Events & Travel Tips » Tips to Make Travel Photography Easier & Lighter
|This carved wood architectural detail shows the easiness and serendipity of available light. Natural light angled from the side reveals the depth of the details as defined by deep shadows and bright highlights.|
I hate to admit it, but I am a wimp as far as carrying things. My outdoorsy wife Judith seems to have been born with a backpack full of stuff—hers, mine, the kids. But I hate stuff dragging me down. Now to quote cousin George, “don’t get me wrong.” I can, if absolutely necessary, carry my own weight in equipment, and have. I think I was one of the original shooters in the mosh pits of the west coast punk scene, and nearly 10 years of mosh pits with twin Nikons around my neck, plus film carts, flashes, extra lenses, etc. did me in.
So, after years of anticipation I was finally prepared to go to Italy and I needed to find a way to get quality images but not overburden myself. How to pack light enough to make travel easy, keep international inspections easier and make the trip fun and not taxing—while still getting professional images? This was the question.
Compromise, what a word. Sometimes it is a word I hate, but I have to admit sometimes it is also a great concept—this was one of those times. If this had been strictly an assignment I would have had to carry on board with me a laptop and all the gear needed to download and duplicate pictures; then a metal carrying case with at least two cameras, a minimum of 4 lenses and a number of accessories. Each piece would have been 20+ pounds, and then there would be the suitcase as well. I have done this, on a whirlwind 3-week tour of six countries—not fun.
Now, seeing as this was a self-imposed challenge of sorts, and not a fully commissioned assignment, I wanted to test how lightly I could travel. Being a professional and a business man I am a firm believer in the department of redundancy department, meaning that I was not foolish enough to travel with only one camera and risk it breaking. I am sure I could have secured a rental or borrowed something from NPS in Rome if needed, but that would have been stressful as well. So, how lucky was I to have a couple of post-grad children, Genni and Weston, who were interested enough to want to learn how to use my equipment instead of a point and shoot. I took advantage of this fact and brought a second body and lens for them to use. Truth is, I never touched them except to show my kids how to use them.
So, with redundancy sneakily taken care of, I was left to think through my needs. I would have truly preferred my Nikon D-70, as it is a lot of camera for its size. Speaking of size, I also have smallish hands, built more for brain surgery than lumberjacking. So I have always been a fan of the small camera. That is why I shed my original Nikon F, it was a beauty, but the weight and size were too much for me. I went straight for the lighter and newer Nikormats; I had a pair, matched, one with black tape and one without. Black tape was used to cover up the chrome and make it look more beat-up, minimalist and unobtrusive. When they became overly-used, I switched to the Nikon FMs. Small, great, workhorse cameras.
The small, light D-70 would have been fine, but I have gotten used to the newer mechanisms of my Nikon D-200. So that was my decision. All the power of a film store and darkroom in one package.
Lenses, now what? For something like this challenge, clearly the zoom is the way to go for a single multi-use lens. Twenty years ago, I would have brought a 24mm, 55mm, 105mm, and maybe even a 200mm at the least. A while ago, it would probably have been my Nikon 35-105 macro zoom. I have become a fan of the relatively new Nikon 24-120mm VR zoom. I find the VR aspect can gain me around two additional stops with some help, like leaning on a pole or fence. This was clearly my choice. Slight wide, range of normals, slight telephoto. Not a difficult decision from my point of view. (One design flaw, in case someone at Nikon is listening. The lens shade does not stay fixed in place. I have now lost two of them—including one at Piazza Navonna in Rome; and my friend Richard McCaffrey has lost one as well. The same type of bayonet mount works well on other lenses, but not so on this one.)
|This detail from Rome's fabulous Trevi Fountain is not spectacularly lit, but it was too charming an image to resist. The shutter speed is just enough to freeze some of the action of the water while allowing some movement as well.|
Medium and File Storage
Medium and file storage - the next problems. I have a very good friend who works off of one of the new 16 GB compact flash cards, shooting assignment after assignment of journalistic tasks on one card. There is a time a place for these cards I am sure—video I suspect. I can also see for a full day of RAW or NEF shooting, where it would be useful. But something about all the eggs in one basket scares me. So I decided upon a series of about half a dozen 4 GB cards of varying makes.
Next was the decision of which setting for image size to use. Most of my work is for books and magazines. Occasionally something needs to go a double-bleed of, at most, 24” x 12”. And when I print for exhibition there are usually only a few shots I want large. My exhibition history and style is that of a series of sizes, some small and intimate like a 5” x 7”, several 8” x 10” images, more 11” x 14” images and rarely some 16” x 20” images.
So with size needs limited by the likely outcome/needs described, I opted to shoot on LargeFine /JPEG instead of RAW or my usual RAW/JPG setting. I always had the option to change to the RAW setting as needed. With this Large Fine /JPEG setting, each 4 GB card provided hundreds of images. So more than likely, for instance, I could shoot 2-3 days in Venice with one card or so; change cards when I moved to a new location and shoot 2-3 days in Florence, etc. In this way my most valuable eggs were wisely spread out over a few baskets. In the end, it all worked. I shot thousands of useable images, not all are winners for sure, but almost all are acceptable for one or two upcoming book projects. I also made sure to include family pictures, as well as many experimental images for two assignments that I hope to share with you at a later date.
Let me add a note to the various camera manufactures, maybe they are already working on it. I made the conscious decision to not bring a method of duplication, a decision that did not make me feel comfortable. I knew if I brought my laptop my most valuable time would be spent checking email and the like, which I desperately wanted to avoid. On another, similar assignment I bought a device that was supposed to make CDs from the inserted flashcards. I found it extremely unusable, untrustworthy and non-functional. Maybe someone now has a good one they want to suggest I try?
|With the setting sun striking the golden metal of this warrior angel, it was the contrast of the deep blue behind the golden highlights which drew my eye to this scene.|
This decision to leave Italy with only one copy of my pictures did make me nervous. I know that, for instance, the Fuji S3 had a choice of cards possible to use in the same body. Has anyone thought about being able to duplicate from one card to another within the camera? This would be wonderful, adding portable backup to your main working tool. Please, someone who designs cameras contact me (fstopfitzgerald.com) and I will tell you what we need. Maybe I am late to this invention; if anyone knows if it is now possible, please let me know!
So, with the totals in here we go: one Nikon D200 with end cap and strap, one Nikon 24mm-120mmVR zoom with end caps and shade (donated to Italy), about six 4 GB cards, 3100 individual pictures. I had several small additional cards but never used them. I also brought a 1.4x lens multiplier but never used that either. Oh, and yeah, the power source. I always have a spare battery with me as well as a couple of 4 GB cards. I ran out of power once in my first week using the D70, and never since. I seem to have learned that lesson, fingers crossed. So I brought two battery packs and a charger. Only recharged every other night on average. This always gave me a fully charged and partially charged battery at all times. All the equipment broke down and carried nicely in a well-worn titanium briefcase which had the distinct advantages of being small enough to carry and stow in overhead compartments, easy to keep an eye on and making me look suspiciously like either a mob hit-man or international espionage agent.