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On Travel and Photography

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Tips and musing on travel and photography as we journey into a new decade.

By Jack Howard

December 24, 2009

Parts of this post originally appeared in a Guest Blogger segment on Steven Frischling's Flying With Fish blog all about air travel issues for photographers. As we hit a very busy travel time, Jack shares some of his musings on travel here, as well.

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If I would, I’d do all my travel by dirigible

I’m a pro photographer, and I usually travel by air a handful of times a year for a mix of business and pleasure. For me, flying is simply a necessary evil to overcome the distances between my home base and where I need to be.

If I had it my way, all my air travel would be by dirigible. If you’ve never been so lucky as to ride in an airship, this is one of those things to try to wrangle your way into at some point in your life–even if it is just for an hour or so touring flight, and not my dream of a trans-Atlantic crossing in an ultramodern ultraluxe lighter than air vessel.

If you’ll notice, most blimps are giant flying advertisements, and if you are a news or pro photographer, you’ve got a chance of talking your way onboard for a flight via the advertiser’s media relations department. Do some digging, do a little research, be smooth and forthright on the phone, and there’s chance you’ll find your way on-board.

The experience of riding in a blimp can best be described as a strange cross between a chopper and a rowboat. They call them airships, but really, it’s more like a skyboat.  Liftoff is amazing: the combination of engine thrust and helium lift brings the blimp to cruising altitude in mere seconds. Coming in for a landing is equally...um...exciting...since the airship must point rakishly downward as it descends to earth.

Another thing to keep in mind should you chat your way onboard: the windows on many small airships open, so be sure to bring and use a camera strap!

 

A case where the photos for sure don't match the experience

A few years back I was lucky enough to take part in a press junket for the launch of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5 including a helicopter trip from Las Vegas into the Grand Canyon. It was absolutely spectacular. If you look up "awestruck" in my personal dictionary, one definition is the feeling I had as this helicopter crossed into the Grand Canyon. This journey was amazing! 

The in-flight shots are a good reminder to me of the experience, but really, this is a case where the snapshots simply do not measure up to the emotional experience of being there. Seated next to me in the helicopter was a very nice businessman from Panasonic Japan, and with the utmost respect for my hosts on this flight, I really wished that it was my wife with me to share this experience rather than anyone in the photo industry.

We finally got the chance to take a helicopter tour together this August, over Waimea Canyon and the Napali Coast of Kauai, and again the photos and video pales in comparison to the experience. I was all smiles as we hovered over this volcanic crater and dazzled at ridiculously green waterfalls and dramatic seacliffs and the ever-changing beauty of Kauai as seen from above.
The Safari Helicopters ground liaison, a transplanted SoCal surfer/philosopher offered an amazingly simple suggestion: "grab a tropical picture frame and put a few shots from this ride in it, and on days when your job is getting you down, look at them and remember: 'I was there. I did this. And it was amazing.'  And then your day won't seem quite so crazy after all."    

This is something that everyone should do at least once. It is just that amazing. Whether it is over a distant city or a scenic natural area, a helicopter tour with your favorite people is something you'll remember forever. And it's one of those great times where the reality of the experience is usually much better than any of the snapshots.

 

The best hotel safe I’ve ever seen and a travel blog concept for someone

I’ve done a fair bit of travel through the years, and I am hooked on TripAdvisor for getting the skinny on hotels, and SeatGuru for finding out if I got saddled with the worst seats on the plane, but there’s still a niche travel blog concept for someone, somewhere.

As I travel with a decent camera kit for both business and personal trips, in-room safes are a must for me. As we all know, the classic standard room safe can hold the basic photojournalist kit: A couple of SLR bodies, an ultrawide zoom, standard zoom and 70-200 f/2.8 lens, a strobe or two, a few small primes, a compact camera, the iPod/iPhone, passports, and jewelry, with some careful wedging.

I’ve seen variations on this safe in my travels, and have also come across the new power-socket equipped “laptop” models in a few business hotels. I’ve also seen some strange in-room safe issues, such as a resort in Bermuda that had the world’s shallowest safe (It was like a locking medicine cabinet from the ‘50s), world’s lamest “safe” at an otherwise spectacular hotel in a castle in French wine country (it was a tiny locking door on a minifridge/TV stand backed by luan wood), and worst positioned standard safe at a resort in French St. Martin (under the vanity, right next to the French style tub/shower.)
But in all my travels, I’ve never come across an in-room safe as spacious as the one at the Grand Hyatt Kauai ! This thing was almost bigger than my carry-on luggage. I could have easily fit a couple of 400/f2.8 lenses in this thing! Of course, I have a habit of bringing much more gear on trips than I ever actually use, but wow, this safe just floored me.

I usually try to ask folks on the TripAdvisor forums about in-room safes (or is that “saves”?), but I’m sure I’m not the only one who wonders in advance if the in-room safe at this hotel or that resort is up to snuff. I’d add it to my list of pre-trip research sites, were someone to start this up.

 

In-flight rules I wish were enforceable

I originally posted bits of this on a SportsShooter thread talking about a bill to enforce carry-on regulations.
Let’s start enforcing many other things on flights as well:

 

  1. Get out of your seat using the arm rests of your seat to hoist your girth to a bipedal position. No more of this bear-hugging the back of my seat while I’m napping to yoink yourself up and out of your chair.
  2. No food items involving oceanic ingredients of any sort whatsoever shall be permitted on flights. I’m sorry, but some of these souplike things sold in various airport cafes involving fish-ish things are simply vile in an enclosed space.
  3. After the third time a child traveling with a parent kicks the back of your chair with no reprimand from said parent, you may challenge the parent to an aisle-sumo contest for primacy in the pecking order of your geo-adjacent pack. And then you may reprimand said kicker child to your heart’s content.
  4. Inflight movies and television programs should be fluffy and inconsequential. Bugs Bunny cartoons are always good. Iron Chef America is usually ok, except when squid or octopus or large amounts of butchering are involved. Newer seasons of Meerkat Manor are pushing the bounds of acceptability. Sorry, but “Most Dangerous Catch” and “Deep Impact” aren’t really all that conducive to relaxed and stress-free travel.
  5. As anyone who has ever traveled one leg of a journey in first class and the next in coach, the caste system is alive and well within the airline industry, and woe, the fates be fickle and evil creatures. It should be a rule that flight attendants and gate trolls treat all passengers with equal respect and courtesy.
  6. When stuck in the middle seat between two solo passengers in coach, you should be allowed to freely make Tyrannosaurus Rex ululations and vocalizations as you struggle to read, eat, and otherwise survive in a space much smaller than is humanly comfortable for creatures with non-vestigial arms and elbows.
  7. Special corollary to #6: When stuck in the middle seat between two travelling companions–who refuse to swap the middle for either the aisle or window, and whom repeatedly invade your personal space with their conversation and item passing back and forth–not only may you roar like a T. Rex at your whim, you may also freely bite any arms that come within snapping distance.
  8. Not really a rule, but I’d like to start putting an impact-alarm that makes a crunching and smashing sound inside my camera bag, as a late-boarding passenger attempts to wedge an oversized piece of carry-on junk into the crammed overhead compartment–just to see if it would garner any reaction.
  9. On any journey where the flight attendants somehow manage to fill the back of the cabin with acrid smoke and burning smells because they hit the wrong button on the sandwich timer, vodka should be considered a therapeutic beverage and immediately be distributed freely and liberally to all passengers. (The first part of this really happened midway through a transatlantic flight from Lisbon to EWR!)

 

Remember to always enjoy the journey

I’ve been lucky enough to travel with friends and family to some pretty amazing places, and I look forward to many more journeys with my favorite traveling companion, my wife Corey.

Our journeys have had some bumps along the way, like the time we arrived in St. Lucia for our honeymoon minus most of our checked luggage. We had cameras, iPods, one change of clothes and our snorkel gear when we arrived at the resort. Eventually, our checked bags showed up, but what could we do but go enjoy an island lunch and relax?

We’ve snowmobiled out to Old Faithful in the midst of a Rocky Mountain blizzard, and as you can imagine, it wasn’t really an amazingly photogenic sort of day at the Geyser. But we enjoyed the journey. And we had to laugh about it again when we recently climbed a ridge road in Kauai only to be fogged in at the summit. It’s a lesson I think applies not only to scenic drives on vacation, but equally, if not more importantly, to the trials of daily life. Wherever your travels take you, always take the time to enjoy the journey.

 

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