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Category : Travel tip

24 Mar 2018

Keeping your photography equipment safe when traveling

I’m a trusting person but when I’m traveling one of my major fears is having my camera gear stolen. Yes, it’s well insured and if it gets stolen when I’m home I can quickly make a trip into New York City and have all shiny new gear really fast. But when on the road it can be a different story.

Losing my equipment hasn’t happened to me but when I was leading a book project on Pope John Paul II one of the photographers had a big problem. I had hired 10 great photographers and we were sitting around a hotel lobby talking about the first day’s shoot. One photographer left his camera bag sitting behind his chair. We had pulled the big seats into a circle and most of us had our gear at our feet, except one. When we got up to leave his bag was gone. This was before there were security cameras everywhere and we asked everyone we could find but his equipment was gone. I had to put together another kit for him to shot the rest of the week.

I think about that when I’m in an airport and feeling drowsy. I use Think Tank’s Airport Security rolling bags. All the zippers lock plus there is a cable that you can wrap around a chair or bench leg and secure with a combination lock. It isn’t the biggest cable you’ll ever see but it would take a pretty big pair of wire cutters to get through it. All the locks are TSA compliant so the bag won’t get trashed if the TSA needs to look inside when you check it.

Think Tank also makes an International version which is a little smaller since some foreign airports have smaller carry on bag requirements. This is the one I use for international travel and although it holds a little less equipment, it is well built and has locking zippers and the security cable.

The Think Tank bags are so secure that I don’t hesitate to leave them in a car with the security cable wrapped around something that won’t come loose, like a car seat. It would take some serious tools to get into the bag. I also use them in hotel rooms and loop the cable through the bed frame. Make sure you don’t just put the cable around the leg of something that the bad guy can lift and pull the cable out.

The only bad thing is that on the International bag the area for a laptop or iPad isn’t secure, those zippers don’t lock. My larger Airport Security bags are the original version and they don’t even have a place for a laptop. Since I have two of those bags and they are in great shape I can’t justify buying new ones just to have a secure laptop area, although that would be great.

Depending on the trip and how much gear I take, I usually have a laptop backpack that I use as my small carry on bag. It isn’t secure at all so I have this great thing from PacSafe called a backpack protector. It is a steel mesh that you put around a bag, pull the opening closed with a steel cable and lock the cable to something that isn’t moving. It folds up nicely, is fairly small and comes with a carrying bag. Again, the mesh is thick enough that serious cutters would be needed to get through it, but it is a deterrent and not 100% secure. The mesh openings are big enough that a lens could be pulled through it but a DSLR camera with a lens or a laptop or iPad wouldn’t squeeze through the mesh. I put it around my laptop bag in hotels so I don’t have to worry when I’m out of the room.

PacSafe makes lots of great theft deterrent gear, like bags and backpacks, but also camera straps with wire in them so they can’t be cut. There were lots of reports at the Rio Olympics of guys on motorcycles riding up beside photographers, pulling out a knife, slicing camera or bag straps and riding off with the gear.

I also carry a small retractable locking cable, like a bike lock. I first had one when I was skiing to secure my skis outside while recuperating in the lodge. Now I use when I want to slow down a thief, like wrapping the cable around my tripod so it can’t quickly walk away. Or run it through a backpack, just to make it a little harder to grab and go.

I try not to look too much like a photographer when I travel but I’m sure I do. I always carry a big tripod and that is a pretty good giveaway. But at least I do what I can to make it a little harder for my gear to get stolen.

16 Mar 2018

I’ll see you again soon Iceland

After 10 days in Iceland it was finally time to go home. I wasn’t quite ready, there were lots more photos I wanted to make and some I wanted to get another shot at since I wasn’t overly pleased with some of the photos I made. When hosting workshops my main goal is to make sure my participants are getting great photos and that usually comes at the expense of my own images. That is fine, that’s why I’m here. At each location I make sure everyone is seeing and capturing what they want and then I’m able to get a few pix of my own. I’d like more time in the ice cave without other tourists, but I’ll to do that on my own. The caves are only open in the winter and they’ll be closed in the next couple of weeks so that will take a special trip. I wanted to get a killer shot of the northern lights but conditions weren’t right. That also means a winter trip, so it sounds like I’ll be back next winter. I hope I can talk my wife Robin into joining me in the cold and dark.

I did get some shots that I was real happy with. I do some quick toning and editing while on trips via my laptop computer but do more exacting editing on my big color-corrected monitor in my office. I am usually able to pull some surprises out of my files and I’ll add them to the gallery on this page.

I started writing this blog post during my five hour flight home. I always get window seats on the plane because after all these years of traveling I’m still awed by seeing the earth from the air. I made sure I was on the left side of the plane when I was going to Iceland in case I could see the northern lights flaring. I didn’t. I got the right side going home so I could see Iceland as long as possible and maybe Greenland. Most people had closed the window shades within 10 minutes after takeoff but I was still peering out my window. It wasn’t long until Greenland appeared and out came my iPhone. The stranger sitting behind me saw me snapping away and opened her shade and it wasn’t long before she was taking pictures too. Greenland looked amazing, lots of glaciers, snow, ice and mountains.

For a while clouds obscured my view but it opened up again. I couldn’t help but wonder if any humans had ever walked where I was looking. How cool would it be to be the first, or even just explore the wide open space. It was a rugged but beautiful landscape and looked mighty cold, so I thought maybe summer would be a better time to explore. We covered a lot of territory before I saw anything that looked like civilization and then it was just a couple of roads winding through the mountains and along the coast. The clouds came in again and I couldn’t see anything until we were well into Canada.

Before long the plane was starting to descend and I was seeing all the snow in New England and enjoying the beauty of that but glad I didn’t have to do any shoveling. The trip was exciting but it is good to be back home.

Below is a gallery of photos from the trip. Click on an image to start a slideshow you can click through.

[envira-gallery id=”14613″]
15 Aug 2017

Once again my face is plastered against the airplane window

I know I’m supposed to be more sophisticated as a professional photographer than to sit with my face plastered against the airplane window but it happens every time I fly, especially when crossing mountains. So there I was again this morning, my head bouncing between two windows trying to see all I could as we passed over the Rockies while headed to Oregon for my photo workshop.

This is my second trip to Oregon this year and I’m probably on the same route I’ve been on several times before, seeing the same mountains and valleys and enjoying it as much as ever.

I cram myself into a window seat whenever I fly not because I like to disrupt other passengers when I need to get up and stretch – it’s the view. All the other windows on the plane are closed but there I am leaving greasy nose marks on the window and a bit of drool down below.

I usually have the flight map showing on the seatback screen but United wanted me to pay for even that, so I couldn’t tell exactly where I was. It added to the fun, trying to guess what mountain we were flying over. Is that Idaho, Wyoming?

I’m snapping away with my iPhone loving the amazing show nature has provided down below, snow on the mountains, volcanic peaks, patches of farmland in the valleys and patterns in the desert landscape. All the while the gents sitting next to me are playing games on their phones, yawning a lot and bitching because there isn’t free inflight entertainment to keep their minds numb.

Dude, get a window seat next time, the best entertainment you can imagine is down below us.

11 May 2017

I’m still a kid when it comes to flying

There I was, sitting in the window seat as usual and the only person I could see with the shade open. I was on my way home from Oregon and flying towards Denver. It was just like the first flight I can remember, seeing big puffy clouds from above looking like giant balls of cotton. There are some things from my childhood that I hope I never forget and that first flight is one of them. I have no idea where I was going or how old I was but I sure remember seeing the grandeur of the earth for the first time from an airplane.

Since then I’ve flown in pretty much everything there is, sea planes, little planes, big planes, in a cargo 747 transporting horses from Europe, the Goodyear blimp over Manhattan, hot air balloons, helicopters with the door removed so I could get better pictures.

Hot air balloons are my favorite, if I had too much money and enough friends to chase the balloon, I’d have one. They travel at the speed of the wind and the only noise is the blast of the propane and frightened horses stomping below. I first flew in one while in college and working at my first newspaper. There was a small balloon festival across the river from where I was living. I was assigned to cover the morning launch which always happens right after sunrise. Being in college, if I saw sunrise it wasn’t because the alarm went off that early. When the alarm went off that day I pretty much ignored it and a little later when I looked out the window I could see balloons inflating. I quickly dressed and scampered over to the site and started shooting. One of the pilots needed a passenger and asked if I wanted to get in. I was still asleep but I was game. It was a magical ride and I actually got up early the next day to do it again. I begged rides whenever I could and years later a client was the largest balloon festival on the East Coast, which meant plenty of balloon rides.

If I could have, I would have hitched a ride on the Space Shuttle and I would have demanded a window seat. I love watching the earth go past from above.

So once again here I am gawking out the window and we are passing over the Rocky Mountains. There they are, jutting toward me and loaded with snow. The peaks are covered and most of the surrounding area is white with occasional rocks popping through. Like I did when I was a kid and ever since, I pulled out my camera and made some pictures. I know I won’t be able to sell pictures taken through a dirty, scratched airliner window, so my iPhone works just fine. I’m snapping away and I look toward the person sitting beside me and he is looking at me with a bit of amazement, I’m sure he is thinking this must be the first time I’ve flown or I wouldn’t be taking pictures through the foggy window.

It wasn’t the first time but I’m happy that I enjoy it just as much.

04 Apr 2017

I don’t understand photographers traveling light

I’m glad I wasn’t lazy and I had my tripod with me as I was walking around in Pienza, Italy, after sunset and came across kids with their electronics.

I just read another “pro” blog saying to leave your DSLR camera and lenses at home when traveling and just take a small mirrorless camera with one lens. If the purpose of your trip is to make great images, then that is the most stupid advice there is.

Let me get this straight:

  • You’re going to a grand location.
  • You may never go there again.
  • You want to make great images.
  • You’ve invested a good deal of money for the trip.
  • You’re spending valuable time on the trip.

So you should use equipment that you wouldn’t use at home to photograph your dog?

Yes, I’d rather travel light, it is much easier. I’d rather take no luggage and have everything given to me when I arrive. But that doesn’t happen in my income range. I always have at least one more case of equipment than anyone else – I want to be ready for the shot.

Now if I were to go on vacation and sit on a beach and do nothing, then I don’t need my real camera gear. But that doesn’t happen for me. Even when I’m not on a exclusively photography trip, I get away at least of a couple of mornings for sunrise light so I can make some decent pictures.

I see people buy these light, flimsy tripods for trips and they would never use the skinny things at home. So why use them when you are someplace special? Oh yea, it is easier. I hosted a workshop in Tuscany last summer and a couple of times when we went into quaint medieval villages I didn’t bother taking my tripod. I shoot nearly everything on a tripod but I was feeling lazy. And it showed. When I got home and looked at my images I couldn’t figure out why some days I didn’t get much in the towns. Then it hit me that I wasn’t using the tripod and it changed the way I shot in the towns. I did snapshots instead of real photos because I was just walking around popping off tourist photos without thinking what I really wanted to say with my photos. I blame that on my laziness.

I’m not going to let “It is easier” be the determining factor on whether I get good images. I hope you don’t either.

14 Nov 2016

Super moon in Charleston

While on my way back to N.J. after two art shows in Florida, I made a side trip to Charleston, S.C., to photograph the “super moon” tonight. The full moon won’t be this close to the earth until 2034, which means it looks larger than normal.

I usually like to shoot the full moon on the night before the actual full moon, it rises about an hour earlier, so there is still light in the foreground. But I had an art show yesterday and couldn’t get out to shoot, so my only choice was tonight.

I used a program called Photographer’s Ephemerist to pre-determine where the moon would rise behind a large fishing pier on Folly Beach. It blows my mind that I can sit at my computer or use the app on my iPhone and know where I need to be to line up the rising moon and the pier.

Get info on purchasing this image.

15 Mar 2016

Hang on to your wallet and passport when traveling

A mom and her kids perform at a busy Guatemala City street corner hoping for tips.

A mom and her kids perform at a busy Guatemala City street corner hoping for tips.

Like I said yesterday, the people of Guatemala are very friendly, except for that one guy whole stole my passport wallet, which, yes, had my passport, a couple of credit cards and some cash.

It happened Sunday morning while on the streets during the procession. I had a large passport wallet in my front pocket but it must have been sticking out some. We were wading through people elbow to elbow, so it got pulled while I was in the crowd. I noticed it was missing when I got back to the hotel but I thought I must have left it at Edgar’s condo. I contacted him and since we were going to be back near his condo yesterday, I didn’t worry about it until last night when we couldn’t find it there.

Crap.

So I spent some time online to find out what I needed to do. I’d never lost my passport before and had no idea what to do. Fortunately there are benefits to being American and the State Department is one of them. I needed to fill out a couple of forms online, print them and go to the U.S. embassy back in Guatemala City, 90 minutes away. I planned on taking a taxi but Edgar wouldn’t let me. His daughter drove down this morning and took me to the embassy while Edgar guided the rest of the workshop in Antigua.

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