On Assignment – Destination British Virgin Islands

Three weeks of sun and boating in a stunning archipelago in the Caribbean, how does this sound for a nice way to spend part of the winter? While this trip is being “billed” as a vacation for my wife Cherie and friend Terry, typically I’ll be using the trip as a working opportunity to photograph another beautiful country, adding many new images to my large collection of stock photography and supplementing my writing. I’ll also be taking copious notes as I travel, both of local interest and also of a photographic nature with the plan of a daily British Virgin Islands travelogue firmly planted in my mind. This will thus become part 1 of likely 30 posts during the next month or so as I make my way through a beautiful and warm country.

Part 1 is my thinking about what equipment I will be taking, it’s actually a very tough decision. By the end of the trip I’ll either be proud of my thought process or kicking myself for missing opportunities.


In many ways the preplanning for any trip is the most difficult part. Often when I travel I’m in isolated areas where spare parts are not available, internet access is limited and the weight of my camera equipment is a huge factor.

The trip to the British Virgin Islands has a few advantages over other recent trips I’ve done. These include the fact I’ll be spending much of my time on a 47 foot catamaran and the voltage is the same as in the US, 110 volts – no adaptors to deal with and… most of the population speaks English!

My style of photography will likely be very “photojournalistic” with lots of handheld shooting and quick shooting. This is the way I shoot magazine articles as it allows me to produce many images with a good variety of subject matter in a short period of time. The more photographic subjects and styles I can shoot, the easier it will be to incorporate the images into magazine and web articles later.

EQUIPMENT – see What’s In My Camera Bag

On any trip my main criteria is to keep my equipment to a compact and relatively light package. Having switched to full frame this past year, the weight and size of my equipment has increased noticeably. I’m not sure for a travel photographer that this was a good move but it’s been done and in most ways I’m very pleased with the upgrade. If Nikon had come out with a higher megapixel DX body this past year I likely would have stayed with the DX format.

I’m guessing that my “travel kit” now weighs approximately 50% more with about the same 50% added to the bulk. This is something to consider seriously! Recent trips to Europe have had me carrying a body and 4 or 5 lenses but to stay within my “acceptable” weight and bulk limit I limited myself to three lenses for this trip, a 15mm f2.8 Sigma fisheye, 24-70mm f2.8 Nikon and a 70-200mm f2.8 Nikon. You may notice that the 2 zoom lenses are professional quality high speed lenses; while I could go with lighter weight lenses, I prefer the subject isolation and low light capabilities of these zooms.

One huge advantage of shooting with the D800 is my Nikon 70-200 at 200mm in crop mode becomes the equivalent of a 300mm yet still provides a very impressive 15.4mp resolution. A lens I used to carry often, the Nikon 300mm f4 thus stayed at home. I also found I rarely shot with macro lenses on my travels so decided to leave my 90mm macro lens at home as well. These decisions all come from previous experience; for instance, of the 18,000 photos I have shot in Europe during the past few years, about 17,800 of those were shot with 2 lenses, my old 17-55 Nikon and my old 50-150mm Sigma. My FX equivalents of 24-70mm and 70-200mm will cover me well. The Sigma 15mm fisheye is compact and while I don’t use it often when required it produces stunning imagery.

Memory cards are inexpensive now and my arsenal includes 3 – 64GB, 4 – 32 GB and a few 8 GB left over from early days. These are all SD cards, very compact and fast enough for my needs. How many images does this provide me with? Shooting 14 bit RAW, lossless compressed I expect I’ll be good for 6,000 photographs before having to erase a card. This should be plenty for 4 weeks as I tend to shoot about 1,200 photos a week when I’m traveling.

Backing up my data gets a little more complicated. I’m writing this on a Sony VAIO computer and while it’s very compact and light it only has a 500GB hard drive in addition to the flash drive the operating system uses. Close to 200GB of the hard drive is filled with programs such as PhotoShop, Nikon NX2 and PhotoMechanic leaving only about 300GB available for photographic backup purposes. If my math is correct this will provide me with backup for about 6,000 photos, possibly not enough if I get carried away! I carry a 500GB exterior hard drive as well which will provide ample backup capabilities. In real terms this means I can have 3 copies of all my images, 1 set on the original cards, one set on the computer and 1 set on the external hard drive. If I run out of space on the computer I can either not worry about having a third copy or start deleting images that I won’t be requiring at a later date. This is time consuming so I generally don’t work this way.

I’ve been fascinated with the video capabilities of the Nikon D800 and decided this trip would serve as a video learning experience. Diving into video is a different experience from shooting stills and I have a lot to learn! Before I left Canada I researched reasonable priced microphones and decided to pick up a RODE VideoMic Pro and the associated Dead Cat. What a difference this makes in the sound! Storage is another factor completely as HD video takes up a huge amount of space. I brought all of my old Compact Flash cards for this purpose and while I’m not sure how many hours I’ll be able to record I can always dump the images to my hard drive and reformat the cards.

Stay tuned!

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