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Travel and vacation photography, Part 2 (04/12/2006)
By Tom Hirsch

What happens if your primary camera fails? I've had this happen, and it's not fun. The answer is to carry a spare. It can be a digital or film camera, but it should be compact. It's no good to downsize if you're going to upsize with a spare camera. If you have an old compact film camera lying around the house, use it for this purpose. Just take a couple rolls of film with you, and buy film on the way if need be.

Ah, yes, the batteries! If your digital camera takes small batteries, such as AAs, take several sets with you. These cameras eat batteries like M&Ms. To avoid carrying many AAs, consider buying rechargeables. Although they're more expensive than nonrechargeable AAs, the additional cost will pay off in the long run. Two or three sets will serve you nicely.

If your digital camera came with a rechargeable proprietary battery, buy a second one. I know that these batteries aren't cheap, but you will need a second battery. It's not so much a spare as a necessity when the first battery wears down. And always take the charger with you, even on short trips. You never know when you'll need it.

Incidentally, rechargeable batteries don't hold their charge forever. These batteries should be charged every two to three months to keep them in operating condition.

For each trip you take, make a checklist of the photo equipment you take with you. Leave a copy at home, and put a duplicate in your gadget bag. Check the list from time to time to make sure you didn't forget or lose anything at a location or in a motel room someplace.

My check list might look something like this, but in column form so I can check the items: Digital Canon camera, auxiliary wide-angle lens, second battery, battery charger, 2-512 MB Compact Flash Cards, Velbon tripod, spare 35mm camera (I have a couple to choose from), small flashlight, auxiliary flash, AA batteries (for flash and flashlight), lens cleaner and tissue or micro fiber cloth, pad of paper and pencil, reference cards with basic camera information.

When shooting digital, the camera settings you choose can have a profound impact on the resulting pictures. For example, if you choose the highest settings, you'll get the highest quality images, but at the expense of using more space on the memory card. Selecting lower settings will give you more pictures, but with lower quality. Less important for storage space is the ISO setting, but there is a quality factor here too. A low setting, such as ISO 50, will provide the best quality images, and an ISO setting of 200 or higher will provide for more flexibility in low light situations, but the image quality may not be as good (only true with cameras up to 5 megapixels).

I tend to go for the highest quality images, so I set the camera for the super fine resolution, and the highest area resolution, which on a 6 megapixel camera would be 3000 X 2000. Even with a low ISO setting, I get very few fuzzy shots due to camera shake because I use good camera-holding techniques, and I use a tripod when shooting at night, or whenever possible if there is a chance of camera shake.

Of course, not all the pictures we take will be 8 X 10s, but we never know which ones will, and which will only end up as snapshot prints or ultimately discarded. For this reason, it's a good idea to shoot everything as though it will be printed for display in the den or on your office wall.

If your camera has a RAW setting, ignore it. Presumably, this setting would provide the highest quality images, but they wouldn't be much better than the highest quality JPEG images. Besides, you'll be able to get many more JPEG images on a memory card.

On an extensive trip where you could run out of storage space on your memory cards, consider buying a portable hard drive. There are many battery-operated devices on the market that provide the capability of downloading your photos soon after you take them. You would just insert the card into a slot, push a button, and the transfer is made. Many laptop computers also provide this option, so if you wanted to, you could view and manipulate your images on the spot.

By the way, never go on a trip with a new camera, or one that you're not familiar with. All cameras are different, with differing capabilities. Similar functions are found in various locations. Always arrange time before any trip to check out new equipment, and make sure that equipment you're familiar with is working properly.

More on this subject next time. 


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