Thursday, May 04, 2006

What's in the bag?

Observations on camera gear I used in China.

Here's what I brought:

1 D70
2 D70 batteries
3 CF cards (one 256 and two 512s)
1 12-25 Tokina
1 70-210 Nikkor with step up (62-77)
1 55 macro Nikkor
1 remote
1 polarizer
1 sky filter (for inclement weather)
1 3216 Bogen mono-pod with 3262 ballhead
1 small Jansport backpack
1 leather fanny pack
1 swivel-head flash with bounce card
1 iBook with neoprene slipcase

I used each and every lens on the trip. I only recharged the camera battery once. I shot an average of 80 pictures a day.

Often the 70-210 lens was too powerful for a portrait lens especially for the small villages. I just couldn't get far enough back. The 70m is the equivalent of a 105 on a film SLR. In the woman and son in the window shot I used it but I had to squat on the stair outside the home to frame the shot. I actually wanted more of the window in the picture but couldn't get far enough back.

The 55m micro was nice to have. It took many portrait pictures but also doubled as a macro for some of the flower and fern shots. The other great thing about it is that it's light. It worked great for taking photos of my sketches and the Chinese writing that the old men did for me.

I only used the mono-pod on the terrace shots in Longji and even then I could have done without it. On the boat trip up the Li river I got out and placed the D70 on my backpack as a tripod. It worked great to get the long exposure for the foreground water. I could have done without the mono-pod.

This range of lenses gave me the variety I needed to take sweeping wide landscape pictures. The 70-210 and 55 gave me great portraits and full frame shots. The 55 gave the close in shots of the fern. It's important to include a wide range of focal lengths in travel pictures. The wide angles establish place while the zoom gets people and close ups which add interesting details.

I learned that it's very important to talk with people first before raising the camera to take their picture. They become relaxed and begin to trust that you'll put them in the best light. You'll get a better expression from them and you'll come away with a picture and a story. Next time I'll bring candy for the kids. They really warm up to you if you have candy.

I used the polarizer many times but the sky filter only once or twice. I purchased the sky for inclement weather. If it was raining, I'd place it over whatever lens was on the camera. That's why I purchased a step up ring. That way I could buy one filter and screw it to whatever lens was on the D70.

Carrying the Gear

I typically carried all my gear. I never left anything in the hotel room. Only in Qingdao was the safe big enough to leave the iBook behind. I just didn't think I could afford to loose any of my gear.

I put the iBook in the neoprene slipcase and placed that in the backpack first. On top of that I slipped in the flash. It just settled to the bottom. Next, to one side, I put the 70-210 protected by two thick socks. Inside the fanny pack I placed the 55m macro and placed that next to the zoom. The camera and mounted 12-24 I placed at the top of the backpack. Sometimes I carried my Chinese dictionary or sketchbook. This made the pack about 20 lbs.

When we got to our destination I'd wear the fanny pack with the big 70-210 zoom and macro and carry the D70 over my shoulder. The backpack then only had the iBook and flash. I made a shoulder strap for the mono-pod so that I could hang it on the shoulder too. It often slipped off and most times I just left if behind.

All in all I carried the right amount of gear. It's always a compromise. I want the gear I need to take the shots I see but I don't want to become so exhausted carrying the stuff I no longer feel up to taking pictures.

"Look, I'm not an intellectual - I just take pictures." -Helmut Newton