Tuesday, July 21, 2009
The Big Trip
See how National Geographic photographer and Outdoor Photographer columnist Frans Lanting gears up for an expedition. You probably won’t ever need as much equipment with you, but there’s a lot to learn from his approach.
For the kind of major international expeditions that have yielded some of Lanting’s most famous images, more specialized gear comes off the shelves. “When I leave for a serious field trip that can be two months or longer,” he explains, “Pelican’s hard cases are great because they’re bomb-proof, watertight and they have also served over the years as flotation devices, camping tables and convenient places to clean fish. As long as you keep the O-rings intact, the air inside can keep the cases afloat, even with cameras inside. The downside of Pelicans,” he cautions, “is that they can weigh up to 22 pounds even when empty, so I take out all the interior dividers and instead load them up with photo packs. It rapidly adds up to 50 or 70 pounds, so I pad out the rest of the cases with sleeping bags, clothing and other lightweight gear.” And what about security? “To reduce the risk of loss or theft,” he advises, “I spread critical equipment across different cases. I hedge my bets. I never use metal cases; they stand out too much and say ‘steal me.’ Besides, in the Arctic, a metal case would be really painful to handle at 30 below.”
On major expeditions, Lanting will take several Nikon camera bodies along, including Nikon’s high-end D3 or D3X, which he swaps out for a more compact Nikon D300 or D700 when he has to cover a lot of ground on foot. His lens arsenal includes several zoom lenses, which deliver more range for less weight. They range from a 12-24mm ƒ/4 to a 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 and a 200-400mm ƒ/4 supplemented by critical single focal-length lenses such as a 500mm ƒ/4 for serious wildlife work. Of course, Lanting travels with his MacBook Pro laptop wherever he goes and uses it to offload his images, which then get backed up on portable WiebeTech hard drives. “But,” he says, “when I have to go into a wilderness area, I’ll leave my Mac behind and take an Epson P-5000 viewable hard drive along.
“When I take off on a big trip, I may show up at the airport with six to eight pieces of luggage,” explains Lanting. To make the most of airline baggage allowances, he travels with a compact luggage scale made by Travelon that enables him to fine-tune each piece to within a pound of the maximum allowance. Lanting tapes plastic luggage lock straps to the inside of his checked pieces with a friendly note to security officials to please use those if necessary. He has often found that TSA-approved locks get snipped off by harried security officials, and the plastic lock straps enable them to resecure his bags.
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