A Time For Giving

'Tis the season when Photo Traveler offers some gift advice for photographers
photo traveler: a time for giving
Machu Picchu, Peru. When you’re face to face with an ideal scene like this, having the right gear will ensure that you get the shot.

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It’s the time of year when the avid traveling photographer should be thinking of dropping the necessary hints to loved ones of what might be the appropriate gift for the family shutterbug. Yes, dropping not-so-subtle suggestions about what you’d like could be seen as being somewhat uncouth or overtly self-serving.

But who else knows the technical subtleties of digital gear and gadgets as well as you, and geez, who needs another tie or scarf with cameras imprinted on it or a cute statuette of a photographer sitting in a sports car with a couple of cameras around his neck and a bumper sticker that reads, "Warning: I Brake For Pictures"?

Here’s a list of goodies that have caught my eye recently and that have passed the test of usability.

Small, Light, Strong

When Gitzo first came out with its carbon-fiber Mountaineer tripods years ago,
it was a revelation. We now had a smaller, lighter tripod that had the rigidity and strength to be useable for professional applications.

I didn’t think tripods could get any lighter and still be useful or airlines could get any more stingy in their luggage allowances, but I was wrong on both counts! Domestic baggage weight limits have dropped from 70 to 50 pounds for a checked bag, and now, even transoceanic international limits have followed suit. Once you reach your destination, though, the entire weight limit for all your checked bags can be 44 pounds and the excess-baggage charges breathtaking.

Then Gitzo developed some new, super-sturdy leg locks (the Anti Leg Rotation system), a new, stronger formulation for carbon fiber, the 6X and, consequently, were able to make even smaller, lighter tripods. The GT1540T Traveler is incredibly light, small and versatile. It has a 180-degree flip on the legs that allows it to fold down to 15.4 inches, weighs only two pounds but supports up to 9.9 pounds, has a center column that reverses and also comes apart for very low-angle work, and sports a retractable hook on the bottom. (Want to make a two-pound tripod perform like a 22-pound tripod? Hang your 20-pound camera bag on this hook—an ingenious innovation I first saw in the Mountaineer years ago.)

This tripod can fit easily in your carry-on bag, and it won’t make you feel like a packhorse should you want to tether it to your camera for a day’s exploration. It’s pricey at $560, but think of the chiropractor’s fees you’ll save (www.bogenimaging.us).

The perfect head for the Gitzo is Really Right Stuff’s BH-25 LR. This tiny titan features RRS’s innovative and thus far unique flip-lever quick release, and supports up to 8.8 pounds. It has the silky-smooth action we’ve come to expect from RRS, and the flip-lever quick release is truly quick, unlike the screw-in type that’s more popularly called "quick."

The quick release will take Arca-Swiss-type plates, but RRS recommends their version as being the most secure and best fit for the release. I’ve got a mix of different-brand Arca-Swiss-type plates on my camera, and I found them all to fit nicely in the quick release.

Will this little combo totally replace my larger tripods (including the Mountaineer)? Not entirely, but it will find its way into my luggage more often, especially for trips where traveling lightly is essential ($175, www.reallyrightstuff.com).

Papa’s Got A Brand-New Bag

Backpack-style camera-bag designs are popular. You can carry a lot of stuff, and that stuff balances nicely in the middle of your back. The huge drawback to the backpack is that you have to take it off (and usually lay it down) to access your equipment. This may not be a problem in a meadow in Denali, but it can be a catastrophe on a street in Florence.

That’s why most journalists, travel photographers and those working in busy areas use a shoulder bag or waistpack.You can access your equipment without taking the bag off your body. The drawback of a shoulder bag is that the weight of the gear is on one side and can wreak havoc on your spine, and waistpacks are limited in the amount of gear that will fit.

The Lowepro SlingShot bags and the Tamrac Velocity sling bags give the best of both worlds. These sling bags carry in the middle of your back like a backpack, but you can slide them around and access your gear without taking the bag off. The bags have stowable waist straps that further help to distribute the weight when you’re on a long walk ($89, SlingShot 200 AW, www.lowepro.com; $79, Velocity 9x, www.tamrac.com).

Another one of my favorites is the ThinkTank Urban Disguise line. As the name suggests, these bags are designed not to look like camera bags, but generic shoulder bags. There are six sizes, all designed to carry anywhere from a body, lens and flash all the way up to your full outfit, including a 17-inch laptop.

For a schedule of Bob Krist's workshops and seminars, check his website, www.bobkrist.com, under the "Teach and Talk" heading.

For flying through countries where you get only one carry-on (like Great Britain), I’ve been using the UD 60. I can fit my 13-inch MacBook, a couple of hard drives and the power charger in the back pocket, while my two cameras, four lenses, two flashes, filters and other assorted accessories fit nicely in the other compartments. One of the hallmarks of ThinkTank bags is the attention to detail and design ($189, Urban Disguise 60, www.thinktankphoto.com).

Days Of Wine And Loupes

How many times have you been shooting on a bright day and tried to examine your LCD, only to be stymied by the overly bright surroundings? Sure, you can try to cup your hands over the LCD or buy one of those pop-up covers (but man, can they be annoying when things aren’t too bright to take a quick look) or pull your shirt over your head to make a temporary viewing tent. But there’s an easier way.

The ingenious HoodLoupe Professional from Hoodman looks just like a film loupe (remember film?) for examining 21/4 transparencies. But it’s optimized with low magnification and designed to fit over LCDs up to 2.75 inches. It also has a ±3 diopter to adjust to individual eyesight, is rubberized to protect from bumps and scratches, and has a neck lanyard and carrying case. It’s a simple solution to a common problem and can save the day when you need to see, say, your fill-flash ratio in bright sun. On a recent shoot for the tourist board of a major East Coast city, which featured a lot of setups with models and strobe lighting, I was able to share my results with the client on the spot without the hassle of shooting tethered to a laptop. It weighs a couple of ounces and doesn’t take up much room and can really help you make digital hay when the sun shines ($70, www.hoodmanusa.com).

If you’re reading this, it’s a slam dunk that you love photography. Many photographers I know are also wine enthusiasts, but even if you aren’t, you’ll love the visual feast in Chuck O’Rear’s latest coffee-table book, Wine Across America: A Photographic Roadtrip (Wineviews Publishing, St. Helena, Calif.). A longtime National Geographic shooter, O’Rear has made a specialty of photographing the wine industry the world over. When he discovered there are now working wineries in every state of the union, he set off on a two-year, 80,000-mile odyssey to photograph them with writer Daphne Larkin.

The result is a stunning collection of beautiful and informative photographs. O’Rear gives it the full, National Geographic treatment, so we see great landscapes, graphic aerials and insightful portraits. The layout, printing and pacing of the book are exquisite, and the thoroughness of the coverage even includes reproductions of bottles and labels from all 50 states. Like a fine wine, the book has many layers of enjoyment. The pictures and the layout alone comprise a great lesson in photography and design, but if you also read Larkin’s excellent text, you’ll learn about the traditions and innovations of this fascinating industry ($35, www.wineviews.com; $23, www.amazon.com).

For a schedule of Bob Krist's workshops and seminars, check his website, www.bobkrist.com, under the "Teach and Talk" heading.


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