Rule 53: Travel Light — But Not Too Light

It doesn’t happen as often as I’d like, but every so often I actually do manage to take my own advice. Case in point came over the weekend while shooting a play that a friend of mine directed. Not knowing where I’d be able to find seating, and wanting a degree of flexibility in my shot options, I decided I’d pack the camera with the 28-300mm lens attached. All done, right?


Even when I’m traveling light — body, one lens, small bag — I try to be careful not to travel too light. My D600 has two SD slots (each of which usually has an 8GB card in it). My battery, rated for 1,500 shots or so, had been charged that morning. And with an all-in-one lens, it’s not as though I needed to carry my big bag, with my other four lenses. I could easily have shot the entire evening on just two memory cards and called it a day, in theory.

That’s all well and good, except that at some point, theory collides with practice, and that’s when things start to get hairy. In this case, things getting hairy involved my first memory card flashing an error message about fifteen minutes into Act One. Luckily, I hadn’t packed only the camera, lens, and monopod; I also had a spare battery, four spare memory cards, and a cleaning kit. I was able to pop out the defective card (which at least retained the shots I’d already taken, even though it’s now dead as a doornail), put in another, and continue shooting.

I understand as well as anyone that camera gear is bulky, heavy, and sometimes quite literally a pain in the neck to lug around. I don’t necessarily suggest carrying every last piece of your kit everywhere you go. There are times you just don’t need everything. At the very least, however, make sure you have enough. Have “spares,” whether it’s an extra lens if you’re shooting somewhere hazardous (if you fall and clobber one lens, you’ve got something else to shoot with), an extra card (because they can, and do, fail) or a spare battery, even if you’re in the habit of keeping them fully charged (if you’re shooting in the cold, your battery life shortens markedly; you can warm the battery back up in a pocket, but you’ll still need something with which to shoot in the meantime). Cleaning supplies are also a must; it doesn’t even have to be an elaborate cleaning kit. Just one of those lens cloths in a neoprene pouch can be a lifesaver if your lens gets smudged, or if your glasses get so filthy that you can’t see the viewfinder properly.

How ’bout you? What are your absolute essentials when you’re traveling light? Have I left something out? Sound off in the comments!


Lucky Shot?

Meter Matey

Every once in a while, I’ll go over a day’s worth of shots (or will be looking over someone’s shoulder while they’re browsing theirs), and one or the other of us will comment that a shot was “lucky.” I got to thinking about this. What role does luck play in all of it, if any?

I hesitate to chalk it up to skill, after all. I mean, if you’re Joe McNally or Moose Peterson or whomever, then yeah, you’ve got oodles of skill and experience behind you. I’m none of those individuals, however, so I don’t have quite the same reservoir of skill and/or experience to draw from. So some shots clearly are luck, because they’re the convergence of just the right time, place, and subject, and you, or me, or even Joe McNally being there (I’m sure even he gets the occasional lucky shot).

So if it’s not luck, and it’s not skill, what is it exactly? Woody Allen once said* that half of life is showing up. Arthur Fellig (a.k.a. Weegee) said** something similar: “f/8 and be there.” So. Be there, and have your camera. The rest, at least in theory, will take care of itself. All the luck in the world isn’t worth a hill of beans if you don’t have your camera, though, so make sure you have it.***

Since I like to give examples, have a look at my neighborhood Jack Sparrow. I’ve seen this guy at least half a dozen times in the last year, and each one of those times, I haven’t had my camera. Can’t blame him. He was there, after all, dressed to the nines and being his photogenic self. I was there, too. But my camera’s not his responsibility, so missing the shot those other several times I can’t blame on anybody but me.

Any of those other times could’ve been a lucky shot, but wasn’t. It’s the preparedness — having your camera, knowing how to use it, and being ready to use it — that separates the lucky shots from the fish stories, the missed stuff and all that we wish we could’ve gotten but didn’t. There’s some truth in the adage that we make our own luck, but if we don’t have what we need to capitalize on it, it goes to waste.

*At least I’m pretty sure it was Woody Allen. I think from now on, I may just attribute everything to Abraham Lincoln, just on general principle. Sooner or later, I’m bound to hit on something he actually said.

**Yes, I’m sure this time.

***Why don’t we attribute this one to Yogi Berra while we’re at it? The “hill of beans” bit at least sounds in character.

Smartphones for the Smart Photographer

Hydro-Pruf (f/5 1/800 65 mph)

Camera phones have come a long way in the last few years, from something that wasn’t suited for much beyond Facebook and email to something that, in some cases at least, could rival the quality of a halfway decent point-and-shoot. A lot can be written (and has been) about taking good shots with a camera phone, and at some point I will join that particular fray; for today, though, I’d like to suggest a few uses for  your smartphone (and sometimes its camera) that go above and beyond the usual.

Let’s start with the obvious. If you’ve got another camera that usually acts as your primary (whether an automatic compact or an SLR), your smartphone can be a relatively competent backup. For a variety of reasons (tiny sensor, digital zoom, lousy high-ISO performance), it’s not going to replace your camera of choice any time soon, but if it comes down between getting, or not getting, the shot, use the darn phone. As several people have pointed out, the best camera is the one you’ve got. Since, as I’ve mentioned before, you should always have a camera with you, this is one camera you’re practically guaranteed to have at all times. So no excuses!

Then, of course, there are the apps. Here, I don’t mean applications for making half-assed shots look “artsy” (curse you, Hipstamatic!). I mean apps that allow you to use your phone in tandem with your camera. There are several of these, with new stuff being added constantly. Depending on your phone’s operating system (whether you’ve got a Crackberry, iPhone or Android-based phone), some applications may or may not be available for your smartphone. Read the reviews (they’re often a good indicator of whether an app will work on your particular phone, and how well) and release notes (ditto), and remember that your mileage may vary.

Some of what’s been released up to this point includes various light meter apps (which display values in lumens, or exposure values, or both), blueSLR’s Bluetooth adapter that allows for remote control and geotagging (in some cases at a fraction of the cost of an OEM geotagging dongle), Flashdock’s hotshoe attachment allows you to mount your smartphone to your camera, and controlling WiFi bridge devices. I should note that I haven’t personally tried any of this stuff, so I’m not endorsing any of it; if you’re interested in finding out more, however, check out the supplied links below and do some additional research of your own. If/as I incorporate any of this stuff into my own setup, reviews will appear here.

There are a couple of uses that won’t require any apps to download, and so won’t cost you a penny. For starters, put your camera manual on your smartphone. I don’t know why I didn’t think of this sooner (probably because I didn’t have a smartphone ’til recently). Most manufacturers make their camera manuals available as PDF files, and keeping yours on your phone means not having to have one in your camera bag.

Finally, create shot lists, and store them on your phone. Wedding photographers use shot lists all the time, and I’ve begun to do a bit of it myself. In either case (yours, or the wedding photographer’s), it’s a good way to make sure you don’t miss something you’d wanted to catch. Think of it a bit like a shopping list. Rather than going to the grocery store empty-handed, plunking down $132.50, and getting home only to realize you never picked up eggs, you make a list. Similarly, if you know ahead of time where you’re going and the kinds of shots you’d like to get, make note of them. It can be helpful to have a reminder so you don’t get home and realize that you’d forgotten something you would like to have shot.

If there’s something useful I’ve missed — and in this case, I’m almost certain I have — feel free to comment or email me. In the meantime, here are a few links you may find useful in your research:

B&H Photo has a writeup on the blueSLR controller and app here.
Pocketdemo has a variety of smartphone-related gadgetry here.
NikonRumors has a short piece on a lower-cost way to control higher-priced cameras.
Finally, if it’s apps that you’re after, Google Play has you covered for Android, while the Apple App Store has what you’ll need for the iPhone and iPad.