occasionally technical tuesday: how to pack like a photographer

Yesterday, my first day back at my desk after traveling to New Orleans, I had that disoriented feeling you get when you've been away from your routine for a while, and don't know where to begin.  And so, after staring at my screen for a while, I decided the best place to start was to take a look at my calendar, just to see what travel was coming up.

Good heavens, I'm going to be in planes a lot this year

As it happens, so are many of you:  I've been getting several tweets from people asking what sorts of photography equipment I take with me when I travel.  And the answer is, of course, it depends.  So this week, for Occasionally Technical Tuesday, I though I'd share the process I go through about how I prepare for a trip from a photographer's standpoint.

The first thing I do, of course, is research the locationFor example:  the photos that you see in this post were taken on our family vacation last year, to Puerto Rico.  Had I gone without doing any research, I probably would've blithely flown into San Juan, thinking I would just take shots of beaches and palm trees and be done with it; however, as with any destination, a location is more than just its marketing brochure. 

The beauty is that in this day and age, "research" doesn't take a whole lot of time.  Why, a quick look at Wikipedia tells me, among many other things, that San Juan:

a) is a seaport,

b) boasts a "tropical monsoon climate,"

c) has an area called "Old San Juan," with "narrow streets made of blue cobblestone and picturesque colonial buildings,"

d) has a love for baseball, and of course,

e) has tons of beaches. 

Then, of course, there's all the stereotypical things that you can imagine that Puerto Rico is all about:  Caribbean blue water, lots of tropical vegetation, great music.  The point is, you really can't over-research a trip destination:  Google it, buy guide books, search for bloggers who live there, whatever.  Information is power.


Okay, so after I've done some research, then I try to form an idea of what I'm going to want to shoot.  Note that this is a bit different than "getting an idea of what I want to see."  The point is to start thinking about various locations with a photographer's eye.  For example, I could just walk up to the fort and capture an image of it and the adjacent cemetery (and as you can see above, I did), but the truth is that when I travel, I also want to record what I experienced.  And so yeah, I might just want to get down to ground level and shoot the cobblestones, or get as close as possible to tropical flowers to show their details. 

If this concept feels a bit foreign, you might want to jot down some ideas prior to your trip:  "When in old San Juan, I want to take photographs of some of the details of the headstones in the cemetery."  "I need to make sure to take a photograph of the deck chairs lined up on the beach in front of our awesome hotel."  You won't need these notes with you to tick off the items as you grab the shots; however, a quick glance before you head out on a day trip might help you remember what it is you want to capture.


Once I've done the research and thought about how I would approach it from a photographer's standpoint, including making a possible shooting list, I consider which lenses to bring, based on their intended purposes (remember when we talked about how to choose a camera lens?).  And so, here's what I'd pack if I was on my way to San Juan again:

  • My Nikon D200 camera body.  Obviously, I would bring a camera body, but I have two.  Normally, I shoot with my Nikon D300, but I don't always.  If I'm traveling to a place where it is generally unsafe, or, as in the case of Puerto Rico, I'm traveling somewhere where it could get dirty (those sand particles from those beautiful beaches can wreak havoc on a camera), I take my older camera -- it takes great shots still, and I won't be (as) devastated if something happens to it.
  • My 50mm 1.4 camera lens.  This is my standard, dependable, capture-pretty-much-everything lens.  Because it has such a small aperture number (that "1.4" designation), it lets in lots of light (remember our discussion about aperture), which means that it's a good standard for photographing in dimly-lit cafés or restaurants in the evenings, for example.  It's wide enough to take decent scenery shots, and will take a pretty decent portrait in a pinch.  In fact, when I'm traveling for work, or for a quick trip where I know I'm not going to get out much, the camera body and this lens might be all I take.  For example, for my trip to New Orleans, the D300 and my 50mm was all I took.
  • My 60mm micro lens.  Because anytime I suspect there'll be pretty flowers, this puppy gets to come along for the ride.  Love those close-ups.
  • My 35mm 1.8 lens.  It's a little wider than my 50, so does scenery better, and it's not a very large lens, so if I have the room, I'll toss it in.
  • My 2GB memory card.  This baby holds 2,100 shots.  Because I shoot so much, this wouldn't be enough for, say, a 2-week trip, but it's certainly more than enough for a day's shoot, and I tend to download my photographs every evening anyway.  Which brings me to...
  • My MacBook.  I know, I know -- my sister laughs at me that I take my laptop everywhere, even on vacation, but the truth is that I love nothing more than winding down each night with a glass of wine and processing my photos.  The perfect end to my days.
  • My iPhone.  There will likely come a moment that I'll be tired of lugging around the big camera -- probably when going out to dinner.   Besides, I want to get better at my iPhoneography, anyway.
  • Chargers and powercords for everything above.

(Note -- all of the Nikon equipment above can be found by clicking on the link on my resources page.)

Now, again, this list of equipment is totally dependent on what I thought I'd want to shoot -- if, for example, we were going specifically for the purpose of going to a baseball game, I might swap out one of those lenses for my 70-200mm.  It's an unwieldy lens, and so not my favourite for traveling, but it would be perfect for grabbing close-up shots from all the way in the stands.  Similarly, when I go to weddings, I also lug it around, to get good close-up shots for the bride and groom.  It's all about what you want to shoot.



So that's it!  On your next trip, I challenge you to put in a little forethought from a photographic standpoint.  You might just end up with the best photographs of your life.

And until the next OTT, happy clicking, friends.


Occasionally Technical Tuesday is a new feature here on Chookooloonks, where we'll tackle topics like choosing a camera, how a camera works, how I choose lenses, how I use Photoshop, how I pack for a photo trip, that sort of thing.  You can see an entire index of subjects we've addressed here.  I'm no expert, but I'll share what I know, occasionally.


Images:  All photographs shot with my Nikon D200.  1st photo:  35mm, aperture 1.8, shutter speed 1/2000, ISO 200; 2nd photo: 35mm, aperture 1.8, shutter speed 1/3200, ISO 200; 3rd photo:  35mm, aperture 1.8, shutter speed 1/5000, ISO 200; 4th photo:  35mm, aperture 1.8, shutter speed 1/5000, ISO 200; 5th photo:  60mm micro, aperture 3.2, shutter speed 1/640, ISO 200;  6th photo:  35mm, aperture 1.8, shutter speed 1/5000, ISO 160;  7th photo:  60mm micro, aperture 3.2, shutter speed 1/500, ISO 160.


Song: Roam by The B52's