My summer as a photographer: A vacationer workflow

I just came back from my first true vacation with my Nikon D90. Since I (also) have a passion for writing (and although I do not do a lot of it), I wanted to share my experience with readers. Among other things, I will try to comment on my D90, my lenses, my Kata bags and, my new “toy”, an iPad.

First a word about me: I am no professional. I am just getting into DSLR photography. I am foremost a gadget lover at heart, so photography started as one more gadget passion. Last year, for my 45th birthday, I got myself my first DSLR. I never looked back since: read lots of books (Michael Freeman and Joe McCally are my favourites), attended a couple of classes (Flash Photography was the most essential one) and I take A TON of pics. My favourites subjects are: birds, churches (and no, I am not so much a believer), dogs and architecture.

On we went my spouse and my daughter. Destination: Orlando, Walt Disney and Universal. Oh, and we would also go south, to Clearwater, where my in-laws live.

My Nikon D90 is normally is hooked up to a Nikkor 18-200 VR II lens. I bought this lens after I got an 18-105 VR bundled in the original D90 kit. I wanted this lens as a “travelling lens”, a “do it all” with flexibility. I truly love this lens. I researched it a lot and, for the money, I preferred it over the Sigma 18-250 OS HSM and the Tamron 18-270mm Di II VC. I will not go here into the reasons behind this choice, but you can look it up on dpreview.com.

I packed my body and lens in my Kata DR-467i bag. This great bag is a very versatile backpack bag. I use it mostly as my laptop bag to go to work and only rarely as a camera bag actually. I also own a Kata 3N1-22 which serves as my “stash all my gears” bag. When I go shooting birds, I normally lighten its load and wear it as a sling or a “cross your heart” back-pack.

The main pouch of the DR-467i has an inner divider which allows me to store my camera at the bottom and keep the upper portion of the bag for your day trip goodies. The great part about this bag is a slider pouch for a laptop or… an iPad! This is a great bag to carry your gears on the plane. One last note on the bag, make sure to get the “i” version as it adds a side pocket for a monopod or tripod.

My other lens, my birding lens, is a Sigma 150-500 OS HSM (aka BigmaOS). Again another difficult choice. Like the 18-200, this lens is a great choice… for the money. Since I do not have $5,000 for the Nikkor 500 mm prime lens, I am super happy with this $1000-ish piece of glass. Again, here on dpreview.com, you can find the reasoning that led me to this choice.

It’s a heavy beast. And it’s long. So, hop, in the suitcase. Not with me on the plane. Same goes for the SB-900 speed-light, my Gorilla table-top tripod (which by the way serves as a great iPad reading stand!), my Manfrotto monopod and all the miscellaneous gears like my iPad camera connector kit.

The first half of our trip was in Orlando, visiting Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom and Universal Studios.

For Animal Kingdom, I was eager to go on the safari ride. I was debating whether I should bring my long lens. This being day one, I simply did not know how I would handle the D90 by itself nor if I would be tired by end of day. It turned out that the 18-200 was more than good enough zoom to capture those animals. Since a safari bus is VERY wobbly and rattling, you need a fast lens – and at 5.6 and often 6.3, the Sigma requires a lot of light and a lot of stability. It turned out that carrying the D90, my water bottles and snacks, was not a hassle after all. The BigmaOS would have been too much and the 18-200 is definitely the ultimate travel lens.

(Fast-forward a moment: I was just looking back at my safari photos in Aperture. Wanting to shoot fast, I think that I cranked the ISO too much (1600) and shot too wide open (f5.6) causing too much depth of field and loosing photos on some pictures by missing the aim.)

On the second day, we went to Magic Kingdom. Since it was our first trip to Disney, we had to visit this site and we had to have someone take a picture of all three us with the castle in background! Remember in these situations when you hand over you camera to another tourist (or a site employee in this case) to ask them to put the strap around their neck and to put your cam into auto mode.

We decided to break this second day in two in order to go back to the hotel, take a nap, and come back for the evening light parade and, of course, the fireworks. This time, I brought my speed-light. It proved very useful for some fill flash shots as the sun was setting down. It was fun to capture the parade and it was essential to have a flash. As for the fireworks, without a tripod (and you could NOT carry one in the dense crowd) all I could do was to crank the ISO. This nevertheless yielded a few good shoots and some great memories.

Our third day was at Universal Studios. Not much there to add except that the pop-up flash did come in handy to capture a few moments with my daughter posing beside celebrities like Bob Square Pants and Bart Simpson. If you go to Universal, don’t make the same mistake we did: if you want to see the Harry Potter site, make sure you select the correct Universal site. We obviously learned that the hard way :-(.

The next part of our trip was 90 minutes south to Clearwater where my spouse’s parents live. Objective: birds and beaches!

On the first beach day, I decided to bring my long lens. I hooked it up to the body before hitting the beach in order to avoid getting sand into the mirror. I had to find a way to keep it nicely tucked in my bag. So, I unzipped the middle section of my bag which normally allows me to keep my cam from my daily gears and slipped in my camera with the lens pointing upwards. Wow, I may have found myself a cheap-man’s version of the Kata TLB-600 I was planning to get once it is available in Montréal. The DR-467i might just become my favourite bag after all!

The big lens does require the use of a stabilizing device. Most will use a tripod, but for a lighter load, I highly recommend a monopod. And it is so easy to stash in your suitcase on the plane.

On my second day at the beach I decided not to bring my Sigma. First, we were going to the same beach, so I had all the birds I could get there. Second, our four year old niece was along for the ride, so beach portraits were on the menu for the day! More pics and plenty of light to work with.

On our third day we went to a different beach. Since I had been there before on Christmas vacation, I knew that I would find some pretty big pelicans. And was I ever happy. Easy to get close to, easy to capture in flight and oh so impressive to watch!

At the end of each day, I rinsed my monopod with clear water to remove the salt and sand. I also used some q-tips to remove the sand that accumulates around the exterior of the lens ring before un-hooking the lens.

A quick note on memory cards.

Always get the fastest card you can get. Since SD cards are slower than CF cards, you always are looking for that edge, especially for sports and birds. Some say that 4 GB cards should be the maximum capacity to get in order to split the risk of a memory card going bad and losing some valuable memories. Since I shoot RAW, an 8 GB card can hold around 500 pictures, which basically I find is just perfect. Enough for about two days of shooting :-). And if you loose your data, do not despair. I was able to recoup all but a couple of pics from my daughter’s trip to Paris by using a third party Mac OS utility called EXIF Untrasher (http://www.bluem.net/en/mac/exif-untrasher/) that did an awesome job.

The title of this blog is “A vacationer workflow”, so, I do need to talk about actual workflow.

As mentioned in the intro, I went on vacation for the first time with my iPad and the camera connector kit. At the end of each day, I imported my photos from SD cards onto the iPad for viewing. The iPad is a GREAT tool to view pics and share with those close to you.

Although this was great, I do have a few issues with the tools at hand.

One of the first things I do when I look at pictures is to delete those where the framing or the exposure, for example, are off. That works well on the iPad … until the next day when you import your next day’s pics. Because this was my first attempt at importing and because I wanted to keep a backup, I did not delete the photos from the SD card. So, on the next import, the iPad would see deleted pics as “not present” and import them all over again.

Of those pics I kept, I am sometimes left with multiple shots of the same scene. In Aperture 3 on my iMac I normally look at the histogram or the focus point to decide which one to keep. The Photo app on the iPad does not provide this level of details. I wish that it did and reading blogs on the Net, I am not alone.

Another missing feature is the ability to create albums on the iPad. You just can’t. All photos are imported in the “Imported” album or in the “Last Imported’ album. I wish that I could have created albums for Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom, Universal and Beach.

Also missing from the workflow is the rating ability. OK, I am getting picky here, I know.

However, two things are not working and these are huge.

First, once you import all your pics back in Aperture, they are not deleted from your iPad contrary to when you import pics from a SD card. This means that I have to delete manually. All 1,200 of them! Obviously, this was not prototyped in the field as I am not the only one shooting that often. This hopefully will be corrected in iOS 4.1 in the fall.

The second thing that does not work and is actually a bug. I could not import all my photos in one single attempt. Aperture would hang during the import process. Aperture keeps on running fine, but the import stalls after some 50 photos, sometimes as little as 10 photos. So, each time, I had to force quit Aperture and restart. This is long and frustrating – ask my girlfriend about my mood over the last weekend! It also creates some duplicates. I posted a bug report on the feedback page on Apple.com.

All in all a great vacation, some fun pictures and lots of learnings for me. I just can’t wait for the next trip 🙂

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16 Responses to My summer as a photographer: A vacationer workflow

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  7. GV says:

    I’m a long-time pro photographer but I find your blog posts about using the iPad very informative.

    If I can make one suggestion: Allowing Aperture to automatically delete image files from your memory card while importing is not a good idea. If there should be a problem with the imported images you cannot reimport them without using data rescue software, adding time and expense.

    When I import images I keep the images on the memory card until I have them safely stored on two external drives. I then “delete” the images by formatting the card in the camera, something that should be done on a regular basis anyway to keep the card in good shape.

    • maximegousse says:

      Mojo,

      Thank you for your feedback. Indeed, I am learning from my own experience. About deleting from the card, I had once to use Exif Untrahser to get some lost pics from a SD card. Not fun at all (although Exif Untrasher is an easy to use software).

      Max

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