Guest Blogger – Gary Arndt – Stuck in Customs

Guest Blogger – Gary Arndt

Guest Blogger – Gary Arndt

I’m happy to introduce you guys (unless you already know him!) to Gary… he’s a great guy… and he travels even more than I do! Anyway, there’s all kinds of information in here you will enjoy. So… enjoy!

Starting Out

My evolution as a photographer has been an unusual one.

Back in March 2007 I sold my home, put my things in storage and set out to travel around the world. Until that point I had never used anything more than a point and shoot camera and didn’t know my aperture from my ISO. I had no formal training in photography and never so much as picked up a book on the subject.

I purchased a Nikon D200, which was way over my head, thinking I would just take some photos during my trip that someday I could print and put on my wall. When I started I shot everything in automatic mode, saved everything in medium quality jpeg’s and thought that my camera would somehow just make all of my photos great.

It didn’t take me long to figure out that the camera wasn’t going to make great photos for me. The first stop on my trip was the Big Island of Hawaii and you can see the results of my first attempts at photography. It wasn’t very good.

I began doing research and started following several photography blogs and podcasts. I gradually began adopting some basic best practice: shooting in aperture priority mode, saving in RAW, using the rule of thirds, etc.

It took a bit longer for me to start editing my photos. I was probably traveling over a year before I began to use Photoshop to do basic tweaks like adjusting exposure and sharpening. I still want to go back and properly edit some of my older photos for precisely this reason.

I basically started out like everyone else did. I started at square one and improved my technique by taking lots and lots of photos.

Solving Problems

Because I have no fixed home base, I have had to find solutions to problems that other photographers might not have to face.

The biggest problem has been backing up my photos. When I started out, there was not much in the way of portable hard drives. I assumed that I could just burn everything to DVD and send it back to the United States. When I actually tried doing this from Australia I found the process to be a nightmare. I had to burn almost 100 DVDs which took several days to do. The final result was extremely heavy and costly to ship.

After that I purchased two 300gb USB hard drives which I’m still using today. Along with another drive I acquired along the way, I keep mirrored copies of my photos of those drives. I also have two 1TB drives at my mothers house which I back up my portable drives to whenever I visit.

I have found cloud storage of RAW files not to be practical at this time. Bandwidth is spotty at best, even in countries which are wired, and my ability to shoot images often outstrips my ability to upload.

The other problem I have to deal with is weight. Because I don’t have a home base I have to carry all my gear with me all the time. This means I have to develop an extreme economy in what I carry. I carry 3 lenses and will not carry a 4th. I picked the Nikon D700 over the D3 because of weight. My tripod is a collapsible carbon fiber one that will easily fit in my bag. All other cables and miscellaneous gear is kept to a minimum.

Unique Opportunities

Traveling like I do has given me many unique opportunities which most photographers may never experience. I have been able to try my hand at:

Underwater Photography: I met a professional underwater photographer back in 2008 in Cairns, Australia. He had a housing unit for my camera and I went diving with him on the Great Barrier Reef. I got a few nice photos and an appreciation for just how hard underwater photography is.

Aerial Photography: On several occasions I’ve been able to take helicopter and small plane trips to take photos. My most recent experience was taking a helicopter and small plane trip over the ice fields of Kluane National Park in the Canadian Yukon.

Cave Photography: I’ve been in a surprising number of caves on three continents. It is a very difficult environment to shoot in because most of your light is artificial. (obvious tip: use a tripod)

Astrophotography: Just this last week on the island of La Palma in the Canary Island I was able to try my hand at astrophotography. La Palma has some of the largest telescopes and strictest light pollution laws in the world. It was a great opportunity to take some wide angle photos of the Milky Way.

Wildlife Photography: I don’t consider myself a good wildlife photographer. It and sports photography are two niches that I think really require a good, fast zoom lens. Nonetheless, I have had opportunities to take photos of birds, deer, giraffes and whales around the world.

Using HDR

While I do not consider myself an HDR photographer per se, it is an arrow in my quiver of techniques. Often I will take a series of bracketed images not necessarily to make an HDR image, but to have the option to do so later on or to just pick the best exposure when I’m editing. Another technique I will use is to create a pseudo-HDR image in Photomatix Pro from a single RAW file. I will often do this if I like the composition but I feel the image is flat. Sometimes the results are great and other times I will go with the original image. Another technique I’ve been doing is to tone map a single RAW file and then convert it to a black and white image. This can create an especially dramatic image if done correctly.

Travel Photography Tips

Having been on the road constantly for over 4 years in over 100 countries, I’ve developed some habits you might find useful when you are on vacation:

  • Take photos of signs. The purpose of this isn’t artistic. You might visit multiple churches or temples and you could lose track of which one is which. By taking a photo of a sign with the name of the location before you start your session there, it will make it easy in post processing to remember exactly where you were.
  • Use larger memory cards. I know there is debate about this, but I think the safest place for my photos is inside my camera. I find the odds of dropping or losing a memory card to be much greater than the odds of getting a corrupted card. I have dropped memory cards in the past and almost had one fall into a sewer. This is especially true if you have a camera that supports multiple memory cards.
  • Scout the area. One of the first things I do when I arrive someplace new is to take a walk. Pay attention to the layout of things, especially with respect to the sun. If there is a particular object or building you want to shoot, use one of the server apps which will tell you where the sun will rise and set.
  • Keep your backups in different places. If you backup your images to a hard drive, use more than one drive and keep them in separate places. If your camera bag is stolen and all your backups are in the same place, then your efforts have been in vain. Keep different drives in different places, that way if a bag is lost or stolen you will still have your photos.

The Future

Having lived on the road for over four years, I have no intention to stop. Even though I’ve been to over 100 countries, the majority of the world still remains unexplored to me. My current plans include a trip to Antarctica in December and possible trips to the Galapagos and Africa in 2012.

My photography will keep evolving too. One thing I’d like to do more is experiment with strobes. I think there are many opportunities for interesting travel photos using artificial lighting. I’d also like to do more underwater photography as well. The problems with that: the cost of the equipment and the difficulty transporting bulky underwater housing units around around.

The wonderful thing about travel photography is that the possibilities for growth and experimentation. No matter how many places you’ve been there is always something more to photograph!

Gary Arndt has been traveling around the world since 2007. He has visited over 100 countries and 150 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. His travel blog Everything Everywhere was named by Time Magazine was one of the Top 25 Blogs of 2010. He has also been posting a daily photo of his travels since November 2007. You can follow his adventure on his travel blog or on any of the popular social media platforms: Google+, Twitter and Face