18 October 2009

The location challenge

Antarctica is a place where relatively few geographical features are named. Many of the names are also disputed because explorers from different countries have assigned different names, so what's "official" will depend on who you ask.
So I figured the safest way of keywording landscapes from this trip would be to assign geographic coordinates. Geotagging. Much like the way I've used my Garmin heart rate monitor, I assumed. Just log the positions, upload to computer and match with images based on time. It shouldn't be much harder than to make sure the clocks of the GPS and the camera are synchronised, right?

Right. Step one: buy a cheap GPS logger with long battery life. This one looked good, a GlobalSat DG-100.

When it arrived at my house, I realised the software did not support 64-bit Vista. Fortunately, after a bit of googling, I found that the obstacle was actually the USB driver, which could be downloaded from the USB component's manufacturer, Prolific. Link here.

Latest version of the GlobalSat software can be downloaded from the GlobalSat product link above. It's pretty amateurish but do the job I want it to. An open-source alternative also exists at SourceForge, if you'd like to try something else. Link to DGmanager .NET.

The only thing I use this software for is to collect the GPS data-log from the unit, and save it as a file on my desktop. Both programs support the Garmin *.gpx format, which is what I prefer at the moment.

Next, I dug around for a program that would match the GPS data with my images. There are lots of tools out there, but not many that support raw files. I chose GeoSetter, which is a very decent piece of freeware. I also found a LightRoom plugin that seem to work, but I get a bit confused about the author's explanations of "shadow data", so I have steered clear of this.

The total workflow seems now to end up something like this:
1. Turn the GPS on before going out for the day, and make sure the clocks of the GPS and camera are in synch.
2. Happy snapping.
3. Upload GPS data to PC and save as *.gpx
4. Upload images to PC. In my case also import to LightRoom.
5. Run GeoSetter on uploaded images
6. Reload metadata from files in LightRoom.
7. Further processing and backup.

11 October 2009

The packing challenge

Photographic equipment is typical carry-on luggage. The callenge is to fit all the gear into a bag or case that meets the maximum size limit for the airline. Here's the list of things that must fit into my bag:

  • FA* 600mm f/4
  • DA* 300mm f/4
  • DA* 60-250mm f/4
  • DA* 16-50mm f/2.8
  • DA 14mm f/2.8
  • one K-7 with vertical grip
  • one K-7 without grip
  • Metz 58 AF-1 flash
  • 14" laptop
  • portable disks for backup
  • A few chargers and power supplys
The physical dimensions of the 600mm is of course the biggest challenge. The largest diameter is 23 cm, and it's nearly 49 cm long, including lens caps.

I was quite optimistic at first, because there actually are a couple of photobag solutions that will hold a 600mm and, according to the marketing, fit into the overhead lockers in airplanes. The ThinkTank Airport Security v2 is one such example. It's built specifically to meet the limits for domestic flights in USA.

USA limits, however, are far more generous than elsewhere in the world. Check the wording on American Airlines' website for example. ThinkTank also acknowledge this, and recommend their "international" model for flights outside US. But it doesn't hold a 600mm.

My heart sank a bit, but based on previous experience with various European airlines I decided that I'll probably get away with the USA version anyway, and shelled out the money. Since then I've even brought it from Oslo to London and back with two different airlines without trouble, so my confidence grew. But my upcoming trip will also involve domestic flights in Argentina, so I felt I had to check the allowance there too. Just in case.

That's what I should have checked first. Aerolineas Argentinas have even stricter rules for the size of carryons. 55 x 35 x 25 cm. The good news is that a 600mm will, in principle, fit within these limits. The bad news is that no photo bag exists that makes the most of these particular volume restrictions.

My best answer is an ordinary soft-walled carryon bag from Carlton. It's slightly over the limit on paper, but in practice a tight fit. And the 600mm fits neatly inside.

And bless Pentax for supplying pouches with their lenses. In airports and planes, those pouches are sufficient as padding between the items. With all the lenses separated by pouches, I'll wrap some clothes around the cameras and the laptop, dress up the 600mm in its rain cover, and that's it. I test-packed today and it looks really good. I could even sneak in my passport and a couple of dollar bills.

And I will just have to hope that nobody wants to check the weight of the thing...

01 October 2009

Where birds don't fly

Pentax *istD, FA* 400/5.6, tripod
1/150s, f/11, ISO 200

Figured I might as well go public on where I'm headed on that ship mentioned in the previous post.

I'll be seeing a lot of penguins in November. Not the species above, which is native to Chile and Peru, but lots of others. Starting from Argentina, we'll go by the Falklands, South Georgia and the South Orkney Islands to the Antarctic Peninsula. The travel agent is a Swedish company called PolarQuest, and the ship is a refurbished ice breaker taking 50 passengers.

I have dreamed of a trip like this for years. The booking was made half a year ago, but the reality of it hasn't begun to really dawn on me until now. The practical preparations has begun, the packing list made and revised several times over the last week.

The subtitle of this blog is "an attempt at photography close to home". I am, once again, failing spectacularly in my attempts. But it would be futile to deny that this make me tick, this kind of adventure, this kind of opportunity to see. The penguins may not fly. I feel like I already do.