UfD: Travel Photography-Lessons Learned
Travel Photography-Lessons Learned
Last December Leanne invited me to write a post entitled “Up for Discussion- Travel Photography” for her blog and I happily accepted the opportunity. Both she and I were planning major trips to completely different destinations—New York City and Antarctica—and we asked readers to offer their thoughts on what gear we should be taking. The responses were numerous and full of good ideas.
My Antarctica trip is now completed and Leanne suggested a “Lessons Learned” post might be of interest. It also is opportunity to thank those who commented on the original article. Their collective wisdom was of great help in my pre-trip research. On the subject of pre-trip research I would also recommend a post by Susan Portnoy, an excellent travel photographer based in New York City.
- One Camera Body or Two? There is no place in Antarctica to rent equipment and several readers (Murray Foote, Chillbrook, and others) recommended taking two bodies, so I purchased a second D800E (used). Even though there was no breakdown, the second body had another important benefit discussed in Lesson #3.
- Weight Matters: There was a strong consensus that putting cameras and lenses in checked baggage is risky. Consequently, airline weight restrictions for carry-on baggage become the critical factor in limiting what one can take. The tour company advised that our flight to Ushuaia had a strict 5 kg policy (11 pounds). Yikes! But several readers (Murray Foote and others) assured me that airlines rarely weigh the bags. That turned out to be the case, although I had Murray’s Plan B (Winter Jacket with big pockets) if I got unlucky. The tripod remained at the hotel in Buenos Aires, a decision I did not regret. I retrieved it afterwards for the side trip to Iguazu Falls where it was heavily used. One reader suggested the F-Stop Loka Ultralight Camera Bag which weighs in at 1 kg (2.2 pounds) and has the perfect dimensions for overhead bins.
- How Many lenses? Many readers emphasized the need for at least two lenses, a mid-range and a telephoto. Several said a long telephoto (300mm at least) would be needed for wildlife. But weight considerations made this impossible. However, Sarina of Sariscorner among others recommended a tele converter. My Nikon 1.7x converter (9.3 ounces) increased my 70-200mm lens to 119-340mm. I left my 5-pound 80-400mm zoom behind and I’m glad I did. The two lenses plus the tele converter were sufficient. The second camera body eliminated the need to change lenses, a critical benefit because the numerous shooting opportunities in Antarctica are both fleeting and varied, not to mention the wet conditions. Sv-takeiteasy suggested a dry bag for the Zodiac trips, and I found one that fit easily in my checked baggage.
- Prepare Yourself: Lensaddiction contributed some excellent points about one’s ability to cope with the conditions in which they are photographing. If you aren’t in shape, start exercising well before the trip. Have proper outdoor clothing, and stay hydrated at all times. As she said, “It’s not just the camera gear, it’s you.” When the weather turned really cold here in Virginia, it was an opportunity to test certain clothing options to see how they stood up. I found that NorthFace nylon rain pants (very thin material) as an outer layer provide excellent protection against wind chill in a stiff wind even at 10 degrees (F). But not all worked as advertised. A pair of Freehands gloves, for example, make camera operation easy but provide little protection even in moderate cold. Solution: use them as the inserts in ski gloves when not actually shooting.
- Trust the histogram: Antarctica provided a combination of challenges I had never experienced simultaneously: shooting frequently in low light conditions without a tripod, a need for depth of field (small aperture), and high shutter speed. This usually required a higher ISO than I typically used. The Histogram, and its trusty sidekick, the “blinkies” panel, are your best friends in a situation like this.
- Shooting from a Moving Platform: I knew the definitions of roll, pitch, and yaw before this trip, but I had never experienced them while trying to take photographs. Of course, a high shutter speed will eliminate the effects of motion and horizons can be straightened in post-processing. That’s OK for single exposure images, but what about panorama scenes where several overlapping exposures are taken with the intent to merge them in post-processing? The rules for this technique insist the camera be in the same spot for all exposures in the sequence. But the ship was not going to stop every time I saw a pano opportunity. Having no other choice, I took each sequence as quickly as possible, averaging about 1 second between exposures. I could only hope that Photoshop would figure it out somehow which, as it turned out, was the case.
- Be Alert to Surroundings: A number of readers (e.g. Savannahhop9), mostly on the topic of Leanne’s upcoming trip to New York City, suggested that staying aware of your surroundings is an important practice. While perhaps less relevant aboard a ship than walking through a gritty urban environment at night, it was important several times during my time in Argentina and Brazil. Since I often am shooting in US cities after dark, I already knew this well and stayed out of trouble. Along this line, epadawon suggested using the free app from lenstag.com to register one’s gear in case it goes missing. I signed up for the service, but fortunately haven’t needed it so far.
Looking back on the trip and the photographic results, I would say that it was very successful. I can honestly say that much of that success is attributable to the excellent guidance from those who took the time to comment—many at great length—on the original post. I am very appreciative.
For those who like gear lists:
Cameras: 2- Nikon D800E DSLR bodies (total weight—2.04 kg)
Lenses: 1- Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 (weight—1.05 kg)
- Nikon 70-200 mm f/2.8 with 1.7 tele extender (weight–1.91 kg)
Camera bag: F-Stop Loka UL (weight with the added optional internal camera compartment—1.5kg)
Total Weight = 7.3 kg (16 lbs)
I hope you will all join me in thanking Robin for this great post. It is great to see how the trip went and what he learned about the gear to take. Robin has given us a lot of links, but none to him, so if you would like to take a look at his photos of this trip then go to his blog, photographybykent. Thank you Robin.