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Voices Fall-Winter 2005:
Click on the cover for the Table of Contents. Read the Eye of the Camera column, “A Digital Travel Checklist” by Martha Cooper here.
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Voices cover FW2005


Volume 31

A Digital Travel Checklist by Martha Cooper

Eye of the Camera I am about to head off to Europe for the tenth time in twelve months. After several exasperating instances abroad where I wasted far too much time tracking down plugs, chargers, or batteries after forgetting mine, I have created a digital travel checklist. Like everything else about digital photography, traveling with digital cameras has its good and bad points. The biggest advantage is that airport X-rays won’t damage capture cards. X-rays pose a serious problem with film, since the effects are cumulative and airport personnel are often surly about inspecting film by hand. On the other hand, one drawback of traveling with a digital camera is that— unlike film—pixels are ephemeral, and safe storage on the road can be challenging.

Here is my basic list of the photography equipment I carry when I travel. There are numerous brands and options, but these are my choices:

1. Camera bag: I like a bag with a waist strap to take the weight off my neck and shoulders, and one with a large enough outside pocket to hold a small strobe unit. Cameras, lenses, and capture cards go in the bag. To protect from dust, a serious problem with digital cameras, carry your camera body in a separate case or sealed bag that you keep closed when not in use.

2. Backpack: I carry everything I will need for photography in my hand luggage. My laptop goes in the backpack, as well as miscellaneous unbreakables such as batteries and chargers.

3. Camera bodies: I always carry two, in case of loss or damage.

4. Lenses: For pleasure shoots, I carry a wide-angle zoom and a telephoto zoom. For professional work, I carry too many lenses to list.

5. Strobes: I carry two Nikon digital strobes designed to work with my cameras.

6. Laptop: I use a Sony Vaio with plenty of space on the hard drive to upload photos and a built-in CD burner and card reader. Wireless capability is important if you want to e-mail photos along the way, as most internet cafes do not allow you to attach your own external drive to send attachments.

7. External Drive: I have two 50 GB LaCie pocket drives for backing up photos. I first upload cards onto the laptop, and then transfer a copy of the files onto the external drives.

8. Capture cards: I have eight cards, mostly 512 MB and 1 GB.

9. Cases for capture cards: I prefer small cases, which hold four cards each.

10. Card reader: I use the built-in reader on my laptop and also carry a separate card reader, in case I want to transfer photos to someone else’s computer.

11. Chargers: Almost all chargers now work from 100 to 240V, so an electrical current converter is no longer necessary. I carry separate chargers for my computer, for my camera batteries, and for AA batteries. Take it from me—remember your chargers!

12. Plug adapters: Different countries have different electrical sockets. Be sure to bring adapters for your plugs. I always take a few extra ones, after forgetting the plug in a hotel socket on more than one occasion. It’s also nice to be able to give one of your extras to a friend who forgot hers. There is no need to buy the expensive sets. Most hardware stores sell single plugs for most European countries cheaply.

13. Batteries: I have four rechargeable camera batteries, several sets of rechargeable AA batteries, and a five-hour battery for my laptop in addition to the standard one.

14. CDs: These are useful as another way to back up photos or even to take to a local camera store for printing. (I do not yet carry a portable printer—maybe next trip.)

15. Photoshop or other software: I like to view photos along the way and sometimes make adjustments, although I always save the original JPEGs since it’s difficult to calibrate a laptop monitor accurately. Sometimes I bring copies of software on CDs, in case I have to reinstall along the way.

16. Mouse: I find it easier to work in Photoshop with a mouse. I used to bring a mini-mouse, but realized that a full-sized one isn’t that big and is infinitely more comfortable to work with.

17. Rubber air puffer: It’s impossible to keep dust from getting into a digital camera when you change lenses. You must be vigilant in cleaning the CCD, or you will spend a lot of time when you get home working with the clone tool in Photoshop to repair the damage. It is expensive to have the CCD professionally cleaned and risky to do it yourself, because it scratches easily and is expensive to replace. The easiest way to clean the CCD is to put the camera on a long exposure, such as thirty seconds, click the shutter, remove the lens, and puff vigorously with a rubber bulb. I use a camera accessory called a Hurricane Blower. It is very affordable at $6.00. Confirm the results by shooting a white wall at f/16 and checking for dark spots, and then puffing again. Do not use canned air.

18. Small flashlight: A flashlight is very useful if you shoot at night, in darkened rooms such as clubs, or at stage performances.

19. Manuals: I always bring all manuals for my cameras, strobes, and laptop, as they are indispensable if you forget how something works or have to troubleshoot.

20. Cell phone: Finally, I carry a mobile phone with a removable card, which allows me to change cards in each country and make calls at local rates. Of course, bringing a phone means carrying yet another charger.

Bon Voyage!


Martha Cooper is the director of photography at City Lore. Her images have appeared in museum exhibitions, books, and magazines. If you have a question about photography that you’d like her to address, send it to the acquisitions editor of Voices.Martha Cooper, photographer

After several exasperating instances abroad where I wasted far too much time tracking down plugs, chargers, or batteries after forgetting mine, I have created a digital travel checklist.

This column appeared in Voices Vol. 31, Fall-Winter 2005. Voices is the membership magazine of the New York Folklore Society. To become a subscriber, join the New York Folklore Society today.

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