Digital Camera Traveling Issues
by Mary and Larry Berman
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Photographs from our Southwest trip also appear in Mac Design Magazine
CoolPix 5000 Southwest Gallery
Purchase Prints from our Southwest Trip
eDigitalPhoto Magazine
The Three Top Issues
When Traveling with a Digital Camera

By Larry and Mary Berman
Earlier this year I had a chance to review the CoolPix 5000 for Shutterbug Magazine and was very impressed with its wide-angle capabilities and excellent output quality. I’ve come to really appreciate Nikon’s digital cameras having done extensive shooting with the Coolpix 950 and 990. When my wife Mary and I began planning a three-week photographic trip in the Western United States we decided the 5000 was the kind of digital camera that would allow us to leave our film cameras at home.

Our trip itinerary included shooting in Arizona and Southern Utah with visits to Sedona, the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon, Bryce Canyon and Arches National Park. Robert Hitchman’s “Photograph America” newsletters and Laurent Martrès books “Photographing the Southwest volumes I and II” were very helpful to us in choosing locations and shooting times. At Monument Valley we arranged for a sunrise tour at the visitors center and at Antelope Canyon we arranged for a tour with the people at AntelopeCanyon.com. These resources definitely helped maximize our time.

As professional photographers we’re used to traveling with two or three camera bodies, at least a half dozen lenses, tripods, filters and lots of film. Packing for a digital shoot was quite different.

Our digital equipment consisted of the Nikon CoolPix 5000 with the WC-E68 wide angle adapter (equivalent to a 19mm lens in 35mm) and the CoolPix 950 for shooting color infrared for my AlternatePhoto.com web site. I also brought along my CoolPix 990 for backup as a backup body, but as my other equipment worked flawlessly I never needed it.

Other important accessories included the amazingly light but sturdy Velbon Maxi 343E tripod along with a Gitzo carbon fiber Mountaineer tripod, several high capacity Sandisk compact flash cards, and lots of rechargeable AA batteries for the Coolpix 950 and a Maha Powerbank for the CoolPix 5000. We also brought along a Kaidan panoramic head for the sweeping western landscape. Our most used accessory was the Xtend-a-View LCD finder for accurate composition and exposure verification.

The small size of the CoolPix cameras made carrying the equipment a breeze. I used a small Domke F-803 shoulder bag with the CoolPix 5000 and CoolPix 950 in the main pocket, each in their own Domke belt pouch so I could easily put a camera on my belt for hiking. The front pockets held wide angle lenses for both cameras in one and my infrared filters and polarizer in the other. That bag and the small light weight Velbon tripod went with me every time we left the vehicle.

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 extended the center column about six inches and used 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 a single lens reflex.

Over the 11 days, we shot the equivalent of over 50 rolls of 36-exposure film. We came back with a great selection of images that captured the feeling of the places we visited. We also learned a great deal about how to work digitally and how it differed from the hundreds of trips we have made shooting film.

The top three issues that face photographers shooting a trip digitally are:
1 - Digital Film – In the past we would always carry twice as much film as we thought we would shoot. The digital equivalent of that is carrying multiple high capacity memory cards. You don’t want to chance running out of memory card space when shooting a wealth of dramatic subjects under continuously changing lighting conditions. For example, in photographing the slot canyons, we shot 370 pictures within a five hour time frame. We filled a 512 megabyte card with 351 full resolution (highest quality Jpeg) images. Additionally we were also carrying 192 and 128 megabyte cards so we could have shot several hundred more. Compared to the cost of shooting slide film, which is approximately $15 per roll for the film and processing, buying multiple digital storage cards is actually quite a bargain. If we had to pay for standard processing for all the shots we took on this trip, it would have cost us about $750. That will pay for quite a bit of digital storage. And unlike film, we will be using it again and again.

2 - Battery Power – During that same shoot at the slot canyons, the Coolpix 5000’s internal battery ran down after shooting about 300 pictures. We were able to switch to a fully charged Maha PowerBank (7.2-volt version) and continue shooting. We recommend getting at least one extra rechargeable battery for your camera, and if you’re fortunate enough to have one of the cameras that use standard AA batteries, carry both high capacity rechargeables and a couple of sets of alkaline batteries as an emergency back up.

3 - Storage and Archiving when Traveling – Just having lots of capacity on your compact flash cards is not enough. It is critically important for any serious photographer to insure the digital images they shoot are not lost or damaged. You need a way to back up your files to really be safe from disaster. A number of options exist, including large capacity portable storage devices like the Digital Wallet sold by Minds@Work, the Image Bank by Sima or Jobo’s Digital Album.

We carried a Dell laptop with a 30 gig hard drive and built in CD burner to archive and work on our images daily. Since we drove across country, we felt relatively safe leaving the laptop out of site in our alarmed van. And an additional advantage of having the laptop was being able to use ACDSee and Photoshop 7 to do an initial review and edit. It also allowed us to post the new images to a Southwest Gallery on my web site daily.

But the most important reason for traveling with a laptop is the security of burning your images to CD ROMs. Everything we shot was moved to the Dell laptop each evening. We created folders for each camera by date and location. Then we burned two CD’s. All total, we burned two sets of 11 CD’s of images as a back up to what we had on the laptop and carried one set with us all the time. Maybe one day we’ll see stand alone CD burners with a slot for a CompactFlash card.

Each camera that had been used had its 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. The best light for shooting was in the morning and evening, which gave us mid day to rest, review and recharge. We tried to keep our shooting schedule to before 9:00AM and after 4:00PM.

As photographic trips go, this one was a total success. The CoolPix 5000 performed wonderfully giving us great exposures and accurate color and never once let us down. In fact, I’ve been offering our two best selling 8x10’s from our trip at my production costs for people who want to see exactly what the CoolPix 5000 is capable of. They are Fuji Frontier prints on Fuji Crystal Archive paper, the standard in the photographic industry with a 60 year life expectancy. They can be ordered from my web site.

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