I have a confession to make. Sometimes, on occasion, I photograph things other than baseball. Last month my wife and I took a trip to Paris and London that we had been planning to do for a long time. Although it required missing 10 days of the baseball season, it was a good experience to photograph different cultures. Knowing that I may never come back to these places again in my life I wanted to make sure I captured photos I could be proud to share and proud to print. I never wanted to approach photographing the trip as needing to document everything we did because not only is that really boring to share with others, it’s also really boring to have to sift through all those photos while editing and catologuing. So I tried to create images that would be appealing to look at for anyone since one of the things I enjoy most about photography is sharing what I see with others. To take a look at the photos from our trip, please follow the links here:
For those that are interested I will go into more detail later in this post on the photo equipment I brought along on the trip. For the time being I’ll just mention that I was using Nikon’s new 36 megapixel D800 and a few good pieces of Nikon glass. I also used my iPhone for some quick snapshots here and there.
The difficult thing for me while trying to take travel pictures is working with limited time at a location with only the conditions available to you at the time while also trying to actually enjoy the experience of being there. Making this more difficult is it turns out that Paris and London are very popular tourist attractions. Who would have thought? Competing with lots and lots (and lots) of other tourists who are snapping away pictures almost everywhere we went was a frustrating part of the trip sometimes. That’s when I had to start thinking creatively, or at least try to. Everyone has seen a thousand times those photos the other tourists were snapping, so I attempted to try to get shots they weren’t getting or to get shots they couldn’t get. This is how having the right equipment can open up new opportunities for photos that other people can’t get.
The other thing is I can only work with the light available to me while I’m there. With so many things to see in these iconic locations it was impossible to visit them all during the golden hours of the day when the sunlight is at it’s best. I also can’t control if it was sunny or cloudy either. So another challenge is putting the light I did have to its best use in the limited time I was there. For example, surprisingly in London we never saw a cloud in the sky the whole time we were there. It also turned out to be hot and hazy. Since this meant day time photos would be harshly lit and there wouldn’t be any clouds for good sunsets, I decided to get up one morning at about 6AM to see if the light from the sunrise would offer any good opportunities. One of the results was my photo of the London Eye below.
Basically when I’m traveling I treat the photo-taking process as a sketch book and the post-processing as the final draft. The lighting conditions available to me at the time of shooting dictate what types of shots will work for the most part, so when I go to post-process I’m trying to bring out the good qualities in the subject that work with that lighting condition and diminish or hide the qualities that don’t work well. Luckily in Paris we actually got some nice sunsets our very first day there as well as the last day we were there. That kind of light doesn’t last long, so I did what I could with it.
Besides using Lightroom for all the basic editing of the photos and to organize them, the two main pieces of software I used were Nik HDR Efex Pro and Nik Silver Efex Pro 2. I first got these pieces of software as a Christmas present last year and I couldn’t be happier with them. They just allow “creatively” edited photos to be made very easily and intuitively while allowing a great deal of manual control.
Now one thing that surprised me on the trip was how much I ended up using my iPhone to take snapshots. Before this trip I rarely used my iPhone camera because I’m kind of a stickler for image quality. I also didn’t like how flat and lifeless the photos were just straight out of the phone. However, several months ago I downloaded an app for my phone called Snapseed when there was some kind of free sale for it, but I never really played around with it until this trip. It’s another piece of software made by Nik Software surprisingly. You’re probably going to start thinking I’m a spokesperson for Nik or something, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It just turns out they make really easy to use photo editing software to meets my needs.
So I finally tried to use Snapseed on the trip because I wanted a way to share photos with friends and family back home as the trip was ongoing and my iPhone was going to be the easiest way to do that. I also wanted photos that at least looked like some effort went into them and Snapseed did the trick. What surprised me about that is it finally made taking photos with my iPhone fun and I found myself no longer feeling hesitant to pull it out to take a quick picture when the need arose. There were a lot of times where it just wasn’t convenient to pull out my big DSLR, so I was very happy to start feeling confident about another avenue of creating photos. Below are a couple of photos I shot and edited on my iPhone. I use the black and white border to designate them as iPhone photos just for my own personal distinction.
Now speaking of my DSLR equipment I brought on the trip, I thought I should mention what I packed exactly just in case anyone was interested. Like I said, we had planned this trip for a long time and I know it may be a once-in-a-lifetime kind of trip, so I wanted to bring a great camera kit with me. I’m a huge fan of Think Tank Photo products, so I immediately knew I wanted to find one of their bags to bring along. I wanted something that didn’t look like a camera bag because I wanted to blend in as much as possible on the trip so we didn’t look too much like tourists. With that in mind the bag of choice became easy. I chose the Think Tank Retrospective 10 seen below. It was the perfect size for the equipment I wanted to bring and because it’s a Think Tank bag I know it’s incredibly well-made. I’ve got 3 other Think Tank bags that I use for my baseball work and they always exceed my expectations.
As for the camera equipment itself, I wanted it to be compact, but also have great image quality while being within the realm of common sense (that means no Leica cameras). I know a lot of people would say the obvious choice is to bring some kind of super zoom lens that covers everything, but the idea of a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none kind of lens wasn’t quite what I wanted for this kind of trip. For me personally, when it comes to travel photography there is just something fun about prime lenses. They just seem to simplify things to me. I think it’s because before you even bring the camera to your eye you already know in your mind what the shot will look like since the only zooming you can do is with your feet. To me, that helps simplify thinking of compositions because it allows me to walk around seeing things as if I was seeing them through the camera. Zoom lenses tend to clutter that thought process for me because they leave open too many options. The fewer the options, the fewer the choices to make. Also, prime lenses are optically superb and you know how much I love technical image quality (the reason being is if there is a distraction in a photo of mine, I want it to be because I failed somewhere in the composition. I don’t want the distraction to be a flaw in the technical image quality).
So for those reasons I chose to bring along the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G, the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G, and the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G. Now I know what you’re saying, the 14-24mm is a zoom, but I know I wanted a super wide angle lens on the trip for those grand cathedrals and there simply isn’t a better lens that fits the bill.
As can be seen in the photos, I also brought along a Gorilla Pod (with a Manfrotto ball head) for those times where I would need a tripod. This worked great since it’s compact and flexible so it can be used in a lot of different ways. It made a lot of the HDR shots possible where I was combining 5 to 7 different exposures into one shot. The Retrospective 10 bag also has a pocket in the back that held my iPad out of sight as well as the other typical camera gear like a couple lens filters, spare battery, lens cleaner, and memory cards. This bag was also my carry-on bag on the plane and it also was able to hold my chargers and earphones.
Now for the camera. When I first heard rumors late last year that Nikon was going to make a 36 megapixel DSLR I really wasn’t interested. It clearly seemed like it would strictly be a studio camera or a landscape camera and I just don’t shoot those things often. However, when the D800 was officially announced and I saw how it performed in all conditions, I knew it was the perfect camera for this trip. It would make it possible to create very detailed and very large prints, which was my goal after all. Luckily I was quick enough to place my order the day it was announced and it arrived near the end of March. Without a doubt this camera made it possible to create photos I would not have otherwise been able to make easily. In particular, the dynamic range of its image sensor allowed details to be pulled out of shadows and highlights that I didn’t think was possible. This shot below of the Eiffel Tower was a single exposure taken in the late afternoon.
Of course, with a 36 megapixel image sensor it captures a tremendous amount of detail. The first shot of Big Ben and Parliament below is essentially uncropped. The image below that is basically a 100% crop taken from the same photo. The amount of detail retained is just incredible to me. I’m looking forward to making some nice sharp 20″+ sized prints in the near future.
So all in all I was very happy with the choice of camera equipment I decided to bring along, but it still ended up being a little heavy. I think my bag ended up weighing 10 to 15 lbs if I had to guess. I did everything I needed it to do though. As for the photos I shot, I would say I was only moderately happy with what I got if I was being totally honest. I think one of the goals of any travel photography should be to capture the essence of the culture and I don’t think I did that very well. I think I got some decently interesting shots of some of the landmarks, but I didn’t feel as though they really told the story of what it was like to experience the culture of Paris and London. I need to get better at photographing people I think. That’s a skill I haven’t quite figured out yet and it makes me appreciate the work of photographers who can do that. Probably the closest I got to a decent shot with people in it was this shot below:
With experience comes growth though and I think this trip provided me with a lot of perspective to grow on. If you’d like to see more of my photos from the trip you can follow the links below (same links as at the top of the post):
Thanks for taking a look and thanks for reading!
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