Jun 23, 2009

Traveling Cameras

Cameras and vacations are inseparable, but you don't want to bring back boring trip photos do you?  This will be the first of a few posts about camera considerations when you are heading out of town or out of the country.

Last weekend the wife and I had a great getaway to visit some friends in the Texas hill country.  Some kayaking, German food, shopping, cookout food, more kayaking, historical sites, and finally, some photography.  

I took a camera of course, but there is always a balancing act between taking lots of good photos and taking time to enjoy other things.

If you want to be intentional about your photography, it is a good idea to think about what you are trying to do photographically before you leave...

Must Haves, regardless of where you are going or type of camera...
Camera Yes, I have forgotten to take a camera before, and that is miserable.  You never see so many great shots as when you are sans camera.
Batteries/Charger For the camera, flash, and any other toys.  Go ahead and charge the batteries before you leave too.
Cleaning tools Lens Cloth, dust blower, etc.

Invest in a "just right" camera bag that you won't mind carrying around.  Make taking the camera easy so that you will actually have it with you.

The bag that I carry most is a Lowepro Slingshot 200.  This bag will fit one DSLR, two zoom lenses, a flash, and all of the accessories I might need for everyday shooting.  It is also quite comfortable for trekking around all day.  Click on the pic to go to flickr for notes with each piece identified.

Packing Considerations
This was to be a relaxing getaway to visit some friends of ours, not just a photo expedition.  With that in mind, I tried to think through the trip to decide what would be most useful without becoming a burden.
One Bag
I wanted to take one easy-to-carry bag.  I did not want to leave it in a car as we shopped or ate, and risk theft or heat damage.
Lens Range
When taking only one camera and one bag, it is good to get as much lens range as possible.  I took two zooms with a total range of 24-200mm, which worked out pretty well until I tried shooting some birds.
Because I knew that this trip would be a lot of moving around, I did not bring my tripod.

And I wish I had taken...
A Point & Shoot (waterproof if possible)
The camera quality on cell phones is getting better all the time, but for me, a good point & shoot would have been good to have, especially going on kayak trips.  I do not have the nerve or funds to replace cameras due to my own stupidity.  Unfortunately, I also cannot afford an underwater housing for occasional use.  I am considering the Canon D10, which looks perfect for anyone on an adventure involving the outdoors.
A Small Tripod
A Gorillapod or similar small tripod would have been nice for using the self-timer or just steadying the camera in lower light.
A Reflector
I did some outdoor shots for my friend, and he was wearing a hat....  Having a reflector would have expanded my options greatly.
A 50mm lens
Everyone with an SLR should buy a "fast 50."  The f1.8 versions for each brand are  under $100, and they will allow you do do so much fun stuff with short depth-of-field.  No excuse, I should have taken it along and had some fun with it.  They also help out when the lighting is dim.

The Results
Six o'clock in the morning and we are off... Luckily, my wife is a scrapbooker who is willing to put up with early morning photos to document the trip.  For this shot, the light above the garage serves to light her face with the sunrise coming up in the background.  I should have had her face into the light a bit more, and had her move a bit further to the right so that the kayak is not going through her head.

US President Lyndon Baines Johnson is buried at his family ranch, which is now a federal park property with an active living history project.  It is free, and worth a stop if you are close by.

I have not visited any other presidential grave sites, but considering LBJ's large legacy and style, I expected something grander.  As photos go, not much to do here but take a snapshot, although I did like how the big oak framed the shot.

The historic farm provided lots of photo fodder like very fresh produce...

Barns are always good, and even better with a fully stocked tack room bathed in sunlight.

One of my favorite tricks is using slow shutter speeds to blur some motion in the frame.

First.. I really liked the look of the basic frozen frame.  I took several shots, and managed to capture my friends' son looking out toward the street.

Slow the shutter down, and he is movin'!

One of my favorite shots was a complete snapshot, holding the camera down at kid-level.  

I don't think we were supposed to touch the cars, but when he threw his arm up up on the fender, it was too good to pass up.  

The hummingbirds were active in the mornings, which was fun to catch.  If I had paid attention to my ISO setting, this might go from a pretty snapshot to a salable photo.  The 200mm lens was also a bit short for this, and this shot is cropped down to about 1/4 of the original frame.

My friend wanted some photos with one of his champion Chesapeake Retrievers... but time was limited and we had harsh afternoon sun.  We went to a nice park with a shallow stream and lots of trees.  It worked fine for man and dog, but backgrounds were trickier.

The river looked great to the eye, but in the camera, the sun made it very bright compared to the subjects.

When that happens, look for something that is also in the shade, or even darker than the subject.  The trees worked pretty well.

And then, playtime for the dog and photographer...

Next week, Shooting fireworks of course!  Our community fireworks event will be Saturday June 27, so I will share tips and results before July 4 gets here.

If you read all the way down here, Thanks!

Have a great week, and happy shooting,

don j


  1. I guess I'm headed in the right direction, since I travel with everything you do for the most part and even have a small gripper tripod (Gift from Mom). Last year we spent time at the LBJ Ranch and loved it. It is an amazing place well worth some time. The local wineries also make great photo ops. This weekend we are headed to Austin to catch up with old friends, but I'm going to try and sneak some photo time in.
    As always, good stuff!

  2. Thanks Chris,
    It is beautiful country down there for sure. We visited two of the wineries (Brecker and Terre de Pietre) but it was almost closing time and I did not even get the camera out of the bag... maybe next time.