Todd Hatakeyama

Aug 302014
 

I’m planning a road trip in my RV to Zion National Park, Page and Sedona, Arizona in a few weeks to check out locations for our upcoming workshop with Steve Huff in November. We’ll be scouting locations for the workshop and we decided to take an extra day to hike the Narrows in Zion, unfortunately we won’t have time to hike the Narrows during the workshop in November.

The Narrows, Photo courtesy of Utah.com

The Narrows, Photo courtesy of Utah.com

Since hiking the Narrows is a nine mile round trip hike mostly in water, I needed to buy some new waterproof gear. There are several outfitter companies that rent everything you would need, but since I’ve switched to the minimalist shoes, I didn’t want to take the chance on renting shoes and hiking 12 miles in water with shoes that may hurt my feet.

Vibram Five Fingers Komodo Sport

Vibram Five Fingers Komodo Sport

I’ve been recently hiking in my Vibram Five Fingers Komodo Sports, but wanted to find something that would work well in the water.

Vibram Five Fingers Signa Water Shoes

Vibram Five Fingers Signa Water Shoes

I decided to try the Five Fingers Signa Water Shoes but the fit was much different than the Komodo Sports and I couldn’t imagine hiking all day in them. So back they went and the search was on for another minimalist water shoe.

VIVOBAREFOOT Ultra Shoes

VIVOBAREFOOT Ultra Shoes

I have a pair of Vivobarefoot dress shoes so I figured I’d try the Vivobarefoot Men’s Ultra Running Shoe. They have a removable nylon/airpene/neoprene footbed and look like they’ll do well in the water. I didn’t want to pay full price so after searching for a while I ran into a store selling this model at almost 50% off.

VIVOBAREFOOT Breatho Trail Shoes

VIVOBAREFOOT Breatho Trail Shoes

LeftLane Sports seemed too good to be true, at almost half off I couldn’t wait to buy them, but my suspicious mind wouldn’t let me put in my credit card number until I did some research on the company. I did Google search for LeftLane Sports and found a few good reviews, some mentioned the slow shipping time, but overall it looked like a legitimate company. I was able to find out they’re in San Luis Obispo, California, which is about four hours from home. Luckily we were camping in the RV just 30 minutes North of San Luis Obispo that week, so I went ahead and placed my order, and added a pair of Vivobarefoot Breatho Trail Shoes.

Since I was camping nearby in Santa Margarita, I emailed to see if I could pick up my order on the way home. They quickly replied and said it would not be a problem. They’re location is a bit tricky to find, but they have a nice retail store next to the warehouse.

It was a great experience and the best deal I’ve found on minimalist shoes. Plus if you use my referral link, we both get $10 in store credit. I used another referral link with my first purchase so I ended up paying about $76.00 for what would cost me $175 anywhere else.

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Jun 272014
 

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Duck hunters and nature photographers may shoot in vastly different ways, but they both need two things: lots of patience and a decent place to sit. Unfortunately, there isn’t always an old tree stump positioned just where you need your seat, and without a place to perch, your legs can go numb from squatting while you wait for the perfect shot. But who wants to lug a big, bulky folding chair on a five-mile hike up a mountain?

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Clik Elite to the rescue! This manufacturer of quality photographic accessories has come up with the perfect camp stool to take on a hiking trip. The Clik Sit is a sturdy seat fashioned from high-quality aluminum, durable ballistic fabric, and riveted reinforcements that is strong enough to support a 250-lb. individual yet weighs a scant 1 lb., 5oz.

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The stool opens easily, measuring 12.5″ high when set up. It folds down to a mere 9 1/4″ x 8″ x 1 1/4″, so it will readily slide into the laptop compartment of most camera backpacks. Similar chairs on the market may be less expensive, but they lack Clik Elite’s trademark high standards or build quality, and they can be heavier and more cumbersome.

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At last, you no longer have to plop your tush down on hard gravel or wet grass! No matter what kind of wilderness you’re shooting in, with the Clik Sit, you’ll always have a comfortable seat.

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Jun 232014
 

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When it comes time to take one’s “home office” away from home, couldn’t we all use a 2nd Brain? I know I could. My livelihood depends on my computer and assorted accessories, and if I forget to pack a crucial component when I travel, I could have serious problems. When I recently purchased a motorhome for prolonged road trips, I needed a computer bag that would organize the primary necessities for my home-based business and make sure nothing important got left behind.

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Fortunately, the brain-trust at Think Tank Photo has done the thinking for us. The new My 2nd Brain Briefcase 13 offers a convenient and effective way to transport your mobile office, particularly for Apple users. The bag’s design and compartments are optimized to fit any 13″ MacBook, plus an iPad, iPhone, and assorted support equipment and sundries.

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With external dimensions of only 14.2″W x 11.8″H x 4.5″ D (36 x 30 x 11.5 cm), the briefcase holds a surprising amount of gear and has more pockets than a men’s clothing store. I can easily and safely carry my MacBook Air 11”, iPad Mini, iPhone, and chargers, each in their own compartments, and still have pockets left over to add my wife’s Kindle and iPad Air or perhaps some portfolios or magazines. A plethora of smaller pockets provide additional storage for other accessories, pens, and business cards. Compressible side pockets accommodate a water bottle and compact umbrella when necessary.

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Think Tank’s My 2nd Brain Briefcase 13 is definitely priced as a premium product, but it delivers premium performance. The build quality and materials are top-notch; the case feels very sturdy and well-constructed. The exterior fabric boasts a durable, water-repellant coating, and the bag comes with a seam-sealed rain cover for extra protection. A removable strap adjusts for either chest or shoulder wear, and the bag features a handle pass-through that permits you to sling the case over the handle of a rolling suitcase, making it easy to carry through the airport.

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Roomy as it is, the Think Tank bag was not designed to hold camera gear as well as computer electronics, but I have plenty of other bags available if I need to carry both my laptop and DSLR in the same case. Now that I’m doing a lot more traveling by road rather than air, I have the luxury of bringing along an extra bag just for my camera equipment, so the My 2nd Brain Briefcase makes a perfect complement to my other luggage. It’s so thin and compact that I can slip it out of the way behind either the driver or passenger seat of my motorhome, where I can easily grab it if I need to log on at a restaurant with a convenient WiFi connection along my route.

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Previously, I’d relied on the Think Tank Photo Retrospective Laptop Case 13L to transport my small electronics. The Retrospective expands a bit, so it holds more overall than the My 2nd Brain, but the new Think Tank briefcase has far more pockets and compartments than its predecessor, all tailored to hold the computer gear I need. With the Retrospective, I was able to insert my Sony A7r with an attached lens in the large main compartment, but then I’d have to stash my iPad Mini in the same pocket as the 11″ MacBook Air. My 2nd Brain gives me safe, padded, individual compartments in which to stow not only the Mini but several other tablets in addition to my laptop.

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For anyone who needs to pack a lot of computing power into a very small space, the Think Tank Photo My 2nd Brain Briefcase 13 provides a great way to stay organized and keep your mobile office mobile. Whether you’re an on-the-go photographer or a traveling sales rep, this bag is one smart Brain!

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May 052014
 

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It’s the perennial dilemma of the nature-hiking photographer: Which bag to carry? You need a backpack to lug your food and clothing along with your camera gear, but it’s a pain to shrug the pack off your shoulders every time you want to change a lens or battery.

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Thanks to the innovative minds at MindShift Gear, you can now have the best features of both backpack and sling bag in one easy-to-carry combo. Their new rotation180° Panorama backpack boasts MindShift’s ingenious “rotation technology,” which permits you to slide a detachable camera gear compartment out from the bottom of the pack on your back. This beltpack moves along a belt around your waist, becoming either a side holster or front kangaroo pouch for the gear you want to keep handy. When you’re done shooting, you can maneuver the beltpack back under the backpack and secure it with straps for transport or for rain cover–all without taking the pack off your back. (Compatible, seam-sealed rain covers are sold separately.)

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My recent trip to Death Valley was the perfect opportunity to put the Mindshift Gear rotation180° Panorama to the test. I only brought my Sony A7r, Leica 16-18-21mm f/4 lens, and the Sony 55mm f1.8 lens on this trip, which all fit easily in the roomy beltpack (beltpack’s interior dimensions: 9.4” W x 7.5” H x 4.7” L or 24 x 19 x 12 cm). I could even slip my iPad Mini in the compartment’s tablet slot. For those occasions when you don’t need much gear, you can detach the beltpack and carry it separately, so the rotation180° Panorama really is like having two bags in one. Yet the whole combo weighs a mere three pounds.

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For about 80% of the Death Valley trip, I shot with my wide-angle lens, but the rotating beltpack made it easy to change lenses while leaving the backpack on. This design proved a major advantage, for I’ve never liked to put my bags on the ground and it’s not always easy to find a clean, level surface on which to set them.

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The spacious main compartment of the Panorama backpack easily fit a light windbreaker, hat, sunscreen, and other miscellaneous items. The small pocket on top held my spare batteries, memory cards, and lens cleaner. I didn’t use a bladder for water during the trip, but the backpack’s hydration compartment accommodated my 20-ounce water bottle–a vital feature when hiking through a parched desert wasteland! Although I went without a tripod this time, the Panorama does have a nice tripod carrying system on the front of the bag. There are also attachment points on the harness for a Tripod Suspension Kit (sold separately) that hangs the tripod at your side so it’s ready at a moment’s notice.

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MindShift Gear offers several other optional accessories that complement the rotation180° Panorama backpack, most of which allow you to stow additional equipment. The r180° Panorama Photo Insert is a padded modular compartment that fits inside the backpack’s main compartment so you can safely stash additional lenses and assorted components. The Filter Hive and the Lens Switch Case are also modular compartments, tailored to protect their respective accessories, which can be stored inside the backpack’s main compartment or attached to the belt as side pouches for ready access.

With its novel design, the MindShift Gear rotation180° Panorama backpack has come up with a creative solution to a problem that has vexed many a photographer. At last, you can easily change your lenses without removing your backpack.

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Mar 212014
 

The only problem with nature photography is getting yourself and your gear to the nature. There are a lot of great places to shoot that you can’t reach by car. For photo safaris where you have to lug all your necessities across miles of rough terrain, a little shoulder bag won’t do.

That’s why, on my recent trip to The Valley of Fire in Nevada, I took along the Clik Elite Cloudscape as my main camera and hiking gear backpack. The new Clik bag carried all that I needed for two days of hiking and photography. My Sony A7r with a Leica 50mm f/1.4 lens and Sony NEX-5r with a Sony 10-18mm lens both fit in the generous 20-liter (1200 cubic inch) padded camera compartment. Like the kangaroo pocket its name evokes, the backpack’s “Marsupial” lens pouch compartment offered plenty of room for both my Leica Wide Angle Tri Elmar and Sony 35mm f/2.8 lens. Even with all the above gear, I still had enough space left for a Garmin Oregon GPS, some extra batteries, an SD card case, a small survival kit, a light jacket, a pill container, a backup battery for my iPhone, a water bottle, and my keys.


The Cloudscape actually had more room than I needed for this particular excursion. An independent “hydration compartment,” for example, can carry up to a 100-ounce bladder, a definite plus on treks where you can work up a monster thirst. For my purposes, the mesh side pockets fit my 24 ounce stainless steel water bottle perfectly on one side and a second 20-ounce water bottle on the other.

The pack’s laptop sleeve will accommodate most 15-inch laptop. While I didn’t carry a laptop during my hikes on this excursion, I found the slot handy for storing a lot of my accessories, making it easy and quick to find the smaller items I required.

I found the Cloudscape very easy to carry all day without any fatigue; it’s well-balanced, and the padding and vents on the back make it very comfortable. The waist strap has a convenient pocket for the iPhone and the chest straps help to stabilize the bag very well.

My only wish is that pack had a few small pockets. The big compartments aren’t as convenient for carrying small items and keeping things organized. Overall, though, the Clik Elite Cloudscape is a smartly-designed bag for when you’re shooting out in the wild, and I plan on using it for most of my future day hikes.

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Mar 102014
 

Think Tank Photo Retrospective Laptop Case 13L is a great new messenger bag that fits up to a 13” laptop and a lot of accessories. The case is compact (14.6”W x 11.4”H x 2.8” D or 37 x 29 x 7 cm) and lightweight (2.4 lbs. or 1.1 kg), and its stylish and discreet design matches the rest of the Retrospective line. It also shares many of the same features, including a rain cover, water resistant fabric, Sound Silencers and a soft padded non-slip shoulder strap.

My 11” Macbook Air fits easily in the padded laptop compartment (13”W x 9.4”H x 1.2” D or 33 x 24 x 3 cm), with plenty of room left in the main compartment for other items such as files, books, and possibly even clothing or some camera gear. The outer pocket is perfect for other accessories such as batteries, chargers, and other smaller items.

As proof of just how much new Retrospective Laptop Case can carry, I used it as my only bag for a two-day trip to Las Vegas. The 13L had more than enough room for the 11” Air, a change of clothes, toiletries, chargers, and my Sony A7r with the Leica 50mm f/1.4 attached.

I chose the 13L over the Retrospective 50 since I now shoot with Sony and Leica and the 13L has enough room in the main compartment to fit a couple cameras and lenses as long as you use some type of padding for your gear such as the Micro Lens Pouch for your lenses. The 13L isn’t as bulky as the 50 which has the padded camera compartment that fits up to DSLR size gear.

In the short time I was carrying the 13L around, several people asked me about my bag and were very interested in purchasing one for themselves. I have several messenger-type camera bags, but this one is now my favorite. I know it will hold up well over the years since I’ve been using the Retrospective 5 for a considerable time now.

All-in-all, the Think Tank Retrospective Laptop Case 13L is a great combination of functionality, durability, and value.

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Dec 182013
 

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While it’s difficult to settle on any single bag that’s a picture-perfect fit for all my photography needs, I’ve found Think Tank Photo bags a consistent and dependable choice for high-quality, well-designed products. As a longtime SLR guy, I only recently stepped into the realm of mirrorless cameras, and so I was eager to try out Think Tank’s new line of Mirrorless Mover bags that are tailored to fit these smaller camera bodies and lenses.

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The Mirrorless Mover 30i is the largest bag in the series (Exterior Dimensions:: 11” W x 8.9” H x 5.7” D or 28 x 22.5 x 14.5 cm) and is customized for compact cameras like the Fuji X–Pro 1 or Leica M, although it can also accommodate a small DSLR like the Canon Rebel. I own the Sony NEX-6, so I can cram quite a bit of gear into the snug interior (10.6” W x 8” H x 3.9” D or 27 x 20.5 x 10 cm). Stretchable, zippered pocket on both the inside and outside of the bag offer plenty of storage space for batteries and small accessories.

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A magnetic closure for the lid provides quick and easy access to the bag’s contents, and the bag includes a seam-sealed rain cover for extra protection. The grab handle, rear pass-through slot, and removable shoulder strap give you the flexibility to use the 30i as a shoulder bag, a hand bag, or a belt pack, and with the Think Tank Photo Shoulder Harness V2.0 (sold separately), you can even convert the bag into a backpack.

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The Mirrorless Movers may be Think Tank’s low-end line, but the manufacturer hasn’t skimped on the quality of materials or craftsmanship. The 30i, for example, features the same sort of durable, stylish, water-resistant fabric and metal zippers and buckles as in higher-priced bags like the Retrospective series. After considerable use, I did have a seam along the bag’s edge begin to separate, opening a gap that could widen over time due to stress whenever I pick the bag up by the grab handle. Overall, though, the bag’s performance and construction have proved admirable, particularly given its modest price.

Small tear from iPad wear

Small tear from iPad wear

Exemplifying Think Tank’s usual flair for design, the Mirrorless Mover 30i offers you an adjustable three-divider system and slots for your phone and a few lenses. But what really set this bag apart for me was the handy iPad slot, a feature I haven’t seen in many bags of comparable price and size. To paraphrase the Most Interesting Man in the World, “I don’t always carry my iPad…but when I do, I prefer to carry it in the Mirrorless Mover 30i!” I must confess that my iPad2 is a bit of a tight squeeze in this space, so I am considering switching to an iPad Mini for a more comfortable fit.

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With a great combination of features and functionality, the Mirrorless Mover 30i continues Think Tank’s tradition of providing superior value and utility. For any photographer with a smaller camera, the 30i is both an attractive and affordable option–as near to a picture-perfect fit as you’re likely to find!

Albert Evangelista
photographybyalbert.com

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Oct 292013
 

Even before I started working as a photographer, I fell in love with photography by taking pictures on vacation. After several years of venturing to many parts of the globe, I’ve found that arguably the biggest challenge of travel photography is the travel itself. By trial and error, I’ve developed some handy strategies to make the logistics of traveling easier, and I thought I’d pass them on in hopes that others might learn from my experiences, good and bad. A few of my tips:

TRAVEL LIGHT! As a guiding principle, this maxim would seem to be a no-brainer. But as a diehard gear-head, I know how easy it is to succumb to the temptation to take along too much equipment. When you’re about to embark on a once-in-a-lifetime excursion to exotic places, your mind reels with all the possible photo opportunities you might encounter, none of which you want to miss. You just might want this lens or that accessory with you…and before you know it, you’re lugging a ton of gear through airport security.

That’s what happened to me–on my honeymoon, no less! My new bride and I had decided to take a two-week trip to Costa Rica, and I wanted to be prepared to capture every memorable moment. I was just getting into digital photography after a long break from film, and I read all the camera forums as to what gear I should bring along to get the best shots of the rainforest. I ended up with a Canon 40D and four lenses. Including my laptop, it added up to 35 pounds of gear, all packed into my nice, secure Pac Safe duffel, which became my carry-on. Couple that with a 26″ roller suitcase for my clothing, and I was waddling through terminals and hotel lobbies under the weight of too much stuff.

Canon gear in the Pacsafe Adventure DuffelSafe 100

A few years later, Olympus came out with their Micro 4/3 camera and lenses. I was quick to buy the new, lighter Olympus gear, and the Micro 4/3 became my travel camera, so I could leave my big, heavy DSLR gear at home. Although the picture quality didn’t compare to my Canon setup, I found it an acceptable sacrifice to save weight and space while traveling.

About a year after that, I discovered the Leica M9. After reading about it on Steve Huff’s blog, I felt certain the M9 would give me the optimum combination of photo quality and portability. With the hefty prices on the body and lenses, it was quite an investment, but the dividends I reaped in quality and convenience made it worthwhile. The more compact camera and lenses allowed me to exchange my cumbersome duffel for a small shoulder bag such as the Think Tank Retrospective 5, which fit the M9 with a lens attached as well as two additional lenses, or the Clik Elite Traveler, which can accommodate two camera bodies with lenses attached and a couple more lenses. Fully loaded with my Leica gear, these shoulder bags weigh in at only around six pounds, a huge improvement from my 35 pounds of Canon gear.

Think Tank Retrospective 5 with my early Leica and Voigtlander gear

Think Tank Retrospective 5 with my early Leica and Voigtlander gear

Having pared down my photography cargo, I have since sought ways to streamline the rest of my luggage. It became clear there was room for improvement when my wife and I took the Chunnel train from London to Paris and discovered that our 27” roller suitcases were simply way too big for the overhead racks in small European railway cars. Dragging the suitcases sideways through the narrow aisle was, well, a drag, and I did not like having to worry about whether some thief might snatch our bags from the luggage rack near the door. Determined to shrink the size of my suitcase, I did some research online and found the eBags Exo Hardside 19″ and 24″ Spinner.. These cases roll on four wheels very smoothly, and can readily maneuver through the aisles of both trains and airplanes. As an added bonus, the 19″ Spinner fits in overhead compartments with ease.

eBags EXO Hardside Spinner 19″ and 24″

Now that I’d evidently found the ideal carry-on bag, I had to figure out how to make one to two weeks of clothing fit in the small case. I consulted my friend Eric Kim, who travels the world teaching street photography workshops, and he revealed that he uses quick-dry clothing, which he washes in his hotel room. This way he can get by with only two sets of clothes and really cut down on space, plus it saves him the hassle of seeking out foreign Laundromats to do his wash.

With Eric’s advice in mind, I conducted a little research online. By reading other travel blogs and reviews of various products on Amazon.com, I came up with the following list of clothing and toiletries for traveling light during extended trips:

Columbia Sportswear Tamiami II Short Sleeve Shirt x 3
Russell Athletic Men’s Short Sleeve Dri-Power Tee for sleeping x 2
ExOfficio Men’s Give-N-Go Boxer x 3
Columbia Men’s Convertible II Pant x 1
Levi’s Jeans x 1 (not quick dry, but warmer than the Columbia pants)
Kohls Tekgear running shorts for sleeping x 1
Injinji Performance Original Weight Micro Toe Socks x 3
WrightSock Men’s Coolmesh II 4 Pack Double Layer Socks x 1
Vibram Five Fingers KMD Sport shoes
Sanuk waxed canvas shoes
Columbia light jacket
Travel laundry detergent
Travel clothesline (not suitable in many situations, but handy to have when usable)
Single clothespin hangers
Panasonic Single Blade Travel Shaver (actually works better than my $150 razor)
Travel toothbrush and toothpaste

All of these items would easily fit in the 19” eBags Exo Hardside Spinner, enough clothing for 7 to 14 days. The only non-quick-dry articles of clothing are the Levi’s jeans and the Columbia jacket. I can easily wash all the other clothes in the hotel sink and hang-dry them overnight. Depending on the climate, some items make take more than one night to dry, so I often have to experiment to figure out how much drying time I require in a given location.

For my current travel photography kit, I chose the Clik Elite Tropfen backpack to accommodate chargers, adapters, a travel power strip, a portable hard drive, and a 11” Macbook Air, as well as my camera gear. I was able to squeeze in the laptop by extending the length of the iPad compartment to fit the 11” Macbook Air, with a little bit of sewing and extra padded material taken from an iPad case. The Tropfen will easily fit under the seat on an airplane, while the eBags 19″ roller fits in the overhead bin. The combination makes for a quick way to get out of the airport without having to wait for baggage claim.

Clik Elite Tropfen

Clik Elite Tropfen hidden rear camera compartment

While searching for a smaller solution than the 11″ Macbook Air, I recently discovered Parallels Access, an app for the iPad Mini may do the trick. The app allows you to control a remote computer with your iPad. It does require a decent internet connection on both the iPad and the remote computer, but it works much better than similar software such as Logmein. So far, I’ve experienced pretty accurate control with the iPad Mini, and I’ve been able to work on both Excel and Word files without any issues. Connecting the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover to the iPad Mini makes the work even easier. Indeed, about the only thing the iPad lacks that would make it a fully-functioning laptop is a mouse. In order to attach a mouse, however, one would have to jailbreak the iPad, which I have not attempted yet. But thanks to my Parallels Access setup, I’ve been able to ditch the larger shoulder bag or Tropfen backpack and carry my camera gear and iPad Mini in my Clik Elite Traveler bag, the smallest option possible…so far!

Clik Elite Traveler and eBags EXO Hardside Spinner Carry-On

Clik Elite Traveler and eBags EXO Hardside Spinner Carry-On

Having suffered the effects of flat feet all my life, I’ve recently joined the barefoot shoes movement, thanks to Eric Kim. Not only does this footwear help prevent the soreness I previously endured from protracted walking while traveling, the minimalist shoes are so light and compact that it’s easy to find room for them in my suitcase. My regular shoes would take up too much space in the 19” carry-on, but the Sanuk canvas shoes or the Vibram Five Fingers compress very flat, so it’s easy for me to pack an extra pair. Also, I find that the Five Fingers remain very comfortable to wear during a flight. Even after my feet swell from sitting for 14 hours straight, the barefoot shoes stretch well, so they never feel as tight as my old shoes did.

Vibram Five Fingers Komodo Sport

Vibram Five Fingers Komodo Sport

Although it may be a cliche, I’ve found that, when packing for a vacation, “less is more.” In the past couple of years I’ve traveled to Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Great Britain, Turkey, Switzerland, Hungary, Austria, the Netherlands, Japan, Mexico, Canada, all around the US, and with each trip, I try to carry less and less to make the traveling experience easier and therefore more enjoyable. Of all my techniques, this one is probably the easiest to accomplish, and yet it can yield some of the best results.

MAKE THE MOST OF LOYALTY PROGRAMS. In their zeal to get repeat customers, airlines and hotels can offer some pretty lucrative incentives to the savvy traveler. However, if you spread your business amongst too many vendors, it can take forever to accrue any significant rewards.

Instead, stick with one airline and hotel chain to build up your status. I have Platinum status with Delta, for example, which allows me to bypass the long lines at check in and to board the plane right after First Class and Business. Such preferential seating gives you a distinct advantage if you’re taking a carry-on, since you can place your bag in the overhead compartment above your seat. The storage space fills quickly, and passengers who board last may have to check their bags.

At Delta, Gold and Platinum status confers other benefits as well. Even if I do check a bag, it will be one of the first pieces of luggage unloaded from the plane and dramatically reduce my waiting time in baggage claim. In addition, I’m always on the list for an automatic Business or First Class upgrade for domestic flights. Although flying Business class is so much better than coach, I would never pay full price for the privilege–but it’s nice to get it for free! I also got the Delta Reserve Amex card, and while it’s not cheap, it gives me extra qualifying miles towards my Delta status, as well as access to the Delta Sky Club for me and two guests. Located in airport terminals around the globe, the Delta Sky Clubs provide a nice way to relax and enjoy some complimentary snacks and drinks before you fly.

JFK SkyClub (photo by Delta Airlines)

JFK SkyClub (photo by Delta Airlines)

For my hotel loyalty program, I stay with Starwood. Four Points Sheraton, Sheraton, Westin, Le Meridian, W, and St. Regis are all part of the Starwood group. Having Platinum status grants me access to shorter check-in lines, complimentary breakfasts, free internet access, late checkout, and occasional suite upgrades. As an added bonus, Starwood recently partnered with Delta, which means I now receive points for both programs whenever I spend on either one.

W London Leicester Square Spa Suite

W London Leicester Square Spa Suite

SPEED YOUR WAY TO–AND THROUGH–THE AIRPORT. One of the most stressful aspects of any trip that involves air travel is simply getting to the airport on time. The cheapest transportation to the terminal is usually a shared shuttle van, but a shuttle can cause nail-bitingly frustrating delays as you wait for other passengers to be picked up and dropped off. While I once used such services all the time, I swore off shared vans after enduring too many long rides and close calls. SuperShuttle offers a private van or car service which costs a bit more than a shared van, but does not require you to wait for other passengers. Its prompt service allows you to get picked up at a reasonable time, so you don’t have to allow four hours before your flight as with the shared vans.

Another attractive option is to park at the airport, which again lets you control the time you leave home. Once you safely lodge your vehicle in the parking structure, you ride a quick shuttle to your terminal, and a shuttle also collects you when you return. I usually opt for valet parking, which costs a bit more but is well worth the convenience. You simply pull into the parking garage, leave your car, and hop on the shuttle, thereby saving you the trouble of having to drive up several flights of the structure searching for a parking space and then tote your luggage back down to the bottom floor to board the shuttle. When you return, you merely call the garage and give them your ticket number. Your car will be waiting for you upon arrival–a welcome sight after a long flight!

As every traveler in the post-9/11 world knows, even if you make it to the terminal in a timely fashion, the obstacle of airport security can still keep you from getting to your gate before departure. To address this problem, the Department of Homeland Security has established the Global Entry Trusted Traveler Network, a godsend for anyone who flies on a regular basis. Becoming a Trusted Traveler requires some pre-planning, for you must file an application and submit to an extensive background check and in person interview. But you’ll be glad you made the extra effort as you breeze past the long security lines at most major airports; you can even leave your shoes, jacket, and belt on, and keep your liquids and laptop in your carry-on bag. In most cases, I’ve been able to pass through security in about five minutes, which really makes air travel more bearable. When returning from an international flight, you are also able to bypass the long Customs lines and go straight to a kiosk, where you can scan your passport and exit the Customs area through a quick, short line.

Global Entry (photo courtesy of American Airlines)

Global Entry (photo by American Airlines)

The above techniques may take a bit more preparation as you ready for your trip, yet they can make a huge difference in your ease and comfort in traveling. Whether it’s shaving a few pounds off your luggage or reaping the rewards points from your hotel stay, these are the kind of simple travel strategies I wish someone had told me way back before I planned my honeymoon. They will reduce your stress and increase your pleasure…and, really, isn’t that what a vacation is all about?

 
 

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Oct 232013
 

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As I mentioned in my review of Clik Elite’s Pro Express Backpack, a good shoulder bag will usually hold enough gear for me to do a day’s shooting. But sometimes I want to travel lighter than others, so I like to have a range of shoulder bags with a size to suit every occasion.

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Clik Elite obviously aims to please us Goldilocks photographers who want that “just right” bag, so they have now debuted the new Schulter shoulder bag, a compact bag (External Dimensions: 12″H x 10″W x 4.5″D or 30 x 25 x 12.7 cm) tailored to accommodate a standard DSLR or a smaller camera such as a Sony NEX or Leica M. With a fairly roomy main compartment (4.25″H x 8″W x 4.5″D or 10.8 x 20.3 x 11.4 cm), the Schulter fits a DSLR with an attached lens well, but might be a bit large for a smaller camera since the shorter lens would leave some empty space near the top of the bag. The compartment would be ideal for a Canon DSLR with a 24-70mm lens, say, with space for an extra lens or an external flash next to it.

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The tablet sleeve can easily hold an iPad, iPad Mini, or similar device up to 9.75″ long. A variety of smaller compartments and pockets provide plenty of storage space for accessories and smaller items such as pens, keys, or batteries. The adjustable felt strap has nice, quilted padding for extra comfort, and at just over a pound, the Schulter is easy to carry.

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The overall styling matches that of Clik Elite’s Klettern and Tropfen backpacks. I would have liked more choices in terms of the color and pattern of the bag, since I personally favor solid colors and a less flashy design, but the Schulter looks undeniably sleek and professional. My only quibble is that the fold-over cover flap could leave a very small gap at the top left and right side of the bag through which small items could possibly fall out. A tighter closure for the top flap would make the bag more secure.

Despite these slight drawbacks, the Clik Elite Schulter shoulder bag is an attractive option for those shoots when you only need a small amount of gear. It would make a fine addition to the selection of any photographer who wants a bag that’s “just right” no matter what the situation.

We will earn a small commission on any purchases made from Clik Elite.

Sep 242013
 

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Although I’ve truly enjoyed dabbling in street photography, as I did most recently with Eric Kim and Charlie Kirk in Istanbul, my first love will always be landscape and travel photography. Thus, when my friend and colleague Jay Bartlett and a couple of like-minded photographer buddies expressed interest in going on a photography road trip, I couldn’t resist organizing a tour of some of the most stunning natural scenery in the southwestern US.

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We left LA early enough in the morning that we reached the Valley of Fire, the first stop on our six-day road trip, in time to get in some shooting in the afternoon and early evening. Located within easy driving distance from Las Vegas, the Valley of Fire is Nevada’s oldest state park. Famous for the stratified red sandstone from which it gets its name, the park features such distinctive rock formations as the aptly-dubbed Elephant Rock and Piano Rock. We took advantage of the lingering summer days of late August to make the hike to White Domes by dusk. These sugar-frosted peaks have alternating bands of orange and white sedimentary rock that resembles a giant 50/50 bar, and the orangey sunset really brings out the contrasting colors.

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Initially, I was planning to wear the new Solomon hiking boots that Jay had given me as a birthday present for our hikes on this trip. However, I’d been intrigued by the Vibram Five Fingers shoes that Eric Kim wore during the workshops I’d recently attended in Istanbul. For those unfamiliar with this distinctive-looking footwear, the Five Fingers shoes actually resemble bare feet, featuring separated toes, a nylon upper, and a fairly thin rubber sole that all flex a good deal more than even regular tennis shoes, giving you the sensation of walking virtually barefoot.

Since I have very flat feet that can become painful after walking only short distances, I am always searching for more comfortable shoes, and so I got a pair of Five Fingers Komodo Sports to try. During our sojourn, we hiked about 30 miles over varied terrain, including asphalt, groomed trails, and some pretty rough, rocky trails. The thinness of the footbed meant I had to watch my step when there were sharp rocks underfoot, and the lack of ankle support required me to take extra care in placing my feet to avoid twisting them. But I was amazed that I was able to walk for such long treks without blistering or other discomfort. Although I brought the Solomon boots along as a backup, I was so pleased with the Five Fingers that I ended up using them the whole time. Indeed, I’ve bought a second pair to take with me on a two-week tour of Italy, France, Spain, and England next month.

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As night descended on our first day, we returned to Las Vegas, ready to feast after our afternoon of hiking. Thinking we’d need a lot of food to satisfy us, we decided to try Texas de Brazil, since all-you-can-eat Brazilian restaurants are known for serving helping after helping until you beg them to stop. Vegetarians be warned: a Brazilian barbecue is all about meat, in all its juicy varieties. Ironically, as our trip went on, we found that, far from increasing our appetites, our long hikes shrunk the size of our stomachs so much that we couldn’t tuck away nearly as much food as we expected, which is probably a good thing.

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Nevertheless, we found enough room in our digestive systems the following morning for a hearty breakfast at the Peppermill, a neon-colored Jetsons-meets-Happy Days retro diner that has become a Vegas landmark. After fortifying ourselves, we returned to the Valley of Fire for a second day of shooting. However, we failed to take into account the higher temperatures we’d encounter in the desert early in the day, which topped out at over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat made our 1.2-mile tramp to the Fire Wave the hardest hike of the entire trip. One of the Valley’s signature photo ops, the Fire Wave looks like an enormous, rippling flag of red-and-white stripes. It was worth braving the beating sun for the chance to shoot it…but just barely!

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Later that day, we drove on to Utah, with a break in St. George to grab a pile of 50 hot wings at Wingstop and some gear from Dick’s Sporting Goods. At last, we arrived at the next destination on our itinerary, the beautiful Zion National Park. We spent the night at the Quality Inn & Suites Montclair in Springdale, a convenient hotel that offered us both a complimentary breakfast and a stop out front where we could catch the free shuttle to Zion the next morning.

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As our group consisted of people of varying fitness levels, we split up for our day’s trek in Zion. Some of us made the steep and exhausting climb all the way up to the knife’s-edge ridge of Angel’s Landing and along the White Throne trail, while others stopped and relaxed at the lower Scout’s Lookout scenic viewpoint. Just scaling the trail to Scout’s Lookout was enough for me; it seemed to take forever, and I wondered if we’d ever reach the top. But the view was breathtaking, and judging from the pictures some of my fellow hikers took from the summit of Angel’s Landing, the panorama there was even more spectacular. Hard work getting up there, but we were rewarded with some great shots.

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By the time we descended from the peaks, we were pretty beat, so we took the shuttle back to town, grabbed some lunch, and spent the afternoon and evening recuperating at the hotel. The next leg of our journey took us to Page, Arizona, where we made a relatively short (one mile, round-trip) and easy hike to shoot the Horseshoe Bend, where the Colorado River makes a sharp U-turn before flowing into the Grand Canyon. Again, the striking colors and patterns of the stratified rock formations make for a surprising variety of landscape photo effects as their appearance changes with different lighting and atmospheric conditions. It’s an amazing panorama, but because there are no guardrails around the sheer cliffs, it can be perilous to get close enough to the edge of the ravine to get a good shot.

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When we returned to our lodging at the local Holiday Inn, we all had a craving for Chinese food. Unfortunately, Page is a small town, and the only Chinese buffet place was closed, so we took a chance on a sketchy-looking restaurant that claimed to serve all things Asian, be it Indian, and Thai. Mistake!!! This joint was TERRIBLE–egg rolls delivered to our table still half-frozen! If you happen to be in Page, Arizona, avoid this place at all costs, even if you’re simultaneously craving Indian or Thai food.

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For the last full day of the road trip, we’d scheduled a tour of three of the celebrated Antelope Canyons. However, it started to rain that morning and looked like it wasn’t going to let up, so we shortened our tour to only the Upper Canyon. We were lucky to be able to do even that; our tour guide notified us that they were expecting heavy rains and that the canyons would close to tourists for the next few days due to the danger of flash floods. “Slot” canyons like the Antelope Canyons are particularly susceptible to sudden flooding, for a heavy downpour miles upstream can send torrents of water surging through the narrow ravines without warning. In past years, several unfortunate sightseers have been swept away by such floods.

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Our tour of the Upper Canyon was great, however. The sculpted sandstone walls of these chasms have long been a favorite with landscape photographers from around the world. The day remained overcast, so we didn’t get the ethereal shafts of light slanting down into the clefts, for which the canyons are justly famous. But it was still an impressive natural wonder.

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On the long drive back to Las Vegas that afternoon, we passed through the Valley of Fire again with enough daylight left to enjoy some of the arches and other stone formations that we’d missed during our previous two outings in the park. Satisfied that we’d made the most of our Southwest photo tour, we retired to the Monte Carlo for a buffet dinner and a well-deserved rest. We took it easy on our last morning, savoring a swell Hawaiian breakfast at the Californian Hotel then browsing the Columbia outlet store for more gear before hitting the road back to LA. We’d seen and shot a lot, and everyone had such a good time that we’ve already planned a shorter 3 day weekend for those who missed the first trip. Hitch a ride with us–you won’t be disappointed!