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Gear for Travel Photography

May 18th, 2024

Gear for Travel Photography

One of my favorite genres of photography is travel. Seeing wonderful new places and bringing back memories in great photos is very rewarding. But too often, photographers compromise the adventure by taking too much gear. Travel photography is, first and foremost about being there. It’s hard to enjoy a new locale if you are lugging a lot of equipment, particularly if it’s equipment that you don’t use.

This is the first of two parts on some ideas for making your next travel photography adventure more enjoyable and rewarding.

ONE LENS

One of the biggest mistakes people make in travel photography is taking along an assortment of lenses. Not only do you have to carry that weight around, but the reality is that, in most instances, you won’t use most of them. And one of the banes of the travel photographer who carries a variety of lenses is that no matter what lens is on your camera, you probably need a different lens for that special shot that’s right in front of you.

The best alternative is to take a good quality single lens that covers a reasonably full range. Fortunately, all major lens manufacturers make such a lens. They are all in the 24-200mm range, which covers wide-angle to telephoto.

As a Nikon mirrorless shooter, my choice is the Z-mount 24-200mm f/4-6.3. While not truly ‘wide-angle’, 24mm is wide enough for all but the most sweeping panoramic shots. It is also much lighter than my 70-200mm f/2.8. And rarely in travel photography do I want the shallow depth of field that I like in sports photos. I want to remember the whole scene.

Both Canon and Sony make a similar lens. They are both 24-240mm which gives slightly more zoom capability.

Some people may also wish to take a second lens, usually more of a true wide angle in the 14-16mm range. However, one needs to weigh the actual amount of time they will be taking those kinds of shots. (Scott Kelby tells a story of taking a Canon 24-240 lens on a nine day trip to Tuscany. He also took a 14-24 for 'those wide shots.' He carried the 14-24 for nine days - and used it once.)


CAMERA CARDS

It is amazing that people will invest hundreds or thousands of dollars in camera equipment, and then trust their photos to bargain-basement memory cards. Yes, the SD cards that were purchased in a package of ten for $5.00 will probably work – for a while. But do you really want to trust the memories of your special trip to such a card? I know I don’t.

There are certainly numerous choices in camera cards and I don’t profess to know about all of them. However, I personally will only trust my photos to cards from three manufacturers: Sandisk, Sony, or Lexar. My choice is Sandisk, but the others are rated equally well.

My camera has two card slots and uses XQD or CFExpress cards in its primary slot. These are more expensive than comparable SD cards, but are much more durable. They also have much faster read/write speeds. Speed isn’t usually significant for travel, but it is important to me when I’m shooting action sports. And I like the durability for all applications.

The camera’s secondary slot takes a standard SD card, which I can use as the primary if I choose. I normally configure my camera to use the secondary card to act as an overflow or, in some instances, to record the jpg version of a shot while the main card records a RAW version of the same shot. For travel, I usually configure the secondary card to make a second copy of every image. I only shoot travel photos in RAW, so the secondary copy is also a RAW image. Most travel photography does not require the higher read/writer speeds that sports shooting does, and this way, I don’t risk losing a special shot if a card fails.

Whatever your choice, you should have several cards available. While it is possible today to get memory cards that hold as much as two terabytes, that is not the best choice, in my opinion. You are betting everything on that single card not failing – and yes, even cards from the top manufacturers do fail on occasion.

It is far better to have several cards. That way, if you have a card failure, you don’t lose your entire trip’s photos. I recommend either 64GB or 128GB cards (I use both).


CARD STORAGE

The next question is where do your store your cards? I use a card wallet from Think Tank called the Pocket Rocket. It is available in several configurations for XQD/CFExpress cards, SD cards, or both. The wallet rolls up into a small packet about two by four inches, which easily fits in a pocket. I also has a loop which you can use with a lanyard of some type.

When I’m traveling, I only carry unused cards with me. I leave my used cards hidden in my luggage or other secure place in my hotel room.

Another method, advocated by Scott Kelby, is to put used cards into the wallet with the label facing away from you. That way, you can easily identify new vs. used cards.


BACKUPS

There’s an old saying that if things can go wrong, they will. And that adage can be all too true with precious memories captured on our camera cards. It’s even worse when we’re far from home with no opportunity to retake a lost photo of a special place. That’s why backing up our cards is so important when traveling.

While the likelihood of a card going bad is there, it’s extremely slim if we are using good-quality cards. However, there is also the possibility that cards could be lost or stolen. That’s why I strongly recommend backing up your photos every day while on a trip.

As I mentioned earlier, the first ‘backup’ is the camera card itself. I never reformat a card while I’m traveling. When a card is close to being full (I consider a card with about 1/3 of its space left to be ‘full’), I switch to another card.

Overall, I concur with the advice of many trainers that at the end of each day, you should have three complete copies of your photos. At least one of those copies should be in cloud storage. The three most recommended are:

* the original on the camera card
* a backup copy on a laptop, tablet, or external drive
* a backup copy in cloud storage

The copy on the original camera card is obvious – just don’t erase a card until you get home and safely have all of your photos copied to your main storage location.

My preference is to back up to a file on my iPad, which has 256GB of storage. I have the added bonus of that folder being stored locally on the iPad and also backed up to iCloud.

For the third option, I use Lightroom Mobile. I upload the photos there, in part so I can edit them. Part of that process is that the photos are automatically uploaded to Adobe Cloud.

Another option would be to attach an external drive, preferably an SSD, to your tablet or laptop, and store a copy there. You can then detach the external drive and store is in a separate secure location. Some people also use Dropbox for their cloud storage of photos.


In the second part of this article, I’ll talk about ancillary or supporting equipment.



My Five Favorite Photo Apps

May 17th, 2024

My Five Favorite Photo Apps

Photography is evolving with new and better cameras and lenses every year. But photography-related apps for our phones or tablets also help our photography. Here are my five favorite photography apps – those I use regularly.


PHOTO PILLS

If your photography occurs outdoors, you are probably using the light of the sun. Or you are photographing the moon and stars at night. What about the golden hour and blue hour?

This app tells you all that and more. Simply put, Photo Pills can tell you the precise position of the sun and moon at any time of the day. And it is accurate far into the future as well. What time is sunrise next Sunday or a year from next Sunday? Photo Pills can tell you.

But more importantly, it can tell you exactly where the sun will rise relative to any location you select. The same is true for sunset and for the moon. Where will the moon rise and set, and what will its phase be on a particular day? Photo Pills also has a virtual reality function that allows you to project real-world views. When will the moon be in a certain position of the sky relative to a fixed location? Photo Pills can tell you.

For example, Louisville has a landmark building downtown which features a lighted glass dome at the top. It is visible from an elevated pedestrian bridge about a mile away. My question: when can I stand at a particular point on that bridge and photograph a full moon appearing to rest on the dome of the Mercer Building? Photo Pills gave me nine dates and times in the future when that scenario will occur. It also tells me the phase of the moon for each occurrence. It is then only up to me to be there and ready to shoot.


MY TRACKS

Although I haven’t been as active with street photography since COVID-19 came upon us, I still practice it from time to time. The nature of street photography usually includes photos taken from a variety of locations during a photoshoot.

My camera doesn’t have GPS – few DSLRs and mirrorless cameras do – but I like to know the location of my photos. The myTracks app solves that issue.

As you move around, the app is recording your location at whatever interval you prescribe. Because I typically move quite a bit looking for that right shot angle, I have the app set to record my location at 5 second intervals. Longer intervals use less power on the phone but at the cost of accuracy.

The app uses your phone’s GPS to create a map of your location over time. At the beginning of a shoot, you simply activate the app. You can also adjust settings such as how often the app logs your location. Then you can just forget it until the shoot is over.

At the end of the shoot, the app creates a standard GPX file containing location data. You can export that data file to an appropriate location.

Importing the Data

When I load my photos into Lightroom Classic, I merely import the GPX file from the shoot as well. Then with a single mouse click, the app tags all the photos with the location where they were shot. How does that happen?

Lightroom correlates the date and time that each photo was taken and compares it to the data in the GPX file. When it finds a match, the associated location – based on latitude and longitude – is attached to the photo. If no exact match can be found, Lightroom picks the location with a time stamp closest to that recorded in the photo’s metadata. For that reason, I like the more frequent recording of location points. It better ensures the accuracy of the photo’s location.

You can use MyTracks for other trip recording purposes as well, such as a simple hike. You can view the data on a desktop application as well, for association with data other than photo metadata.

Manufacturer’s camera apps, such as SnapBridge for Nikon, can also provide location information. However, I have found the data provided by myTracks to be more accurate. So it’s my go-to app for photo locations.


LIGHTROOM MOBILE

I have been a proponent of Adobe’s Lightroom for several years. Lightroom is unmatched in its ability to combine photo cataloging and spot-on editing in one package.

A Lightroom app for mobile devices has been available for some time. But it didn’t impress me until recently. It could do some basic editing and you could do additional editing on photos you had specifically saved to the cloud from the desktop version of Lightroom.

With the release of the cloud version of Lightroom, the app became a little more robust. However, it is only with the last updates that it has become a useful tool.

I still don’t do a lot with it, but I find it very handy when I need it. It can do more complete, and better, edits on photos I have just taken with my iPhone than are possible with the iPhone photo editor. That can be significant if you share a lot of photos directly from your phone.

A little over a year ago, I opted to go with an iPad Air in place of my older MacBook. Since the iPad doesn’t support the Mac version of Lightroom, I have to use the cloud version. So the Lightroom Mobile app has become an even greater part of my workflow, particularly for travel photography.

I also like the option to automatically copy photos from my phone’s camera roll directly into Lightroom desktop. That saves a lot of time over having to go through a separate import process. I don’t always keep the copies of phone photos in Lightroom, but it’s an easy process to delete them if I want.

Deleting a photo from Lightroom does not delete it from the phone’s camera roll. So those are still available unless you also want to delete directly from the camera roll.

Lightroom Mobile’s companion app, Photoshop, has also become far more robust with recent updates, although this is only true of the iPad version. There is not a good Photoshop Mobile app for the iPhone yet, but the iPad version of Photoshop is relatively robust.

While I still don’t usually do significant editing on my mobile devices, it’s nice to have advanced capabilities in a mobile application.


MY GEAR VAULT

How much is your camera gear worth? Do you have good descriptive information if gear is lost or stolen? That information might be necessary for insurance purposes. And does your insurance even cover your equipment?

The My Gear Vault app easily answers those questions. This invaluable photography app, by MyGearVault, LLC is specifically designed to track photography gear.

The app has fields for the manufacturer, model name, serial number, and category. It also captures purchase information such as the price paid, date of purchase, and whether the equipment was purchased new or used.

Last year, I added a rider to my homeowner's insurance (I'm not a professional photographer) since the basic coverage wasn't enough. My Gear Vault made it easy to provide my insurance agent with a PDF list of all of my equipment and its value.

Kits

You can also assign equipment to one or more ‘kits.’ These are collections of gear to aid in knowing which equipment might be in certain places.

For example, I have a ‘kit’ called backpack. It includes all the equipment – camera body, lenses, tripod, filters, memory cards, batteries – that I normally carry in my backpack.

Thus, if my backpack were to be stolen, I could easily compile a list of everything that was taken. The display also shows the total value of the items in each ‘kit’.

The app previously had an option to purchase insurance specifically for your photographic equipment. Often, the basic allowance in a homeowner’s policy is not sufficient to cover camera gear. Currently, this option is suspended. But the developers note that they are looking for a new insurance carrier to again provide that service.


ND TIMER

There are numerous apps available to help the photographer determine the extra time needed to photograph a shot through a neutral density (ND) filter. I’ve tried several of them and this simple app is my favorite.

The app only has three settings. The first is the shutter speed as determined by metering the shot with no filter attached. The second setting is the density of the filter in stops. There is a third setting, also for filter density, for use if you are stacking two ND filters. That’s it.

Plug in the numbers and the app gives you the amount of time to leave the shutter open for the ‘perfect’ shot. Well, not always perfect, but it definitely gets you into the right range for timing the shot. You can always tweak your camera settings to get exactly what you are looking for. But ND Timer takes out the initial guesswork.

Since I now use a mirrorless camera exclusively (Nikon Z6ii), it has the capability of metering directly through an ND filter and using its low-light enhancement to allow accurate focusing with the filter in place, I no longer need a third-party app to calculate shutter time. The camera already calculates the shutter time itself.

However, I still have this app on my phone for ‘just in case.’ That case might include a situation where the shutter-open time needed exceeds the capability of the camera, thus forcing you to manually time an exposure using the ‘bulb’ mode. So even with a mirrorless camera, ND Timer can still be a valuable asset.


What are your favorite apps? Let us know in the comments section below.

Sports Photography

May 16th, 2024

Sports Photography

I come from a very sports-minded family and since early in my photography ‘career’, I’ve been photographing my grandson’s participation in various sports. Even before I got serious about photography, I shot a lot of photos of my daughter’s and son’s sports activities. I had also made some forays into sports at the University of Louisville – making portraits of potential recruits for the volleyball team.

But the onset of the COVID pandemic caused the layoff of most of the photography staff of the University of Louisville. Since I was willing to donate my time and equipment, I gained the opportunity to shoot in-game photos of both the tennis and volleyball teams. That gave me experience in photographing the faster-moving environment of college sports.

Even after the concerns of the pandemic lessened and we went back to in-person attendance at sporting events, the university did not replace their photographers. So I am among a few who help out when I can. I’ve spent some time shooting tennis and baseball, as well as volleyball.

The main university photographer and a couple of contractors cover the ‘major’ sports of football and basketball. However, I have done some secondary shooting of football from the press deck.

I’ve also become the ‘official’ photographer from my grandson’s baseball, football, and basketball teams. All in all, it’s something I really enjoy.


Article image: UofL volleyball outside hitter Charitie Luper on the attack.

Street Photography

May 15th, 2024

Street Photography

Observing people has been a major facet of my career for most of my life. So I was naturally attuned to the general idea of street photography when I first learned of the genre.

My introduction came from a video featuring a New York photographer called Jay Maisel. He is well-known for his street photography – photographing people in public places, generally in candid or unposed situations. Maisel calls it “capturing people being themselves.”

Certainly, Maisel captured some fascinating images of people but could I do the same? I had learned that what I was doing was completely legal. Courts have ruled that it is permissible to take photos of people, even without their permission, so long as the photographer is in a public place such as a sidewalk.

There are some restrictions to this, but in general, the ability to photograph in public falls under the First Amendment. I am not a lawyer, but a lawyer named Bert Krages published a comprehensive guide for photographers on the subject. However, it should be noted that the laws regarding street photography may differ outside the United States.

I also learned that Maisel’s more journalistic style of capturing people on the street is only one facet. Some street photographers prefer to approach people and ask to take a portrait. I have also done this with some success. I have even been approached by people asking me to take their photo. Meanwhile, some other photographers simply confine their efforts to captures like architecture or vehicles, only tangentially including people in their scene.

After watching that first video, and two subsequent interviews with Maisel, I decided to try it for myself. My first forays with my camera in downtown Louisville were apprehensive. Would people get mad if they saw me taking their picture? Maybe even react violently? Would I even see anything interesting?

Unfounded Concerns

My fears proved unfounded. In four years of photographing people on the street, I never had a person get violent or even mad. I had one instance where a woman saw me raise my camera and held up her hand. She simply said, “Please don’t take my picture.” I nodded and lowered the camera. There was no reason not to honor her request. I could walk a hundred feet and easily find someone else interesting to photograph.

Ironically, the most adverse reaction to my street photography came from other photographers, particularly those in two photography clubs I belonged to. “I wouldn’t want my photo taken without my permission,” was a common response – ignoring the fact that in today’s world, we have our photo taken without our overt permission hundreds of times a day by security cameras on streets, in stores, in shopping malls.

In time, I also became more discerning in what I photographed on the street. Rather than just photographing people who ‘looked interesting,’ I began to concentrate on looking for color or light/shadow as elements of the shot. I also concentrated more on photos which conveyed a message, such as the photo accompanying this article.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, opportunities for street photography – at least the kind I practiced – largely disappeared. So I moved on to other photographic pursuits.

I don’t post my street photos on Fine Art America because they don’t really lend themselves to an image that someone might like to hang on their wall. I have posted them on stock photography sites when they are used in a more editorial context.

The photo accompanying this article is my favorite from my street photography shots. I call it “Contrasts of the Street.” The sun shines on a woman listening to her smartphone while a few feet away in the shadows, a homeless man digs in the garbage can for food.

The Magic of Lake Bled

May 14th, 2024

The Magic of Lake Bled

In 2016, I had the privilege of spending two weeks touring Italy, Slovenia, Austria and Czechia. This trip really ignited my interest in travel photography.

One of the highlights was a visit to Lake Bled in Slovenia. Located in the Julian Alps of the Upper Carniolan region of northwestern Slovenia, where it adjoins the town of Bled. The area has a long history of being a tourist destination, dating back to before 1000 AD. Emperor Henry II, ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, enjoyed the lake so much that he built Bled Castle in 1004 to confer it as an estate. Today the castle is a popular tourist attraction. The area was so popular as a recreational location that is was protected even under totalitarian regimes such as the Nazis and the Communists.

Prominent in the lake, and shown in the accompanying photo, is Bled Island and the Pilgrimage Church of the Assumption of Maria (also called the Church of Mary the Queen). The church has stood in its current form since the late 1600s but contains Gothic frescos from the 1470s. The church tower stands 171 feet. The church is a wedding destination for couples from all over the world.

The traditional way of accessing the church is up 99 stone steps from a wharf to the church courtyard. Tradition states that if a groom carried his future bride up the 99 steps, across the courtyard and into the church where he would ring a bell, the marriage would be happy and fruitful.

The town of Bled is on the northeast side of the lake, just off of the A2 highway and 34 miles from the capital city, Ljubljana. Bled is a quaint town with several good restaurants. There are also paved walking trails along the lakeshore, and for those so inclined, a casino.

I had some doubts about the inclusion of Slovenia in my trip, but having experienced this beautiful country, I would happily return.


In honor of my first blog post, and the wonder of this place, I am offering a limited number of canvas prints of the accompanying photo at a 50% price reduction. Click on the tab below for the offer.