Abby and I were both eager to photograph the trip, both for our own memories, as well as to share with others upon our return. In choosing equipment, our goal was pretty simple: we wanted to be able to take an unlimited number of high-quality photos without weighing ourselves down with equipment or becoming obvious targets of theft. Additionally, I wanted to geotag as many of the photos as possible so that I could later see exactly where they were taken. Over the course of the trip we took over 5,000 photos. We deleted 800 on the spot, returning with 4,200. Of these, we narrowed the set down to about 800 to include in our online gallery.
We chose to take two cameras: a digital SLR and a small point-and-shoot. The digital SLR had the advantage of taking high quality photos (much less noise in low light – great for indoor photos, ability to post-process RAW, low shutter lag, etc.), while the point-and-shoot had the advantage of being small, easily concealed, and able to shoot short videos. The combination of the two was great, since we could take great photos and videos during the day using both cameras, then rely solely on the point-and-shoot at night and look less like tourists.
The SLR I brought was a Canon Digital Rebel XT (also known as a 350D outside of the US). This had been my trusty camera for years, and given its age, I was not as concerned with it getting damaged, lost, or stolen as I would have been with an expensive new camera. To minimize gear (and awkward moments of lens-changing in the field), I only took one lens: Canon’s stabilized 17-85mm EF-S lens. The range of this lens was great for 95% of what we saw, though a longer lens would have been nice for shooting animals in the game reserve. That said — I would not have sacrificed the wide angle side for a longer lens, since the 17mm was essential for capturing photos on narrow European streets and inside of buildings. If you’re going on a similar trip and are trying to decide on a single lens, I’d recommend something similar to the 17-85 on a small sensor camera, or a 28-135 on a full-frame (the equivalent to the 17-85). If you want something longer for a safari, you may want to look into renting something locally if possible.
Other gear I took for the SLR was a lens hood (great for reducing flare), a polarizing filter (which I hardly used), an extra battery (absolutely essential), and a mostly-rainproof case. A fully-rainproof case would have been much better, and I plan to get one before our next big trip. While my equipment was not damaged, I found myself awkwardly holding the case under my umbrella or pancho during a few tropical downpours.
Our point-and-shoot camera is a Canon SD850 IS, a brand-new pocket-sized camera we bought specifically for the trip. This camera took great photos during the day, and was great to carry around at times (such as going out at night) when we didn’t want to look like obvious tourists toting a large SLR. Its ability to take video was great for times when a still photo didn’t quite capture the scene. We kept this camera in a small water-resistant case as well.
We needed a way to store four months of photos without worrying about running out of space, or losing photos due to damaged, lost, or stolen equipment. To do this, we used the following (admittedly paranoid) strategy:
- Pictures were taken on 4GB memory cards. We carried two of these for the point-and-shoot, and three for the SLR which filled up cards much faster due to the size of the RAW image files.
- Each night, we transferred the day’s photos onto our laptop. While doing this, we did not delete the originals from the card. This gave us extra security: we now had two copies of every photo: one on the memory card inside of our camera, which we carried with us during the day, and one in our laptop which we usually left behind at the hotel with our luggage. It was very unlikely that both copies would be damaged / lost / stolen at the same time.
- When a card filled up, we burned it to a DVD, which conveniently can store 4.7 GB, more than enough space for the contents of a 4GB card. We then mailed the DVD home (along with other gifts & souvenirs), and did not erase the memory card until we had confirmation that the DVD made it home safely. Yes, this is very paranoid, but it would have been terrible to lose any of these photos, and keeping them only on the laptop did not seem enough. We made the mistake of bringing a laptop without a DVD burner, which required us to burn DVDs at internet cafes, which was difficult (a lot of cafes can’t burn DVDs), expensive, and somewhat virus-prone. Next time, we’ll bring a laptop with a DVD burner.
- Meanwhile, (while waiting for the DVD to get home), we’d use the next blank card.
We could have done most of this without a laptop, though without step #2, we would have been at risk of losing our current card’s photos if we lost the card we were using. Another option would be to periodically upload photos to a service like Flickr, though internet bandwidth has not progressed beyond modem speed in many parts of the developing world. Uploading there would have taken forever.
I decided to “geotag” our photos, automatically recording the location of each photo as it was taken. This allows us to see our photos on a map, and know where each one was taken. Click on the image below to see the actual site.
To do this, I carried around a GPS data logger, a small device that recorded and stored our location every few seconds. Each point that was stored had a latitude, longitude, and time stamp. I pulled these onto our computer at the end of every day (to prevent the logger from filling up), and recharged the device. When we returned from our trip, I wrote a script to match the timestamps from the GPS log with the timestamps embedded into our digital photos to determine the locations of most of our pictures, except those taken when the GPS did not have a valid “fix” (meaning it didn’t have a good enough connection with the satellites to determine our location).