“Road Warrior 102” for the photographer (part two of two)

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In the first of this two-part blog posting, I wrote about all the non-gear related things that make my life easier as a photographic road warrior. In this posting I will talk about the gear related technologies that do the same thing for me.


On my educational web-site, The Wells Point, I have a podcast showing all of the contents of my traveling camera bag. It is now slightly out of date, since I recently switched to the smaller Olympus Pen cameras, from the larger DSLRs. But the gear that I take with me (besides my cameras and lenses) has not changed at all. You can see exactly what that includes here. The logic behind switching to the smaller Olympus Pen cameras was the subject of a recent blog entry.


 
In what I call my “bag” podcast, I show some pieces of gear that make my life easier. For example, I use a particular flash card wallet because it customizes just the way I want (as seen in the video noted above.) It also has a clip that I can use to clip it to my belt so I cannot lose the wallet (or my flash cards and thus lose my images.) See more about the actual wallet here.

I also use portable, battery powered hard drives/multimedia storage devices/photo wallets (with built in flash card readers) just for storing digital files while traveling. Although many people are familiar with the Epson P-5000 Multimedia Photo Viewer, I use the Wolverine ESP 160GB Portable Multimedia Storage Devices.

I carry two of those for double back up, especially since there are many times I will NOT have a laptop computer with me so this is my only storage.

Being the paranoid person that I am, I also try to find an Internet café or a camera store where they will burn the same RAW files to duplicate sets of DVDs. I then snail-mail those to my home address. I split the pairs up and send them in two separate packages. I just did that exact drill sending work from Singapore and India back to Providence via the brilliantly efficient Post Office in Singapore.

I recently purchased a new rolling bag for traveling. For years I used the predecessor to what is now sold as the Lowepro Pro Runner x350 Rolling AW Backpack. I finally beat that one to death in India recently, so I just replaced it with Lowepro Pro Roller x100 Case.

The former had a complex system of harnesses and straps for carrying the bag as a backpack. I found that, over the years as I aged, I rarely used the backpack capability. The newer one has what they describe as a “Reserve Pack backpack insert, which is a removable pack designed to carry the photo gear and computer without the full roller case.” This means that the core comes out in a reasonably comfortable backpack that is ideal for short periods of time to take onto regional jets. Those are the little airplanes where even I have to bend over to get in. Those jets are where I spend more and more flying time on these days.

I like to review the images I have made on location and via the screen on the back of my camera. As I tell my students, I am looking at the image to evaluate the composition and the histogram to evaluate exposure. They are completely separate! They have as much in common as apples and pick-up trucks.


 
To accurately evaluate my work I use camera shades from a company called Screen-Shades. Their screen shades overcome daylight (or bright light) to make viewing LCD screens easy. They are available in 4 sizes to fit most LCD screens up to 3": As they say on their site “They attach easily with adhesive backed Velcro, expand for variable coverage (and to change focus,) are made of professional quality camera bellows material and flatten to 1/2" for easy storage.” Read more here.

Some of the other non-photographic gear that makes my trips easier, include a multi-tool made by Leatherman or Gerber. You can read about how I came to use the Gerber multi-tool at my blog.There you can also read about my oldest piece of gear, a customized raincoat.

For years, like other photographers, I struggled with the problem of converters for the different electric currents used around the world. The old “110 vs 220” dilemma has largely been solved because most electronics now come with transformers that work around the globe with any voltage and/or any number of cycles. Though the voltage problem has largely been solved, the “pins” problem remains. I regularly pick up “pin adapters” that go from say, US to European pins, in hardware stores in foreign countries. These adapters only change the pin configuration and not the voltage. Hardware stores are a good resource for getting just the right pin alignment and they tend to be the cheapest place to get the needed adapters.

In the podcast I referred to earlier, taking you inside my camera bag, you will see that I also have started using an Apple computer product to solve the pins problem. I use their “Apple World Travel Adaptor Kit. “ As they say: “ … six AC plugs with prongs that fit different electrical outlets around the world. For world travelers, this is the perfect kit to ensure power connectivity in most countries you may travel to.” The pins on one end of each adapter vary. The plug on the back end of each adapter is the same. It is one of the most common ones used in most all of the electronic gear we all use.

I have taught, blogged and podcasted on the utility of table-top tripods. To me, the perfect tripod must properly support my camera, be easy to use, have a good ball-head that moves in most any direction and work well in all sorts of situations. It also has to be easy to carry (and unobtrusive.) A tripod is only good if you actually have it with you all the time. The table-top tripod combination I prefer is so small that I always carry it with me. 90% of the time it is threaded into the base of one of the two cameras I carry, with the tripod legs closed and folded to be parallel to the lens on the camera. I use the Manfrotto 494 and these tripod legs.

We all know what happens with the bigger tripods. We intend to bring them with us but they are too bulky or too heavy to carry along all day. After a while, they end up left behind and then you are without a tripod. The lightweight carbon-fiber tripods go a long way toward reducing the weight, but they do nothing in terms of reducing the bulk.

To see that tripod in action watch my podcast on table top tripods. I have also blogged about the importance of such tripods.
 
I have experimented with every kind of camera strap set-up imaginable. The two things I have settled on are:

  1. I like the shoulder pad on what are known as the “Upstrap.” They describe themselves as “the Ultimate Non-Slip Shoulder Strap.” They really are what they say and they work very well.  You can read more here. I prefer the smaller ones because I am using smaller cameras (and because the bigger ones seem to get tangled up more often when I am using three different cameras at one time.)
     
  2. I need to be able to quickly disconnect the straps from the camera in case I want to wrap a strap around something in order to keep the camera from falling (or in case I tangle up the straps when I am using three cameras.) Upstrap has their Quick Release Harness adaptor, which I use on some cameras. I have also been using various types of snapping hooks that open instantly with a thumb’s pressure but automatically snap closed when released.

A newer tool that has become a real constant in my bag (and on my belt,) is my Polaroid Pogo printer. It is a small battery powered printer that produces prints directly from digital cameras. You can see a podcast about how I use that here. That podcast takes you on location photographing in Guatemala, where, in between photographing people we meet, we pause and make them small prints, on the spot, with our Pogo. You can also read more about that here.


 
As photographers we always need to clip and tie things together. What I find works the best are women’s hair bands and not regular rubber bands. I use them whether holding a flash diffuser in place or keeping an external flash cord from getting stretched too far and ruined. The cloth-covered elastics made by SCUNCI are my daughter’s favorite and have become mine as well.

From the earliest days when I was working with black and white negative film, through my years using color slides and now with digital capture, these are tools that I have found over the years. I have worked with large format, medium format, SLRs as well as rangefinders and though my cameras may change, these tools do not, because they continue to be of use to me.