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Entries in photography (11)


Swedish Lapland – What's in the bag?

Today is packing day for my next trip: a weeklong walk along Kungsleden in Swedish Lapland with my friend Rolando. We're both out there to take serious pictures, and of course we need to carry clothes, shelter and food, for ten days away from electricity and cell towers. Getting enough gear for serious pictures to fit inside a backpack along with all the things one needs in the wild just to stay dry, warm and fed is always a challenge. Here's what we'll end up carrying.

Rolando's photo gear:

  • Canon EOS7D
  • 2 Batteries
  • 40GB of CF cards
  • Tamron 11-18
  • Sigma 30/1.4
  • Canon SD860IS pocket camera

My photo gear:
  • 5DMk2 w/ RRS L-Plate
  • 4 Batteries
  • 44GB of CF cards
  • 24/1.4 (stand-in for my 16-35 which is getting repaired)
  • 50/1.4
  • 70-300 DO
  • Gitzo 1530 (center column removed)
  • Canon SD3500IS pocket camera

While we're both self-sufficient as far as photo gear is concerned, it's nice that we're both using Canon gear and can thus exchange batteries, memory cards and lenses if the need arises.


  • Tent
  • Stove, pot, two gas canisters
  • First aid kit
  • Sleeping bag, liner, sleeping pad
  • Water bottles (cheap plastic disposable ones — they're lighter than Nalgene)
  • Three-season hiking clothes (sun, rain and cold all expected)
  • Towel, knife, spork, headlamp, compass, cell-phone, iPod

This comes to a 13kg pack before food and water. Certainly not lightweight hiking territory, but we've carried much worse. We'll see how it goes.


Olympic – What worked, what didn't.

Sometimes I start writing something, and then lose interest. Luckily, I never throw anything out, so if for any reason I ever regain interest I just finish it and publish it. That's what just happened for the followup to my article about packing for Olympic National Park, which I give to you now.

As you can probably guess, I ended up making it out of the woods ok, and onto Vancouver where my talk went over very well, at least partly because I gave it in a brand new shirt after taking a couple of extended showers. All the camping and photo gear worked out fine, so there's not that much to say about that, but I did learn a few things along the way.

First, before the actual trip to Olympic, I ended up buying a couple more things in Seattle:

  • Lowepro CF card holders. I don't really need those for protection, but they help a lot with keeping cards in sequence and I got really tired of shuffling through all the cards in my pocket looking for the right one. Heartily recommended if you carry more than four cards.

  • Canon EF 100/2.8 Macro. I bought this after seeing all the wild flowers in Mount Rainier National Park. It proved really useful for the rest of the trip, but three (big) lenses is definitely my upper limit for backpacking. I'm not sure which of these I'd leave at home if I had to do the same trip again but I doubt I'd be carrying all three.

  • Bear can. This is mandatory for wilderness camping in bear country. It adds a little weight and makes packing a bit harder, but all in all it's not too much trouble. Lashed on the bottom of the backpack while hiking it's actually a very convenient place to hold all your food.

  • A third water bottle. Always useful.

While I didn't discuss food in the previous article, it has now become obvious that I'm terrible at estimating quantities for backpacking trips. I ended up buying way too much and carrying several totally unnecessary pounds on my back for four days. Definitely something to watch for in the future.

It didn't rain at all, which was pleasantly surprising. So obviously my rain jacket, rain pants, and tarp went entirely unused. If I was to do it again, I'd take only the rain jacket, so if it (unexpectedly) started raining I might be uncomfortable, but not in any danger.

I completely forgot to pack a fire starter (I usually carry a magnesium bar) so I felt very stupid when I pitched my tent right next to a perfect fire circle, surrounded by an ample supply of firewood, with no way to make any kind of flame. I briefly tried setting a few tufts of dry moss on fire by catching the sun with the 100/2.8, and, you know, it might even have worked if I had spent a lot more time at it, or if I hadn't tried it near dusk in the middle of a rather dense forest. Oh well.

Instead of packing DEET, I trusted a rather ambitious sunscreen-cum-bug-repellent thing because it came in a very convenient small tube. This is easily the biggest traveling mistake I ever made… The thing turned out ridiculously useless: I sprayed it right on mosquitoes and they didn't even flinch. I ended the trip with more than a hundred mosquito bites, making the skin over my whole body look like an obstacle course on Mars.

Regarding photography, in four days I took about 26GB of pictures, so my 30GB of CF cards proved just enough. The limiting factor was actually battery life: I ended up with barely 20% remaining in the second battery despite trying really hard to preserve power on the last day. While live view is the best way of ensuring sharp photos, it really eats up batteries like there's no tomorrow. On longer trips I'll obviously have to live without it.

Last but not least: Olympic is beautiful. Go there. Go there now. You'll love it.


Photo or Video ?

About twelve years ago, Philip Greenspun wrote this in an article about "old" cameras:

If you have or inherit an extensive manual-focus system, you should get the bodies professionally cleaned and adjusted and then enjoy the system for another decade or two. After that, we'll all probably just be using high-resolution video cameras and picking out interesting still frames.

Freeze frames good enough to pass as photos? I was doubtful at the time, but look at this picture from my second New York post:

It isn't really a photograph in the usual sense, but indeed a still from a movie. Could you tell? Even in the low light of Washington Square at dusk, a 5DmkII movie freeze frame is good enough to pass as a photo on the Web.

But that's the Web. Surely this doesn't apply to serious photographs… or does it? Actually it does. A year ago, Esquire's cover was a still from a movie filmed expressly for the purpose of making a magazine cover. Arguably the Red One video camera used for this is too expensive for most photographers, but we're getting there.

So was Philip right? I'm still doubtful… For me, 99.9% of the time, filming and making stills are completely different processes. I just focus on different aspects of a scene when I'm capturing motion pictures. I think I'm far from alone in this: since the momentous Esquire cover, photographers have not exactly stampeded to video cameras, even those with the budget to do so. I'd guess they still believe that still cameras are still the best tools for taking still pictures. (No pun intended.) But maybe that's only their prejudice. We'll see. The quality certainly is there.


Concert Photography

Nifty piece by Jeff Spirer about Photographing Bands and Musicians on It's full of really good tips and tricks that you can find out by yourself by shooting a few dozen shows, but if you're just starting out it might save you quite a bit of time.

I was (pleasantly) surprised at how close his gear list recommendation matches my own:

  • DSLR (either a Canon EOS 1DMkIII or Canon EOS 40D)

  • 35/2

  • 50/1.4

  • either a 20/2.8 or 85/1.8

  • 580EXII flash

  • spare camera battery

  • extra rechargeable batteries for the flash

  • memory cards (at least 8GB)

  • business cards

  • earplugs

  • clear lens filter and lens hood on every lens

I have the "old" 1DMkII, and I substitute 24/1.4 and 100/2 for his 20/2.8 and 85/1.8, but apart from that this is pretty much my list. Except I really need to get some business cards.


What's in the bag?

This morning I had the privilege of speaking at the GeoWeb conference in sunny Vancouver. The conference looks again very promising, but that is not my subject today. Rather, I am writing about what I did before arriving in Vancouver: just to make this trip a bit more challenging, I decided to fly in a little early, visit Seattle and Victoria, go hiking in Olympic National Park, and try to take a few interesting pictures along the way.

If you've ever done any backpacking, you might spot a little logistics challenge here: I need enough photo gear for serious pictures, enough camping gear to survive a few days in the wild, and clothes that won't look entirely out of place at the conference. Obviously I'll be flying in and out, and once there I'll travel only on foot and public transport, as I'm allergic to cars, so I can't take more than I can comfortably carry on my back for days on end. Not trivial.

Below is my solution: everything I'm packing plus the bags I'm carrying it in, photographed and listed in no particular order. If you've ever had to sit on your suitcase to close it, or felt miserable carrying too much stuff on a long trip, I hope you'll find a few useful things in there.

  • One body, two lenses

  • Spare battery, charger

  • 7x 4GB CF Cards

  • 2x 500GB portable hard drive

  • Laptop, USB hub, VGA and AC adapters

  • Cell phone

  • Wallet, passport

  • Tripod with ball-head and leveling base

  • Day pack: unpadded messenger bag (shown rolled)

  • Sleeping bag, liner, sleeping pad

  • Bivy

  • Lots of garbage bags and ziplock bags

  • Tarp

  • First aid kit

  • Towel

  • Rope, compass, knife/multi-tool, spork, headlamp, water purification tablets...

  • Maps, guide book and Carl Sagan's Demon-Haunted World

  • 2x water bottle

  • Hiking outfit (shell pants + long-sleeved shirt)

  • Town outfit (Slightly classier pants + long-sleeved shirt. Although it doesn't look like one, this is technically also a hiking outfit, and is very comfortable in a variety of conditions.)

  • Spare long-sleeved shirt

  • Light socks

  • Heavy socks

  • Underwear

  • Swimsuit

  • Fleece top

  • Rain jacket

  • Rain pants

  • Hiking shoes (not shown)

  • Hiking poles (not shown)

  • Backpack to hold all of this in

By the way, I am not listing exact model references because I think the general equipment choices are a lot more important than the precise models and brands bought. However, if anyone's interested in exactly what those items are and the rationale behind them I'll be glad to add that information.

The backpack is a 75+10 liters model, definitely on the roomy side although larger ones certainly exist. On planes and city trips, the day pack holds my wallet, passport, photo gear and laptop, while everything else goes inside the backpack. While hiking, I'm using the trekking poles and the tripod gets lashed to the exterior of the backpack, freeing enough space to empty the day pack inside it and carry everything in reasonable comfort -- or at least that was the plan. I'll post a follow-up in a few days about how well it all worked.

'til then, I'll be thinking of my next walk in the woods...