beanbag empty and fill it with birdseed from Walmart. When you’re ready to go home you can just dump it out and give the local birds a treat.
As Bosque offers all kinds of shooting situations, and you can pack heavy, bring all your odds and ends you might use on a shoot: items like a bubble level and polarizer for landscapes, flash, cord and Better Beamer for fill flash, extra memory cards, hard drives and so on.
Here’s a list of suggested photographic gear to recap and to add a few things:
- Longest lens you have
- Gimbal head or a good ball head for that lens
- Good sturdy tripod
- Wide angle lens for landscapes and for video
- Bubble level to keep your landscape horizons straight
- Big camera bag such as a Think Tank Airport Security as you will be working from your car
- Polarizer for your wide angle lens
- Flash and Better Beamer for fill flash
- Flash bracket to get your flash up off your camera
- Off camera flash cord
- Bean bag or car mount for shooting from your car
- Leg Coats for your tripod as it will get cold
- Extra batteries for your camera and flash
- Good charger for your batteries
- Extra memory cards—you’ll fill them up
- Lenspen, microfiber cloth and air blower as it will be dusty
- Sensor cleaner such as SensorKlear, Sensor Swabs or Dust Aid
- Card reader to download your images—much faster than from the camera
- Portable hard drive to back up your computer
As I wrote earlier, you’ll find a little bit of everything at Bosque del Apache and the surrounding areas. You’ll also find a host of friendly photographers and friends that you may have only met online. You’ll find that you will want to visit every year.
I’m happy to be going this year! Rick, Juan and I will see you at the Owl Bar in San Antonio, right outside the refuge, for a world famous green chile cheeseburger. (Did I mention bring some Tums?)