Great Shots With Less Gear
I must admit that when I travel I usually don't bring along a lot of camera gear. Depending on my mood and how much I've been shooting before I travel, I can bring anything from a full medium format system with back up to a point-and-shoot 35. It also depends where I'm going and if I've been there before. For this article, we're talking about Italy in the springtime. It was my first trip there and I've never heard anyone say anything but great things about it, so naturally photos were in order. June is a pretty busy month for a portrait and wedding guy like me, but through an amazingly great turn of events a friend of mine had the use of a five bedroom, three bath villa located in Pescara, right on the Adriatic Sea, gratis! How could I not join him?
I didn't want to bring the "big" cameras and my 35mm equipment closet was a little dated, so I purchased a new Nikon N80 for the trip. I figured it would be just right for my vacation photos. It was very reasonably priced and had many advanced features--a great metering system and built-in flash. I already own Nikon equipment, so that's the reason I looked at that particular brand. I'm a firm believer that you can't go wrong with equipment from any of the major manufacturers, so I base my equipment purchasing decisions on features and compatibility with gear I already own. I also brought along a Pentax IQZoom EZY-R point-and-shoot camera that also did a great job for me, and I got one of my favorite shots by sticking it out the window and firing off a shot where I couldn't stop the car.
Before we go too far, let me make clear that I am talking about vacation and personal photos in this article. If you're on an assignment for Travel and Leisure or shooting stock photos, you'll probably bring just about all you've got. Having said that, there are many advantages to traveling light. The first is, you'll get the picture! By that I mean the less inertia you have to overcome, the more likely it is that you'll take the photo. I remember many years ago reading about "never-ready" camera cases. If you carry your camera all buttoned up like a 6-year-old in a blizzard, chances are by the time you see a photo and then try to decide if it's worth unwrapping your precious jewel of a camera to take it, it's already gone! Rule 1 of the "light traveling photographer" is wear your camera around your neck with no case, ready to shoot at a moment's notice.
Rule 2: Don't carry a big case. Nobody wants to carry 100 lbs around their neck all day, so they won't. All of my shoulder bags have a strap with a wide, non-slip patch so I don't look like I'm doing the "frug" all day or have a twitch in my right shoulder. A backpack bag is probably easier to carry, but for a vacation I probably would have to think about taking it off and opening it up, thus violating Rule 1. A waist or fanny pack may work, but I've always kinda figured fanny packs make a guy look like, ah, not a guy, so I don't use them. My hang up, probably not yours.
Rule 3: Don't bring more than three lenses; two is better. Again, the key here is the less resistance between you, your camera, and the photo op, the better. Hey, we're on vacation here, who wants to think? I brought a wide, a normal, and a tele-zoom, but now own a 28-105mm f/2.8 Tamron that I've fallen in love with, so I could probably cut it down to two lenses.
Rule 4: Carry a point-and-shoot--a zoom one if possible. The Pentax I brought along has a 38-70mm lens married to it and I'm sure you can take 75 percent of your photos with that focal length range. When we went to dinner, which was often, I'd carry the Pentax in my pocket, with no case, of course. It was always ready to whip out at a moment's notice so I never had to say, "Darn, I wish I had a camera with me!" With a maximum lens opening of f/4.8-8.5 though, shooting is restricted to bright light or close range flash only. That's why they sell the other stuff we're carrying! Rule 5: Bring more film with you than you think you're going to need, because you'll usually pay more for film and maybe not find what you're looking for overseas. I'm not a prolific shooter. In a week, I shot 10 rolls of 36 exposure color negative film. I brought 20 rolls. I make sure there is no film in the cameras when going through airport x-rays and carry the exposed and unexposed film in two different plastic baggies, which I hand to the personnel for hand inspection no matter how much they assure me my film won't get fried. There is even a newspaper article taped to the machine in Manchester, New Hampshire, proudly blaring, "Airport x-rays will not harm film." Guess they haven't heard of the new heavy-duty jobs that will cook your film but good. Why take a chance anyway for a few moment's time? (Editor's Note: Never place film in checked baggage. In our experience, carryon film can be passed through inspection machines safely.)
Rule 6 (my last rule): Remember you're on vacation, not a National Geographic cover shoot. Give yourself a little slack. If you see a shot that got away, it didn't--it's still in your head, isn't it? Enjoy the moment, enjoy the surroundings, and enjoy the memories you'll have when you get back home looking at your photos.
What I Carried
Here's my down and dirty guide to Italy, at least what I can tell you after a week's visit. I visited Rome, Naples, Capri, Pompeii, and Pescara, which is on the East Coast. June is beautiful, temps are in the high 80s, and the ocean water is warm. Most people in the big cities understand English better than I speak Italian. In Pescara, a European tourist spot, no one spoke English but we got by just fine. Food is inexpensive, hotels are expensive, rental cars have 15 horsepower engines with no air or they wouldn't make it up the hills. Gas is sold in little jeweled containers next to the diamonds. The road system is excellent, but get out of the way of the big Mercedes and Audis traveling 100 mph on the Autosrata. After driving in Rome, airport traffic in NYC is child's play. Italian girls are thin, wear uncomfortable high heels, and have a cell phone stuck to their head. The country is beautiful, the food amazing, and if you get a chance to go, don't even think twice about it. Diet later.