Traveling the Southwest with a Digital Camera
by Mary and Larry Berman
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My wife and I have just finished eleven days of shooting in Arizona and Southern Utah, visiting Sedona, the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon, Bryce Canyon and Arches National Park. I took over 1500 pictures with the Nikon CoolPix 5000 and about 300 infrared pictures with CoolPix 950. I created a Southwest Gallery on my web site and updated the pictures daily. We used both Robert Hitchman’s Newsletters and Laurent Martrès books extensively to pick the places to shoot at the right time to catch the right light. That helped us maximize our time.

I would have never attempted a trip like this shooting entirely digitally if I didn’t trust the camera as well as the medium. I briefly had thoughts of taking one of my 35mm Nikon bodies and a few lenses as a back up, but the cost associated with that was prohibitive as was having to actually carry and shoot with both on a daily basis. As a result of this decision, my workflow became easy. I ended up using a simple small F-803 Domke shoulder bag with the CoolPix 5000 and CoolPix 950 in the main pocket, wide angle lenses for both in one of the front pockets and my infrared filters and polarizer in the other front pocket. That bag and the small light weight Velbon tripod went with me every time I left the van.

As a matter of fact, when I was shooting in the slot canyons, two photographers came over to talk with me, explaining how they were initially making fun of my equipment, until they saw how I was using it in the same professional manner that they were using theirs. Though I was using a very lightweight tripod (under two pounds) I was using my left hand to hold down the tripod as I used my right hand to operate the camera. That made it as steady as the heaviest tripod that they were using. Using the Xtend-a-View viewfinder on the CoolPix 5000’s LCD screen made composing as accurate as if I had been using an SLR.

I took the following equipment:
CoolPix 5000
WC-E68 wide angle lens
CoolPix 950 for shooting infrared
WC-E24 wide angle lens
CoolPix 990 as a backup for the CoolPix 5000
WC-E63 wide angle lens
TC-E2 2X teleconverter
Manuals for all three CoolPix Cameras
Xtend-a-View LCD view finder
Maha Powerbank 7.2 volts for the CoolPix 5000
Extra rechargeable AA batteries and chargers for the CoolPix 950/990
Dell Laptop with a 30 gig hard drive and CD burner and a full compliment of image editing software
Photoshop 7 for my editing program
PanaVue for stitching software
3 tripods. The Gitzo Mountaineer
A heavy duty Gitzo for shooting panoramic photos
Velbon Maxi 343E (under 2 pounds) for hiking and as a back up
Kaidan Panoramic heads for all three CoolPix cameras.
Sandisk CompactFlash cards.
512 mb Ultra for the CoolPix 5000
128 mb for the CoolPix 950
192 mb as back up
Sanyo SCP 4700 Sprint phone with Internet capability so I could get on line in the van while traveling
Robert Hitchman’s “Photograph America Newsletter” for all the regions we were going to visit
Laurent Martrès books and CD’s “Photographing the Southwest” Volume 1 and 2.
Everything I shot was moved to my Dell laptop each evening. I created folders for each camera by date and location. Then I burned a CD. All total, I burned 11 CD’s of images as a back up to what I had on the laptop. Each camera that had been used had it’s battery charged and images transferred off the CompactFlash card whenever possible, if not each evening. Some days we would go back to the motel after shooting and charge the batteries and transfer the images before going out again. Trying to shoot in the best light left us mid day non-shooting options for our time. We tried to keep our shooting schedule to before 9:00AM and after 4:00PM. Only once did I fill the 512 card completely and run down the battery on the CoolPix 5000. That was when I was shooting the slot canyons at Antelope Canyon. I scheduled a five-hour photographer’s tour with a local company that was immensely helpful. Antelope Canyon Tours. They took us to the entrance of the canyon walked us through pointing out where the sun would come down at specific times. I started shooting immediately upon entering the slot canyon and didn’t stop until the tour was over. I was carrying the Maha Powerbank and as soon as I realized the battery in the CoolPix 5000 was running down, I clipped the Powerbank to my shirt pocket, plugged it into the camera and kept on shooting. The 512 card filled up at 351 high quality jpeg pictures. Once I started burning CD’s, I started carrying the small folder of backed up CD’s in my camera case so we wouldn’t loose any of our images if the van had been stolen, or broken into and the laptop stolen.
Exposure issues with highlights and contrast.

Shooting at the right time of day to capture classic images under the best lighting conditions.

Trying to keep the sun out of the image because the prosumer digital cameras have multi element zoom lenses with a tendency to flare. Capturing the sunlight on the subject instead of silhouetting it.

The ability to work with the CoolPix 5000 in a similar manner that I work with my 35mm Nikon equipment in that I didn’t let the fact that I was shooting digitally slow down my shooting at the times that were important. Not having to think about the limitations of the camera and it’s associated support equipment. Will I run out of memory? Will the battery last though I’m shooting the equivalent of 10 rolls of slide film in a five-hour time frame? Will I have to stop shooting and read the manual to figure out if I’m using the camera properly? All of these issues slow your shooting down and make you stop and think. I wanted each situation to be intuitive and let my creativity be all that I considered when shooting.

Problems were minor compared to what could have gone wrong. We experienced a major sandstorm at Monument Valley, so severe that you couldn’t see the road at 5:00 in the afternoon even with headlights on. My Gitzo Mountaineer locked up from the blowing sand the next morning and I had to finish the trip shooting with the Velbon. Also that morning, the CoolPix 5000 wouldn’t turn on. But after taking the battery out, cleaning the contacts by blowing the sand out, it worked fine. That was the closest I had to having a camera failure and never once needed my CoolPix 990.
I had previously used the CoolPix 5000 for about six weeks to review it so I was comfortable with it. But I was worried about getting properly exposed pictures on such an important, once in a lifetime trip. Also I was familiar with the complaints of digital camera users who report blown out highlights. I studied the manual to make sure I knew how to bracket. But as things turned out, I resorted to my procedure of using the Exposure Lock button to create bracketed exposures. I treat shooting digital like shooting transparency film by exposing for the highlights. In difficult situations I have always bracketed generously not worrying about the cost of film. With digital, there is no cost of film, and you can easily see if the exposure is correct be viewing the LCD screen. My technique is to point the camera at a brighter area of the scene, lock the exposure by holding down the Exposure Lock button, recompose and shoot. Every picture was taken on a tripod so there was no question about camera movement, especially since I was holding the tripod down solidly with my left hand while shooting. I think I deleted a total of three pictures because they were not sharp. I use the Xtend-a-View LCD magnifying finders on my digital cameras, always, for three reasons. They allow critical composition on the LCD, they allow shooting in bright sunlight, and most important, they allow me to use the CoolPix like a SLR by resting the camera against my face to balance it when shooting.
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