You are leaving for a 26.000-mile voyage through some of the most beautiful places around the planet, and you don’t want to tell the story to friends at home and show them some pictures? Of course you do!
The following notes are not meant for expert photographers, but rather to give practical advices based on our experience.
1) STILL PHOTO OR MOVIE?
It’s obviously a matter of individual tastes – and skills – but I can venture a few considerations:
– a good snapshot “tells a story” in itself, while a good movie sequence needs to be part of a story, needing other sequences to be shot just to build a storyline; result:
MAKING A GOOD MOVIE IS DIFFICULT! (and a good editing is essential, too)
Even a good still photographer is not automatically a good movie-maker! Let’s be honest, most amateur-movies are just plain awful, full of needless pans and sweeps and with a storyline which is full of holes!
In fact, like they do in professional documentaries, the movie-operator needs to be left free to take shots whenever it’s needed to build a logical sequence, but this is a luxury seldom affordable within a very limited crew where there’s a lot of other things to do!
Having said that, it’s also a fact that some events are better told in a video (typical example, a folk dance) while others (landscapes, anyone?) are often boring in a movie even though they may be highly spectacular in a photo.
– our choice? BOTH OF THEM! We carried a compact still-camera each, and while Barbara was focusing on photos, I was filming with the video-camera and shooting a photo every now and then.
Sometimes we shot movies using the photo-cameras, but the results, expecially with two-years-old technology, have seldom been of usable quality.
2) DIGITAL OR FILM?
Digital, period! Nowadays even pros use digital, with the few exceptions of some old-time masters.
Critical advantages of digital are the ability to review and edit pictures on-site and the possibility to make BACKUP COPIES.
3) COMPACT CAMERAS OR D-SLR’s?
The picture-quality of modern compact cameras is improving steadily, but don’t get fooled by all those megapixels: even the best compacts produce disappointing, or even plain un-usable pictures as soon as light conditions are not optimal.
Even today, despite all the technological advances, a good D-SLR can produce gorgeous photos that are plain impossible with a compact and lately some top models even have the capability to produce short, good quality movies.
Still, as many photography gurus say, “the best camera is the one you carried with you, instead of leaving it at home because it was too heavy”: a compact can be slipped into a pocket even when going shopping, and can more easily be protected during a precarious landing with the dinghy on a wave-beaten beach (just by slipping it in a waterproof envelope).
Cameras are also a much-sought after theft targets: one more reason in favour of unassuming, not-too-expensive gear!
With a lot of doubts, we finally opted to carry two average-quality compacts on top of the video-camera, leaving my bulky D-SLR at home.
I regretted this choice a thousand times, and one-thousand-and-one when I’m reviewing the pictures we took: there are a lot which are unusable simply because they were beyond the capability of a compact (even more so, of a two-year-ago compact!).
4) UNDERWATER HOUSING
During this voyage, you don’t need to be a qualified diver to be able to swim over spectacular and lively sceneries! One other advantage of compact cameras is that you can buy model-specific “real” waterproof housings for a very reasonable price, quite unlike what happens with D-SLR’s which would be advisable only for expert underwater photographers.
Do not trust those envelope-like soft-plastic “waterproof” housings: excellent for camera protection during a landing, they are not reliable enough for an extended use in the water, as we learned the hard way…
Be also wary of the so-called “waterproof” cameras: unfortunately, due to some technical limitations, the currently available models produce very poor photos!!
5) EQUIPMENT PROTECTION
Be it from seawater, rain, knocks and falls (like when a female orang-utan grabbed my legs and sent me – and my camera – flat on the ground) photographic equipment is very exposed!
So make sure to use waterproof bags during landings or under the rain, and possibly padded carrying bags (but a compact often just travels in a pants’ pocket); someone in the Rally even had waterproof, padded carrying cases, an excellent solution while voyaging but certainly not during daily use of the cameras.
At least during day-long trips we used to carry small trekking-backpacks, where the (small) photo-equipment could easily fit and which in turn could be fitted inside a large waterproof bag during landings.
6) BACKUP COPIES
As we learned at our own cost, electronic equipment is easily damaged (knocks, flooding, rain, you name it!…), so it’s IMPERATIVE to make SEVERAL backup copies of all photos: memory cards, USB dongles, DVD’s, your choice but make sure to PROTECT the backups from the elements (when our boat was flooded all recordable-CD’s were completely ruined by seawater!)
We heartily recommend to MAIL HOME extra DVD copies, just in case; mail works even from remote places, we never lost any of the several parcels we shipped home.
7) SPARE CAMERAS?
During the voyage we killed 2 cameras (one flooded and one dropped) and the video-camera barely survived a couple of topple-overs. Other crews had their equipment stolen.
We had to buy replacements on-site as soon as possible (with limited choices and high prices), maybe it would be a good idea to carry spares?
At least, it would be advisable to carry IDENTICAL cameras, in order to share the same accessories and batteries, but in a once-only and important voyage it would be wise to carry a third compact or maybe a second D-SLR body (provided they are stored, well encased, in an entirely different part of the boat!).
8) AND NOW?
Right, what do we do now with the 26.000 photos and 40 hours of movies that we brought back? Several months after our return, we have not yet finished selecting and editing the best photos (that probably will amount at about 1.500) and we are still facing all the work needed to publish all those photos that nobody has seen so far!
An aspect we did not consider enough before departure is how to make all those pictures available to family and friends: publishing them on a web-site or print them in a photo-book or build a slide-show on DVD?
For sure, we cannot just show up at friends’ homes carrying 500 photo booklets!!
A web-based photo-album is a great solution to let friends at home see a few photos while the voyage is still ongoing, but the number and the size of the pictures need to be limited to keep uploading times within reasonable limits when using slow connections.
Nowadays, amateur-level software packages to create DVD-based “slide shows”, complete with animated transitions and background music, have greatly improved and may provide an excellent solution for a low-cost distribution; this is the way we intend to experiment.
A photo-book (or rather, a SERIES of photo-books, each containing about 150/200 shots) will be an excellent solution for our own library, but would be far too expensive as a giveaway!
9) NEXT TIME?
We would still carry two compact cameras, possibly high-level ones, for everyday, everywhere use.
We would probably NOT carry a movie camera, but rather an amateur-high-end D-SLR to be used whenever possible or when lighting conditions would be beyond a compact’s capability.
With that, we could also shoot the occasional movie, when the need arises.