Australian Geographic Desk Diary 2014

The 2014 Australian Geographic Magazine desk diary was released a few days ago. Featuring photography from many different artists,  the diary is a week to a page, hard cover, spiral bound with a ribbon marker. Photographs are taken from around Australia and Antarctica and feature classic Australian landscapes, flora and fauna. The 2014 diary includes more than ten of my own photographs from Australia and Antarctica and can be ordered online from Australian Geographic.

Packing for Antarctica 2013

As has become traditional I like to write up a packing list entry before I leave for an overseas workshop or expedition. This time I am heading back to Antarctica to lead a photography expedition with my friend Daniel Bergmann. Our expedition departs from Ushuaia on the 9th of November and we will be sailing across the Drake Passage to Antarctica where we will explore the Peninsula in an ice hardened expedition class ship – Polar Pioneer. We then sail across to the Falkland Islands and conclude our trip on the 23rd of November. I will be staying on in South America and heading to Patagonia for a week on a personal trip afterward so will be packing for both ship and shore photography. I am more or less packing the same equipment I took to Iceland, Svalbard and Greenland in July and August this year although I have decided to leave my 24mm TSE lens at home this time to save a little bit of weight. As much as I really enjoy shooting with this lens its focal length is already covered in the excellent 24-70mm F2.8L MKII. Additionally, much of the photography in Antarctica is from ship and zodiac without a tripod. Although I can hand hold this lens and still make tilt and shift adjustments it is somewhat awkward to do so on a zodiac and I have found from experience that I end up not using it when shooting from ships.

I had planned to upgrade my Macbook Pro to the new Retina model when it was announced this month in time for this Antarctica expedition but decided in hindsight it was an unnecessary upgrade and will continue with my current machine. There are significant weight savings in the new model (as well as the much improved retina display) however these advantages come at a significant cost and make little sense for the purpose I currently use the machine. You can read my thoughts on the subject in my post: Why I am Ditching the Macbook Pro Line. I will be doing a follow up post in the coming weeks with my thoughts on the new Mac Pro now that I have had time to fully look into the specifications. Suffice to say for now that the new Mac Pro is really optimised for 4k video editing and contains GPU’s that are simply massive overkill for still photography production.

The Canon 1DX will be my primary camera of choice for this trip. I will also carry my original 1DS MK3 as a back-up in the unlikely event of a failure. I will also carry a number of spare batteries so that I can cycle them in and out of warm pockets. Experience has shown me that I can pretty much go an entire day without a battery change but I like to have spares on hand just in case.

Gura Gear Bataflae 32L: (carry on luggage)

  • Canon EOS 1DX Pro Body Camera
  • Canon EOS 1DS MK3 Pro Body Camera
  • Sigma 15mm Fish Eye Lens (I have some specific shots in mind for this specialist lens)
  • Canon 17mm F4L TSE Lens
  • Canon 24-70mm F2.8L MKII Lens (The MKII version of this lens is an amazing piece of glass)
  • Canon 70-200mm F2.8L IS Lens
  • Canon 200-400mm F4L IS Lens with inbuilt 1.4 TC (Watch the Unboxing Video)
  • 4 x Spare Batteries for the Canon Cameras
  • 1 x Macro Extension Tube
  • Cable Release and Bubble Level
  • Assorted CF and SD Cards totalling around 100 Gigabytes
  • Rocket Blower and Dust Cleaning paraphernalia
  • Complete LEE Foundation and Filter Kit with Soft and Hard ND Graduated filters and LEE Polariser – includes a custom made adapter for the Canon 17mm TSE Lens

Gura Gear Chobe Bag: (carry on luggage)

  • 15″ Macbook Pro with Lightroom 5 and Photoshop CS6 with the Nik Plugin suite
  • MacBook Power Adapter
  • 2 x 1TB iOmega dual firewire 800 Hard Drives (for dual in the field image back up)
  • Various Power Adapters / Chargers and Associated Cables
  • Canon 1DX / 1DS MK3 Battery  Charger
  • iPad Mini (e-books and movies for the long flights)
  • Firewire 800 CF Reader
  • Passport / iPhone / Wallet
  • A lot of these items I store inside Gura Gear Etcetera cases inside the Chobe. (These cases are fabulous for organising accessories)

North Face Thunder Rolling Duffle: (checked luggage)

  • Arctic Sport Muck Boots (For use in the zodiacs in Antarctica)
  • 66º North Wet and Cold Weather Outer Shells
  • Base Layers
  • Mid Layers – Trekking Pants and Tops
  • Gloves and Hat
  • Miscellaneous clothes
  • Personal items and toiletries – including Sunscreen (The Ozone layer is extremely thin in the Poles and it is very easy to get sun burned in minutes)

Tripod: (checked luggage)

  • Really Right TVC24L Tripod
  • Really Right Stuff BH-55 Ball Head
  • Really Right Stuff Tripod Spikes (For mossy ground and rock claws for ice and rock)
  • Jobo Jnr. Deluxe Gimbal Head with Really Right Stuff Dovetail Base Plate

How to Avoid Getting Sick When You Travel Overseas

It is somewhat timely to post this article as I have been suffering from a really bad case of the flu which was diagnosed as pneumonia while I was in Kaikoura in the South Island of New Zealand last week. I am slowly on the mend and for the first time in ten days I think I am actually starting to feel a bit better (touch wood!). Being unwell and unable to photograph in such a beautiful part of the world was far from ideal. However, it got me thinking about what I generally do to avoid getting sick when I travel. I need to put a disclaimer on this article at this point in that I am not a Doctor and I am not offering medical advice in any shape or form. The intention of this article and post is to provide you with some general hygiene based practices you can implement to help you avoid getting sick when you are travelling. You should always consult with your Doctor regarding any illness. These are precautions I personally take and they generally work for me. Consult with your Doctor and remember I am not offering you any medical advice.

With that disclaimer out of the way these are my personal Top Ten precautions for avoiding illness when I travel. Many of these might seem like simple common sense but its good to revisit them from time to time to ensure you are implementing best practice to avoid illness.

  • Be Prepared: I try and be prepared for illness and travel with suitable medicines based on my Doctor’s advice. I visit my Doctor before I leave and get a prescription for a generic AntiBiotic medicine. Something that I can take to help my body battle an infection should I be unlucky enough to fall ill. I also travel with a range of medications including pain killers and nausea medicines. Consult with your Doctor for their recommendations on suitable medications that you can use when you are travelling.
  • Prevention: I always visit my Doctor before I leave and find out what he recommends in the way of immunisations for the countries I plan to visit. Prevention is always better than cure when it comes to illness and many of the really nasty ailments can be immunised against (such as Typhoid, Yellow Fever etc.). Immunisations are like crash helmets for your entire body  – You don’t want to be without them.
  • Hygiene: I always pack a small bottle of Hand Sanitiser and use it religiously. When travelling in areas which have questionable hygiene I use the sanitiser to wipe down cutlery, chopsticks, bowls and cups. I wash my hands regularly and always before I sit down to a meal. If I am travelling on a cruise ship I am using hand sanitiser many times per day. As a general rule I try and apply sanitiser very time I touch a ships public railing. Ships railings are the equivalent of a bacteria factory operating at maximum efficiency. I personally prefer to bounce off the ships walls with my arms and elbows than to touch ship railings.
  • Catching Bugs: The default reaction for most people stepping onto an escalator or travellator at an airport is to immediately put their hand on the hand rail. My advice is that unless you specifically require the use of the rail for balance avoid placing your hand on the rail. These hand rails are one of the most common ways germs are transmitted from person to person. All you need to do is touch a hand rail then touch your face and you can pick up a bug or virus. The same applies to everything from buttons in lifts to door handles and airport luggage carts.

  • Water: Only drink bottled water and do not brush your teeth with tap water. The only places in the world I drink tap water are Australia (where I live), New Zealand and Iceland. Outside of those three countries I only drink and brush my teeth with bottled water. If you are used to ordering your drinks with ice be sure to ask where the water came from – bottled or tap. Drink plenty of water. It is easy to become dehydrated when you are travelling and if you are dehydrated it is hard for your body to fight off illness. Personally, I find it hard to drink a lot of water so I usually opt for either bottled soda or mineral water.
  • Vitamins: I take Vitamin C daily when I am travelling as a preventative medicine – usually 1000 milligrams per day. If I start to feel a sniffle coming on I increase my daily dose to 3000 milligrams for a short period. Vitamin C is a proven source of energy for your body to help fight sickness. If the food is questionable in the country I am travelling I will also supplement with a daily general purpose multi-vitamin.
  • Wash: Wash your hands regularly. It never ceases to amaze me the number of people I see walking out of a public bathroom without washing their hands. Wash with hot water and soap – a quick rinse doesn’t cut it and I prefer the surgical scrub approach. Disposable paper towel is my preferred hand drying method as I can usually keep a piece in my hand to open the bathroom door before tossing it in the bin. Remember, any door handles (particularly bathrooms) are potential infection points so avoid them at all times if possible.
  • Touch: This is a hard one to remember, but it is often the key to avoiding illness. Try not to touch your face with your hands when you are travelling. Many bugs and germs are picked up first on the hands and then transmitted to the face where actual infection takes place. Bacteria is carried through moisture, so when people are sneezing and coughing, and then touching things, they are leaving their germs on them. If you are to accidentally come into contact with these germs, you don’t want them getting to your mouth or nose. Be especially careful in restrooms and public spaces.
  • Food: Eat healthy meals and avoid suspect food. As tempting as it might be to try the local delicacy that has been hanging in the street market under the blazing sun all day it probably isn’t a clever thing to do and it certainly isnt worth risking a bad case of food poisoning over. I try and give my body the best food I can when I am travelling within the confines of my food and taste preferences. Take away junk food provides little in the way of nutrition, vitamins and minerals and does not provide the body with the ideal fuel for fitting infection. There is often a temptation when travelling to try new and exotic foods. I exercise common sense and caution whenever I have the option to try something new. Earlier this year I was travelling through an extremely remote part of China near the Russian and Khazakstan borders and my food choices were extremely limited. I chose what I considered to be the safest option in many places but still ended up with some pretty nasty food poisoning. In these remote parts of the world it is often worth bringing food and snacks from home or from a known location.
  • Rest: Get plenty of sleep and rest. Your body will be much more successful at fighting off illness if you are rested. Colds and flues are much more likely to take hold if you are run down and tired. It can be hard to find ample rest time during photographic travels but it is critical to give the body time to recover every few days. There is absolutely nothing wrong with an afternoon nap if the light is poor or its raining outside. Downtime is as important as shooting time. A rested body and mind is also far more creative than a tired one. I confess that of all the things on my list for avoiding illness this is the one I fail at most frequently.

What to do if you get sick anyway?

Inevitably, if you travel as much as I do at some point you are going to get sick when you are travelling – it happens to all of us. If you do get sick you should consult with a local doctor as soon as practical and heed their advice on recommended medication. It becomes even more important to rest to allow the body time to recover so avoid long hours of field work. You may well have travelled half way around the world to an exotic destination to make photographs but if you feverish and sick staying out to catch good light isn’t going to help you get better. You just need good old fashioned bed rest – for which there is no substitute. It is also likely any travelling companions you may have will want to put some distance between themselves and you. Give them space. You don’t want to make other people sick and ruin their experience.  Exercising voluntary quarantine is a very good idea for everyone you are travelling with.

Why I am ditching the MacBook Pro Line

Those of you who follow my blog will be aware that I am currently in Kaikoura in the south Island of New Zealand on a seven day photographic assignment. What you are probably not aware (unless you also follow my Facebook Page) is that I am also currently suffering from Pneumonia and have been laid up in bed for the last few days as I try to get over this horrible virus. As yet, I have not even had the opportunity to get my cameras out of the bag. This unexpected turn of events has provided me a lot of thinking time about how I manage various aspects of my photography and I have spent some time pondering everything from office furniture to I.T infrastructure in an effort to improve the way I do things.

I will shortly be moving into a much larger studio space than I currently use (roughly twice the space) which is a move well overdue. My current studio space is bursting at the seems with ‘stuff’ that I need and use in my photography on a daily basis. Everything from computers, printers, and cameras to books, paper and pens all takes up valuable space and I am looking forward to having more room and specifically more desk space. I am actually going to put in all new desks with more room for creating profiles, my print viewing station and print evaluation. I am also going to put in a speed matt for matting prints as well as more storage for things like printer paper and ink. It never ceases to amaze me how much ‘stuff’ is required as a photographer and how much room all this stuff takes up. The irony is that it takes a larger space to de-clutter the studio.

The downtime has also got me thinking about how I have been managing my I.T infrastructure. Currently I run a pimped out 2008 Mac Pro Desktop computer. It has 32 gigabytes of RAM and is fitted out with Apple Hardware RAID and 4 Western Digital 3TB Red Caviar Drives in a RAID 0+1 Array. This gives me both speed and redundancy. The Mac Pro also has the OWC Mercury Accelsior striped 480 gigabyte SSD drive as its boot drive for the Operating System and Applications. This card is blazingly fast and brings the Mac Pro well up to speed with current SSD machines. Attached to the Mac Pro is a 27″ NEC Adobe RGB Wide Gamut SpectraView monitor. This is my current system for all my image processing. Also attached to this Mac Pro is a Drobo Pro 8 bay NAS Chasis hooked up via Firewire 800 that backs up the Mac Pro’s RAID array every night. I have another external Hard drive hooked up via USB for Time Machine which backs up my Mac Pro’s boot SSD.  This system (other than the Drobo being painfully slow) works extremely well.

I also run a MacBook Pro 15″ laptop (the model before the Retina) which I use for email, web browsing and teaching when I am in the field on workshop.  I do not use it for any serious image processing as I just find the screen woefully inadequate compared to the SpectraView monitor in my studio. I often start processing files in the field on the MacBook Pro but frequently find I have to re-set them and start from scratch when I get back to my studio as the laptop screen just does not display color to my satisfaction and has very poor tonal relationships.  The new retina line does a better job of making images ‘look’ better; but its still light years behind a quality wide gamut display when it comes to color display and accuracy. The Macbook Pro was purchased with a 250 gig SSD drive as well as the maximum 8 gigabytes of RAM. The laptop backs up to small Lacie Firewire 800 drive using Time Machine when I am in my studio. On top of this I am juggling an iPad mini which I use for reading when travelling. The iPad mini takes up almost no space and is very light so its not a bother to lug around. Of course, I also have the mandatory iPhone 5S.

What I have come to realise is that the Macbook Pro has become virtually superfluous in my workflow. When shooting in the field I am downloading into Lightroom for the express purpose of backing up my files only. Since I do not process when I am in the field (but when I get back to my studio) it is major overkill to use a top end laptop for this purpose. Currently I manage Lightroom and Photoshop (as well as a myriad of other apps) on both my Macbook Pro and Mac Pro and this has become tiresome. Having to keep two machines up-to-date is actually a royal PITA. I also currently use my Macbook Pro extensively for email and web browsing. Both of these tasks can be accomplished on the MacPro when I am at home in my studio or on my iPad when travelling.  Now I know what you are probably thinking at this point “Hey! Ditch the Mac Pro and just use the MacBook Pro for everything hooked up to your external monitor” Well, the truth is I did consider this option briefly. However, when it comes to image and video processing there is simply no substitute for cubic inches. RAM and CPU Cores matter (and they matter a lot) – The more the better. Bring em on! Even a top end MacBook Pro cannot compete with multi-Core XEON processors and 32 Gigabytes+ of RAM. Not to mention RAID systems and external storage arrays hooked up via Firewire or Thunderbolt. There are many other shortcomings as well such as the inability to run dual monitors from the laptop with proper color management and long term scalability. Suffice to say speed matters and that the desktop delivers it in spades.

This all got me thinking about the possibility of ditching my laptop entirely and simply using my iPad when I travel for email and web browsing and backing up my files with another method such as an Epson Viewer. As romantic and appealing as this option is it simply isn’t practical for me. I do need to be able to teach image processing when I am on workshop and I also need to be able to give presentations in the field. I could do presentations via the iPad with keynote but its not quite as slick as a laptop. And when it comes to teaching Lightroom and Photoshop an iPad simply doesn’t cut it. As an adjunct I also need to be able to update my blog when I am in the field and although I could do this with the iPad and an attached keyboard its again not quite as slick or easy as a laptop. The reality is I will have to continue to maintain two machines for the foreseeable future. I had been ready to pull the pin and drop nearly $4000 on a new Mac Book Pro 15″ Retina when they are announced next month. However, after much thought I have decided to abstain will instead purchase  a much lower spec. MacBook Air only when my current laptop reaches the end of its useful life – which, realistically is probably another two years away if I stretch it out. A lower specification Mac Book Air will more than suffice for presentations and teaching – yet offer me substantial weight and cost savings over the Pro Line of Mac Books.Weight is a big consideration for me these days given I spend five-six months of the year travelling internationally. In terms of cost at current prices a fully pimped out MacBook Air is around $2000 AUD or half the price of the MacBook Pro line. I will continue to look forward to the day when I can fully ditch the laptop line as I see this as significant simplification of my I.T Infrastructure.

If this seems like a long post to state a very small change then I apologise. It wasn’t 100% crystal in my mind when I began this thought process and subsequent post what the correct course of action was moving forward. I needed to get it down on paper for my thoughts to congeal and to really make the correct decision.

So what about the new Mac Pro? If you have been following the rumors you will be aware that Apple is scheduled to release the new Mac Pro this fall. This all new design is a significant departure from the previous iterations and I am looking forward to reading some reviews when it is released. Will I upgrade to the new model? The inevitable answer is yes. However, I will wait until there are firm reviews in the field and the options for external Thunderbolt spec.two storage are clear. Since a departure from the current model means significant re-investment in not only the new Mac Pro, but also an external storage chassis with Thunderbolt 2 the investment is reasonably significant.

New Zealand South Island Assignment

Two nights ago I flew to the South Island of New Zealand for a seven day photographic assignment in the coastal village of Kaikoura. Kaikoura is one of my favourite locations in New Zealand and it is fantastic to be back in this amazing country – the scenery is just spectacular. I had planned to spend my down time between the Arctic and Antarctica this November at home with the family – but a last minute opportunity for an assignment to New Zealand was too appealing to turn down . New Zealand is one of the most beautiful places in the world and I never tire of returning to its rugged landscape. I have to keep the exact details of this assignment under wraps for now – but I hope to post an image or two over the coming week if time permits. For now, Kia Ora from Kaikoura!