Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Travel Photography: Geotagging, Part 1

Have you ever wondered what all the geotagging fuss is about, or what it actually is? Have you ever heard the expression, "Find your photos," and wondered what the heck that was all about?

Have you ever returned home from a long vacation, and started scanning through your photos, only to forget which church was which, or exactly where you took that great photo? We all have, at one time or another.

Year's ago I took detailed notes whenever I took photos on trips. More recently, I dictated the information into a digital voice recorder.

Here's the thing though, I can go on a trip for a couple of weeks and easily take several thousand photos, especially if they're wildlife photos. Not that long ago, on a "trip of a lifetime" to the Galapagos, I took more than 5,000 photographs in just a week of hiking, cruising, and snorkeling.

The best solution in the 21st century, I've found to record exactly where each of my photos was taken, is geotagging.
"Geotagging is the process of adding geographical identification metadata to various media such as photographs, video, websites, or RSS feeds and is a form of geospatial metadata. This data usually consists of latitude and longitude coordinates, though it can also include altitude, bearing, accuracy data, and place names."
Exif DataGeotagging photographs can be done manually or automatically. It can be accomplished via a GPS device, geocoding, geotagging, or Exif editing software. Some Point & Shoot camera manufacturers have added GPS modules directly into their cameras, while other cameras, especially professional quality DSLR's, are GPS capable and can have portable GPS devices plugged directly in to them.

Geotagging my photos has become a crucial step in documenting my journeys. It enables me to be able to precisely inform interested parties where the photograph was taken. By geotagging my photos I can easily use them to create a narrative of my travel experience.

Moreover, when I travel to places few have had the chance to visit, I can use the geotagged photos to help answer the question, "Hey, exactly where is that?" Using online mapping software like Google Maps or Goggle Earth, I can literally "map" my geotagged photos so everyone can can see the photo coupled with both topographical and geographical data displayed on the map.

My Nikon DSLR is GPS capable. It keeps GPS information in each photo's Exif data. I could enter the data manually, collected with one of those handheld GPS units, but that's just too much work, so I bought a GPS receiver for my DSLR. It's definitely the best travel photography accessory I bought last year!

Solmeta N2 GPS receiverI purchased the Solmeta DP-GPS N2 unit (from Nikonians) which plugs directly into my Nikon DSLR. Every time I take a photograph the camera pulls the GPS information from the Solmeta unit and stores it with the photo.

I use RoboGEO software which can read the GPS data (longitude, latitude, elevation) from each of my photos directly. I can then create a Google map which shows each of the chosen photo locations, or create a KML or KMZ file to import directly into Google Earth. Many photo display websites such as Google's Picasa, Yahoo's Flickr, or SmugMug can take your photos and map them for you in your photo area of their site, if the photos contain GPS data.

I highly recommend any traveler geotag their photos to enhance their memories of their sojourns.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

By Request: My Firefox Recommendations

While it's not strictly about Travel Photography, or even photography more or less, I've been getting lots of email requests here and at Tripso.com where I write a weekly travel column, to talk about the add-ins I use with Firefox.

Firefox is my primary web browser. I continue to like it more than my secondary browser Microsoft Internet Explorer, and other browsers such as Google Chrome and Opera. For me the main reason which keeps me using Firefox is how much you can customize it to meet your specific needs. I currently use 44 add-ins with Firefox 3.x to customize it to work well for me.

So by demand, here are my add-ons for Firefox 3.x (Photographic related add-ons are denoted in copper.)
  1. Adblock Plus - Blocks ads and banners on the internet that often take longer to download than everything else on the page. This add-on is amazingly powerful.
  2. Advanced URL Builder - Append selected text to the URL of your favorite site enabling you to submit a query to any website. For example - highlight a placename/postcode and open it using Google maps.
  3. All-in-One Sidebar - All-in-One Sidebar lets you quickly switch between sidebar panels, view dialog windows such as downloads, extensions, and more in the sidebar, or view source or websites in the sidebar. This is one of the most useful Firefox add-ins ever.
  4. Better YouTube - A compilation of some of the best Greasemonkey user scripts for YouTube in one interface.
  5. Check All - Makes it possible to check/uncheck several checkboxes at the same time. Just select them, right-click and chose action.
  6. Clipboard-Save-As - Simulates right-click -> "save as" with an URL in the clipboard.
  7. Clipmarks - Instead of copying and pasting links, Clipmarks is like adding a pair of scissors to your browser, letting you capture exactly what you want others to see (text, images or video). Your clips are saved on clipmarks.com and can easily be syndicated to FriendFeed, Twitter, Facebook or other sites. You can also post anything you clip directly to your blog (supports Wordpress, Blogger, Typepad and more) or send it directly to friends or co-workers via email.
  8. Color Management - Provides a GUI front end for enabling color management in Firefox and Songbird. If you want Firefox to poperly display your photographic work try this add-in out.
  9. Configuration Mania - Configuration Mania allows you easily to configure various hidden Firefox preferences.
  10. Controle de Scripts - Controle de Scripts is an extension that allows you to control what JavaScripts do on your browser.
  11. Cooliris - Full-Screen, 3D -- Cooliris transforms your browser into a visually stunning, lightning fast way to search and enjoy online photos, videos and more. Just launch Cooliris from the browser toolbar, and our unique "3D Wall" lets you zoom your way around thousands items on a single, ever-expansive wall.
  12. Ctrl-Tab - Ctrl+Tab navigation and "All Tabs" panel
  13. CustomizeGoogle - CustomizeGoogle is a Firefox extension that enhance Google search results by adding extra information (like links to Yahoo, Ask.com, MSN etc) and removing unwanted information (like ads and spam). All features are optional and easily configured.
  14. Dictionary Tooltip - Press ctrl+shift+D (or) double-click (or) right-click after selecting a word to see its meaning. This extension is ideal for those who doesn't like to switch their window to see the meaning of a word. There is a small fee for this add-in but it's worth every penny.
  15. DictionarySearch - Looks up a user selected word in an online. Some web sites prevent Dictionary Tooltip from working, so this is my backup method of accessing the dictionary on the fly.
  16. (Video) DownloadHelper - The easy way to download and convert Web videos from hundreds of YouTube-like sites.
  17. Down ThemAll! - The first and only download manager/accelerator built inside Firefox.
  18. Edit Middle - Show AwesomeBar results when editing in the middle (not just at the end)
  19. Extended Copy Menu - It adds a "Copy As Html" and "Copy As Plain Text" to the context (right-click) menu. It is useful if you want to copy the text or underlying html from a web page into documents, posts or other applications. This is invaluable for using quotes from web pages which must be pasted without formatting.
  20. Favicon Picker 3 - Change your bookmark icons! Right-click any bookmark, and select "Properties", then "Browse" for a new image or paste in a url. Works with Firefox 3.
  21. FireFTP - FireFTP is a free, secure, cross-platform FTP client for Mozilla Firefox which provides easy and intuitive access to FTP servers.
  22. Forecastfox - Get international weather forecasts from AccuWeather.com, and display it in any toolbar or statusbar with this highly customizable and unobtrusive.
  23. Foxmarks Bookmark Synchronizer - If you use Firefox on more than one computer, you'll want Foxmarks. Install Foxmarks on each computer, and it works silently in the background to keep your bookmarks and (optionally) passwords synchronized.
  24. Go Parent Folder - Add "Go Parent Folder" menu to context menu in The Library list view and Search result in Bookmarks Sidebar.
  25. Greasemonkey - Allows you to customize the way a webpage displays using small bits of JavaScript.
  26. Groowe Search Toolbar - Groowe Search Toolbar bundles toolbar functions for many search engines, shopping sites, download sites, including Google toolbar, Yahoo, Amazon, EBay, Ask, Msn, Download.com, Wikipedia, Digg, del.icio.us and others.
  27. Hebrew Calendar - Show the Hebrew date in your browser's status.
  28. IE Tab - This enables embedding Internet Explorer in tabs of Mozilla/Firefox. It's really amazing.
  29. IE View - Lets you load pages in IE with a single right-click, or mark certain sites to *always* load in IE.
  30. Image Toolbar - Single-click access to common actions for images (e.g. saving, copying, printing). This extension is intended to provide a replacement for the equivalent toolbar in Internet Explorer.
  31. Java Quick Starter - Part of the Java 6 Update
  32. Opanda IExif - Opanda IExif is a professional EXIF viewer in Windows / IE / Firefox, It is the best choice to view EXIF / GPS / IPTC for photographer, shutterbug, photo editor and so on.
  33. OpenBook - This extension allows for customization of the Add Bookmark dialog. The bookmarks tree can be automatically opened and elements can be revealed or hidden. Also, the dialog can be resized.
  34. PDF Download - Use PDF Download to do whatever you like with PDF files on the Web. Regain control of them and eliminate browser problems, view PDFs directly in Firefox as HTML, and use the all-new Web-to-PDF toolbar to save and share Web pages as high-quality PDF files.
  35. Print Preview - Creates a Print Preview toolbar button and context menu item.
  36. Right-Click-Link - Opens selected text in a new tab.
  37. Screen grab! - Screengrab saves entire webpages as images. It will save what you can see in the window, the entire page, just a selection, a particular frame. Basically it saves webpages as images.
  38. Show Parent Folder - Show Parent Folder in list view of Library.
  39. Skype extension for Firefox - Installed as part of Skype communication software.
  40. StumbleUpon - StumbleUpon discovers web sites based on your interests, learns what you like and brings you more.
  41. Tab Mix Plus - Tab Mix Plus enhances Firefox's tab browsing capabilities. It includes such features as duplicating tabs, controlling tab focus, tab clicking options, undo closed tabs and windows, plus much more. It also includes a full-featured session manager. This invaluable add-in is my most important one. It enables me to have full control of the tabs in Firefox, and its session manager is far superior to the one built into Firefox.
  42. United States English Dictionary - English United States (en-US) spellchecking dictionary.
  43. Who is This Person - Highlight any name on a web page and see matching information from Wink, LinkedIn, Wikipedia, Facebook, Google News, Technorati, Yahoo Person Search, Spock, WikiYou, ZoomInfo, IMDB, MySpace and more.
  44. Window Resizer - Resize your browser to various standard resolution sizes.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Air Travel — Tripods and Monopods — Carry-on or Checked-in

It's extremely rare for me to travel without either my monopod and/or tripod. With today's air travel carry-on rules, and their inconsistent interpretation and enforcement, it's hard to know where to pack one's monopod or tripod.

At this point, TSA and other countries' security agencies are not permitting monopods in carry-on bags. TSA has told me that it's a stick or weapon to them. My advice, if you want to bring your monopod when you fly, is to pack it in your checked-in luggage.

Tripods, on the other hand, usually may be taken into the cabin in your carry-on, or packed in your checked-in luggage.

The choice of where to pack my tripod, has more to do with how long I'm going to be traveling, and what I need to pack in my carry-on bags, than convenience or any other factor.

When packing one's belongings, air travelers must understand airlines' rules and liability limits. In the words of US Airways, as an example,
"US Airways assumes no liability for valuable/commercial items including but not limited to: money, negotiable papers, securities, irreplaceable business documents, books, manuscripts, publications, photographic or electronic equipment, musical instruments, jewelry, silverware, precious metals, furs, antiques, artifacts, paintings and other works of art, lifesaving medication, and samples."
and in addition,
"Total liability for provable direct or consequential damages resulting from the loss, delay, or damage to baggage in US Airways’ custody is limited as follows:
A. for travel wholly between U.S. points, to $3300 per customer
B. for most international travel (including domestic portions of international journeys), to $9.07 per pound ($20 per kilo) for checked baggage and $400 per customer for unchecked baggage in the custody/control of the carrier." (If your one checked-in bag weighs the maximum of 50 lbs, the maximum liability coverage offered is $453.50.)
The airlines are telling us all, don't pack anything of value, or what you can't afford to loose, in your checked-in luggage.

In the US and most of the world, you're allowed a single carry-on bag, plus a personal bag. I carry a roller bag which meets the maximum size general standard of 22"x14"x9" (56cm x 36cm x 23cm). This standard does vary to an extent, but I've flown all over the world with my carry-on roller bag and it's been allowed everywhere.

My personal bag is a backpack, in particular the Lowepro CompuTrekker AW Plus, in which I take my electronics, my camera gear, and my laptop.

In my roller bag, I pack, at a minimum, any other valuables I have, my medications, toilet articles, and a complete change of clothes, including shoes or sneaks.

If I'm going to be away for a weekend, I usually only use carry-on, and can attach my tripod to the bag, or pack it inside it. It's usually attached to the outside of the bag. If I'm going away for a longer time, I take a single checked-in bag and pack my tripod in the checked-in bag. When I pack the tripod in the checked-in luggage, I remove its ball head which I pack in my back-pack.

While I haven't had the problem myself, I have heard from other photographers who travel with their tripods that every once in a while, they have been forced to check-in their tripod when they tried to carry it on the plane. It becomes a target for theft at that point, and if not in a padded bag may be seriously damaged. Ask to "gate check" the tripod at that point, as it will be less likely to be stolen that way.

So, to enjoy taking those nighttime or sunrise/sunset photos, and others, with your tripod or monopod, I suggest, if at all possible, to put it in your checked-in luggage.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Brrrr! 8 secrets for mastering travel photography in cold weather

According to Frostbite Falls denizens, Rocky and Bullwinkle, cold weather vacations are the best. The mountains are more majestic, the snowy plains look new and fresh, and the icy waterfalls are studies of frozen motion.

There are tremendous photographic opportunities while traveling in cold-weather destinations. But there are also challenges you must overcome to bring home photographic travel memories from places like Montreal and Reykjavik.
  1. When you go outside into cold weather from a warm hotel, if they’ve pushed the inside humidity above 35 percent, there may be some initial fog on your lens. Don’t wipe the fog away, it will dissipate quickly on its own.
  2. Having enough battery power is the biggest problem for electronic cameras in frigid weather. Cold temperatures sap battery energy even when not in the camera. Today’s digital cameras are totally dependent on battery power. I carry spare batteries in my parka’s inside pockets, close to my body. The warmer the battery, the better it will perform. When taking a long series of photos, I rotate my batteries to stay out shooting longer.
  3. You also need to keep your camera as warm and dry as possible. In freezing weather, I keep my camera under my parka, except when taking photos. I may look a little silly with that bulge at my chest, but I’m still taking photos when others’ batteries are dead.
  4. Falling snow may seem benign compared to rain, but snow can cause just as much damage. Carry a soft, water absorbent cloth to dry off your camera. My camera is a DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex Camera). In rain or snow, I keep my camera and lens covered with a rain cover which allows me to safely shoot in snow squalls, downpours, or those misty, foggy snow scenes which are common in winter.
  5. You’ve got to protect yourself while shooting too. Holding your camera for long periods of time in freezing temperatures can cause frost-bitten fingers. I use two strategies. If the temperature is not too low, I use gloves manufactured from four-way stretch fleece fabric. With these gloves I have enough dexterity to easily handle my camera and its controls. When it’s bitter, since I use a DSLR, I can use a remote cable inside my mittens to trigger the camera. I preset the camera to set the shutter speed via the exposure meter. I also keep hand warmer packets with me.
  6. Exposure problems are the norm when shooting in the snow. Camera meters are preprogrammed to make everything 18 percent gray, so most first attempts at shooting a snow scenes result in underexposed images. Some consumer point-and-shoot cameras and DSLR’s have a snow mode to combat underexposure, but this mode is not perfect. You may still have to further compensate. To compensate, you need to force the meter to overexpose from its reading, by adding “plus” compensation. The amount will vary based on the amount of snow white in the image. For scenes of 50 percent snow and 50 percent shadow, very little compensation is needed. If the entire scene is sunlit snow, + 2 f/stops may be necessary. I usually start with a +1 f/stop compensation, and as I shoot more snow pictures, I determine how much compensation is necessary. You can also handle the exposure problem via bracketing, so within each set of the same photo, one will be properly exposed.
  7. Another problem which occurs in cold weather can ruin photos for film photographers; static electricity. Those of us who live in the north know this winter problem well. When we walk on many carpets, we can get a shock when shaking hands or touching a doorknob. This comes from the low humidity conditions of cold weather. When you use a film camera outdoors in the cold, you risk creating a static electricity buildup when your film is wound. If sufficient, a spark may flash inside the camera, fogging the film. It’s rare, but it’s happened to me. So advance the film carefully, and slowly if possible, and only shoot one frame at a time.
  8. When coming back inside, condensation can be a major problem, due to moisture from the hotel’s warm, more humid inside air. It condenses on the camera’s cold surfaces. The lens can become completely covered with moisture, as can the film, if any, and the mechanical and electronic components inside the camera. Condensation can play havoc with a digital camera. To avoid the problem, you can let your camera warm up slowly by placing it on a cool windowsill or unheated porch for a couple of hours, to allow your camera to slowly warm to room temperature. I wrap my cold camera in a plastic bag before bringing it inside. The moisture settles on the outside of the bag rather than on the camera’s outside and inside surfaces.
Have fun with your camera in the snow and cold.