Workflow: Packing for Travel

By Roger (20 November 2016)

Traveling with your camera can be a wonderful experience or a pain in the posterior. The best way to influence your outcome towards the former, and away from the latter, is preparations. This would seem to be obvious, but there are many factors that can cause new photographers problems that distract them from the major goal of enjoying making photos on their road trips.

It can be hard to decide what you need to bring, and then there's that deadly worry "What if?" What if I want a flash? What if I want to make some macro photos? This can cause you to over-pack and bring gear you never use.

We've described workflows and why they can be so useful to ensuring a consistent routine that helps you standardize your approach to photography. Those were, primarily, in how you post process your photos, but workflows can be adapted for use in this case, as well. My travel workflow for which gear to take isn't complicated, and, I confess, I sometimes get distracted from following it strictly, but it keeps me from over-packing or forgetting gear. Developing routines around packing forces me to think about the upcoming trip and its major goals, which dictates the type of gear I need. I try to empty my camera bags each time I return home, so I am forced to think along these lines each time I pack to go someplace new.

Let's go through a few travel scenarios and how I handle them. Your approach may vary, but these have worked for me.

Tools for the road: camera bags and vests

Business trips. I always take a camera with me (besides the one on my phone). I have a small Lumix that, normally, lives in my truck. It shoots in raw format, and has a small zoom (24-75mm). It doesn't have all the neat stuff on my Nikons, but it weighs less than most of my lenses, and I can carry it in my coat pocket.

Most of my business trips, these days, are short. For some reason, my company doesn't make arrangements for me to wander around and see the sights. Still, there are always interesting things along the way, even if you only get to see them in small samples.

The travel workflow here is pretty simple: grab the Lumix; make sure I have an extra memory card; and don't forget the battery charger. I don't bring my personal computer because that's just one more thing to carry.

For example, I'm writing this blog on my Ipad, on a train, headed for my second trip to New York City, in the last 45 days. When I arrive, I will have only a couple of hours, before it gets dark. And, before that, I need to run to B&H, since it's only a few blocks from Penn Station, and check into the hotel. Tomorrow, I have a few hours before my meeting, and then rush back to the train for the trip home. With such a paucity of spare time, there is no reason to pack a bunch of photo gear. The little point and shoot will suffice. During those rare business trips where I know I'll have a few days in a really interesting location, I move to the next level.

New York City, with the Lumix

Longer and farther. Things get slightly more complicated when you're traveling for longer periods of time, via planes. I refuse to check my camera gear, so I'm limited to what will fit into the infamous overhead bin. (I, once, was forced to check my gear and was a nervous wreck until it was safely back in my hands.) If you have more gear than will fit in a carry on, it's time to start thinking about what type of photography you'll be doing and the most appropriate gear for the job. My medium bag fits neatly in the overheads, and I can pack quite a bit of gear. If I'm taking a tripod, I pack it in my checked luggage, along with my smaller messenger bag, filled with clothes. The messenger bag allows me the flexibility to leave some of the gear behind in my hotel room, if it isn't needed for one of my day trips.

Dancer, in San Diego

The backpack camera bags can get very heavy, which can be unwieldy and a problem when traveling outside the country. Non-US airlines will sometimes limit the weight of your carry on. For that eventuality, I wear my fashionable photographer's vest. For some odd reason, they don't count the weight if it's on your body. I'll put enough gear in my vest to get by the weight restriction, and, once on the plane, put the gear back in my bag. This tactic has never failed me. As for looking like a geek, call me guilty; fashion is a very minor concern for me.

Since I'm lucky enough to have more camera equipment than my medium and large backpacks can hold, I have to think through what gear to carry. Will I need a wide angle for scenery, or am I making portraits? Obviously, these two scenarios call for different equipment.

Near Gatlinburg, TN

Road trip. My favorite kind of travel is vehicular. I have always enjoyed the feel of the road, with the radio blasting. I have driven across the US more times than I can remember, especially if you count the times I did it growing up a military brat. Our family of five even drove to and from Alaska. It was a glorious trip, filled with lots of memories.

My truck is large enough that I can bring anything I may need, including my lighting kits when I know I'll be shooting portraits. When Mark and I were traveling through our week, in the Smoky Mountains National Park, we stopped every few miles to see marked and unmarked photography stops. You can't do that if you're on a train or airline. We made impromptu changes to our schedule when one of the locations was a bust and when we did a nightly assessment of our choices and the weather changes.

My favorite mode of travel

You don't have to worry about the security of your gear because it's always with you. We had our roll-away bags on the backseat and just pulled out whatever gear we wanted for that particular stop. Tripods were on the floor. I even brought flashes. I made it a point to use almost every piece of gear I brought. (I may be overly proud of that fact....)

Near Tremont, TN

Impromptu trips. Whenever I hear about some event or location that looks interesting, I add it to my calendar. If the date arrives, and I have the time available, I head out. The variety keeps me excited about photography and gives me fun stuff to practice on.

Everything written above still applies: think through the type of photography you're trying to make; adjust for your travel mode; and pick the appropriate gear. The good thing about having a consistent workflow is you can react quickly when you get the chance to run out to at a moment's notice.

Tangier Island, VA

If you have no idea what you're going to find when you get there, may I suggest a compromise three-lens kit? For wide angle, I like the 16-35mm. My favorite mid-range, right now, is the 24-120mm. And I have the 70-200mm for longer shots. With these three, I can cover almost anything I may find, and my camera bag is not too heavy to carry. I will usually add a 1.7 teleconverter, and, of course, my GPS. I still have room for a flash in my medium bag, if I feel froggy. My medium bag will handle all of this gear and fits in most aircraft overhead compartments.

So, think about your travel workflow. It will make your travel more enjoyable and less frantic. You'll have the confidence that you're prepared for whatever presents itself. Travel keeps your photography fun.

New hat, Orange, VA

Don’t Be Neutral About Your Filters

By Mark

Roger and I went to the Great Smoky National Park on a mission.  We wanted to force ourselves to get out and actually shoot some photos as this year has just been crazy, and we wanted to practice some new techniques.  We have been seeing a lot of images of smooth silky streams of water and knew we could capture them ourselves.

Shooting flowing water generally pushes you into shooting in Shutter Priority mode.  Either a fast speed; 1/1000th of a second to catch the spray, or slowly at less than 1/30th to slow down the movement.

1/1000th of a second

1/1000th of a second

1/100th of a second.  Still not "silky"

1/100th of a second.  Still not "silky"

Both are fine, but didn’t deliver the kinds of shots we wanted. The trouble with using longer exposures is that you tend to get skies and even the foam on the water completely blown out.  That is where neutral density (ND) filters come in to play.  ND filters are darkened glass, which acts to reduce the amount of light which gets through, but which won’t change the colors.  Filters come in two basic style, graduated or solid.  The graduated filter is clear glass on one end and darkens towards the other.  You can adjust where that line is depending on where your horizon line sits.  The solid filters block the light evenly and are used for really, really long exposures. 

A few words on the equipment itself, filters come in different sizes and sit in a holder, which mounts onto the front of your camera.   Each lens can be a separate size and requires an adaptor ring, which screws into the filter ring.  For example, my 70-200 f2.8 takes a 77mm filter, while my 105 macro uses a 62mm. 

Shooting with the filters installed will require a good tripod.  We were out on the very edges of the streams and falls, often with the feet in the water and down low.  You need to be careful, as the rocks can be slippery.  Falling in to cold mountain water can be dangerous.

You will want a remote shutter release and will also want to ensure your view finder is closed, to reduce extra light entering your camera.  Roger is going to write about using the “Live View” feature.

We shot some multi-minute exposures, but for me, my favorite images were shot at f22 with 1.3-6 second exposures

4.0 sec at f/22

4.0 sec at f/22

6.0 sec at f/22

6.0 sec at f/22

I am happy to say, that I learned a lot and got the images I was hoping to.  We have lots more blog topics and maybe even some time to write them.  

Catch Up Blog

By Roger (23 October 2016)

Sorry for the lag in blogs. I have many valid excuses, but let's just dispense with those and get caught up. I've had a very busy five weeks. I've been to several states, for various reasons and always had, at least, one camera with me. There were lots of different photography subjects covered.

It started, at home, with a young man, Michael, and his girlfriend, Ally. I have been photographing Michael's family since long before he was born. I have photos of him throughout his life. Mike and Ally stopped by the house, on their way to visit another college friend. Let's just skip the fact that he shouldn't have aged this quickly.

We went out to the Manassas Battlefield to make some quick photos. It's an ideal photo venue because it has clusters of locations with great backgrounds. We shot in several areas, but this was one of their favorites.

Mike and Ally make a cute couple

Then, it was up to Maryland, to take the grandkids to the Renaissance Fest. It's always a target rich environment. It was full of colorful characters open to posing. There were several performing groups, on stages around the venue. We all enjoyed this great little trio, Piper Jones. We must have listened to them for 30 minutes – that's a long time when you're hanging out with three young grandkids. They were just that good. We bought one of their CDs and wandered around some more.

Piper Jones

The next weekend, we went down to Elizabeth City, NC. We travel down there several times a year, so I've found several favorite locations there. It's a great place for sunrise photos because the sun reflects across the still water. There are always boats and cypress trees around to help create a moody vibe.

Sunrise Sailboat

Then, I needed to make a trip to Florida (it's a long story). I snagged a window seat on the plane, and, as we were descending into Orlando, I glanced out the window. I've never really had much luck with aircraft window shots, but the clouds were really interesting, and the sun was just creating really interesting light. You've heard that the best camera is the one you have on you? Well, that was my Iphone. This is probably only the second time I've seen a photo that made me try to shoot through an airplane window. It has received very little critical acclaim from the family, but there's something about it that looks cool to me.

I was just a few days ahead of Hurricane Matthew, so there were lots of clouds and heavier-than-normal waves. The beach was full of surfers, even early in the morning. Cocoa Beach was hopping. I set up the tripod for an interesting sunrise. Several of the surfers came by and asked me to take some photos of them near the pier. This young lady made several runs for me. She kept getting closer and closer to the pier. If I'd known the surfers were going to be so accommodating, I'd have brought a longer lens. We finally got one she liked.

Surfing Cocoa Beach

Believe it or not, when I got back to work, my company wanted me to take a quick trip up to New York City. I was there and back in 24 hours, so I knew I wasn't going to have lots of time to go exploring. I decided to take my little Lumix LX100. It's a great little camera that I can carry with no fuss or muss, but it still shoots in RAW. I walked past Pershing Square, on my way to the meeting. After the meeting, I had some time, while I was waiting for transportation back to the airport. I took a photo from the meeting location, focusing on the geometric shapes of the buildings.

Geometry and Repeating Patterns

On October 1st, Mark and I led our seventh Kelby Worldwide Photowalk, in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. We had 25 people signed up, but only 13 were present at the start time. There was rain in the forecast, but it only rained for 15 minutes during the walk. At that time, we were at the halfway point, inside a great store, with lots of old reproduction items. We didn't get a drop of water on us.

Our Shepherdstown, WV, Photowalk Group

It always surprises me when so many people back out of an event because there is inclimate weather. If you look at lots of photographs, you'll notice that the supply of bad weather photos is much, much smaller than nice weather photos. I think bad weather gives you the opportunity to make a photograph that is different from the usual fare. That's a good thing, in my mind.

My favorite photo was taken before the walk. The wet pavement, at our meeting place, the Bavarian Inn (link), created some nice reflections from the outside lights. The staff made us feel welcome when we all got together at the end of the photowalk. The food was great; they even had a Dunkels Bier, one of my favorite German brews.

Bavarian Inn

Next up was a model shoot. I was working, as an assistant, for my friend, Tony Gibson. We've worked with each other for years; sometimes, he's my assistant and, sometimes, I'm his assistant. Sometimes, we're just shooting together. In any event, we always have a good time.

I had plans to second shoot, but it was a very windy day and the retreating light meant we had to move quickly. I did carry my Lumix for some behind-the-scene photos, so I got a few photos but spent most of my time moving gear and holding the reflectors against the wind. We had another photographer with us, Anna. She provided an extra set of trained eyes and a woman's point of view. We had a great time and clicked well as a team. I would love to do some more work with the team.

You can check out both Tony's site (link) and Anna's site (link) to see their great work. You'll notice they photograph many equestrian events. That's where we met Anna.

All three of us were working, yesterday, at the International Gold Cup event. Just before I left for last week's trip, I received my credentials for the Gold Cup. Those photos will have to wait for another blog because they're still being processed. I got my first real credentials in 1981, but I still get a thrill every time I have them. The access they provide to different photography locations and angles can make for more unique photos (and, to me, it's just fun).

Between the model shoot and the International Gold Cup, Mark and I left for a week in the Smoky Mountains National Park. We mentioned, earlier in the year, that we had a special trip planned. We made photos every day and visited numerous sites within the park. Besides having fun, I learned so much – about my camera; about slow shutter speeds; and more. We'll talk about some of these lessons learned in future blogs.

So, you can see I've been busy while I've been away. The next blog won't be so slow in arriving – promise.

Using Shared Libraries and some new tools in the Creative Cloud

By Mark

As most of you know my wonderful wife is a very dedicated teacher.  This year she took on a new position as the testing coordinator for the school and as she often does, she searches across a lot of blogs, twitter feeds and websites to gather good ideas for her school.  She found a great poster on all the attributes that standardized teaching doesn’t measure and wanted it for her room.   

The source document was provided and is intended for free use, but when we downloaded it, it was a .jpg file.   Trying to resize it back to poster size didn’t really work as the graphics and words looked terrible.  I said I would just recreate it for her.  It proved to be a fun project and the final product turned out great. 

As you can see the overall concept is pretty simple.  Mixed fonts of text and the colored pencils in the corners.  Well I could have just used any font I wanted but decided that I would replicate the original as closely as I could. 

I started by creating a poster sized document 24” x 36” so I didn’t have to worry about scaling it later.  I just filled it with black as the starting point.  I then opened the downloaded poster that Sarah had sent me.  This is where I started to take advantage of the features that Adobe introduced a few versions ago.  They call them Shared Libraries and they are intended to promote portability of design features from one project to another and from device to device.

Libraries Panel

Libraries Panel

.  Basically you can save colors, shapes, graphic elements, font styles, special brushes, patterns to the cloud.   No longer do you have to try and figure out or remember what the color scheme was, or what typeface did that customer want to use. 

I saved the reference graphic to start building my document. 

Next I wanted to figure out what the various colors were on the poster.  I just used the eyedropper tool and sampled each color.  With that color as the new foreground color, you just click on the square icon on the libraries pane and it adds the color.  Because the quality of the .jpg was what it was, there seemed to be color variations in the samples.  I got them all and then just used the one I liked best.

Then it was on to figuring out what fonts were there.  There are web apps and iphone apps which allow you to snap pictures of text and identify them.  With the latest PS update, that capability is now resident inside the Text menu itself. 

Just highlight the text you want to identify and then select the “Match Fonts” item.  It will provide a prioritized list of the best fits and will also show you what fonts are available in the Adobe Type Kit, which are included in your subscription.

Because I am a fontaholic, I also use other sources such as www.DaFont.com and www.skyfonts.com .  DaFont is almost all free for personal use and has a lot of specialized fonts for download.   Skyfont is a paid subscription where you can buy full families of type with all of the cool bells and whistles.

Because I wanted to keep my layers in some kind of order I created a layer group for each color of text and then made separate layers for each word.  

Once I created the first word in the right color, font and size for each one, I then saved that as a character style into the library.   After the first word, I just had to click that with the word selected and it was done. 

Character style saves the font, the color and the size info

Character style saves the font, the color and the size info

Since all the words in each color were grouped I could adjust the font size just by selecting the group.  Made the whole thing pretty easy to do.

I was pleased with the final result and much more importantly, so was Sarah. 

Final Results!

Final Results!

Don’t forget to sign up for the 1 October Worldwide Photowalk with us in Shepherdstown WV.  Here is the link.  http://worldwidephotowalk.com/walk/shepherdstown-wv/