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Choosing Camera Kit for an Epic Trip Made Easy

Lowepro Mini Trekker Camera Bag

Ted on Tour USA – Choosing Camera Kit for an Epic Trip

Choosing Camera Kit for an Epic Trip is the first part of a new blog post series. This series will run parallel to our travel blog posts documenting our epic trip across America. This new series will feature the photographic related aspects of the 15000 mile trip.

In this first post I will discuss the process I used to choose what camera kit to pack for our 6 week Ted on Tour USA trip. I will also be providing background information and tips to some of the pictures taken on the first part of our trip from the UK to New York

Here are links to read an overview of the Ted on Tour USA trip and Ted on Tour USA Part 2 Gatwick to New York.

Alternatively check out the timelapse video below!

Ted on Tour USA Video

Which Camera Bag?

Our Norwegian Airlines flight allowed us to check in one 20kg bag each and take one carry on bag each. We chose to use a Lowepro camera bags as our carry on bags. This ensured all the delicate camera kit would be kept with us and away from the dreaded baggage carousel system.

I have several camera bags and chose the following for this trip –

  • Lowepro Mini Trekker AW which is capable of holding an SLR Camera with a large telephoto lens attached and 4 or 5 other lenses
  • Lowepro Fastpack 350 which holds an SLR Camera with a small zoom and 3 to 4 other lens.
  • Lowepro Event Messenger 250 shoulder bag. Ideal for a camera and a couple of lenses and a laptop.

I chose the Mini Trekker because it can carry a ton of camera kit and will (just) hold my camera with Nikon 200-500 attached. I use this camera bag 90% of the time.

The Fastpack camera bag is great as it has a top compartment ideal for carrying a wide array of items. You can use it to hold all your leads and chargers or alternatively put a bit of lunch and some other bits in there. The Fastpack camera bag has a slide-in opening for a laptop and/or notepad tablets.

The Event Messenger is a great shoulder bag that is ideal for when travelling light. It also has a slot for laptops (up to 15″ screens) and notepad tablets. The Event Messenger camera bag would travel empty and flattened in our checked in luggage. This camera bag would be ideal for travelling light when we got to ‘the other side’ and I didnt necessarily want to carry all the gear around.

Prior to the trip I did seriously look at buying a roller bag along the lines of a Think Tank Airport or similar. I eventually decided against buying one as I wasnt absolutely sure the roller bag would be better than a backpack when transferring between trains and planes etc.

I have undertaken many trips and found the backpacks perfectly when dragging suitcases around. I didnt want to risk my first experience with a roller camera bag on such a big trip.

Choosing Camera Kit

When I am choosing camera kit to take on any trip, I always start by listing where I want to go and what sort of shots I want to get. I have many lenses ranging from 15mm through to 500mm so needed to work out which lenses to leave at home without compromising my flexibility.

Create a Shot list

From part 1 of planning an epic trip here is my brief shot list

  • City scenes
  • Railways
  • Aircraft
  • Abandoned buildings and vehicles, dereliction and abandonment

Mixed into this would be the obligatory general touristy type shots of wherever we went.

In order to select appropriate lenses I padded out the brief list above with some specific details

New York

  • buildings
  • water towers
  • escape ladders
  • city skyline
  • shots from tall buildings
  • street scenes

San Francisco

  • Golden Gate Bridge
  • trolly buses/cable cars
  • Alcatraz buildings

Pacific Coast Highway

  • general vista’s
  • national parks

Route 66

  • old buildings
  • old cars
  • abandoned living

Aircraft

  • Vegas Nellis AFB
  • Las Vegas McCarren Airport
  • Fort Lauderdale Airport
  • Joe Davis Airpark in Palmdale

Railways

  • Around New York
  • California Zephyr
  • Tehachapi Loop

Putting more details into our shot list made it easier to break down the lens characteristics I would need

  • Aircraft pics would need long reach
  • Street photography would need flexibility in zoom length
  • National Parks I thought would need wide and low light capable
  • Aircraft museums would need wide view and low light capable

I always want to take all my camera kit on every trip but it simply wasnt practical on this trip. With this in mind I sort through all my kit and remove things I can justify leaving at home. I couldn’t foresee having the time to mess with flash or macro so it was easy to discount all my flash kit and macro lenses.

Working through the considerations I felt these lenses made sense

  • Nikon 200-500 f5.6 for airbases and airports
  • Sigma 18-200 C, Nikon 16-85 and Sigma 18-35 f1.8 A for Street photography
  • Nikon 50mm f1.8 because its so light I take it everywhere!

This lens selection would provide a lot of flexibility and cover pretty much every scenario encountered.

Cameras

Choosing cameras is always a lot easier – I always take all 3 cameras!

  • Nikon D7200
  • Nikon D300
  • Sony NEX6 with 16-50 lens

I usually keep the Nikon 16-85 on my D300 for general shots. I then use my Nikon D7200 with whatever specialist lens capability I want.

The Sony NEX6 is great for general pictures plus video. Its so small and light yet the picture quality is fantastic.

Camera Accessories

I also threw (metaphorically) these filters and accessories into the bags –

  • Hoya Pro 1 circular polariser filter for 16-85 and 18-200 due to potential haze and glare on the Pacific Coast highway and in the desert
  • A selection of different rated neutral density filters for creative work
  • Manfrotto 055 tripod
  • Manfrotto Ball head 057 Magnesium Ball Head with Q5 Quick Release
  • Manfrotto 035 Universal Super Clamp
  • Memory cards – as many as I could get into my bags
  • Laptop
  • Spare batteries
  • Chargers for everything

Apart from the cameras, lenses, laptop and notebook tablets, everything else would go in the suitcases. The camera bags would be heavy enough, so all of the robust non essential stuff would go into the suitcase.

I have to make special mention of the Manfrotto Universal Super Clamp. This single piece of kit is simply amazing! Combine it with the ball head and you have a really useful tool for when a tripod either isnt allowed or there isnt sufficient space. It can be a bit unwieldly, but the flexibility if you can find a mounting point, is fantastic.

The jaws open wide and it clamps to pipes, railings, poles – pretty much anything. With the ball head fitted you can move your camera around irrespective of the fixings orientation. You do need to ensure there is a reasonable amount of clearance around your fixing point to allow your head and camera to be moved. It’s fantastic though and has made many long exposure shots possible that I would otherwise have missed or at least struggled to get.

Camera Kit Complete

So after working through my shot list I had finally decided on what camera kit to take.

  • Nikon 200-500 f5.6 for airbases and airports
  • Sigma 18-200 C, Nikon 16-85 and Sigma 18-35 f1.8 A for Street photography
  • Nikon 50mm f1.8 because its so light I take it everywhere!
  • Nikon D7200
  • Nikon D300
  • Sony NEX6 with 16-50 lens
  • Hoya Pro 1 circular polariser filters
  • A selection of different rated neutral density filters
  • Manfrotto 055 tripod
  • Manfrotto Ball head 057 Magnesium Ball Head with Q5 Quick Release
  • Manfrotto 035 Universal Super Clamp

Creativity and Improvisation

I’m always on the lookout for unusual shots and angles from the moment I leave the door. I knew the low level Thameslink platforms would provide a nice low light opportunity. I like long exposures and low light photography so was interested in the potential for blurred motion pictures of the trains arriving and departing. The long exposures are also great for getting people to show up as shadowy characters as they walk along the platforms.

I used the suitcases as a stable rest and the cameras built in timer in place of a tripod and release cable to get some pictures of the trains arriving and departing. Just because my tripod was packed in the suitcases didnt mean I wasnt going to take some long exposure photos. I moved the cases around to suitable places on the platform and took a number of long exposures. If you dont have anything with you put your camera on the floor, or on seats, bins – anything that is stable will do! Be creative and use the things to hand! Just be sensible – dont use improvised items right at the edge of platforms or block entrances and exits, you know the score!

I had hoped to get some aircraft photos whilst at Gatwick but the views were useless. I didn’t bother getting any photos in the departures lounge and surrounding area as basically there wasn’t a lot of scenes that caught my interest. I just didnt feel the ‘vibe’ and didnt feel the effort worth risking the attention from the heavy security presence for the meagre pickings on offer.

Shooting From on High

In part 2 – Gatwick to New York I mentioned we used the open top Big Bus tours to get around New York. These open top buses were great for orientating ourselves in a new city. From a photographers point of view they are great for several reasons –

  • The tour guides provide a great insight and point things out you would likely miss if unescorted
  • you see things you may not see from the ground
  • the elevated position gives you a different view of your chosen subject
  • people are unaware of your presence so there are great candid picture opportunities

Unfortunately there are a few downsides to the Big Bus tour buses for photographers –

  • an obvious lack of opportunity to ‘work’ a scene from different viewpoints
  • your fixed viewpoint means you almost always need a superzoom
  • other passengers on the bus getting in the way!

One additional bonus I didn’t anticipate with Big Bus tour was on the rainy days. I got some great abstract pictures of rainstreaked windows combined with the array of city lights. We also got to see the city and keep dry!

The Manfrotto Super Clamp would also come into its own for the views from high rise buildings. Tripods are a definite no no in most high rise buildings and, in reality, the volume of people around you makes them almost impossible to use. Most of the places we visited had some sort of railing or fixing I could use to stabilise the camera. As said before, the Super Clamp is a great piece of kit. In a couple of places I noticed the security guys watching me use the clamp. I could almost hear them wanting to scream ‘Excuse me Sir, you cant do that’ but obviously couldnt find an excuse to say it!

Below are examples from the scenarios discussed above.

Part 2 – Long Exposure HDR

One technique I have been trying out is long exposure HDR. I wanted to try this technique out at New York Grand Central Station. This is an iconic location that has plenty of character and is perfect for standard HDR but has the added element of being very busy.

In part 2 I will show the results and discuss the techniques used.

Thanks for reading about how I chose which camera kit to take – I really hope you found it useful! Let us know your thoughts below

All the best for now and hope to see you in part 2!

Gary

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