Photographing and Traveling in the Digital Age
by Jeff Lovinger
Some photographer friends of mine started organizing a trip to China last Feb. 06 for November. Gurli and I started planning early. We wanted to travel light, as we would be visiting many places over a month’s time, and I would head off to Tibet on my own for the month of December. We didn’t mind wearing the same clothes, but we had to have our photo gear. What exactly does that mean in the digital age? It gets a bit complicated. We would be visiting many different areas in China, from warm cities, to mountainous areas which were to be cold and wet. Lhasa, Tibet at 12,000 ft. is a world unto itself. Transportation of all types: boats, large and small, trains, planes, busses, and walking, lots of walking. We wanted to be mobile and not carry too much weight, but of course we both wanted all our gear.
Shanghai at Dusk
We had to make some serious choices about what to take, and what was not essential. For the best quality images, of course I had to take “the beast”, my Nikon D2X, as well as a few good lenses. A wide angle 12-24, 17-55, and a 70-200, with a 1.7X tele extender. Not to mention filters, polarizer, N/D filter, sensor cleaning tools, etc. Gone were the days of filling a bag full of film (of course after taking all the rolls out of their boxes) and putting them into a lead pouch. Although we complained about having to take all that film along, it was somehow simpler, as you’ll soon see. I did decide to get a few new toys to make things run more smoothly.
I really wasn’t sure how many images I would shoot over almost 2 months time. Although I know when I am in a foreign country, get excited, and sometimes I have only one opportunity to get that shot, I can get carried away. One thing is for sure, you never want to run out of film, or rather storage space, on that day trip to some exotic area.
I did end up bringing about 5000 images home after light editing on the road.
I decided I had to have a small light weight laptop to save all those images, so I left the big heavy Dell laptop, and got a Toshiba 12” light weight laptop. Of course I had to have Photoshop loaded, so I could edit and develop some photos on the road. Well, I found out quickly enough, that there really wasn’t much time for editing or developing. I bought a few extra 2GB flash cards, as the D2X being 12 MPX and always shooting in raw format, uses a lot of memory, almost 20 MB per image.
Two of the other photographers going recommended a great device for uploading your photos. So I got a Hyperdrive to upload my images to out in the field, from the flash cards. I kept all the images there as a backup, and every evening uploaded a copy to my laptop. It’s a very small light weight stand alone unit. I bought one with the 80GB hard drive for about $250. What is really nice is that you can actually swap the hard drive from the case, when that one is full. You can buy an extra hard drive inexpensively. There is a new version out now at www.hypershop.com . Another alternative is the Epson P-5000 80GB multimedia storage viewer, photo/Video/MP3 player. You can view your images, play a slide show, or video, and listen to downloaded music. But at $680., I opted to get the hyperdrive, and a small laptop instead. Every evening, as well as uploading the hyperdrive or flash cards to my laptop, I also made a backup to another device. I used a USB hard drive, by Iomega, that plugs, and powers directly from your laptop. I took 2, 100GB devices along. They run around $100. Maxtor makes a good one as well, which I believe is available at Staples. One additional fact to remember is that all the devices must be rated at 240-250 volts to work without a step down transformer, in China and many other countries.
Of course you will need an extra battery for your camera, and don’t forget the charger. Also, all the chargers, for your laptop, cell phone, etc. We decided to get an international cell phone to travel with, and it came in very handy. As in the time when I was so caught up in getting that perfect shot, that the next thing I knew was, “where did everyone go”. I was totally lost, but I was able to call my guide, and he came to find me. After some research, we bought online, an “unlocked GSM cell phone”. Once in China, we purchased a local Sim card, to use the phone, and also a local calling card, for local calls. This was the least expensive way to keep in touch with family etc. back home. You can also use these in any country in the future. I should mention that we also used Skype on our laptop to make free calls to anywhere in the world. You can use this great service at home as well, by signing up at www.skype.com .
Most of the rooms in foreign countries don’t have many wall outlets. So with that plethora of electrical devices in mind, I purchased a 6 outlet surge protector strip for $30. Also don’t forget the proper electrical plug adaptors for the country you are going to. A good website for all this is www.international-electrical-supplies.com .
Now the problem is that you don’t want to send all this through with your luggage, because you really can’t afford to lose it or have it come a few days late. It will really put you out of business, so to speak. So pack all the chargers laptop, etc. into a small wheeled carry on bag that is of current legal size for flying. Then you can fill that photo backpack with all the really precious goodies, as your second carry on bag. I also took a sturdy fairly light weight tripod, with a carrying strap, which had to go in my checked luggage, with the few pieces of clothing. Instead of a carrying bag for the tripod, just wrap it in some clothing. For the rainy days, which we had quite a few I would recommend a chamois cloth, and a camera rain jacket by Kata bags, (great for snow and rainy New England weather as well) available for about $50. at www.bhphotovideo.com . B&H is one of the most reliable and best priced online photo stores. If you are in N.Y.C., stop into their amazing, huge store. It’s like being a kid in a candy store.
When I said traveling in the digital age gets complicated, now you see what I mean. Where is that bag of film? Yes, China was great, and Tibet was another world altogether. The people are so special in Tibet, and the scenery and monasteries are magnificent.