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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Minimize To Maximize

A National Geographic pro on how to lighten up on your gear and keep focused on getting the best photos

This Article Features Photo Zoom

An Albanian flutist plays at the top of Ali Pasha Castle in Butrint.
Shooting On Location
I’m preparing to head out on another “around the world by private jet” expedition for National Geographic/Starquest, and I’m traveling light, at least light for a photographer. Not only don’t I want to lug that gear around the globe, but I’ve come to the realization that traveling “lean and mean” in terms of equipment lets me focus my attention on that process of making the image, not trying to carry everything I own “in case” I may need it. By taking stock of the primary equipment I use on a daily basis while in the field, I’m also creating my equipment list for future shoots.

Jobo GIGA Vu Pro evolution.
On most expeditions that require me to be away from home for a while, I almost always go through the same mental process: I arrive at that conclusion that I don’t want to leave my home and family for “X” number of days. At that point, I force myself into a regular drill. I pull a camera out of my bag, and this feeling flows through me that I can’t believe that I get to do this job, that I’m being paid to be the “eyes” for a certain number of readers of that magazine for whom I’m on assignment, that my images may define that place, culture or people I’m photographing. If that electricity stops flowing, if I pick up that camera and nothing happens, it’s time for a career change.

Keeping his load small allows Dickman to reach incredible heights, as you can see from his vantage point over these waterfalls.
That addresses an important part of the mental readiness. In the early stages, before I step on that plane, a lot of research and preparation takes place. The Internet has made that research so much easier, providing in moments what previously would have taken days or weeks of visiting libraries, making calls, writing letters. I look for traditional events and festivities based on the calendar and when I’ll be in that place. For the travel photographer, weddings can be a great and personal look into a culture, and a friendly attitude and cheerful presence can be a great door opener. Also, if you’re in a foreign location, remember that you are the foreigner in their country. Most cities and countries (as well as U.S. states) have websites that have a lot of information available only a mouse click away.

Walrus use raised terraces recently uncovered by seawater as a haul-out location for resting and playing off the Norwegian archipelago of Nordaustlandet, Svalbard.
If I’m traveling to a foreign country, I’ll learn some basic phrases. Usually, these sound laughable to the locals, but a sincere attempt at bridging the language barrier can go a long way. A short list would include “Hello,” “Thank you,” “How are you?”, “May I take your picture?” and “Goodbye.” Showing that effort and respect will help you out.

Olympus Zuiko Digital ED 50- 200mm ƒ/2.8-3.5

Olympus Zuiko Digital ED 90- 250mm ƒ/2.8
Considering time of year and weather are important obviously, and also can present possible events to photograph. High season can provide the intensity created by throngs of people, but many of these popular summer or seasonal places can be equally enchanting and photographically appealing in low season. Think of visiting both times of year for a real visual dichotomy, if possible.

Time taken in this preparation allows me then to decide what equipment I’ll carry. I may realize that super lenses won’t be needed, or that the shoot will be covered by just a couple of lenses, allowing me to thin out my bag, which won’t be that excessive weight on my shoulders or slow me down.

Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Jay Dickman is a regular contributor to National Geographic. He’s also an Olympus Visionary photographers and coauthor of the book Perfect Digital Photography. Dickman leads a series of digital photography workshops in a variety of locations around the world. You can see more of his photography at www.jaydickman.net.


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