Saturday, August 31, 2013

Top Six Travel Photography Essentials

Solar Halo at Cape Hofmann Halvo, Scoresby Sund, GreenlandToday, travelers are often journeying to far-off lands and seas, many to “once-in-a-lifetime” destinations. During the past month, I was on such a trip to the Arctic. Most of the expedition trip was spent in Svalbard, an archipelago halfway between the North Pole and Norway, and in Greenland, with short stops in Oslo, Reykjavik and Paris.

Travelers can find themselves hundreds of miles from the nearest photo store or repair shop at destinations like Svalbard, and Greenland, and while in cities, where photo shops are available, who wants to waste precious time in them, for purchases or repairs.

Travel and photo gear self-sufficiency, while away from home, has become essential, especially for those for whom photography is an important part of their journeys.

While in Greenland, atop a large hill at Cape Hofmann Halvo, in Scoresby Sund, preparing to shoot a landscape, my Nikon D700 suddenly, without warning, stopped auto-focusing. Within moments, several other “electronic” problems occurred. My D700 was dead, in need of repair. Digital cameras are highly complex “computer” driven electronic devices, which eventually suffer partial or total failure, and usually at the “wrong time.”

Fortunately, I travel with at least two camera bodies. I was able to continue photographing some of the most beautiful landscapes and spectacular wildlife imaginable with my primary DSLR, a Nikon D4, including the solar halo I was lining up to photograph with the D700, when it died.

While I know everyone won't be able to have a second camera as a back-up, if for no other reason than its expense, I think that anyone for whom travel photography is important, must seriously consider it.
For many travel photographer enthusiasts, a back-up camera may not be that far out of reach.
Numerous DSLR (Digital Single Len Reflex) users begin with “Point & Shoot” (P&S)cameras before moving to DSLRs. If you still have your P&S, it can be your back-up camera. While it won't be as good as your DSLR, you'll still be able to make photographs. If you've moved from one DSLR to another, use your older model as your back-up. Likewise, if you purchase a new P&S with improved features, make your older model your back-up, just in case.
I can't tell you how often I've heard from traveler photographers who've experienced a camera failure like mine, who wished they had a back-up camera, any back-up camera, but didn't.
Here are five more essentials all travel photographers should carry:

Gaffer tape — For all travel I never leave home without a couple of travel rolls of “duct tape,” but for photography use, I carry a small roll of gaffer tape. Both have excellent strength, but unlike duct tape, gaffer tape which is cloth based, doesn’t leave a sticky residue behind when you remove it. It tears cleanly, is matte black and non-reflective.

Back-up hard drive — I strongly suggest backing up your images, at least daily, while traveling, for all the same reasons you back up your images at home. For short trips I use a battery powered portable Sanho HyperDrive Colorspace UDMA 500GB hard drive to back up. I can plug in my memory cards directly into the drive. On long trips, such as my Arctic trip, I travel with my laptop and store my images on a pair of LaCie 1TB Rugged Mini hard drives, then format my memory cards for continued use.

Cleaning kit — For all cameras you want to keep your lenses and cameras clean. If you're in a particularly dusty environment such as desert areas, or at sea where salt spray is particularly sticky, you'll be cleaning your lenses and equipment often. I suggest you always travel with a pair of microfiber cleaning cloths, and for stubborn dirt, a liquid cleaner, suitable for optics. I use Purosol Optical Cleaner.

If you have a DSLR, you'll need a sensor cleaning kit too. I suggest carrying a small air blower like the Giotto's Rocket, or Visible Dust's Zeeion Blower. You'll also want the right size of Sensor Swab, along with Eclipse Cleaning Solution, in case the blower doesn't work, for wet cleaning.

Quality memory cards — For digital camera users, your film is your memory card. To me, memory cards are not the equipment on which travel photographers should try to save money, and potentially lose precious images. Buy quality memory cards, and more than you think you need. Don't be one of the legions of travelers who've missed great photo opportunities because their memory cards were full.

Spare batteries — Digital cameras depend on battery power. You don't want to have your camera run out of power before you're through shooting photos for the day, so make sure you have at least one spare battery with you and don't forget to bring your charger on your trip.


Lisa - NYC said...

You're right about having a backup camera. Thanks for the suggestion to bring along my Point and Shoot. I never thought about doing that. It's a perfect solution, rather than buy another DSLR at this point. I'm waiting for Nikon to bring out the D400.

Great article overall.

Ned S. Levi said...

Lisa, thanks for your readership.

I'm happy that you found the article useful.

I wouldn't hold your breath for the D400. We've been waiting a long time for it, and even if it comes out, I don't think it's going to have the pro feature set that most are clamoring for. If you're thinking about the D400, it might be time to think about the D7100.

In the meantime, it appears as though Nikon's next two DSLR's are going to be the D5300 entry level DX DSLR, and the FX D610, which I think is being brought out to eliminate the D600's sensor oil problem.

Thanks again.

George - Denver said...

Hey Ned, great article. I really hadn't thought about a backup camera before I read your article, but it makes sense. When I purchased my D5100, it was to replace my D40, which I sold.

I'm considering getting the D7100, but this time, I'll take your advice and keep the D5100, just in case.

I always take my laptop to stay in touch with the office when traveling. Based on your article I ordered a LaCie 1TB drive to backup the images I store daily when away on my laptops drive. I don't shoot as many photos as you so don't need 2 external drives.

Keep the great articles coming.

Charlene - Chicago said...

Ned, to clean my lenses, I use a cleaner recommended for my glasses by my optician. Shouldn't that be okay?

Ned S. Levi said...

Charlene, thanks for your readership. Not knowing what's in your cleaner, I can't be sure, but it should be okay. The reason I can't be sure is that cleaners designed for photographic lenses are designed to not damage their lens coatings.

The Pursol cleaner is such a well designed cleaner, and it's great for cleaning through salt spray residue, something some cleaners aren't very good at and require too much rubbing with the lens cloth, which isn't good for lenses.

Ned S. Levi said...

George, good luck with your new drive and thanks for your readership.

Roy - Denver said...

Ned, what do you think of the Seagate GoFlex ultra-portable drives for image backup.

Ned S. Levi said...

Roy, thanks for your readership.

I've never personally tested the GoFlex drives. I can only say that Seagate is a company which has a history of producing quality drives, but in the past, some of their external drives, namely the FreeAgent series, had reliability problems, in my opinion (I owned quite a few and had problems myself, along with other clients and as per reports on the Internet.).

Friends have told me those problems are in the past, and Seagate's new drives are great, but as I've said, I haven't tested that series of drives.

Randy - Cleveland said...

So Ned, what are the best memory cards to use?

Ned S. Levi said...

Randy, personally I use both Sandisk and Lexar memory cards. I consider these companies the premier memory card manufacturers for cameras.

That said, there are other manufacturers who make quality cards. One that comes to mind is Kingston.

When purchasing cards I have two specific caveats other than buying from top manufacturers. First, make sure the card is compatible with your camera. Typically the camera manufacturer and/or the memory card manufacturer can tell you what cards will work well with your camera. Second, purchase your card from a reputable dealer. There are many counterfeit cards in circulation. They are inferior to the real thing, and their warranty is worthless.

I purchase the best quality card I can get for my cameras, that are also the fastest cards which will work in the cameras. Even if the camera can't use the speed, when I upload the images to my computer from the card, through a card reader, my computer can use the speed.

I hope this answers your questions.

Phillipa-London, UK said...

Great article Ned. Question about sensor swabs.

I note that many websites which explain sensor cleaning say to use PecPads with a spatula looking plastic holder. Why do you recommend SensorSwabs?

Ned S. Levi said...

Hi Phillipa,

I hope to be visiting your great city soon.

Photographic Solutions, the manufacturer of both PecPads and SensorSwabs states this about PecPads, "PEC*PADs are NOT recommended for cleaning CCD sensors. PEC*PEDs are not made from the same materials that are used in Sensor Swabs. Photographic Solutions does not approve or warranty the CCD or any camera part from any damage caused by using non approved products."

Frankly, PecPads shouldn't be used for any camera sensor cleaning, including CMOS sensors, with or without high pass filters.

That's why I recommend SensorSwabs. They are safe to use on camera sensors.

Thanks for your readership.

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