Getting Ready for the Road

Mon Aug 07 2017

So, after much thought and consideration, I have picked my next photo destination. Then what? Weeks before departure, there is still some research to do, even if it is a location I have been to before.

The first step I take is to create a shot list – days and specific locations where I want to be. If it is a new location, I research sites on the Internet for photo locations, read everything from blog posts to travel articles. For some regions of the United States, I also have guide books that I will consult. I map out where I want to be on the first day, second day, and so on. This is the foundation of the game plan.

Now that I know where and when I want to be, I need to figure out the schedule within each day. What is my morning location and what is my evening location, and when do I need to be there for the best light? There are two tools I use to plan this level of detail. First, I set up a table with information from the U.S. Naval Observatory website showing the sunrise, sunset, moonrise and moonset for each general location I am going to be for the whole trip. Then, I consult the Photographer’s Ephemeris, now with a 3D version for the mobile app, to see more specific detail for very precise locations. In what direction will the sun be rising? Is there a topographical feature (like a mountain) that blocks first light? Where exactly will the moon set? This helps in greatly reducing the guessing that occurs in the field when trying to figure out where to be when the sun is getting low in the sky, or whether the moon sets behind a particular mountain.

In the days leading up to departure, it is time to make sure all the gear is ready for the trip. I conduct a deep clean on the lens and body contacts using a Q-tip and denatured alcohol. I clean all the lens glass using lens cloth. I clean all the camera sensors using a Rocket blast to knock the larger pieces of dust off the sensor, and a Delkin Devices Sensor Scope cleaning kit, particularly the swabs and cleaning fluid, to finish the job. I vacuum the inside of my camera bag to make sure there is not any dirt, dust or sand from a previous trip. I fully charge every single battery and double-check to make sure that every card has been reformatted.

Then, it comes time to pack. What camera bag I use will depend on what sort of photography trip it is. If it is purely a landscape photography trip, with maybe some chance wildlife encounters, my standard gear is as follows:

  • Nikon D850 (primary)
  • Hasselblad 503CX (medium format film camera)
  • Nikon D800E (backup)
  • Nikkor 14-24 f/2.8 AFS lens
  • Nikkor 24-70 f/2.8 AFS lens
  • Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8 AFS VR lens
  • Nikon TC-14E teleconverter
  • Carl Zeiss 80 mm lens
  • Lee graduated neutral density filters (hard and soft edge)
  • Lee 10-stop neutral density filter
  • Lee filter holder system
  • Warming polarizer filter
  • Nikon shutter release cable
  • Gitzo 6X XL carbon fiber tripod
  • Arca Swiss Z1 ballhead
  • Five batteries
  • CF and SD cards (totaling about 800 gigs of space)
  • Three lens cloths
  • Rag (for wiping moisture off the outside of lenses and cameras)
  • Camera and lens rain gear

I can fit all of this into (except the tripod, that goes with clothing luggage) my Lowepro Pro Trekker 300 AW bag, which fits easily into any commercial airline overhead compartment. I will also take my sensor cleaning gear along as well, in case my sensors get dirty during the trip (a likely occurrence).

Now, if I am going on a trip that will likely include good wildlife opportunities, I will take the same gear and add my Nikkor 200-400 f/4.0 AFS ED VR II lens, my Gitzo Mountaineer tripod, and my Wimberly head. Except for the tripod and head, I can now fit all my camera gear into my Lowepro Pro Trekker AW bag, which also fits in the overhead for any major commercial carrier.

If I am traveling abroad, there is one final thing to consider. I have spent thousands of dollars on camera equipment, and I need to make sure it is protected and documented. When you come into the country with thousands of dollars of camera gear, questions may be raised as to whether you have paid the appropriate duties on that gear. "But, officer, I owned that gear before traveling abroad. I do not owe any duty." The response may likely be, "Oh yeah, prove it." The way you document it is by completing CBP Form 4457 and bringing it, and the listed equipment, to your nearest Customs and Border Protection office. Fortunately, being a major cargo shipping crossroads, we have one here in Anchorage at the airport.

Now, how I travel with gear in the future is going to depend on the Trump administration. The TSA recently announced it will require separate screening for all electronic devices larger than a cell phone at all airports. The TSA also recently proposed a new rule that would prohibit carrying on any electronic devices larger than a cell phone into the cabin of a plane for any travel outside of the United States – all will have to be stowed in checked baggage. I travel a bit to other circumpolar countries. That means I will no longer be able to carry on cameras when I travel abroad. But, I do not feel like adding yet another bag to carry around, so I will likely put all my gear in a Pelican case that I can lock (with a TSA-approved lock, of course). The administration is also considering banning travel abroad with laptops at all – either as a carry on or as checked luggage. That will add some serious complications to the life of a traveling photographer.

There are also times that I will travel with my time lapse equipment, but that is a story for another blog post. Now that the important stuff is done, it is time to pack clothing and get ready to head to the airport.