Much of the inspiration for this post came from a friend who last year went to London for the first time. She made a big deal about the airplanes and hotels, but I was able to help plan a trip that kept everything in budget, supply ideas, from experience, and the whole trip turned out exceptional. She described this trip as once in a lifetime. I disagreed. My thoughts are – if you can save and plan for a trip in 6 months once, you can do it again. Especially for a place that (normally) has a very well connected airport. In the last week, I found out that she is planning another trip to London and the UK, once it is possible again of course.
For most locations, you will get another chance to return. This new chance can even be in the same conditions.
While there are some situations this does not apply to, there will be another fall, there will be another sunset, there will be another full moon. The aurora can be quite unpredictable, but there will be another aurora. Outside of certain once in a lifetime trips, you can get another chance.
Let’s look at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. I’ve been lucky enough to make three trips over the last few years. Let’s look at 3 very different photos, one from each trip.
My most recent trip was only a few months ago, and it was by far the most time I’ve spent in the park. But if you like a place as much as I (and now also my girlfriend) like Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks, you can make it there. I was even able to safely travel, by airplane, during the current trouble with the COVIDs.
The importance of this is so that you can relax and be in the moment, instead of worry that this will be the only time in your life to ever get a shot like this. The next time you get to visit a location, which may be several years later, your photography will have improved.
An example. Sydney Australia, 2002, Olympus D450 (1.3 mpix) vs 2016, Nikon D750 (24 mpix).
As I have a lot of time due to the COVIDs, I wanted to bring back an old type of post – Things I Like/Enjoy.
I know this may not be a strange thing to say, but, I enjoy photo workshops.
This can be broken down into three main reasons: Knowledge, comradery, and difficult places to get to.
I am not a full time photographer. Sure, it sounds like it would be nice to be a full time photographer, traveling the world, meeting up with a network of friends. However, most of us who really enjoy photography are not able to, or do not wish to, make it a full time job. In order to really learn a location and get to know where and when to be in different areas, you generally need to visit a location over and over with multiple visits over many years. This can be a huge time commitment.
This is the first reason I really like photo workshops – they are normally arranged to coincide with things you may not think about. The Milky Way rising in just the right spot and a new moon, the peak of fall colors, the historically best time to see the Northern Lights, a full moon rising above a well known landmark, the arrival of a large flock of birds, etc.
A good workshop leader should also have experience to help you with your camera and ideally post-processing software as well. This is great for someone who is starting out – you will likely walk away from the trip with some amazing images. While you could hire a local guide, this can get expensive and misses out on my second reason for joining a photography workshop.
The second reason is the comradery. This is not something which you can understate. Having a 5-10 day trip with others who really enjoy photography in an amazing area is a great experience. There is also the motivating factor. When I’m out on my own, I may look out the window and decide it is just too early, or there are too many clouds, or some other excuse and skip a sunrise. When I’m with a group, I wouldn’t even think about skipping a sunrise, even if it looks like it will be a bust. While on a photography trip/workshop, I personally have only ever skipped one event, it was a sunrise, my 15th in Hawaii, and we had been out until 3am the previous night. In this case, I didn’t miss anything. Part of this not wanting to skip an activity may also be because you are paying to be there.
The third reason, and this one is my newest to the list, is getting to hard to reach locations. In 2016, I had the good luck to go on a Rafting Trip for Photographers run by Gary Hart, who lives in Sacramento California. While this was very similar to a normal Grand Canyon rafting trip, almost everyone in the group was a photographer. So while the raft behind us had several people trying to see how much alcohol one could consume and not die, our group was always awake in time for breakfast and always had our gear ready to leave before the time we needed to pack up the rafts. We also made some changes to the schedule to try to be in certain locations for certain times of day. Could you get most of this on a normal raft trip? Probably. Would people stay out of your way and not get mud and dirt in the pool where you are photographing? Probably not.
Since this was a charter, we were also allowed to carry more weight. Normal trips limit you to 20lbs of equipment. For this trip, we were allowed to carry 30lbs, which includes cameras, cloths, medicines, etc. The extra 10lbs was definitely needed, since cameras tend to be about 3lbs for the body alone.
My other trip with logistical challenges was in 2017 for a trip to the Scorsbysund Fjords of Eastern Greenland. This trip was organized by the world-renowned Joshua Holko out of Melbourne Australia. For this trip, he not only booked the entire boat, ensuring that no one had to share a cabin with anyone else and that there was always enough space on the zodiacs for everyone to go out on every trip, he also chartered the plane. It also meant that the luggage weight limits were not enforced. Many in the group had ‘carry on’ bags with their own seat.
This trip also had one of the most frightening events I’ve experienced on a photo trip – the collapse of 1 billion cubic feet of ice into icecube sized chunks. There is a video of this, and it will likely be a future post.
For Greenland, the trip simply could not have happened in the way it did without it being a custom charter organized by a photographer. If it were a normal trip, there would have been nearly twice as many people on the boat, and there would have been more people than could fit in both zodiacs at the same time. This means that, for every iceberg cruise, about half of the people would need to stay on the boat.
As the Greenland trip revolved around photography, this also meant that dinnertime could be changed to fit the photography goals. On most trips, dinner happens at a certain time, even if the sunset is amazing.
Over the last 3-4 years, I’ve found the knowledge aspect of a workshop to be a smaller driving force. I’m very comfortable with my camera and software and can generally get what I want out of a scene. Sure, it helps to bounce ideas off of someone else, but that alone may not justify the price of a workshop. It has become easier than ever to find a location and when to be there via other means (search engines and photo sharing sites).
For an excursion-type trips run by a photographer, where the experience is otherwise difficult to have, locations can be fairly difficult to get to, and the logistics would be challenging, these trips are still very valuable for me.
This is a quick post on how I know what stuff is ‘mine’ as quickly as possible.
About 4 years ago, I was on a trip where I anticipated that everyone would have similar items. I wanted to ensure that I could quickly, visually, identify what was mine as fast as possible.
I used brightly colored hot pink Duck Brand Duct Tape.
The pink was used on my tripods and cameras. This can be seen in this photo from the Grand Canyon. May 2016.
And also this image from a sunrise in Australia. Aug 2016.
So why do I do this? The short answer, is so that I can spot my own stuff from far away.
Loch Ard Gorge on the Great Ocean Road, Australia in 2016
Very rarely have I seen anyone else use the same color to mark their things. It was only once, when arriving in Sydney Australia that I saw other people using similar color to identify their items.
On one of my trips, I had some of the same bags as the trip leader, except mine had a large ‘M’ in pink duct tape. At the end of the trip, while we were all somewhat tired and ready for rest, the trip leader, who had the same bag, grabbed my bag off of the bus instead of his own. I simply said ‘Hey Gary, that is mine’, and when seeing the pink duct tape he said ‘Oh wow sorry’ and handed me my bag. It was an honest mistake that was solved quickly by my pink duct tape marking system.
In the rain, rocking the pink duct tape
Since then, I always use the same system to mark my things. I am frequently on trips where people tend to buy the same brands of gear, so an easy way to tell ‘that is mine’ is very, very useful.
While I do not intend to make this a travel blog, I do have a lot of travel tips that I would like to share.
Paper, especially printouts of your reservations, is something I never travel without.
Whenever I am going on a trip, especially a long or international trip, I always carry paper copies of my flight and hotel reservations. These are separated into ‘transportation’ (airplanes, rental cars, trains, etc) and ‘lodging’ (hotels, campgrounds, etc). They are then placed, in order, into a holder with 2 clear pouches on each side.
As the trip progresses, I move the paper – by placing them into another bag or discarding them. For anything with personal information (airplane reservations often have your frequent flyer number, address, e-mail), these I save and shred when I get home.
If the trip is very long, with many transfers, I may print out 2 copies of my flight and place one on the top and one on the bottom of my ‘transportation’ pile.
This is something I have done for years and have even shown to others. While most people think it is a bit silly or over the top at first, once they try the method, they keep using it. I’ve even been told that it is unusually organized for my personality. Thanks, I think.
All of this has saved me a few times. The most recent was a few years ago when I was traveling to New Zealand from Australia. As I was flying in one airline and out on another, immigration didn’t have a record of me leaving the country. Since I had the printout of my departing flight, the situation was resolved very quickly.
Paper print outs can be handy. Mobile devices can have batteries die, or have limited service. You don’t want to be in a situation where you need evidence that you have a connecting flight, and you have a dead battery in your phone.
For a Thursday, here is a quick travel tip: When in a new city, always carry the business card of your hotel.
This is a travel trip that I have never seen elsewhere. Everyone who uses this tip always thanks me.
If you have the business card, it has the address where you are staying, and just as importantly, it has the phone number of the front desk. If you are in a place that is new, and doubly so if you are in a place where you cannot speak the language, this is all you need to get to your bed. If there are any questions, the driver can call the front desk. This is also helpful if you do not have a roaming plan.
The inspiration for this post comes from my father. In a recent conversation, my father said that he would never visit Australia, simply because he never wanted another 15 hour flight. I showed him how you can get to Australia without any flight over 8 hours.
The secret for USA to Australia and New Zealand? Hawaii. From anywhere in the USA, you can get a ~6 hour flight to the West Coast (LA, San Fran, Seattle, etc), where it is a ~6 hour flight to Honolulu (HNL) Hawaii. Auckland, New Zealand (AKL) or Sydney, Australia (SYD) are a relatively inexpensive 7-8 hr flight from HNL. Or if you’d prefer, Denver (DEN) to Honolulu (HNL) is about 8 hours.
Alternatively, HNL to Japan’s Tokyo Narita (NRT) is about 8 hours as well. Although this is probably not worth the effort, as NYC (JFK) to NRT is about 12 hours and Seattle (SEA) to NRT is about 10 hours.
On the other side of things, a person living in Sydney Australia can get to Europe without any flight over 8 hours. This person would go SYD to HNL (many airlines, including QANTAS, Jet Star, Hawaiian), HNL to SEA (Hawaiian or Alaskan), SEA to KEF (Keflavik, Iceland on Icelandair), then finally KEF to anywhere in Europe.
This tip likely works best for Americans. Due to flight schedules, there may be a 24-48 hour layover in Hawaii, which is such a terrible thing. I am aware that most non-Americans do not like doing international transfers through the USA. But no matter who you are, it is an option. And if you do not like the long haul flights, this is an option to avoid them for a large portion of the world.
I recently traveled on American Airlines and I discovered something interesting.
I live in Seattle, and as a result, I have a Frequent Flyer card for Alaska Airlines. Alaska and American have a new partnership.
As a result of this partnership, having an Alaska Airlines MVP number, grants you early boarding on American Airlines. I have the base status on Alaska, but, I was still able to board the plane before about half of the rest of the plane. American boarded their higher tier frequent flyer, high tier people in the OneWorld frequent flyer plans, and First/Business class before me, but I boarded before the people who purchased regular tickets, with the AAdvantage ‘Gold’ status members or OneWorld ‘Ruby’ status members. See here – https://www.aa.com/i18n/travel-info/boarding-process.jsp
So, if you are traveling in coach, do not otherwise have any airline status, do not intend to build miles on American or OneWorld airlines, and are not flying in business/first, you can sign up for the Alaska MVP program and board before most people. It doesn’t cost anything, and it does not even require you to have ever flown on Alaska Airlines.