Traveling Today

With our heightened airport security, which seems to be different in every airport in the country, the way we are traveling today has changed. It is now necessary to arrive at the airport at least two hours ahead of flight time and three hours during holiday and other busy times. It is best to check with your individual airlines before leaving home.

CARRY ON

We are definitely now limited to one carry on bag and a purse or briefcase. As photographers, we are confronted with the problem of how to carry our gear and film/laptop, back up drives etc. on board. Your gear should fit into a backpack or shoulder camera bag. If your camera bag is small enough, it can be placed inside a carry on wheeled bag, along with your other essentials. I carry my laptop and other can't lose items in a soft sided expandable briefcase. If you have a large lens, you can put it in a protective case and wrap it with your clothes in your checked baggage. Remember, you are taking a risk with anything that you put in checked luggage. Your tripod, with ball head removed, will also go into your checked baggage and cannot be carried aboard. Frequently when smaller aircraft are used you will have to check your wheeled carry on bag at plane side. That is when a smaller camera bag is a blessing since you can carry it on and it will fit into the small overhead compartments. 

Airlines not only are they weighing your checked baggage which must be under 50 pounds or you will pay overweight charges, but are now weighing your carry on bags as well. This has resulted in a few clients having to check their camera gear. What I am doing to avoid this is going to a smaller camera back pack (or bag) which fits into my wheeled carry on bag. If I am over the weight limit, I will take the back pack out and carry it on along with my expandable briefcase. Or, I will take the other items out of my carry on wheeled bag and transfer them to my checked bag to get the weight down. You may have to put some of your lenses in a well padded pouch in your checked bag (or space allowing in your briefcase). I have been doing this regularly for larger lenses and it has worked out fine. What I seem to be sacrificing is the amount of clothes I pack and I try to wear the bulky items on the flight.

In the matter of FOREIGN CURRENCY, specifically the Euro, many people like to travel with traveler's checks. Please be advised that traveler's checks now have to be cashed at a bank and you will pay another service fee to do this. Not only does it cost you more, but it is not convenient to look for an open bank and many have erratic hours. ATM's are the easiest way to acquire local currency and receive the best exchance rate. During our tours, we take turns using a credit card to pay for a group meal and then pay that person in the local currency. That way, we are keeping the cash circulating within the group and not running out.

Regarding PASSPORTS, all foreign countries have different time limits on passport expirations. Generally you need 6 month after your return flight home for your passport to expire. DO NOT leave with only a few months or so left as you will be denied entrance to the foreign country. Check the internet for passport expiration rules for the country you are visiting and give yourself plenty of time to renew before your trip abroad.

Selecting a tripod

Aside from your camera, a tripod is the second most important investment you can make. You simply cannot take great tack sharp pictures without being able to take the time to compose your shot and really watch the edges of your frame. This can't be done as well by hand holding. The tripod must also be sturdy enough to securely hold your camera and heavier lenses without any wobbling or slippage. It needs to have enough weight to it to withstand wind so that your images are as sharp as they can be. You also can't take low light photos without a tripod. I hear all the time " I want something light weight for travelling". Unless you plan on doing a lot of hiking with your photography weight is not a big issue. For those of us who do, carbon fiber tripods have become so popular. They are strong and not very heavy. However, they need to be weighted down if there is wind.

There have been countless times when a participant brings an inexpensive light weight aluminum tripod with legs that are attached to each other on a tour and and is completely frustrated and disappointed that the tripod is completely useless to them. I have had many participants give them away, or throw them out on the tour. Although I cannot require what gear you bring, the general rule is if you haven't spent at least $250 - $300 for a tripod it won't work for you. Any tripod under $100 is a total waste of money. Remember, they last a long time. The old rule applies well for tripods: You get what you pay for". Keep in mind that doesn't mean that you need to buy the "Rolls Royce" model.

What is key to look for:

It is really important to have a tripod that is tall enough to meet your eye with your camera on it when legs are fully extended. You do not want to be continually bending over as that quickly results in back and neck pain. Raising the center column doesn't work either, as it defeats the purpose of having the camera as stable as it can be. A slight raise of the center column should be used rarely. One whose legs can be adjusted individually (not connected to each other) is also important for getting down very low or needing support in tight quarters. Attached legs are useless.

As I mentioned, Carbon fiber tripods are very popular now due to their strength and being very light weight. They can also be very expensive. Gitzo has always been the "Rolls Royce". Hakuba (Velbon) makes a good one that is a few hundred dollars cheaper than the popular Gitzo models. Other tripod manufacturers are Bogen, Slik, Manfrotto, Benbo and new models and manufacturers are always coming on the market. There are also some good sturdy aluminum models on the market.

Once you have the tripod, then you must decide how you wish to attach it to the camera. Some tripods come with pan and tilt levers (up to 3) plus knobs that must be individually adjusted to take a shot. I find them very time consuming, hard to get used to, and a lever is always in your way. Another option is a pistol grip which rotates on a ball. You are squeezing a lever to operate it. These tend to be harder for women to operate and that repetitive motion can lead to problems. My experience with them is that they tend to slip (especially with a bigger lens) when trying to tightly compose on a vertical shot which can be a real annoyance and time waster. The easiest and fastest system is to have a ball head. Quick release plates are very popular. I tried them and had my camera fall off the tripod. I have an old ball head that when when I put my camera on it, it it isn't going anywhere. Ball heads come in many different flavors too. It all boils down to how much you can afford. Some names are Arca Swiss (the Rolls Royce and most popular model and very pricey), Acratech, Giotto, Foba, and Graf. They come in different sizes depending on the weight of your camera and lenses. If the ball isn't sturdy enough to hold your camera and largest lens it also is useless. They are rated by weight capability. When I got my first one, I made sure it could take more weight than I had at the time to allow room for growth.

Along with your new tripod and ball head, you must purchase a shutter release cable or a remote device. Pressing the shutter button defeats the purpose of using a tripod since do not want any camera shake. I suggest purchasing the camera manufacturer's cable release or remote device. I tried one that was inexpensive, made in China and it lasted about 5 minutes before it died.

So, how do you go about finding the one that is right for you?

There are many, many choices out there for equipment. I have 3 suggestions: 1) go to a good camera store (or two)in your area. Bring your camera with you. See what they have, put your camera on it, operate the controls and ask a lots of questions. Keep in mind that a lot of smaller stores will have a limited selection for you to try and their floor models aren't very good. But, it's a place to start. If you find a tripod and ball head that you think will work, go on line and read the reviews. You are looking for reviews from a professional photographer, not a casual user or hobbyist. If it looks good, either support your local retailer or order it from B & H in NY or other wholesale photographic companies so you don't pay retail. 2) Go on line to the different tripod manufacturers and see what they offer. Look very closely at the specifications regarding height without the center column being raised, weight and how much weight your ball head will support. 3) If you're looking to upgrade, pay attention to what everyone else is using during a tour and get their opinions about their gear, which is a good way to see a lot of different models. Like buying a car, sometimes you just have to take them for a test drive (in the comfort of your home). Make sure your retailer has a return policy if you find that the chosen model doesn't work for you. That means save the box. Now that you have it, practice using it in your house and put it through its paces. Give yourself plenty of time before a tour to return it and choose another one. When I purchased my first tripod years ago, I returned 2 or 3 before I found the right one. You have to do some homework on this one. Buying a camera is much easier.

Photo tip: When you think you're close enough, get closer!

Photo tip: What you leave out of your image can be as important as what you leave in. Keep it simple.

Photo tip: Ask yourself "Why am I taking this picture?" If you can't answer it, walk away.

Photo tip: Before you press the shutter, check all your edges to make sure you are not cutting anything off, nothing is protruding into the frame and nothing is leading your eye out of the frame.

Photo tip: Remember to always compose, not record.

Photo tip: Loop your cable release through your camera strap and tie it in a knot. That way if it pops out of the socket you won't lose it.

Photo tip: To make your landscape images more dynamic remember one word - foreground, foreground, foreground! Use your wide angle lens to add foreground interest and greater depth of field, not to make the distant horizon wider.

Photo tip: Canon users: Be sure to turn your IS (Image Stabilization) off on your lens while using a tripod especially for longer exposures. You will get severe camera shake if it is left on. Some Nikon lenses have a VR (Vibration Reduction) setting for tripod use. If not, turn if off as well.

Photo tip: Make a habit of checking your ISO setting every time you turn on your camera.

 

 

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