It has been a mad scramble as usual to pack for my trip to Africa. I always fantasize about being a James-Bond-like-traveler; relaxed, in a tux with martini in hand, bored and checking my watch to see if it’s time to leave yet.
Of course the reality is more from the “chicken-without-a head” school, never enough time to do the 134 things to do on the list, high stress levels and very little sleep. That’s just the way it seems to work out mostly.
But now, the moment of Zen–the plane is in the air and I am tapping on these keys blogging for Inside Aperture from the crammed middle seat on a seven-hour flight to Zurich, en route to Rwanda. Whatever I didn’t get done doesn’t matter; I turn my attention to the assignment at hand.
I’m working as a stills photographer for a documentary team focusing on Dr. James Orbinski, the former head of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), who accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of MSF in 1999. We are going back with him, retracing his steps and seeing how things have changed.
We will be gone for about three weeks and I get to test out Aperture on the road for the first time. I like to travel light, but in the end, I never travel as light as I would like. Here’s my equipment list:
Camera and lenses: Nikon D2x Camera with 17-55mm 2.8 lens- my main combo. I love this lens and use it for the majority of my work. I like to be close to my subjects, which let’s me capture more intimate moments I wouldn’t get otherwise.
The Nikon D200 Body with 18-200mm VR lens is my backup. I love the smaller size of the D200 body. It’s important for me to have a back up lens, in case my 17-55 ever drops or goes away. Though I prefer not to shoot long; it is nice to have the “long lensability” in a short lens package. The 18-200mm has an incredible range and though this is the first time I will try it, I have heard great things. Extra camera batteries, the correct electric-plug converters and chargers all are in the bag.
I have learned to use flash less frequently, preferring to take advantage of the wonderful low light capture of DSLR sensors. I try not to raise my ISO above 400 generally–but when light is low and uneven, there are times when flash is the best compromise.
I have a Nikon SB 800 flash that I use off camera connected with a SC-29 cord, which allows me to use TTL flash in a much more natural way. I bought one of the Gary Fong light diffusers for it, and though it’s a bit big and clunky, it does a very nice job of softening the light–and when it’s in the backpack I can store extra batteries inside it.
I’m a firm believer in shooting after the sun goes down, capturing mood and atmosphere in the landscape. For this trip, I decided to try out the “Gorilla Pod”, a small, light bendable tripod that should prove to be a good anchor for longer exposures.
I fit it all into a smallish backpack. I vowed after turning 40, that all my shoes would be slip-ons and all my cases would have wheels, but I make exceptions when traveling to Africa. I don’t want to check my equipment as baggage so I make sure my backpack is small enough to fit under the seat, if it’s too big for the overhead compartments of a small plane. True to my shoe philosophy however, my Blundstone boots are comfy, slip on, look fancy enough for upscale occasions and are rugged and dry in the mud and the grass. I have a Kata raincover that lets me shoot in the pouring rain while keeping the camera dry.
This trip is taking us to Rwanda, Kenya and maybe Somalia and Belgrade–and there may not always be access to electricity. So having a Lexar 8GB 133xcard and two 4GB cards will allow me to shoot lots of raw images to bring into Aperture, without having to download as often. I have three 2GB 80X cards from my last trip, which I also brought.
I know the argument against putting all your eggs in one basket with larger cards, but I have had such great experience with the Lexar cards, that I’m ready to take a leap of faith with the larger ones. The last time I used my Epson P2000 Viewer for downloading in the field was my last trip to Africa, so we’ll see if I bring it into service this trip. It’s comforting to know that if the computer is out of power or something goes wrong, there’s still a way to clear the cards safely.
I have always taken a recorder of sorts with me on long shooting trips, but this time I have gotten serious. The last trip to Africa, the D2X memo feature, which allows you 60-second recordings and download as .wav files, came in handy for interviews, notes and collecting sound and music from the field. This time I will try out an Edirol R09 Recorder for gathering field audio and two Lexar 133x 1 GB SD cards to capture it all. From all I’ve read, this one is the photographer’s choice.
I had my camera’s sensors cleaned before the trip, and though I’ve never cleaned a sensor myself (I shouldn’t be afraid, but I am)–I have never had trouble with dust on the sensors, leaving my lenses fixed on the bodies all the time. But I did bring the sensor cleaning swabs and liquid in case of emergency.
A pocket USB Drive on a keychain can come in handy also to keep scans of my passport and vital information in case papers are lost. 32 Duracell Ultra Digital AA Batteries should be enough to power the flash and Edirol recorder.
North American cell phones can cost a fortune when used overseas, but the Motorola Razor V3 Phone can be used worldwide. Picking up a SIM card in many African countries means cheap cell phone rates and people back home can reach you on their dime.
I hope to have more on my computer set-up and using Aperture in Africa in my next couple of blogs, time and Internet connections permitting.
A powerful and riveting look at the war-torn African Republic of Congo, by Marcus Bleasdale.