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Friday, April 5, 2019

About Chris' Travel and Photo Tips - A Living Document

Wildlife photography has it's share of challenges; i.e., being in the right place at the right time with the right lighting.  Plus, one needs to be armed with the right tools, positive vibes, and best shooting techniques on auto-pilot.  And in my opinion, it's better to be overly prepared than mildly handicapped.  If not, the mental game is compromised.  And when the mental game is off, the fastest camera in the world can't deliver home runs.

When I prep for wildlife safaris/photo trips, there are a zillion things that I do in order to insure success with the least amount of hassles or gotchas.  I'm a list junkie and this started out as the typical what to bring pack list on my first African safari with Andy Biggs back in 2004.  As you will see, this list continues to grow because the "whys and how" are just as important as the "whats". 

After 40+ photo trips, I painstakingly documented what worked and didn't - ranging from travel prep, weight and logistics to clothing, shooting techniques, tools and workflow - because:
  • Airlines are continually cracking down on carry-on size and weight,
  • Reducing stress is always top of mind and I want travel adventures to be efficient and comfy; especially, when traveling 40 hours door:door and when it's not possible to run to a store when something breaks, leaks, is forgotten or is taken; and,
  • I want good value from my investments; especially, since products that weigh the least (every ounce counts) usually cost a premium.  Note: I have no affiliations with any vendors mentioned in this blog.  
Since I often get requests for advice, I'm sharing most of my action items and logic here in this living resource document.  Check back frequently for updates to: 1) Chris' Packing, Travel and Image Storage Tactics which includes Extreme Cold Weather tips (updated Mar. 10th), 2) How to Shoot from a Safari Land Rover, Safari Prep and Image Workflow (updated Apr. 1st) and 3) Avoiding International Air Travel Grief (updated Apr. 2nd).  For non-photographers, Hack the Hackers and ID Thieves and Don't Leave Money on the Table are handy tips as well. Yep, it's a ton to do and think through; but, no pain, no gain.  For faster browsing:  scroll down one page at a time by pressing the fn key + down arrow (Mac) or use Page Up/Down keys.  To scroll super-fast, press the fn key + hold the down arrow. 



Chris
www.wildliferhythms.com

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Favorite Wildlife Sightings

My Feb/Mar. 2019 Tanzania trip was a blast with 8 lions cubs at 6 -7 weeks old and 5 cheetah precious cubs at 2.5 weeks old.  Also, see my special moment with the Sweetest Serval Baby


Nothing is more special than playful 5 week old leopard twins.  See more images at Blue Eyed Babies.  


A very cherished sighting includes this spunky 3 week old cheetah  cub.  See more images at  Meet Sparky 



These 6 week old old cheetah cubs were animated and beyond precious - see Adorable Triplets

Finding healthy cheetah quadruplets during a very tough drought year made this sighting extra special - see Four Furballs



It's rare to find a leopard mom with 2 week old cubs and sometimes prayers get answered - see Precious Twins


My other love is photographing 2 month old polar bear cubs emerging from their den which I did for 7 years in a row.  2013 was my favorite year because we watched the most animated polar bear family on the planet - see Polar Bear Cubs: Romp and Roll Twins  and stay tuned for more galleries.  


Wednesday, April 3, 2019

How to See Cute Polar Bear Cubs in the Wild


  • From the comfort of your warm, cozy chair if you're practical.  As a reality check: check out this "behind the scenes" video made by ABC Nightline News which was filmed while we were in Churchill, Manitoba in March 2011.  I was thrilled that a few of my images were featured.
  • But, if you can handle the craziness of minus 50 temps with Arctic wind blowing in your face, wearing 22 lbs. of expedition clothing/boots/gloves/mitts, driving for hours on extremely bumpy tundra, staring at tiny den openings from 100 yards away, and praying for happy faces to pop out and smile at your camera, then trek on up to Manitoba near the Arctic Circle.  Although freezing your fingers off isn't fun, the experience is truly magical. 
  • I love watching polar bear babies playing with each other and interacting with their moms; and, I posted several of my fav photo galleries on my website at www.wildliferhythms.com.
  • The only place to see dens/families is at Wapusk National Park in Manitoba, Canada (south of Churchill near Hudson Bay); and, the only lodge/operator is Wat'chee Lodge.  Wat'chee means high spot in Cree; and, the lodge sits on a ridge dotted with spruce trees, often with Northern lights dancing in the sky at this time of year.
  • In the past, Wat'chee Lodge was a closely guarded secret among pro and serious photographers.  But, now that the cat is out of the bag, it's safe to open up the kimono without getting slammed by fellow shooters.  
  • This rustic lodge is open from approx. mid-February to mid-March and there are only 25 co-ed bunk beds available (2 - 4 to a room).  With this very short season and limited number of beds, be aware that the wait list is several years long.  A good way to get in before your name reaches the top of the waitlist is to let Wat'chee know that you're available for last minute cancellations via their website (and then follow up frequently) and/or to sign up with a group that has reserved slots. 
  • Now is not the time to skimp on proper clothing as it could put you at risk.  In order to stay warm, the initial investment for a Canada Goose Snow Mantra expedition parka, Canada Goose Rocky Mountain bibs and Cabela's Trans-Alaskan III Pac boots is obscene (in other words, a multi-year commitment) not to mention investments in adequate wool/polypropylene base/mid layers, hats, gloves/mitts and a heavy tripod/gimbal.  When available, you can rent Canada Goose parkas from the lodge.
  • There's no guarantee that you will see anything for days on end  as mama bear/baby activity can be earlier or later than your given lodge nights.  The train to the lodge to/from Churchill runs 3 times a week, you should request at least 6 shooting days to increase your chances of seeing polar bear babies, the owners do their very best to accommodate your requested number of nights, and repeat guests get bookings priority. 
  • The Wat'chee operation is a labor of love and running the lodge for only a month a year in these extreme weather conditions requires a herculean hands-on effort and investment - more than you can ever imagine.  Mike and Morris Spence - brothers who own and built out the lodge - truly want to share this special experience of seeing polar bear families in/near the dens, while preserving the natural habitat as they remember it from their youth.  
  • Mike and Morris have the most hands-on knowledge on the planet and share knowledge with various polar bear organizations and researchers.  Mike runs guest operations; and, Morris plus good friend Amak, are the best and heartiest polar bear baby trackers in the universe. The rest of the year, Mike, Morris and the small staff go back to their regular jobs; i.e., Mike has been the mayor of Churchill for over 20 years.  
  • The denning area, which became part of Wapusk National Park in 1996, is where the Spence brothers - Mike, Morris, James and Frankie - fished and hunted using traditional traplines with their parents when they were kids, with added knowledge handed down from their grandparents. The property is a refurbished World War II Navy communications base (originally used for Arctic survival training) and is located 40 minutes south of Churchill.  All essential supplies - food, water, wood, gas, building and auto parts, etc. - have to be brought in by train and driven to/from the remote drop off point on snow mobiles.  During the height of the denning season, guests are driven in vans modified to operate on the harsh (aka hard/bumpy) tundra.  Running this operation for such a short window is a herculean logistic challenge given that once the snow melts, the surrounding area becomes a huge marsh with no access except by helicopter.
  • Every resource is precious and the operation is extremely well run.  Keeping Wat'chee vehicles running (and warm) in these harsh conditions is a feat in itself, the food is hearty/good, and    the lodge is kept remarkably warm with only 2 wood burning stoves for heat.  Because there is no running water and the hauled in water is in limited supply, guests should bring their own packets of no rinse bathing wipes and all toiletries for personal hygiene.  Most guests bring dry shampoo and you can use a small pan of water to wash your hair every 3rd day or so.
  • There is no best week to visit Wat'chee Lodge as the season could start early (when families leave earth dens and head to the Bay so that moms can feed on seals) - or late.  After emerging from earth dens, families hang around for a few days (out in the open or next to snow banks referred to as day dens) before starting the 40 mile trek to the Bay.  Since there are over 200 re-usable earth dens in the area, success means being in the right place at the right time.  
  • Researchers say that Hudson Bay's late freezing/early thawing has had consequences on the number of bears in the area.  Less ice and fewer seal meals equates to fewer females strong enough to go into heat.  Even though there have been fewer families per season than a decade ago, it's still worth going to Wat'chee before it's totally too late.
  • I always approach Wat'chee with the expectation that one good sighting per trip would be a win; and, that 3 days of good shooting out of 10 is a home run.  But with wildlife photography, we don't always win on every trip.  So, I'm always braced for goose eggs because it does happen.  If you're not ready for these odds, perhaps Wat'chee is not meant to be because standing outdoors in minus 40 - 50 degree temps will already test your sanity.  
  • Seeing triplets may be brass ring; but, all playful cubs in nice lighting is awesome.  I was blessed with triplets/twins on my first 3 visits, animated twins on my next 2 visits, and single cubs on my last 2 visits.  Wat'chee had 3 sets of twins during the 2019 season.
  • Wat'chee attracts experienced, diehard photographers with great attitudes (no whiners); and it's a great place for exchanging travel knowledge, making new International friends, and seeing Northern lights.  It's estimated that only 500 or so folks in the world have had the opportunity to see moms with newborn cubs in the wild, so finding/watching them is pretty incredible. I want to stress that building a polar bear portfolio is a multi-year commitment as the right expedition clothing (base/mid layers, parka/bibbs, Pac boots, gloves/mitts, etc.) is expensive aka >$2,000, you need a sturdy tripod/gimbal, the learning curve is steep, there are up/down bear activity seasons, you can miss shooting days due to snow flurries/heat shimmers; and, worse case, access to/from the lodge may be delayed due to severe storms. 
  • The ability to get sharp images continues to be a huge challenge, especially when winds are blowing 30 - 60 knots (35 - 70 miles per hour).  Lenses shake, viewfinders and LCDs frost up, batteries drop 50% in minutes, cheeks/fingers hurt, autofocus gets sluggish, tripod/gimbal joints get loose, and rigs blow over when you're not looking; not to mention that it's difficult to operate camera buttons and latches.  Even without the wind, it's a challenge to get low contrast subjects in flat lighting tack sharp; especially, when there are snow flurries and atmospheric shimmers between you and your target 100 yards away.  Being blessed with nice lighting can make all the difference in the world; and, it helps to stay calm when LCDs start to look like snow cones.   
  • It goes without saying that it's critical to be fit and healthy; and, you must monitor and listen to your body to avoid frostbite and other serious injuries.  It's not the time to man up or prove a thing as there's no access to nearby medical facilities; i.e., the train back to Churchill only runs 3 times a week when it's working.  Bring all necessary meds, including OTC sinus/cold emergency supplies, and stay hydrated.
  • It takes a high level of commitment, patience and good karma to make this trip a success.   
  • Being bear-wise is important too.  It's very easy to be engrossed in your viewfinder and not hear the Wat'chee staff telling folks to stick together, be still, not to slam doors, be quiet or to pull back.  When Mike says to pull back, you back up quickly - period!  It's for the safety of the entire group as a polar bear can cover 100 yards in 9 seconds flat.  Also, never  run toward the bears, never walk in front of other shooters in position, and/or set up your tripod too closely 'cause an elbow could knock down someone's rig in a blink of an eye. 
  •  If you're still serious about wanting to see these endearing, endangered babies in the wild, then get on the Wat'chee wait list or find a tour group (i.e., Thomas Kokta).  You also need to get a Wapusk Park Photography Permit before your visit which the the lodge will provide.
  • This is a seasonal business and the very small team works miracles in these harsh conditions (while giving up their normal jobs for this labor or love), so tips in the range of $40 - $50/day are appreciated. 
  • Getting to Wat'chee: take the morning Calm Air flight from Winnipeg to Churchill (or best case the day before to avoid luggage delays).  When taking the AM flight, I typically rent a day room at the Seaport Hotel to re-organize my gear and rest up. Wat'chee staff will take you to the train station* and put you on the 7P train.  After 2 hours, you'll be instructed to de-board in the middle of no where where staff will be waiting for you in modified tundra vans.  Driving on hard tundra is a slow, bumpy  process (10mph) and it takes an hour to get to the lodge.  Bad weather can delay the train schedule and assigned roommates are often asleep upon your arrival.  That is why I always re-organize my gear/clothing back in Churchill so that I'm quiet and ready to shoot the next morning.  Each morning, two experienced trackers search for bear tracks and call it in, then the vans depart 8:30A - 9:30A and return around 7P - 9P.  While waiting for the bear sighting report, photographers anxiously wait in the lobby all ready to go in anticipation of a quick departure.  * In 2018, the trains were not operating and guests were driven to the lodge mid-afternoon. 
  • Before visiting, be sure to review my Baby, It's Cold Outside section below as there's lots of prep work involved; especially, if you want to stay warm and comfortable.  Hopefully, I've taken at lot of the guesswork out of clothing and shooting tactics.   If I can do it, so can you!  


Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Avoiding International Air Travel Grief

Traveling internationally with a ton of gear is a hassle and stressful.  It takes a lot of thought and preparation as every airline and airport has it's own rules and nuances.   Here are some of my lessons learned.  Also, learn more under Chris' Packing, Travel and Image Storage Tactics by scrolling to the bottom of this document.

Avoid Foreign Transaction Fees
  • Remember to charge in the local currency, not USD, when using cards without foreign transaction fees.
U.S. Global Entry, TSA Preê or Mobile Passport App:
  • Apply for TSA Pre√ and make sure that your Global Entry number is added to your airline profiles.  
  • Get U.S. Global Entry for $100, it's good for 5years, and United's Explorer Visa card will cover the cost if you pay with it.  In Oct. 2017, the GOES log-in system was superseded by the new Trusted Traveler Programs (TTP) log-in system and you need to set-up a new password for your PASSID #.  There's also an option to bypass kiosks lines with the Mobile Passport Control app at some airports but I haven't tried it.  Note: scanners are sensitive to lotion/sunscreens and long flights dry out skin, making it hard for scanners to read fingerprints.  So, agents suggest that you rub finger on your forehead/neck to lubricate with natural oil.
Checking In and Boarding:
  • Avoid lost luggage issues by double checking your luggage tag's final destination before agents take your bag. Once your bag disappears on the belt, it's tough to get tags corrected with certainty.  
  • Delta Gold SkyMiles and United Platinum cards help to get you in the first boarding groups.
Smaller Aisles and Rows Mean More Liquid Hazards
  • If electronics are splashed, they can die days after the occurrence from moisture slowly seeping inside.  If this happens, turn electronics off immediately and try to draw any moisture out with desiccants/rice after landing. 
Hack Pickpockets, Purse Snatchers, Plane Pirates and Baggage Thefts
  • Traveling to Europe/3rd world countries is stressful because of notorious pickpockets.  It happens in the blink of an eye, especially when nicely dressed thieves work in teams; i.e., see Will Smith's 2015 movie called Focus.  
  • So always look and stay alert, dress indiscreet and never fumble with wallets.  That's why I use a quick/easy decoy wallet (a Thin King card holder for a driver's licenses/2 cards).  Other credit/debit cards are stashed in a slim Ridge wallet or mesh pouch which are hidden in a cargo pocket*, a Clever Travel Companion tank (2 hidden zippered pockets), or a slim runner's belt for skinny jeans; i.e., the SPI Glide for holding a passport/phone.  When I have a ton of small bills - i.e., for tips in India - I use comfy REI leg wallets which works best at hiding currency bulges.  They're discontinued now but stay on the lookout.  I also add Nite Ize MicroLock carabiners  to secure purse zippers. * Nice women's cargos are hard to find and I likRab's sturdy/lightweight @12 oz.  Sawtooth pants with 4 large zippered pockets. I buy BluffWorks travel pants for my husband which doubles as dress pants. 
  • With stricter carry-on limits, photo accessories go into checked luggage and it's always stressful because friends have had items stolen; i.e., see this CNN video of baggage handlers riffling through bags; including, inside luggage bays on airplanes.  For expensive and critical items - i.e., monopod heads, gimbals, camera chargers and flashes - I lock them inside my daypack (ThinkTank Glass Taxi/Limo) and then cover the bag with an ultra light dry sack secured with straps with hope that lazy security agents or baggage thieves won't bother.  
Avoid Gate/Valet Checking 
  • After seeing employees drop/toss bags down chutes many times like this and hearing first hand report of bags roughly stuffed into cargo holds, I never/ever valet check my camera bag.  Videos like this might change your mind as well.  
Airline, Airport and Bush Plane Tidbits
  • Re-verify carry-on/baggage weight rules for every airline segment being flown before departing.  And always have a worst case back-up plan in case your airline reduces the # of allowed carry-on bags on the day of departure (had that happen with Lufthansa and KLM). 
  • If flying KLM to Amsterdam, you go through security upon arrival and departure; and, sometimes they require all cameras/lenses out.  When I fly from SFO to Arusha in TZ via AMS, I have a long layover, 20 hrs, so I stay overnight at the Sheraton Hotel (a 2 minute walk off the Arrivals lobby).  Departing is a little convoluted, so I return to the Arrival lobby 3.25 hours beforehand and go up one level to the departure check-in kiosks (escalators/elevators are to the right). That's because there's often a long line to use the self-check-in kiosks followed by another long line to self-weigh bags.  If you're instructed to see an agent after the weigh in, go directly to the service desk as opposed to waiting in line again.  Next, go to bag drop off and then to security and Customs (another level up) before going back down again to your gate (typically E/F). Starting early beats the crowd aka waiting lines and allows time for Starbucks and/or shopping.  Note: getting a Gold Delta SkyMiles/AMEX card gives you priority boarding and the Delta SkyMiles Medallion program gives you access to much quicker KLM SkyPriority lines. Note: If you buy air tickets form Delta, you can only reserve Comfort Plus seats for the legs that Delta flies in advance which is why I buy my tickets directly from KLM.  If you have a Priority Pass card, there are lounges in Terminal 1 and 3. 
  • Carry-on Bag Hassles:  Some United Star Alliance Partners are ridiculously callous regarding carry-on; i.e., allowing only one personal item on some days and/or being painfully strict on weight; i.e., Asiana and Lufthansa.  KLM can be strict/ruthless as well and I've seen Calm Air even weigh jackets.  The success of photographer boarding tactics gets worse each year, so it's best to streamline to the max - ounce by ounce.   
  • Boarding Area/Carry-on Tactics Rule #1: Look compact, nibble, lightweight and groomed.  This is easier said than done if you're height challenged like me as pro camera gear/bags look smaller proportionally on a tall person.  As a result, when selecting backpacks for my personal item, I look for bags that are narrower than my body so that agents don't notice; i.e., for photo trips I use a 1.5 lb. Arc'teryx Sebring 18L vs. my normal Tumi Colina tote.  My camera bag, a GuraGear Bataflae 26L, is always on a luggage cart which allows me to walk tall and light on my feet; and, the profile is kept slim (aka outer pockets are empty and I cut off the straps).  I also dress so that my outerwear blends in with my bags aka monochromatic. I never wear a loaded vest or light colors which causes more security scrutiny.  Lastly, I avoid standing next to folks with oversized bags or tons of stuff because that calls attention to gate agents as well.  All of my bags are listed in the section below "Putting Travel Bags on a Diet - Ounce by Ounce."
  • See-through mesh zippered pouches are great for keeping things organized and reducing weight.  Plus, they make it easier for security agents to see what you're carrying without messing up your packing system.  Walker Bags have the best quality/sizes; but, I also buy sets at Barnes and Noble and amazon. My favorite sizes are 4 x 9" and 3.5 x 7" which maximizes travel bag space when stood on their ends; and, because the flat profiles keeps cords and personal items condensed.  I also like 2 x 7" for thumb drives/small batteries, and the 3 x 4" for business cards/cash.  I also use slim credit card wallet w/vinyl windows which holds two Samsung SSD drives inside my cord mesh.
  • When reducing travel weight is essential, I double up eyeglasses (i.e., in the Sun Cloud Trekker using cloth sleeves as protectors), swap to plastic see-through cases and/or check my spare. 
    • Boarding: If you have a Star Alliance Gold/Platinum card, keep it handy to get into the better airport lounges and/or to board with the first group.  The Delta SkyMiles Gold AMEX card gives you early boarding as well.
    • Connecting Flights (Especially When Small Planes are Involved - Int'l or domestic): always plan extra travel days in case of bad weather flight cancellations or for luggage delays.  That's because Alaskan/African/Indian commuter flights and tundra trains aren't always scheduled on a daily basis.  
    • Protect your overhead space/gear: early boarding is great for getting overhead space by your seat.  But, beware of rude folks who try to jam heavy items on top of your camera bag and/or try to move things around if you're not paying attention.
    • Germany: Allow for extra time getting through large airport terminals and multiple security/passport lines upon arrival and departure even when connecting In Frankfurt, it takes about 45 minutes to get from Terminal 1, pier B lounges to pier A/Z gates. If you arrive in a pier A gate and depart in a pier Z gate (same area, different levels), you still have to walk to the center  of the spoke and go through passport control before going upstairs and then walking back out to the gates (>45 min. depending on where you are in the passport line queue.  Note: to board a Z gate plane, you need to walk down a set of stairs. If you want to go to the main restaurant/shopping arcade (pier B), you need to allow time to go through two securities; i.e., to enter pier B and again when re-entering pier A/Z.  And sometimes, the airport makes you go through a bogus A to Z route so that they can hustle pier A to B/C passengers (a longer distance) through passport/security more quickly.  And if you are flying SAA, passengers line up at the gate 30 minutes or more before boarding time.  In the Frankfurt Lufthansa Senator lounge, many of the floor plugs by the comfy leather chairs are broken, so carry an extender in case you need to share with other passengers.  Also, if you're flying coach and thinking about boarding from a 2nd level Senator lounge, don't do it as you'll be entering from the back of the aircraft aka against the flow of traffic.  Lastly, some of Lufthansa's gates in Frankfurt have self-scanners, so boarding has been reduced to 30 - 40 minutes prior to departure (good news if you have a short layover).  
    • South Africa: Arriving in Johannesburg: Airport/hotel porters and van drivers are happy with dollar bills; and many bush camps accept U.S dollars/credit cards.  So, check before leaving home.  If you only need a small amount of rand (i.e., 60 rand per checked bag for shrink wrapping when you leave the country, refreshments and server tips), the ATM's are located in the Domestic terminal on the left hand side (on the opposite side of the main lobby).  If you need more rand, the currency exchange kiosks are located in the baggage area and to the left before you enter the main lobby.  The minimum exchange fee was $25 the last I checked which is why I use the Bank of Barclay ATM.  Note: I've always tipped game drive rangers in U.S. dollars using a mix of $50/20/10/5 new'ish bills.  Avoid carrying $100 bills to 3rd world countries because they're more concerned with counterfeit issues; especially at hotels.  If you need sundry items/adapters, the stores are located in the Domestic terminal (a short walking distance).  nice and reasonably priced hotel near the airport is the Protea Hotel.  The Sun Inter-Continental is excellent and right across the street; but, the rates are now 3x more.  Catch the Protea shuttle across the street from Terminal A which is where International flights arrive.  Walk down the pathway between the the parking garage and the Sun Inter-Continental Hotel and head towards the back.  Shuttles leave every half hour.  Vat refunds leaving Johannesburg on international flights: You can only get a VAT refund if you show an official your purchases on the first level of the airport.  This means that you need to get a form stamped before you get your luggage shrink-wrapped and before you check-in your luggage with your airlines.  After going through security on the 2nd level, you then have to process the refund voucher.  Next, you go to a nearby bank kiosk to get your cash.  Note that refunds are in rand.  Flying on South African Airlines: check in for flights is in Terminal B.  Then, take the elevator one level up to get through security (laptops out, not liquids).  At the gates, there are no orderly coach/business class lines or any orderly process at the boarding gate.  Once it's time to board, it's a no holds bar stampede.  So, be ready.  Pay attention to flight announcements so that you hear them, especially the one that says to cover your face/nose before flight attendants walk down the isle and spray the cabin with bug spray.   Flying on smaller bush planes (i.e., Federal Air)  means dealing with extremely strict weight limits of 44 lbs. for total bag weight. So, bite the bullet and purchase a 2nd seat to avoid travel grief.  The price/per seat each way is approx. $300  which you can mitigate if traveling with a buddy or two.  Note: With the extra seat, you still need to get permission in advance to carry your gear into the cabin.  The Federal Air kiosk is located between the parking garage structure and the Sun Intercontinental Hotel, in the back (across from Terminal A).   Arrive an hour before departure as flight times change on a dime's notice.  If you are departing on Lufthansa or United, the check-in counter is #101 and all the way to the left side of the cavernous multi-airlines check in counters.  Of course, they always drop you off at counter #1.  Once through security, Lufthansa/United co-share lounges with South African Airlines and the Senator lounge is very nice. Note for the ladies: there are only 3 stalls for the entire large Senator lounge which means that the queue can get long right before boarding times.  So if you need more timing for changing clothes, etc., don't wait to the last minute.  In addition, Lufthansa lets you check-in several hours before departure (i.e., 5 hours plus) as opposed to South African Airlines.  If you need more than a bowl of soup/light sandwich in the SAA lounge, have lunch at the fairly new Italian restaurant across from the check-in counters in Terminal A before checking in (handy when you're still lugging around checked baggage).  Otherwise, there's a couple of small eateries on the other side of security for both Terminal A/B.
    • Reduce lost luggage risks by allowing at least 3 hours or more for connections.   If your luggage isn't with you at the start of a safari, it might not show up for days, if at all.
    • Botswana:  I've learned (the hard way) to check-in early when leaving Johannesburg for Maun on Air Botswana.  That's because luggage doesn't always get on board.  And, because camp:camp bush planes aren't daily, you may have to charter a plane to deliver your bags before you leave for another camp aka expensive.  If not, there's a real risk that your luggage won't catch up with you until the end of a safari.   Also, pay attention to the muffled flight announcements and cover your face/nose before the flight attendants walk down the aisles spraying nasty pesticides!
    • African bush planes: some planes are only 4 seaters, which means that the cargo hold is proportionately small.  If you don't heed by the rules of using soft duffels, your luggage or long lens case may not fit in the cargo bay.  Since weight limits are very lean/strict at 20kg or 44 lbs. - and everything is weighed for safety purposes -  now is the time to radically pare down; i.e., see my Putting Gear on a Diet - Ounce by Ounce below.  Don't make the assumption that because you're petite that you can get away with more luggage. That's because weight is averaged out (and the "planning average" is less than the "actual average" of most Americans).  Plus, planes are typically loaded with bush supplies and/or luggage catching up from earlier flights.  Don't take the risk of missed luggage because it's a headache.  As mentioned, I always buy an extra seat, use my lightest weight duffel - Kinesis @ 2.2 lbs. or Eagle Creek No Matter What rolling duffel @ 3.4 lbs. (not stuffed so that it crushes down), a pared down photo backpack @ 3.7 lbs, and a no frills tote/brief/backpack to and from the int'l airport and in between camps.  
    • Canada:  Flying on Calm Air from Winnipeg to Churchill can be a risk for checked bag #2, unless you're willing to pay an extra fee for guaranteed freight, or fly in on an earlier flight.  If you want to reduce major stress, read the carry on rules and luggage weight limits carefully.  Some agents follow these rules to a tee and some are more lenient with Canadians.  Wear a jacket with large pockets to hide some of your weight; but, don't look overstuffed or else agents will weigh your jacket as well.  Personally, I only put small, dense items in my jacket, like batteries, portable drives and camcorders, etc. along with eyeglasses and other flat items.  On this flight, I pare down to the absolute minimum as described in more details under Small Plane Tactics under the Putting Photo Gear on a Diet section below.  Depending on your total weight (carry-on plus checked luggage), overweight fees can range from $25 - $300, and hundreds more if checked as guaranteed freight.  
    • Adapters: Use seatguru to see if your airplane has A/C (if so, carry the appropriate cord/plug).  Also, carry euro airplane jacks for your earbuds along with a spare. 
    • Airport lounges: check online airport maps before departing to identify the most convenient lounges as airport personnel don't always give you the right advice.  And since floor outlets near comfy lounge chairs don't always work or are occupied, carry a plug extender in case you need to share with other passengers.

    Be Ready for the Next, Next Leg and 3rd World Tactics
    • Going on international photo trips means lots of adjustments and tweaking; i.e., for airlines with different carry-on rules, planes with different storage space, airports with different security measures, lodges/camps with different amenities; and vehicles (bush planes, buses, trains and jeeps) with different configurations.  The goal is to be as efficient as possible without gotchas along the way.
    • It's takes an effort to pack organizers/bags in a manner that's easy to shift gears - in route and between hotels/camps - so that things are in the right place at the right time without have to rummage around.  My tactic is to work with a Packing and Workflow list that's tailored by trip.  I mentally walk through how I'm going to carry things on the next travel leg, identify where things need to go, and make reminders for important action items (i.e., getting local cash, checking luggage status, and swapping out adapters, etc.).  That's because sleeping aids, lack of rest and jet lag can easily fog the brain.  Important sundry items/adapters are redundant so that there's no need to move items between bags (carry on, day bags and toileties) I also pre-pack items in separate mesh pouches so that I can utilize a pick & pack approach; i.e., the travel home outfit, rain kit and game drive kit, etc.  And, all important travel docs/references are stored in my laptop/iPhone/iPad - plus, a notebook.  
    • Since travel connections can be tight if flights are delayed, it's important to be organized and ready for the next, next leg; especially, when switching from an international to domestic flight or to a small airplane.
    • When traveling to 3rd world countries, there's a much higher risk of travel interruptions and it's easier to address problems if you're prepared; i.e., having all local telephone #'s handy (airlines, hotels, credit cards/banks and embassies) for each country that you're visiting.  Since cell service may not be available and/or wireless is often slow, have important travel resources bookmarked and copied into an Emergency Contacts file (i.e., how to get a hold of AMEX Global Assist).  You'd be surprised as to how hard it is to hunt for customer service numbers when you need it.  When important telephone/policy numbers are written down, you're more efficient when using public computers or asking for assistance.  And since companies are always enhancing security measures, know your answers to security questions.  Researching hotel options and airline lounge hours in case of emergencies before departure is also valuable.  Lastly, I always pack a few tees/undies, a shower kit and a mini sundry/cosmetic/first aid kit in carry on in case of major luggage delays or longer than expected airport layovers. 
    Tips for First Timers to India: 
    • If you're traveling out of the Delhi International Airport or flying domestically within India, radically prune your carry-on bags down to the bare minimum before entering the security line.  If not, security will examine every inch of the bag with a fine tooth comb and it could take 30 minutes or more for every pocket and pouch to be opened and/or emptied out.  Make certain that every tool, including simple L wrenches, and non critical items are banned to checked luggage.  Even though I follow my mantra, I've still had to remove camera and lenses and put them in a flimsy plastic bin for re-X-raying.  Good grief!  And, make sure that everyone in the group is on the same page because one delay is a delay for all. 
    • Re-think what you pack. At domestic airports, they also do a pre-screening X-rays scan on checked luggage, like Hawaii, except you have to take everything out if they have concerns.   On my last visit, my Gitzo monopod was scrutinized because of the rubber grip and my dust air blower really gave them grief.  So, only pack your must-haves.
    • Re-think how you pack.  Unfortunately, the dust blower was packed inside a day bag buried at the bottom of my duffel (a pain to remove with foot traffic all around).  So now, I always put the blower inside a baggie at the top of my duffel with a friendly note/photo explaining it's purpose.  
    • Don't use rolling camera bags for carry-on unless you're willing to risk your bag getting snatched away as checked luggage.  Also, be careful when selecting airlines if your carry-on is overweight as foreign airlines can be very rigid.  On my last visit, I used a small ThinkTank Acceleration backpack with a removable Samsonite luggage cart (same carry on as the previous year, same airline, same route).  I never had trouble with Asiana before.  But on this trip, I got serious grief departing and returning - in Biz Class!  A supervisor physically yanked the camera bag out of my hands and placed it onto the conveyor belt as I gasped in disbelief.  The fact that my gear was fragile and cost a small fortune did not faze him.  I managed to keep my bag by a quarter of a thread; but, my travel buddies did not fare as well.  So, be warned.
    • Make a pack with buddies to watch over each other's gear before/ after the security X-ray machine.  With everyone having their own security hurtles and hassles, it's easy for things to fall between the cracks.  Unlike the U.S./Canada, you are not allowed to hang back and watch your valuables disappear into the X-ray machine.  To add insult to injury, females are segregated and moved to another line - up to 3 lanes away - in order to get patted down in a closed curtain booth.  In the meantime, more folks are cutting into your original X-ray line.  So by the time you get back to your belongings, items are separated and/or buried under a pile of other travelers' stuff.  So, plan accordingly and be on top of your mental game.  
    • Remove all tools and extra stuff including lipsticks: A friend who just returned from another wildlife trip inadvertently left a small pair of personal scissors in a pouch.  Even though they were readily found, every other pouch had to be opened up and examined as well.  Ditto for a guy friend with a small L wrench and searches can take up to 30 minutes per person!  
    • Think twice before checking expensive lenses in baggage:  If you're a risk taker and check your lenses internationally, be warned that you might not be able to get your long telephoto lenses into the country.  A buddy had his 400/2.8 lens detained by Indian customs.  His only saving grace was that the lens was registered with the U.S. Customs Dept. and he had his original U.S. Customs stamped paperwork on his possession (plus it required some ransom/bribery cash).  It took over 4 hours of multiple meetings and tons of paperwork to get the lens released.  
    • When traveling to India, you are not allowed to take rupees in or out of the country.  I try to carry cash for small items in order to avoid credit card ID theft and because finding a working/secure ATM machine can be your worst nightmare - I highly recommend that you exchange your currency at the airport upon arrival for all service/game drive tips, laundry, drinks/water, luggage fees, spending money and emergency cash, even if you arrive in the middle of the night.  That's because money exchangers in town don't stock small bills, especially if you arrive on a weekend.  Also, save your money exchange receipt because you will need it for changing your rupees back to USD when leaving the country.  Be prepared to lose around 8% on the dollar - the exchange cost in both directions. 
    • Ask for smaller bills from the get-go:  It's difficult to find and change larger 1,000 rupees for smaller 100 and 50 rupees which you will need for tips and miscellaneous purchases.  Your best bet is buy $100 packs of 100 and/or 500 rupees when exchanging your money upon arrival at the airport.
    • Best way to carry a wad:  $20 U.S. dollars equals 1,000 rupees.  So, a wad of 50, 100, 500 and 1,000 rupees for a 3 week visit will be heavy and several inches thick.  It's not easy to be discreet or comfortable carrying this much cash.  I found that the most comfortable way of carrying a wad of rupees is to use 1 - 2 lightweight nylon ankle/calf wallets which eliminates chest lumps and/or a bulging tummy.  My favorite REI calf wallet has been discontinued but there are similar options on amazon.
    • Traveling to India isn't for everyone.  You have to like the culture, people, food (yum), noise, aromas and challenges.  For me, India is mesmerizing with so much history and emotion.  And, endangered Bengal tigers are magical to see in the wild.  

    Monday, April 1, 2019

    How to Shoot From a Safari Land Rover, Safari Prep and Image Workflow

    Friends are always asking me how I keep my camera and long lens steady when shooting from open land rovers and jeeps.  As my friends and family know, a simple answer just isn't in my DNA.  And since I can't handhold a super-telephoto lens, my response typically goes like this: 

    Cameras, Lenses, and Support Techniques
    • I tweak my packing tactics depending on airline rules, type of planes, camp terrain, type of vehicle, distance of subjects, and the number of folks on the vehicle. 
    • Airlines are getting unbearably strict with carry-on weight and trying to figure out what "not" to bring is the most stressful aspect of safari packing.  As a result, I always define priorities before selecting what gear to bring because there are always trade-offs and I limit myself to 2 - 3 lenses.  If priorities are rock solid, then missed shots from not having additional focal lengths are less important in the overall scheme of things.  
    • My priorities are Big Cat and polar bear babies (even though I love all wildlife), so in Africa I pack the Canon 1Dx II with the 500mm f/4 IS II, a 1.4x III and a 1Dx with the 100-400 IS II.  If minimal travel weight is imperative, I take the 7D Mark II in lieu of the 1Dx with the 70 - 200mm II.  My 3rd lens is a short zoom or fixed.  For polar bear babies, I pack the 800mm and 1.4x III teleconverter (because of the need to stay 100 yards away) and a 100-400mm IS II for emergencies only.  In Africa where my focus in on cheetah/leopard cubs, I commit to shooting at 700mm the entire trip because I don't like to change lenses during a safari, even if it means having too much lens for other subjects, shallower depth of field and more lens shake.
    • If scenics, landscapes and animal-scapes are important to you, then consider traveling with 2 smaller bodies to allow room for additional lenses.  See more tips under Putting Camera Gear on a Diet - Ounce by Ounce under the Chris' Packing/Travel Tactics section below.  Keep in mind that every camp/terrain/vehicle is different and you'll never have everything that you want, so just do the best with what you have and be creative.  
    • I also pack a P&S or small camcorder for memory shots.  In 2012, I had one of those once in a lifetime video ops and the tiny sensor on the Canon S95 didn't do it justice, an ache that never went away.  So I switched to a small Sony GW77V 20.4MP CMOS camcorder (30-300mm @ f/1.8-3.8, 6.6 oz.).  This little Sony still delivers when I don't bring the Canon G3X (24-600, f/2.8 - 5.6) or Canon G7X II (24-100mm, f/1.8-2.8). The iPhone Xs Max comes in handy as well.
    • For those who don't own a 500mm or longer (or choose not to rent), I should note that I've successfully shot with the 300mm f/2.8 as my primary lens on a full frame body on several trips.  This works if you're not a birder, and more so at private reserves in Botswana/South Africa because you can get closer to subjects while driving off road.  I never take my 800mm f/4 to Africa because subjects at longer distances are more susceptible to heat waves, subjects at nearer distances have less depth of field, and because birds are a lower priority.
    • In Botswana/South Africa, I book an extra bush plane seat because of strict weight and safety limits. This enables me to carry gear inside the cabin and mitigates the risk of my checked bags getting bumped onto a later flight. This does happen and when it does, it could take days/weeks for luggage to catch up. 
    • In Tanzania, I drive to/from my destination even though it kills an entire day.  But, this avoids bush plane weight constraints.
    • For camera support, my "no brainer" method is to use the Skimmer Ground Pod II with a RRS Monopod Head MH-01 on top of a SkimmerSack molar beanbag for vehicles with roll bars and side windows.  I like the tilt function of mono heads because I can fine-tune my lens angle while keeping my camera/beanbag flat and balanced.  When I need more height for reducing neck/shoulder strain, I stack a flat beanbag on top or a riser.  
    • I pack several other beanbags as well - a custom 8 x 10" ultra suede gift, several Kinesis Safarisacks and Andy Bigg's small Anansi - that I use to cushion cameras from banging against each other or the doors when driving around on bumpy roads, for bracing gear against seats to avoid excess vibration, and/or as knee/back cushions.
    • I pack beanbags empty and fill them with seed, rice or bean which I request from camps during booking or I purchase locally after my arrival; i.e., in Karatu near the Crater in Tanzania. This valuable staple is always returned to camp or gifted at the end of my visit.  As reference, 20kg of beans will fill one large molar, a small beanbag and a SafariSack.  Also beans can stress the SkimmerSack's seams and I reinforce them with Tenacious Tape.  
      • In open vehicles with slippery roll bars - i.e., Botswana/South Africa - my "get it sharper” method is to use a collapsed monopod.  The monopod foot is positioned on my seat between my legs, my camera is leaned against the molar beanbag, and I press one knee into the front seat with one foot planted in front of the other.  I also drape an elbow over the roll bar or against it.  As needed, I do the same in reverse using the back seat as the anchor point.  This beanbag-monopod system gives me the most speed and flexibility for shifting side: side, forward:back and pointing upwards for subjects in trees or rocks. And I can sit/wait/watch as long as needed with my body relaxed.  Before the vehicle stops, I'm already in position to get the cleanest shot shooting through thick foliage, i.e., when photographing tiny 5 week old leopard cubs peeking out of their den.  Being able to adjust my camera position freely helps to wrap the light more effectively as well.  And if obstacles or someone is blocking my view, I can lean back and work with the monopod from the floor.  To keep it steady, I wrap my left foot around the lower leg and the mid-section is pressed against my outer thigh/inside calf.  

      • For the monopod, I use the beefy, compact and travel friendly Gitzo GM5561T along with a Gitzo Big Foot All Terrain shoe secured with blue Loctite.  I also have egrips on the bottom of the foot.  Attached is a .9 lb. Really Right Stuff Monopod Head (MH 01) and a 12 oz. RRS Universal leveling base.  I also had years of success using the 1.8 lb. 4th Generaton Designs Mongoose 3.6 Action Head plus 5 oz. Integrated Low Mount Arm and position all adjustment knobs - lens rotation, the monopod head and leveler - for my left hand so that I can keep my eye on the viewfinder while adjusting things to minimize shooting lag. Note: the newer 3.6.1 version is lighter at 1.4 lb. 
      • RRS's knob version clamps are more versatile if using lens plates from various vendors; but, I prefer their lever version clamps because they're faster to install/de-install throughout the day.  And since I'm always adjusting the leveler knob, there's less risk of grabbing a monopod head knob by mistake.  
      • RRS monopod head/leveler vs Using the Mongoose: Both weigh about the same but RRS packs lighter without the optional leveler.  The RRS rig is easier to hold on my lap; i.e, when sitting next to a driver; whereas, the Mongoose rig is more stable when leaned against molar beanbags (more surface contact) or laid on the seat (less rotation).  The Mongoose's L shape is nicer for holding while shooting (aka less stress on the lens); whereas, the RRS rig is easier to use when shooting on a roll bar and the subject is perpendicular to the vehicle.  The RRS rig also takes less packing space.  
      • I also use Hoodman HoodEye eyecups on all cameras because the HoodEye comfortably molds against my face resulting in less pivoting or wiggle room. In addition, it cushions the eye from the weight of the camera/lens when shooting up into koppies (rock formations).  Note: they will tear after a year or so from wear and traveling between snug bags dividers.  So, I always pack a spare in my emergency kit.
      • Beanbag + Monopod 101: It's important to lock down solid - monopod, face, elbows, knees and feet; and, to relax the upper body.  Whatever set up you use, always keep a hand on your gear to avoid long lenses from bopping someone's head, or whizzing out the window.  If you're changing batteries, cards or a teleconverter - or talking/snacking - have a camera strap wrapped around your wrist for good measure.  In addition, I highly recommend Optech Uni Adapter connectors for peace of mind (to attach your long lens to the camera as another safety measure). 
      • Before the vehicle stops at the next shooting location, have your monopod legs set up at the right length and your beanbag positioned where you'll need it on the roll bar.  It's also important to communicate with the ranger/driver so that he knows where you want to be positioned and at what angle for the best background and lighting - for every subject that you approach.  When folding up and collapsing your rig, be careful not to pinch your fingers or knuckles unless you want a major ouch. 
      • When shooting, my left hand is pressed against the Mongoose/RRS and not on top of the lens barrel which reduces stress on the lens and camera mounts.  If not, lens mount screws can crack (been there) and one wouldn't know it until the camera starts having errors. 
        • Noise and fast motion are your worse enemies, especially if you want to relax subjects; such as, young cubs, birds or skittish elephant and impala.  Remove all jackets, dry sacks and rain covers before reaching subjects (i.e. 50 - 100 yards away) as noise from fabrics can disturb animals, especially non-relaxed cats and very young cubs.  Also, finish unzipping/zipping up bags as well and refrain from sliding around on the vinyl seats.  Note: Wax your bag/jacket zippers before trips for smoother/faster operation.  If you can turn off the shutter sound on your camera body, do that as well.  
        • Important: Talking should be minimized, so use hand signals with your driver/ranger for clarity and speed.  It always amazes me how much people talk in the bush given that sound carries such a great distance, even to the human ear.  Cats are notorious for going off road and hiding in the bush until noisy vehicles pass on by.  Also, find your own subjects to avoid being in the presence of other vehicles filled with noisy passengers; i.e., moms and babies will be more relaxed when you're alone.  I also believe that cats evade negative vibes as well, so be positive and leave restless talkative buddies at home.
        • To keep my 2nd rig stable on vehicle seats, I attach Wimberley M-1's to the lens plate.  They also prevent neoprene covers from getting caught on beanbags when panning.  To assist with shooting the 300/2.8 handheld, I pack my mini-shoulder brace hack - Leica tabletop tripod connected to a 1.1 lb. Giotto MH-1203 655 QR ballhead.
        • In Tanzania where I prefer Land Rovers with row down windows because they're less apt to get stuck in the mud - I stopped packing the monopod and only use the SkimmerSack and spare beanbags plus a Skimmer Ground Pod II/risers.
        • For "shooting directly off the floor" - i.e. from open vehicles in Botswana/South Africa - the SkimmerSack beanbag works great as a lens/elbow rest and a kneelon comforts the knee.  For leopard safaris where subjects are often sitting in trees, the 4th Generation Designs Monopod Companion with Clamp Post is super light and helps to reduce neck strain.  It weighs 15 oz. and packs small in a small baggie.
        • To assess potential shots while keeping a firm hand on expensive rigs, I use a lightweight monocular - the Leica 8 x 20 Monovid @ 4 oz. with Ultravid glass or .56 lb. Leica 8x20 Trinovid binoculars.  Worse case, I pack Zeiss 8x20 T @ only 2.7 oz. 
        • Tripod 101/Air Travel: pack the lightest legs appropriate for the longest lens, discounted by the amount of anticipated usage and the amount/difficulty of walking; i.e., I switch between Gitzo 2, 3 and 5 legs albeit not for Africa.  When shooting with the 800mm plus 1.4x, I use a GT5541 + Wimberley WH-200 combo.  For the 500mm II, I use a GT3540 + Uniqball 45XC combo but have had success with the lighter GT2540 in a pinch.  Note: for safety precautions, I connect lenses to cameras using Op/TECH Uni Adapter Loops.  Regarding IS settings, I normally use IS II or III.  See more specifics below under Putting Photo Gear on a Diet - Ounce by Ounce.  
        Positioning the Vehicle, Be Ready to Shoot in < 5 Seconds
        • The faster you can stop, the quicker you can shoot.  If your driver needs to back up, fiddle with positioning the vehicle or hesitates in turning off the motor, your subjects have either skittered away or relaxed their curious body posture - and, you've just lost direct, wide open eye contact.  

        • And, if you're not ready to rock and roll, you just missed the shot as well.  A minute before the vehicle stops, remove noisy dry bags and have your monopod/bean bags adjusted to the right height and position.  Temporarily cover/protect your camera/lens from dust with a throw over instead.  Also, re-check/decide on your metering.  Be prepared to shoot in 5 seconds or less without swinging your big lens up in a way that startles subjects.  Also have your short lens ready for action.  A male leopard fight lasts 25 seconds or less.  If the driver is fiddling to move you to the perfect position, you just lost some great shots.  So, agree on the best case car position/nose direction in advance - even if you could get closer - and, commit so that you can start shooting ASAP with the motor turned off.  It goes without saying that you need to pick your roommates wisely and that you are on the same page in terms of priorities and readiness.
        • There's never a perfect position when subjects are moving among shrubs or playing erratically, so think strategically and look for clear openings up ahead. Then, have your driver get 30 - 50 yards ahead in order to photograph subjects coming towards you.  If not, you'll only have seconds to shoot before it's time to move the vehicle again (bad for you and stressful for subjects).  Also have a mental plan on how you're going to shoot in multiple directions without having to move the vehicle; i.e., move your body and/or have beanbags set up on both sides of the vehicle.
        •  If subjects are nestled inside shrubs/bushes, look for potential clear openings before the driver stops the vehicle which saves precious shooting time. A bit of grass in the way?  Just shoot and use it for framing.  Then, try other positions after you're gotten some worse case shots; i.e., it's better to crop than not get the shot at all. 
        • Preferably, I like to shoot to the left, with the vehicle angled 30 degrees to the left (10P position) when shooting off of roll bars.  This is more comfortable on the neck/shoulders, great for left eye dominant shooters, and it avoids hitting the driver in the head with long lenses. 
        • With skittish subjects - like mothers with babies and zebras - I always start further away and slowly move closer as appropriate.  
        • With shy subjects - like near distance birds and certain antelope (kudu, nyala, klipspringer and steemboks) - I ask for the vehicle to be stopped immediately and angled 20 degrees to the left or right (since there's no time to fiddle with re-positioning the vehicle or turning it around).  
        • With subjects high up in trees - leopards, birds and monkey/baboons - shooting straight ahead (at 12 o'clock) is fine because shooters can shoot over one another; and, it's more comfortable on the back.
        • Ranger/drivers can't read your mind or predict your real-time shooting objective.  So, communicate clearly and politely before you reach your subject/s.  Hand signals - i.e., cut the motor - are more effective when there's a noisy motor or loud wind.  Be a teammate - aka don't act like a boss - as genuine respect goes a long way.  In addition, drivers respond much faster when you learn key phrases in their local language.
          • It's not a shot unless it's sharp.  And, it's not sharp unless you can print it large.  So, if it takes longer than you'd like to get set up and locked down solid, stick with the basic beanbag (the easiest) and practice with the more complex monopod combo when appropriate; i.e., while waiting around for sleeping lions to liven up.  Know that you'll get more efficient the more you practice. You don't want to be fiddling around when others are ready and trying to shoot; or, risk missing that critical magic moment.
          • Work just as hard in spotting subjects as you have a broader and higher 300 degree line of sight; whereas, ranger/drivers are concentrating on avoiding elephant/anteater pot holes, hidden rocks/logs and thorny trees branches in addition to driving smoothly on bumpy roads while trying to spot for subjects.  
          • Take turns with your buddy on scouting to the right or to the left to increase overall results.  Develop a rhythm for checking near:far and high:low.  Don't get complacent and try to be the first vehicle at a sighting.  Train your eyes to spot subjects in trees and behind bushes as you whiz on down the road (aka easy for drivers to miss). 
          Key to Success
          • Commit to specific priorities and book the camps or lodges that have the highest probability of success; and most importantly, at the right time of the year.  Personally, I like green grass in my background with foliage short and lush rather than long and dry.  As it's difficult to predict the perfect timing for a trip (after some rain but before the heaviest rainfall when it becomes too muddy to drive and/or when the icky spiders come out), I'm happy if a trip yields at least 2 stellar days out of the total days booked.
          • Since I have very specific goals - i.e., cat and bear cubs - I like to stay 11 - 14 shooting days in one location in order to learn the lay of the land, the behavior/personality of targeted subjects, to give subjects a chance to relax in our presence, and to factor in weather constraints.  Typically, I concentrate on one country/subject/locale at a time for several consecutive years.  This helps to hone tracking knowledge and individual/group behavior traits.  Also, I only visit places where we can drive off road, even if it means bumpier rides or smaller concessions.  If you want young subjects, it's important to learn if the mother is relaxed with vehicles or not.  The mother of this cub was very skittish but we got lucky because she got use to our scent, sound and vehicle after a week of visiting.  It was a lot of hours of sitting around, but worth it for me.
          • If you have the ideal subject/s but no activity or eye contact, force yourself not to drive away, especially if you're blessed with good lighting.  A bird in the hand is worth its weight in gold.  Instead, wait and pray for distractions behind your vehicle - i.e., elephants, baboons, giraffes and impala - for more awesome photo ops.  Without these distractions, aka props, you'll end up with more run of the mill images.
          • It's important to remain totally quiet so that subjects become totally relaxed, can comfortably communicate with each other, and can listen easily for their prey or predators. 
          • If it's necessary to drive away from a primo sighting or potential cub den, return several times a day and sit quietly for a while so that subjects can get use to your scent and voice.  The younger the family, the longer the time investment before you are rewarded with a relaxed mama and decent sightings of her cubs; i.e., 8 - 10 days isn't unusual.  Because my voice is naturally soft, I like to talk soothingly to moms with teats (even when they're hidden or before we've found the den) so that they know that my driver and I are not threats.  
          • Keep a safe distance, use a long telephoto lens (i.e. I normally shoot @ 700mm plus) and watch for telltale signs of stress.  If mama's eyes are half closed when turning your way - i.e., similar to a very mellow domestic cat - then its normally fine. If another vehicle or more drives up and corners her exit path, then it's best for everyone to pull back as cats - especially my very spoiled feral cat - do not like feeling boxed in.
          • If there are other cars around prior to your arrival, drive away until everyone is gone.  Mamas seem to be more relaxed with only one vehicle around along with familiar scents and positive vibes.   
          • If subjects are hungry - aka listening/smelling for prey and waiting patiently - never/ever block their line of sight and smell.  Ditto if there are predators around.  
          • Never spook subjects by getting too close or driving too fast; especially, if they're hunting because it could result in the lost of a meal - and, every catch is extremely important. 
          • Give your subjects time to rest and allow them some privacy on a regular basis.
          • Be prepared to wait as long as it takes - i.e., hours and days - to capture unique images.


          • Lastly, don't forget to look up as well as behind you.  For instance, this leopard cub was up in a tree behind us - for hours - before I finally noticed it.  That because we were all focused on the mom trapped up another tree by a female lioness and a nearby male.  The coolest thing was that this cub never made a peep, even though it had to be hungry. 


          1Dx II/IDx/7D II Camera Settings 
          Updated 3.27.19
          •  I try to keep things simple and always review manuals and the 1Dx/1DxII AF Setting Guidebooks at the start of each year as a refresher.
          • My default settings are: AV, Daylight WB, evaluative metering, Single-Point AF, High fps, EV +2/3 on the 1Dx, and +1/3 on the 1Dx II.  
          • Even though I trust AI Servo, I try to pump in One Shot whenever possible because it's a tad faster and I often have grass/twigs in the foreground, especially with cheetah/leopard/polar bear babies.  In extreme low light situations, I just started to trust my eye with manual adjustments.
          • I use AI Servo Case #1 and my default is 1, 0, 0 for slow moving subjects.  Note: faster acquisition also means faster to lose focus, so it requires more refocusing aka pumping.  When blessed with playful cheetah cubs, I switch to 1, 1, 1 and 4 pt. surround as long as there's no foreground grass.  For running cheetahs, leopards/cheetahs jumping up/down trees, or subjects that spook easily, I switch to 1, 2, 1 or 1, 2, 2.  I always stay in Case #1 and use My Menu as a shortcut for making changes.  For me, it's faster than using the Q button to switch menus, and then moving between Case #s (which my brain has to translate from sports themes), and it avoids overriding accidents when things are narrowly defined under Registered sets.  
          •  I feel that Single point AF is the most accurate of all.  I'll switch to Spot AF point when shooting through grass, and only use 4 pts. when needed; i.e., for romping cubs. 1Dx/1DxII sensors are more bullish in looking for detail and contrast.  So, when more than 1 point is selected, the sensor often locks on something in front of the intended focus point if it has more contrast.  
          • On the 1Dx, my AI Servo default for 1st Image Priority = 0 and 2nd Image Priority  = +1. On the 1Dx II, 1st Image Priority and 2nd Image Priority = 0.
          • My most favorite customization is the ability to set the * button to Start AF/metering in One Shot and High fps; and my AF-On button to Start AF/metering in AI Servo (with no AF characteristics aka a Case #) and High fps.  Be wary of assigning a Case # in this sub-menu because it will override a Case that you set manually if they'e not the same.  If you're not familiar with back-button AF shooting, read this.
          • My M-fn2 button is set to to Start IS when held, valuable because it allows me to keep IS activated when I want to re-focus in One shot.  In other words, it minimizes the 1 second IS delay when re-pumping the back button.  
          • The Depth of Field button is set to switch to my Registered AF point when pressed.  This allows me to switch quickly from a left sided AF point to the most sensitive center AF point (by pressing the Multi-Controller) and/or a registered AF point on the right.  I re-register often and my horizontal/vertical registered points are linked so that I'm approximately where I need to be when I flip the camera.  On the 7D Mark II, register a point by pressing the select + illumination buttons for 3 seconds and on the 1Dx/1Dx II, press the select + ISO buttons.
          • My Menu Items: I set Tracking Sensitivity, AF point switching and Acceleration/Deceleration Tracking as 3 of my 6 items so that I can change behavior on the fly for the currently selected Case without having to drill down under the AF-Magenta menu.  It's my faster way for changing 2nd Image Priority as well.
          • Other My Menu items are: Format Card, Custom Controls,  Record Functions (to change CF card slot) or Date/Time.  On the 1Dx II, I like having the 2nd Menu as well; i.e., for turning hunting off (Focus Search Lens Drive) when there's a lot of foreground grass.
          • My Multi-Controller is set for AF point direction (a press also gets us back to center), the Set button is still set to change ISO, and the M-fn button is used to change the focus point size/area. 
          • Also, I limit my options to speed up on the fly changes; i.e., shooting modes are only AV, TV and M; Zone is disabled; and Low fps is set to 10 (i.e., for lowlight). 
          • set up the 1DxII/1Dx/7D Mark II to minimize time away from the viewfinder. Yes, I could share more settings; but, then you'd never read or study the manual, AF Guide and/or watch Canon videos which are invaluable for those new to these cameras.  I highly recommend that you study, explore, practice, document - and, knock yourself out.  Plus, you'll learn valuable tidbits like fps tops below the max when the battery is below 50%.   
          Selectable AF Points
          • With every Canon camera: I select my own focus point and try to use focus points that are cross hairs because they're more sensitive and accurate.  On the 1DxII/1Dx/7D Mark II, you can set Selectable AF Point(s) to display cross hairs only so that you don't have to memorize or think about it.  My approach is to display All 61 and select from the cross hairs while ignoring the blinking non-cross hair.  And when using f/2.8 and faster lenses, I try to take advantage of the diagonal cross points as well. 
          • Note: alway try to focus on the imaginary cross hair (or vertical/horizontal line that dissects a focus square) to increase accuracy.  And because the vertical line extends outside of the focus square, be aware that the sensor could focus on something (with more contrast) slightly beyond the focus square.  
          • When I see more than one square light up when I'm in Single point, that's a clue for me re-acquire focus.  I also know that if I focus on something with little to no contrast - i.e., polar bear babies with branches in the foreground - there's a high risk of the sensor focusing on the foreground even when I'm in Single point.  Net:net: sometimes, I have to tweak manually,

          Metering and White Balance
          • With the 1Dx/7D II, I use EV + 1/3 to +1  (or +1.5 to +2 in the Arctic) so that I expose all the way to the right.  That's because one stop of underexposure - i.e., the right column in your histogram - is equivalent to throwing away 1/2 of the available pixels for editing.  I then fix my exposure, tonality and mood in post processing which results in cleaner files.  This way, my subjects are less muddy, especially when they're in shade.  On the 1Dx II, I only need to adjust +1/3 EV (or 0 for black bears) due to better metering performance.  This is with Auto Light Optimizer set to off. 
          • If shooting subjects in trees with the sun behind them (aka in shade), I ignore highlight blinkies that come from areas that will be cropped out of the final image.  I also add a gentle touch of fill flash with a bounce card when possible. 
          • I always use Daylight white balance.  Previously, I used Shade because I prefer the warmer tones of cinema film.  However, I find that I get cleaner files if I shoot in Daylight, neutralize color balance with an eyedropper, warm up the tone, and then remove color casts as needed in Lightroom.  Also, Daylight gives me more post-processing consistency over Auto WB.   
          • I shoot in raw, of course.
          • When using the 7D Mark II, it's important to shoot with a higher shutter speed because everything is magnified due to the cropped sensor.  And if you want more perceived tonal depth, stop down more.  When shooting in flat light, I avoid using teleconverters because files look like mush. 
          • Bracketing is set to 1/3 increments. And a quick HDR sans tripod technique is: One shot, LiveView, bracket = 5 and 2 second timer.  This eliminates mirror slap in between.
          ISO/Noise
          • With the exception of the 1Dx II, I'm happiest with files when shot @ ISO 400 or below.  Even though I shoot to the right to eliminate as much noise in the shadows as possible, my brain/eyes can still see noise in the files.  Since I normally have to shoot @ ISO 1600 - 3200, minimizing noise takes some finesse in post-processing.
          • My high ISO noise beef:  When I shoot with a shallow depth of field, foliage gets mushy or painterly aka distracting.  If I shoot with more depth of field, dry grasses get crunchy when sharpened - i.e. halos.  Plus, files look more muddy (green color cast from foliage) and using Clarity gets risky.  As a result, I never sharpen in Lightroom, do a small luminous noise adjustment and leave color adjustment on default unless I shot at ISO 3200 or higher.  After I import into Photoshop CC, I use a gentle dose of NoiseWare and then do import sharpening on the green channel.  Then comes the tedious part: I never sharpen grass, foliage, the background or sky aka I mask them out hair by hair.  Note: sharpening foliage makes reflections hotter (brighter) which distracts in my opinion. I also remove remaining color noise around the face/chest with a Hue/Sat adjustment layer as needed.    
          • Back when I used the 1D Mark IV, this Indian leopard was barely visible to my eye and at ISO 3200, my shutter speed was 1/15 @ f/4 aka no man's land.  To my surprise, I nailed a few.  So after that, I always push my cameras, even if it's just memory shots.  With the 1Dx II, I know that I can shoot as high as ISO 25,600 when necessary to keep the shutter speed up - i.e., these adorable cheetah babies at 2.5 weeks old - even though it's a ton of work in post-processing to address color correction issues.   
          • Important: When buying a new camera, test it and learn it thoroughly before going out on safari as every model has it's nuances; such as, 1) some perform better at 1/3 ISO stops as opposed to whole stops which I use, 2) cross hairs vary, and 3) custom functions are different, etc.  Nothing is worse than leaving awesome photo ops on the table because settings weren't optimized, or having a camera that is plagued with error 99/80 or focus issues.  
          To/From the Land Rover or Jeep:
          • To the vehicle, I carry the 500mm II lens/1Dx II covered in a 55L dry sack and the 1Dx/100-400 II or 70-200mm II combo in a 35L dry sack.  
          • For rain protection in open vehicles, I use 35/55L Outdoor Research Durable Dry Sacks because they last the longest in terms of water/moisture seepage prevention.  They have webbing on the side so that it's easy to anchor them to roll bars/seats with belt straps.  They do, however, weigh 7 oz. each and take longer to dry in heavier rain (waterlogged albeit moisture doesn't get inside).  
          • For dust protection, I use Outdoor Research's Ultralight DryPack Liners 3.0-3.6 oz. I buy dry sacks oversized - aka 35/45/55L - because it's faster to whip cameras in/out, to fold them over several times in rain, and to protect my day bag in rain as needed.  My current preferred dry sack is the lighter weight Ultralight Dry Sacks because they come in a neutral gray (doesn't spook animals) and only weighs 2.5-2.9 oz.  The 45/55L also fits the 800mm/body/1.4x extender combo (with hood reversed).  I also bring a 1.9 oz 15L graphic sack to stow clothing layers and spare gloves, etc. and  a 3 oz. REI backpack cover for faster cover up when vehicles drive by kicking up dust.  After each trip, I fill sacks and covers with water in the tub - to check for water/moisture seepage - and replace them as needed.
          • For my day bag, I like using the Glass Taxi which has an amazing capacity for a small, 2.5 lb. footprint.  With a Test Drive bag attached, it holds my 2nd rig, batteries, a short lens, sunglasses, monocular, P&S or video, iPhone, HoodLoupe, sun hat/bandana, remote cables, map/compass, StormJacket rain covers, Zing neoprene pouches/straps, rocket blower/dust brush, Q tips, Fenix PD25/35 flashlight, Princeton headlamp, microfiber towel, fix-it tools, snacks, sunscreen, eyeglass/Deet wipes, tissue/Wet Ones, first aid, ginger chews, eye drops and gloves/hat/neck gator in winter months.   I tried using cheapo lightweight backpacks but found that the Glass Taxi w/1divider and organizer zip meshes is faster to organize and find things. The Glass Taxi also hides/protects gear - i.e., chargers, monohead, monocular, loupes, flashlights, flashes and spare CF readers, etc. - when checked in a soft sided duffel.  When travel weight is more of an issue, I can get by with a 12 oz. REI Convertible Stuff Tote as necessary Since there's less protection from damage/theft in checked duffels, I stow chargers/valuable items in Eagle Creek/Rimowa padded cubes and layer dry bags, the REI tote and straps around them to keep sticky fingers at bay.  This way, my camera bag, the 26L GuraGear Bataflae, remains cleans for air travel and my daybag is pre-loaded.
          • Note: If sunscreen or deet are getting on LCDs/camera grips from your nose or fingers, clean up often throughout the day with a microfiber towel to prevent damage.

          • Straps, straps and more straps: camera and lenses are tucked inside dry sacks or pack covers, and then anchored to the roll bar on the back of my seat with buckle straps.  The straps keep gear from crashing to the ground during sudden stops and/or bumping against each other Prior to anchoring down my gear, I struggled with holding cameras/lenses on my lap (without dinging them) and also had much more shoulders/neck strain.   I buy mine at strapworks.  To buffer vibrations, I use a small beanbag under lenses and camp blankets under the cameras. Also, I use Op/Tech Adaptor Loop connectors to connect lenses to bodies.

          • Triple rain protection: Having dry sacks and backpack covers on hand provide double protection when sitting in light rain or driving around in mud.  For heavier downpours,  I also use Pro Storm Jacket Telephoto covers.
          • My comfy little strap secret: Typically, one holds onto to the roll bar for stability when drivers are speeding around like race car drivers.  For height constrained folks, this means that your shoulders are hunched slightly forward and are not braced against the back of the seat.  Instead, I prefer to hold onto a strap anchored to the roll bar/seat behind me.  This way, my body and shoulders are planted to the seat and there's much less jarring when hitting potholes.  And, when I loop my arm completely through the strap (modified with a 2nd short strap), I can lean forward and do 180 degree turns for more effective game spotting. 
          • I also strap a couple of pouches to the roll bar (Zing neoprene pouches for fast access to a monocular, P&S camera, camcorder or Hoodman Loupe) and a ThinkTank Lens Drop In pouch (for glasses) in lieu of wearing overstuffed vests.  In Tanzania when there's a seat in front, I sometimes use a 4 oz. Timbuk2 Hidden Messenger bag as a quasi seat pocket.
          • Back on the home front: after returning home, everything is ceremoniously washed down in the bathtub - the Glass Taxi, dry sacks, pouches, beanbags, straps and Eagle Creek cubes et. al - as they are filthy with dust/dirt and potential hitchhikers, etc.  My worst fear is bringing home a batch of giant orb spider eggs (or ticks).
          Evening Routine on Auto-Pilot
          Updated 7.25.18
          • I download Hoodman/Sony CFast and Sandisk UDMA7 CF cards to a 2017 13" MacBook Pro.  For CFast cards, I pack 2 StarTech CFast USB C readers and a SanDisk CFast Extreme Pro reader as back up.  For CF, I pack 2 UniTek USB C readers  plus a spare Hoodman USB 3.  The reason I pack 3 readers each is that I had 2 Hoodmans go wonky on me at the same time (slow) which is nerve wrecking on a safari.  I love CFast cards/readers because they download @ a whooping 24-30GB/minute and the StarTech/UniTeks have built in C cables.
          • Verify that folder sizes (bytes) match up 100% before copying to portable drives.  For drives, I use a pair of Samsung 2TB T5  SSDs which copy @ 35GB/min using the Samsung cable or Monoprice's Select Series C:USB C Gen 2 cables (#27923).  With older Samsung T1 drives, I use Cable Creation's USB C:Micro B 1 ft. cables (so that I don't have to pack adapters) and get 25GB/min. With the Samsung T3, I use Monoprice's C:USB C cable and get 27GB/min.  Note: Cable speed makes a huge difference to me as every minute saved from downloading/backing up is more time for analyzing images and prepping for the next shoot.
          • Do a quick image audit.
          • Top off batteries to avoid having to charge from empty and having potential conflicts with generator/travel schedules.
          • Format cards and re-set camera settings; i.e., back to card slot 1 on the 1Dx II/1Dx. 
          • To learn more about field back up tactics and archival strategy, under Backing Up in the Trenches - My Workflow towards the bottom of this blog.
          • Note: be aware that electrical currents from shared camp generators or overloaded lodge circuits may not be as strong as when testing laptops/devices at home; meaning that: a) it may take longer to charge your batteries and laptops, b) too many devices can blow out circuits, and c) you may not be able to complete your nightly back-ups as quickly as planned.  So, set priorities especially when two shooters are sharing a room.  For example, I make sure that everything is backed up before doing any importing in Lightroom; and, I always top off camera batteries nightly as opposed to waiting until they're drained.  This is even more important with the 1Dx II/1Dx as fps drop by 2 when the battery is less than 50%.  Also, I always unplug everything as soon as I'm done; including, the surge protector.  And, when there's an on/off switch, I remove Canon batteries from the charger before shutting off.  That's because AC interruptions will trigger the calibration lights which is a royal pain in the neck.
          • Remove dust from camera and lenses with a Giotto Q Ball Air blower, a small generic paint brush, and a Giotto Retractable Goat brush plus gray cloth for the lens front.  Then, wipe everything down with a damp towel Note: In India and at some U.S. airports, Giotto's Large Rocket Air blower could get confiscated when going through checked bag security because of it's shape.  Smaller rocket blowers don't work in dusty environments, so the Q ball is a good option.  My current tactic is to place the Q ball in a  baggie (tip bent over) and put it right on top inside a checked duffel.  Inside the baggie is a friendly note that says: "This is just an air blower to clean the front of my lenses and inside my cameras on African safaris where there's a ton of dust.  Please allow and thanks in advance".  I started this tactic in 2011 and since then, TSA stopped opening my checked bags.
          • In dusty environments, I never change lenses unless moving between camps and carry the Visible Dust Mini Quasar 7x sensor loupe for sensor inspections when needed.  Note: I never travel with the loupe's original case (quite large) and use a small Hakuba CF card case instead.  
          • Verify that the All Terrain foot, HoodEyes, BlackRapid straps and other caps/screws/bolts are still on and screwed tight.  Do minor repairs as needed.  If there's moisture or rain, store cameras with Zorb-It packs in a baggie (or use rice in a pinch).  Note:  HoodEyes/Canon Eg eyecups are prone to tearing, so I always carry a back-up.  Also, Hoodman loupes tend to break from the lanyard.  As a result, I reinforce with a small plastic tie and threaded dental floss. 
          • Replenish supplies - AA batteries and sunscreen/bug/handy wipes, etc. - and make adjustments to what's carried out to the vehicles; i.e., rain covers, straps, clothing - or not.  I keep a simple checklist visible so that I don't forget important items; and, to help document my workflow for the next trip. 
          • Force myself to get into bed early as 11 - 12 hour days in the field can be draining.  Also, promise myself to drink more water the next day.
          • On the last eve, all the gear is wiped down with a damp towel and dry sacks are rinsed so that items are relatively clean upon return home.  Empty bean bags, dirty straps, dust covers and pouches are consolidated into one dry sack. 
          Quick Audit of Images:
          • My priority is to analyze what's working or not in terms of my technique; i.e., camera support tactics and sharpness, metering, depth of field decisions and camera settings.  I emphasize the word "quick" because if not, 2 -3 hours will blow on by; and, it'd be way past a decent bedtime for getting up at 5:30 - 6A in the morning.
          • I use Photo Mechanic 5 as my front end to Lightroom because Contact sheet (same as LR's Grid) and Previews (same as LR's Loupe) is wicked fast.  The preview zooming size can be pre-set and then increased/decreased by simply hitting "z" and/or changed in increments with "option or z" plus the "+/-" keys.  A double/single click gets you back:forth between Previews and the Contact sheet.  And, it's easy to learn assuming that you understand a bit about Lightroom file behavior.  Here's a intro tutorial and more in depth tutorial albeit there are many more now on the web. 
          • I use Photo Mechanic strictly for quick reviews before importing to  Lightroom.  The more integrated method is to re-named raw folders during Photo Mechanic's import step (known as Ingest) which are then dragged into Lightroom (on the dock) for importing.  In Photo Mechanic, any captions, copyright info, keyboards or number/color ratings, if done, can be saved to .xmp files which are then stored in the raw folder.  Sport shooters and journalists love PM because the input window is much larger and easier to access/see than in LR.  If you set up colors and descriptions for numbers 6, 7 and 8 in PM to match LR, the color info will carry over during the LR import.  Ditto for 1 - 5 ratings (in PM, you need to press "fn" plus the number).  In Catalog, press "fn plus the up/down" arrows to scroll through pages. And unlike LR, Photo Mechanic will play your video files.  
          • If you make keyword corrections to files in LR (and your catalog setting is √'d to automatically write changes into .xmp), these changes -  i.e., key words - will show up in PM as well (learn how to via the Dan Cox tutorial linked above). 
          • I don't cull images with Photo Mechanic or Lightroom in the field because I can't really analyze critical focus points/ sharpness; or, assess the sharpness of hairs in areas that are most important on a 13"laptop.  Unless it's an obvious user error, I wait until I'm cozy with a large monitor before making culling decisions.  If I tossed every unsharp image, I'd never know if it's a user error or a camera calibration problem that needs to be fixed.
          • Plus, an eyeball is not an eyeball until it's viewed on a large monitor.  The normal rule of thumb is that the 2nd or 3rd image in a burst will be the sharpest because releasing the shutter sometimes causes camera vibration.  However, this doesn't always coincide with the best gesture or when a subject's eyes are the most open or when the pupils are pointing in the most ideal direction.  And in my scorebook, it's all about the eyes.
          • I know my keeper rate and when images aren't up to par, I send cameras/lenses in for servicing and calibration.  I prefer sending gear in via Canon's CPS Platinum program, as opposed to doing user micro-adjustments, because wildlife subjects are never positioned at the same distance; and, one needs to assume a set distance when micro-adjustments are made for a given lens.  
          Packing List: All But Clothing & Tailored by Trip
          • Dust/Rain/Snow/Salt Water/Bug Protection: Outdoor Research Ultralight dry sacks, Optec/LensCoat neoprene lens/body covers, Zing neoprene pouches, buckle straps, Storm Jackets for camera/lenses 1-2 sizes larger than recommended, ThinkTank/GuraGear/REI rain covers and trash bags. B+W XS-Pro Clear with Multi-Resistant Nano Coating 007M filters (repels dust/water spots). Kneelons, Neos River Trekker hip waders, Adventure Overshoes or YakTrax Pro, Original Bug Shirt/bug pants, SeaSummit/OR bug head nets and InsectShield clothing.
          • Gear Cleaning: microfiber towels (various sizes), Q tips, Giotto retractable goat brush, a small paint brush, Giotto Q Ball Air blower*, Arctic Butterfly II, Visible Dust mirror brush, RayVu/Formula MC Lens Cleaner, gray microfiber clothes, alcohol packets, iKlear packets, Visible Dust 7x Mini Loupe, 30x jewelers' LED loupe and eyeglass/iphone cleaning cloths. Note: The Q Ball replaced my larger Rocket blower after I was stopped by security in India. It's less intimidating when the nozzle is bent over, I put it in a baggie with a TSA note, leave it on top of my duffel; and now, TSA never opens my checked luggage.
          • Travel Protection: ThinkTank Glass Taxi/Limo, SunCloud and transparent plastic cases for eyeglasses, LensCoat neoprene Travel Coats, Giotto microfiber lens pouches, ThinkTank pouches (Flash, Test Drive and Lens Drop-in), Rimowa amenities case (fits the Canon 1Dx charger), medium/large Zing neoprene pouches (protects RRS monopod head/leveler and Gitzo monopod for travel), Zorb-It dehumidifier packets), Fragile labels, and TSA note explaining the rocket blower (always packed on top).  If using a REI Stuff Travel Daypack instead of the Glass Taxi, then I protect chargers, etc. in an Eagle Creek padded cube.
          • Shooting Tools: 1DxII/1Dx/7D II bodies, 4th Gen. bi-directional plates, batteries, 500mm/4 IS lens II, 70-200mm/2.8 IS II or 100-400 IS II, 1.4x III teleconverter, a 3rd lens, 256GB Hoodman/Sony CFast cards, 704GB Sandisk UDMA 7 CF cards (plus 192GB udma 5 cards),  3 remote switches, HoodEyes, LensCoat covers, monocular (Leica Monovid/Zeiss 8 x 20) or bins (Leica 8x20 Compact Trinovids) and bean bags (SkimmerSack, custom 8 x 10" and Kinesis SafariSacks).  So. Africa/Botswana = a Gitzo GM-5561T monopod with All Terrain Foot, RRS monopod head, RRS leveling base, 2 Wimberley M-1s, 600EX II flash, Demb reflector/diffuser or FlashBender II, CPE-2/4En battery pack w/Eneloop Pro AA batteries/charger. Tanzania = Skimmer Pod w/risers and RRS monohead/leveling base. Tools: OR dry sacks, Hoodman loupe, map, pocket compass, long/short buckle straps, Op/Tech Uni Adaptor loop straps, shoe strings and carabiners. Camera Straps = UP or BlackRapid w/LockStar, SunwayFoto/Desmond clamps and plate. Non safaris = tripod (GT5541LS/GT3540/GT2540), Wimberly WH-200, Mongoose 3.6 w/L plate or Uniqball 45XC plus OpTech Uni loop connecters/Kinesis tripod strap.  Spares: Gitzo foot, Gitzo screw cover, 77mm lens cap, body cap, HoodEye and Nikon flash shoe covers, Optional:  Cotton Carrier, WalkStool, Wimberley M-4 macro arm (quasi panning lever) and Leica 14100 tabletop tripod w/Giotto MH1302 ballhead/clamp (quasi shoulder brace for 300mm/2.8) or Bogen tabletop tripod (quasi shoulder brace 100-400).
          • Camcorder/P&S: Canon G7XII (3 batteries, 128GB Transcend SDXC #1, neoprene Pedco wrap/OpTech case) or Canon G3X (3 batteries, Hejnar plate, 1/2 chargers, hood/viewfinder, 128GB Transcend SDXC #2/older 64GBs, Tether Tools hot shoe adapter, MegaGear neoprene cover/TT Mirrorless Mover 10 case, Transcend USB 3.0 readers) or Sony GW77V camcorder (3-4 batteries, 1-2 chargers, 2 micro-SDHC adapters and 128GB equiv. microSDHC Class 10 cards), small tripod (i.e., Manfrotto 797 ModoPocket, Peco UltraPod or Gitzo 210B/LD26 ballhead combo).  
          • Packing Aids: Packing/organizing cubes (Eagle Creek original/ Specter and eBags Ultralight) labeled with yellow electrical tape, Eagle Creek compressor baggies for reducing space, colored see-through mesh zip pouches, Kokuyo pencil cases, transparent plastic eye glass cases, large/medium baggies, and sandwich/pill baggies.
          • Image Back-up Tools: 13" MacBook Pro (mid-2017) with 61W adapter/C:C cable (2 sets + extra cable), 3 CFast readers (StarTech with USB-C and Sandisk Extreme Pro) and 3 CF readers (UniTek w/USB-C and Hoodman), 2 2TB Samsung T5 drives and a few spare 1TB drives (T1/T3), Monoprice 18" USB-C:USB-C cables, Cable Creations USB-C:microB cable, a few Apple adapters, and a few Patriot SuperSonic Magnum flash drives.
          • Fix it Tools: Fenix PD25/22 and 2 E05 flashlights, 2 headlamps (Princeton/Black Diamond), pointed tweezers, Squirt S4 Leatherman w/scissors, Sears Craftman 4 way keyring screwdriver, white eraser, small channel pliers, Canon 2.0mm and 2.5mm screwdrivers (Japanese blades), the correct L wrenches, a General multi screwdriver pen, spare RRS/4th Gen/Gitzo screws and bolts, ties/rubber bands, zipper wax, single use loctite/gum drop semi-permanent glue, single use crazy glue, rubber jar remover, a lens pen, alcohol packets, egrips, my Troubleshooting cheat sheet, and pre-cut reflective Kelty cord.  
          • Godsend Tape: mini roll of yellow electrical, pre-cut duct/gaffers/electrical tape strips spread out in various bags, mini scotch tape, Nathan's neon tape, cloth tape for finger scrapes and Tenacious tape patches (to repair beanbag seams).
          • Electrical: EuroSurge 1,200 joule surge protector, Monster Outlets to Go 4 plug power strip, 2 sets of Int'l plug adapters, a small North America plug extender for airport lounges and a PowerGen 12W/2.4A dual USB auto charger.
          • Apple Paraphernalia: 18W-C/12W Apple chargers +  C/USB lightning cables and spare), HyperDrive USB-C hub for 61W adapter, Apple Watch 4 USB C cable, iClever 24W BoostCube II charger, iPad Pro or Air 2; iPhone Xs Max, iKlips drive, iKlear packets, Moshi/microfiber cloths, AM Mist Screen Cleaning block, Anker PowerCore II 6700 battery + sets cables, Ultimate Ear SuperFi 10/5 buds (w/Filo cable, Comfy tips, angled jack), spare iMore earbuds, MacBook Pro extender, and 2 euro headset jacks. 
          • Note: all things new or altered - i.e., every cable, cord, hub, portable drive, flash drive, screws, caps/covers, adapters, batteries, chargers, memory cards, readers and plates, etc. - are tested in advance (used and connected as if in the field) to avoid Murphy's Law.
          • Misc. Batteries: AA (Canon flash and power packs) plus RadioShack tester, AAA (clock), CR2025 (Canon and Visible Dust), CR2032 (head lamps), CR123 (Fenix flashlight) and LR41 (keychain lights).   
          • Security and Speed Aids: 2 PacSafe TSA luggage straps, TSA luggage locks (plus 2 spares), Nite Ize dual carabiners (size #1/MicroLock), generic carabiners, REI calf wallets, luggage tags plus spares, walkabout travel retractable TSA extender lock, large/small luggage ties, Samsonite luggage cart, zipper pulls (zipquix, Nite Ize and Sargent knots), Streamlight nano/egear Pico keychain lights on lanyards and wrist straps, RFID passport sleeves, plastic organizer sleeves in various sizes, mesh pouches in various sizes, and dry bags to hide valuables in checked luggage.  Note: safari tents/rooms are dark and it's hard to see TSA lock numbers.  So, I like Brookstone's Big Digit locks.
          • Personal: Safari watch (tritium illuminated), 3 Biobands for motion sickness, Cocoon travel pillow, travel clock, mini temperature gauge, nail clippers, keychain flashlights (in every bag, on lanyards), scissors to cut ties/tags and keychain thermometer; eye glasses (plastic/Chum's cases, screwdriver), ThinkTank Lens Drop/neoprene pouch for roll bars, cleaning packets and microfiber cloths); folding tote; writing/tips: small moleskin notebooks, colored index cards, mini sticky pad, tip planners and envelops, mini metric and money charts, Sharpies, fat Sharpie, silver labeling pen and name/address labels, rubber bands and paper clips; cleaning: woolite soap packets, Dryall spot pen, Shout singles, mini sewing kit, velcro, rubber drain stopper and Mephisto shoe brush; bug/germ fighters: sanitizer gel/packets, permithrin spray (for clothing), Ben's deet spray/packets, BugBand towelettes, non-deet spray, SeaSummit head net, Original Bug Shirt/net pants, fly swatter, shower flip flops, StingStop, emergency OTC and prescription meds, alcohol packets, peroxide, slant/pointed tweezers, topical staph antibiotic, SteriPEN Freedom UV water purifier, Nalgene cups, rubber gloves, mini pill organizers and spare ziplock/pill baggies); snacks: Starbucks coffee packets/KleanKanteen, Nalgrene bottle lanyard, nuts, turkey jerky, FitCrunch bars, ginger chews; dust/grime/harsh water fighters: extra shampoo/conditioner, facial cleansing towels, toners, extra eye drops, nail brush, microfiber hair towel/travel hair dryer; sun damage prevention: sunscreens with zinc/titanium oxide (Elta MD/Chanel and SunForgettable), SPF shirts w/side vents, wide sun hat, sun gloves and bandana. Lastly: disposable toothbrushes, single packet floss, Afrin/Sudafed and ShowerPills for air travel days; and, kleenex packs, daily meds, eyeglasses, vitamins, sundries and cosmetics. 
          • Note: all packets are tested to insure that they're not dried out; and, all meds and personal products are replaced before expiration dates.
          • Sub-Zero Temps: rubber bumpers for shutter buttons, Q tips and lens brush to remove snow, D rings sewn onto parkas and carabiners for hanging mitts, a generic tool to open battery/card compartments, hand warmer pouch sewed into a fleece cap to keep camera batteries warm, spare neoprene lens/camera covers (in case something drops in snow or blows away in gale winds), boxes of Super Hot Hand warmers plus insoles, extra fleece hoodies to double up as needed, a carabiner watch, and a dry sack tucked inside a L611 Kinesis Long Lens case. TBD: a squeegee for removing frost/ice from viewfinders (something better than Q-tips).
          • Other Shooting Tools (as needed): wide and macro lenses, CamRanger, polarizers, Lee filters, angle finder, lighting reflectors, 2x extender, 4th Generation Safari Companion, Naturescapes skimmer with extenders, Leica Tabletop tripod with small ballhead (quasi shoulder brace), kneelons, and a walking stool/stick, etc.
          Tips for working on a 13"MBP (2017)
          • Make friends with Apple keyboard shortcuts; especially, the fn + up/down arrow keys for scrolling pages (see more here).  
          • To zoom your screen in and out: 1) press Option/Command + 8, 2) Option/Command + =/- keys (as set up in System Preferences/Accessibility), 3) or pinch the trackpad out/in using 2 fingers.  Note: if you're using a Mighty Mouse, then go to systems preferences and set up Smart zoom which allows you to double-tap on the mouse with one finger. 
          • Command + up/down arrows moves up or down one visible section at a time; whereas, fn + right/left arrows takes you to Home (top of the page) or the bottom of a page.  
          • A nice Facebook shortcut is to use the J and K keys to scroll up or down quickly.  You can also use spacebar and shift/spacebar, or Fn plus the up/down arrows on Macs.  With desktops, I prefer using Page Up/Down on an extended keyboard.
          • Handy Lightoom keyboard shortcuts include: shift-tab to hide all panels versus f5, f6 and f7 one at a time, the f key to get to full screen, the l key for lights out, option/command + 1 takes you to Library mode, the d key takes you to develop mode, the g key gets you to grid mode, and the e key gets you back to loupe view, etc.  
          • Lightroom/Photoshop Stuck Window Tip: If you accidentally drag the menu bar too far to the top-left, it disappears and the window gets stuck.  To get it back, go to System preferences/Displays, √ the Scaled box and temporarily change the resolution (i.e., 1280 x 800) so that you can drag the menu bar again.  If this happens to a 2nd monitor back and the tip doesn't work, then use Displays/Arrangement to move the window.
          • In Safari, to go back or forward a page, use command + [ or ] keys (or command + right/left arrows); and, the spacebar for scrolling down and shift/spacebar for scrolling up.  
          • In Photo Mechanic, hide the Toolbar via View > Hide toolbar.  Also remember to purge your Disk and Memory cache under Preferences. Toggle from the Contact Sheet (same as Grid in LR) to Preview Mode (same as Loupe in LR) by clicking the trackpad.  Hide/regain panels with the f key and if needed, press r to get  panels back.  Press z to see your pre-set zoom size and increase/decrease the size with z (or option) + =/- keys.  Or, zoom within a thumbnail on the contact sheet by setting View > Cursor Mode > Loupe and then hitting the spacebar (or clicking) while on a thumbnail.  Command + k opens the keyword window.  Tag and remove tags on previews with t (or command plus +/- keys) and select all tags with command + t.  Command + m renames a file, and the rest is similar to Apple's shortcut (command + a equals select all, command+  i equals info, etc.
          • To maximize your Apple battery life and other workflow tips, I put together a nice list under the Putting Computer Gear on a Diet section below.  Also, never let your laptop battery drain below 20% when you're not plugged in as it might have trouble waking up.

          The Count Down (One Month Before):
          • Update my Master Pack and Prep List. 
          • Make sure that camera bodies and lenses have been serviced as needed.  If cameras are serviced, re-check all settings as they're often changed.
          • Research firmware updates before installing. 
          • Obtain visas and insure that I have enough blank pages in my passport (and the required number of years remaining).
          • Verify flights/connections and that airlines have my TSA Pre-√ number on file.
          • Verify that immune shots are current; i.e., flu, pneumonia, typhoid, and now cholera for Tanzania.  Note: always complete at least 2 weeks before travel to avoid adverse reactions.
          • Purchase any sundries, medications or photo tools that need replenishing.  Check all expiration dates as now is not the time that I want OTC meds, antibiotics, sanitizers, sunblock, bandaids and eyeglass wipes, etc. to perform at sub-par levels.  Also, get rested and eat healthy to build up the immune system; including taking probiotics, drinking more water and Primal Herb's Immune drink, and lifting more weights (albeit don't overdo it if out of shape 'cause I tore a tendon in my primary hand being over-zealous).
          • Look for more ways to downsize weight ounce by ounce; and more ways to increase workflow efficiency/speed while minimizing hiccups.
          • Start setting aside crisp/unmarked $1's, $5's and $10's for tips in countries where U.S. currency is accepted.
          • Start cleaning up desktop/laptop computers to make space for new image folders and trip edits.  
          • Clear browser caches and delete all unwanted cookies aka 95% of them.  If browsers are running slow, reset them as well.  
          • Order portable drives, archival drives, flash drives and CF cards as needed.
          • Update all software and verify that preferences and settings are correct. 
          • Run Disk Utility's First Aid and do repairs as needed.  
          • Maximize laptop space by clearing all images and LR libraries not related to the upcoming trip.  Worse case, delete 1:1 previews.
          • Update a dedicated flash drive with my Documents, iTunes and desktop folders in case I need to free up space on my laptop.  Also include photo/diagnostics software along with manuals, troubleshooting notes and serial numbers.  To troubleshoot a Mac, disconnect all peripherals, check systems preferences, repair permissions, verify the disk, toss out suspect preferences and zap the pram. Worst case, un-install and reinstall suspect applications.  
          • Finalize all decisions on hardware/software upgrades and photography gear.  Test every new purchase for reliability and compatibility; and, add name labels. 
          • Make the time to read manuals and thoroughly learn new cameras and software, etc.
          Creative Goals and Depth of Field:
          • Make clear, specific goals for every trip aka be on a mission. Define and prioritize who and what you want to photograph. This helps in making difficult lens choices; i.e., the high priorities vs. the nice to have (seen a zillion times).  
          • Review depth of field charts - by camera, focal length, f-stop and shooting distance - and do a mental dry run.  My belief is that everyone needs to build their own DOF cheat sheet because style is very personal and the process helps you to memorize tradeoffs i.e., stopping down might only gain a few inches.  And, the same lens on a cropped body gives you less depth of field than on a full frame at the same distance.  
          • This prep step warms up the thinking cap - getting one to think about what worked and didn't work on previous trips.  It makes me go back and analyze exposure settings on favorite images and what went wrong on sub-par images aka learn from my mistakes.  This helps me to define what I want to do differently on the next trip.  
          • Which body on which lens can make a difference in end results, so yet another thing to think though.  As someone who doesn't like to switch lenses on game drives because of dust, I try to plan out my strategy beforehand.  Stop down - or not?  Many newbies are told to stop way down when using a super-telephoto lens at near minimum distance.  But in my view, the depth of field gain is minimal while the shutter speed can be risky.  For example, on a 1.3x body and 500mm at 10 yards, the gain per stop is only one inch.  For me, a narrow depth of field makes the eyes pop and allows for a faster shutter speed without having to crank up the ISO.  Also, bokeh can get more distracting when you stop down.  Since no two scenarios are ever the same, I try to shoot at different f-stops whenever possible.
          • Group shots: It's difficult to capture a grouping of large adult subjects when using super-telephoto lenses as the physics of getting all heads sharp is not in our favor unless subjects are all  on the same plane.  So, focus on isolations or just enjoy the moment.  With smaller subjects like lion/cheetah cubs, F/13 is a safe bet as long as your camera can handle the higher ISO.
          • Timing, timing, timing: When watching wildlife documentaries, movies or videos, mentally practice shutter release timing and adjusting camera settings so that everything is on auto-pilot.  In fact, you can learn a lot from most any movie that you watch in terms of lighting, framing, focal points, depth of field, color, tonality, style and mood.  Even going back through your point and shoot videos can help in setting up your SLR; i.e., watching the erratic movements of my babies leopards here.  
          • A cheetah will reach top speeds - 65 mph - in only 3 seconds.  If you're after that shot, make sure that you've memorized your "best case" camera settings and are ready for timing the shot at the right moment without hitting the buffer.  You can review a cheetah's stride here.  

          The Full-Court Press (5 Days Before Departure):
          • Re-check all camera custom function settings. 
          • Check for last minute firmware and software updates.
          • Top off camera batteries and/or calibrate as indicated.
          • Re-format CF/SD cards, portable drives and flash drives. 
          • Clean lenses, drop down filters and camera sensors.
          • Identify the number of AA, AAA and miscellaneous batteries needed and use a battery charge tester before packing. 
          • Test screws and pack all fix-it tools.  Note: review my Check Your Screws and Words of Wisdoms post because I'm always seeing folks with loose lens feet or tripod/gimbal screws which is a sure way to wreck your gear/images.
          • Test prongs and pack 2 sets of international plug adapters (one set in carry on and one in checked luggage).
          • Drain/refresh batteries (iPhone/iPad and portable batteries, etc. and never leave in the charger for over 24 hours).  
          • Download Kindle books and Amazon Prime/Netflix  movies/TV to the iPhone Xs Max and iPad Air 2/iPad Pro 12.9" for watching offline.
          • Figure out tips and cash requirements and get crisp/unmarked bills in the denominations needed from the bank.  Separate tips from emergency travel cash and pack in color coded mesh pouches. 
          • Figure out how much to convert to foreign currency upon arrival and in what bill denominations.  Note: hotels have minimal bill denominations on weekends and it's worse if arriving on a Sunday.  Pack more than one ATM card to avoid gotchas when networks don't work or when a card doesn't participate on the ATM's network.  Also print wallet sized currency converter charts.
          • Review airport layouts for lounges and ATM locations; i.e., in Johannesburg, ATMs are only located in the Domestic terminal B, lower level.
          • Update my CJ Lists folder which includes all travel references; such as, hardware and software serial numbers, equipment replacement value, Canon custom functions settings, Canon lenses depth of field charts, shooting cheat sheet, equipment manuals, my Apple/Photo gear troubleshooting cheat sheet, keyboard shortcuts, purchase receipts, medications and prescriptions #'s, medical history, credit card customer service #'s (plus  bank customer service #'s for countries visited), air/hotel reservations #'s, travel insurance, travel notes and local contact #'s, gear/clothing inventory, etc.
          • Verify that my Documents folder, iTunes library, apps, Address book, bookmarks and travel related desktop folders are all up to date before copying from my desktop to the MBP 13" 2017.
          • Since I use iTunes Match, I download any newly purchased music from my iCloud Music Library to the iPhone/iPad.  But if I tweaked/re-ordered playlists on the computer, I turn off/turn on iCloud Music on each device to supersede the outdated library.  Then I go through each playlist and download new songs (select all > right click to download).  Note: if you're an Apple Music user, here's a good article to keep you from getting tripped up (aka losing your music).
          • Copy relevant lists, air/hotel reservations and travel insurance info to my Contacts and GoodReader so that info is accessible from my iPhone, iPad and laptop.  
          • Note: Apple's Contacts is a very powerful tool and I use it to store any/all information into a central repository - i.e., I "cut" useful info from hardware/software technical help and support forums, my emails, airline/hotel references, travel insurance policy, personal word/pdf docs, photo/computer troubleshooting tips, and keyboard shortcuts, etc. - and "paste" into a new or existing contact.  Then, I summarize paragraphs into bullet points to make it easier to scroll and read on an iPhone/iPad.  When there's a lot of info on an important subject, I break it down into multiple contacts.  Net:net: any information that I might need for travel or troubleshooting is at my disposal on my iPhone/iPad/laptop without having to access the internet.  I learned my lesson the hard way when my Macbook Pro displayed the kiss of death (LCD went black) after a major power surge tripped it at a safari camp.  I tried all of the normal fix-it steps from memory but forgot to do the infamous PRAM because my Apple troubleshooting notes were sitting on the computer.  Even if I did have access to the internet, it would've taken me longer to research answers then to browse my own troubleshooting list.  In the field, it's important to be self sufficient because travel buddies typically have their own issues to deal with and may not be helpful as expected.  An easy way to start building your own troubleshooting cheat sheet - by product/software - is to cut/paste from forum suggestions, vendor FAQ's, how to articles/blogs and vendor databases/emails to Contacts every time you read something useful.
          • Copy travel docs, personal word/excel docs, .pdf files and new gear manuals into the GoodReader iPhone/iPad app via iTunes/Files Sharing. A scanned copy of my passport and travel policy booklet are also transferred over.  Then encrypt folders that need to be secure. 
          •  Make hard copies of my passport/VISA, medical prescriptions and travel/credit cards (with DOB and expiration dates blackened out).  Note: if you haven't done so already and travel abroad more than once a year, register with the U.S. Customs Global Entry program which allows you to skip the long customs lines at your port of entry.  All you have to do is scan your passport and fingers on a lightning fast, self servicing kiosk.  The program costs $100 (good for 5 years) and renewing is simple.  Global Entry members can get a Nexus card for $15 which allows you to go through Nexus lines (aka faster) at major airports in Canada/Mexico.  At most major airports, Global Entry members automatically quality for the TSA Pre-√ program.  Update your airline profiles with your Global Entry number and request TSA Pre-√.  
          • Limit the number credit cards and provide respective companies with travel dates and the countries to be visited.  I use separate credit cards for travel/overseas (only those w/o transaction fees).  Note: make charges in the local currency or else the merchant will charge a transaction fee.
          • Verify that debit cards work in the countries to be visited, and that pin numbers are valid.  
          • Order AT&T's 30 day Passport 1G Plan for $60.  As before, you still need to check for countries that qualify and whether you'll have cell service reception. Note: Reset data usage on your iPhone as soon as you land abroad in order to track usage.   In non-participating countries when not on free Wi-FI, only open essential email as a 5 meg photo attachment can cost $40 a pop. While on topic, only view non-sensitive email/web pages when on public wireless networks.
          • Verify that Yahoo Mail is working via cellular.  Since IOS 11, IOS Yahoo Mail tends to break more often, especially after IOS updates.  Some fixes, like resetting the network and/or removing/re-installing Yahoo Mail works most of the time, as well as using the Yahoo app. This site has another nice solution as well and they walk you through the steps. 
          • Pack clothes, sundries, medications, vitamins, travel folder, personal items, photo/computer gear, snacks, and spares of anything critical to travel comfort and shooting success.  See more specifics under Chris's Packing, etc. Tips below; and replace batteries on travel watches if due for an update.
          • Spray clothes/shoes with permithrin (good for 30 days) and waterproof as needed. 
          • Verify that every item has a label or ID.
          • Pre-pack field supplies for my day kit and make a "grab list" to make getting ready for the first game drive quick and efficient.  That's because when items are spread between bags and hidden in pouches, it's easy to forget things (out of sight, out of mind) especially when jet-lagged or sleep deprived.
          • If checking a small 2nd duffel, distribute clothes and camera support items in case one bag is late or missing in action. 
          • Review/update my Master pack list and weigh all bags. 
          • Then, the real fun (aka serious stress) begins; i.e., deciding what's a must have and pulling out the nice to haves  - i.e., snacks, emergency supplies and new tools to try out, etc. - aka the never ending struggle to reduce weight - ounce by ounce.  
          • Start a new trip notebook - includes reservation #'s, passport info, emergency contacts, important actions items and a mini currency conversion chart - which I keep handy in a cargo pocket for jotting down trip notes. 
          • Review international airport arrival and departure terminals/gates so that it's easy to assess the amount of time needed to get from point A to point B; i.e., at Frankfurt, it can take 45 minutes to get from Terminal B to C (and vice versa) with security checks after de-boarding and pre-boarding.  My goal is to be at the gate at least 30 minutes before check-in; and, longer in places like Bangkok where they do security checks at the gate as well.  I try to have at least a 3 hour layover when heading to a destination.
          • After all last minute items are packed, tuck itineraries into every bag, lock them with TSA locks/plastic ties, and snap photos on an iPhone.
          The Evening Before (or Morning of Departure):
          • Print boarding passes if possible. 
          • Synch the iPhone/iPad, close all open apps, turn off  notifications, location services, Wi-Fi and bluetooth (improves battery life and security).  To synch Contacts from my computer via iTunes, I click on Advanced and Replace Contacts (which supersedes the info on my devices).  This avoids ending up with duplicate contacts/groups on my computer which can take hours to clean up.  It also means that I have to collect new contact info on a notes app when away from home, and then add/update contact info on my computer.  Also, I verify that all Apple apps are updated and that any updated travel list (word/excel), travel docs (.pdf) or new gear manuals (pdf) have been added to my Goodreader app. 
          • Copy Contacts/bookmarks to the laptop: I never use iCloud to synch Contact/bookmarks from my desktop to the laptop because I have a ton of Contact groups and bookmark folders and they get messed up.  This means that although I'm signed into iCloud  for iTunes Match, all apps in System Preferences/iCloud are left un-√d.  Instead, I copy my Address Book and bookmarks from my desktop home library (press the option key + Go in the Finder Menu to get to the Library/Applications Support folder where the Address Book folder and Safari folder reside) to the laptop's desktop in Target mode or via a flash drive. Then I move the Address Book/bookmarks to the laptop's home library (press Replace, not Merge in the pop-up window) which minimizes group/folder duplicates when names are changed.  Similarly, iCloud apps on my Apple devices are turned off to prevent getting hacked and to avoid duplicate contacts/group fiascos. 
          • Before packing the laptop: turn off Airport wireless/bluetooth to save battery life and increase security. Also, verify that file sharing is off and firewall is on (under Systems Preferences) because they have a mysterious way of flipping on/off.
          • Finally, it's game over and time to rock and roll. 
          • Upon arrival at the first international destination (i.e., a layover), turn off data roaming.  Also, reset usage which starts the clock for AT&T's 30 Day Passport Plan and turn on Airplane mode to stop cellular towers from pinging the phone which drains batteries.

          Back in the Saddle Again:
          • First things first - catch up on zzzz's.  The more I sleep on Day One (aka my lights out marathon, a minimum of 14 hours), the faster it is to adjust to the 10 - 12 hour time zone difference.
          • Next up - back up all images 2x or more.  See "Backing Up for the Long Haul - My Workflow and Storage Devices" below for more info.  The ugly truth is that protecting images for the long term takes time and effort. 
          • Document travel related notes while they are still top of mind - what worked and what didn't, etc.
          • Inventory travel tools/sundries, clean gear and re-order/replenish must haves.  If not, action items tend to get dragged out.
          • Catch up with family and friends - aka show appreciation to those who tolerate and support our photography obsession.
          • Send cameras in to Canon CPS repair for cleaning and AF points calibration. 
          • Store external drives/gear off site in secure, climate controlled facilities.
          • Now, the creative mind is clear to focus on images. 

          Lightroom Library:
          • Several friends asked me how I manage libraries - one per trip or one per year?  
          • I prefer to create a new Lightroom library for each trip and keep it together with the raw folders initially on my laptop, then the desktop while editing images, and then when they're moved with the raw files to external back-up drives.  
          • After editing out the losers, I make a collection of my "best ofs" from the trip.  This best of collection could be 200 - 500 strong, and I work off of standard or 1:1 previews.   
          • As much as I like to get things done and move on, never rush this process.  I'll look at images on the flight/s home to get a sense of my favorites by doing a quick & dirty collection.  But, the real ranking and decision making is after everything is unpacked and put away, after I'm caught up on emails and other tasks, and I'm in a rested state.  
          • Before I begin, I make sure that monitors are properly calibrated.  I had been using Spyder pucks with ColorEyes software for ions. But when I got my 5k iMac Retina in 2015, I needed to transfer my ColorEyes license. However, support from Integrated Color was totally non-existent.  So, I switched to X-rite's i1 Display Pro and am a happy camper.  It took several tries to get the profile to my liking, but I settled on D65, luminance @120, V2/matrix, native contrast, flare/ADC on.  In Jan. 2019,  I ordered the iMac Pro and still have to tackle color calibration.
          • I use Razer gaming mice (Diamondbacks and DeathAdders) because they're fast Pro for Lightroom/Photoshop editing along with a Medium Wacom Intuos Pro and Apple Magic Mouse 2 (for fast/accelerated scrolling using my left hand).  To help me maintain good posture, I use a Webble Active footrest.
          • In addition to tagging the Best of's, I develop the story that I want to tell which helps me to get to the short list.  
          • My goal is to develop the best portfolio out there on my favorite subjects, and to have a consistent style that is unique to me. 
          • Next, I start making sub-collections.  At this stage, I work off of 1:1 previews to increase the speed of analyzing images.  I also crop and address white balance to insure that grouped images hang together properly.  
          • I routinely select all (Command + A on the Mac) and save metadata (Command +S) to the files along the way even though I already set my preferences to do so.  And, I back up my LR catalog each night.
          • With sub-collections, I can easily duplicate a WIP gallery and change the order of images to see which body of work is stronger.  If I need to fill in a storyboard, I just grab the appropriate image out of the master "best of" collection. 
          • For me, having one huge library takes too much time to keep all of the links valid, i.e., they break as soon as you move raw folders from laptop to desktop to back-up drives, etc.  Also, I feel that there's less risk of corruption when smaller libraries are upgraded to newer versions of LR and future operating systems.  
          Lightroom Adjustments:
          • Unlike most, I use Lightroom to prep images for editing in Photoshop as opposed to using Lightroom for eliminating work in Photoshop.  That's because I still feel that Photoshop does a better job with tonal correction; i.e., it allows me to be more precise when using channels/masking (important for preserving tonal gradation and wrap around light).  And, using layers saves a lot of time when images need to be tweaked. 
          • I start by purify colors using the white balance dropper and then warm things up just a tad.
          • Next, I adjust exposure, highlights, shadow and white sliders.  My preference is to use tonality to separate subjects from the background as opposed to color balance aka it's more natural.  
          • Then, I do a gentle dose of clarity (< 10) to add mid-tone contrast and dehaze, followed by a gentle tone curve (+5 lights -5 darks as a starting point) and a contrast adjustment as needed.
          • Then, I fine-tune black, white and shadow sliders.  Note:  clarity darkens the shadows in addition to mid-tones.  As a result, images tend to be more muddy and require more attention than before.
          • If I still have problems with hot spots, I adjust the highlight slider in curves.
          • I don't mess with colors except for a little vibrance ('tween 7-10) and saturation (-/+ 5).
          • Then, I stand down and evaluate. 
          • Before I export into Photoshop, I turn off sharpening and bump up luminous noise 2 - 6  for images shot between ISO 400 and 6,400.  That's because I prefer doing selective input sharpening in Photoshop after doing a NoiseWare layer (more precise using masks). 
          •  Once I have the look that I want, I insure that all images in a given gallery have similar treatment for consistency.
          • If you want to read a quickie overview of how LR tonality sliders interact with each other, see this post from an Adobe forum.  
          Photoshop CC Approach:
          • Basically, I use the creative seeing approach that Katrin Eismann taught me many moons ago and it's how my brain sees, analyzes and fixes only what's important.  This means optimizing the main focus and de-optimizing un-important areas along with other distractions.   I aim for a clean, natural, 3 dimensional and consistent look.  
          • 90% of my time goes to making a precise input sharpening mask which I modify/re-use for output sharpening as well.  I also re-use the mask for curves and color adjustment layers when needed.  Masking out unimportant areas using channel masks on a curve layer takes time too; but, the end results make a difference in my humble opinion.
          • The only plug-in that I use is Noiseware.  I bought all of the Nik filters but never embraced them.  With highly touted plug-ins like MacPhun and Topaz, I always test them to make sure that I'm not leaving something on the table. 
          • Editing for large prints take a lot more time because every little distraction shows up big time.  
          • Before I get too far along on a project, I always evaluate images on different monitors and laptops - including, some that aren't calibrated aka the real world - which saves time in the long run.  You'd be surprised with monitor variances with regards to warmth, color casts, white points and shadows (can look muddy).  In addition, I try not over-sharpening because to me, it's distracting.
          • For friends wanting to learn Photoshop skills, I suggest joining KelbyOne for tutorials all in one place.  There's also the Annual Photoshop User conferences where you have access to a wide array of learning workshops.   
          Focus on the So-What's:
          • Editing tools evolve and change but your vision and execution is what really matters.   
          • It's important to think through what you are trying to communicate and how you're going to grab the viewer's attention and heart before touching any sliders or palettes. 
          • Before starting to edit, articulate what needs to be done and why?  This is the Katrin mantra that was drilled into my head when I first started.  For example, not every image needs to be sharpened (especially globally); and, it's important to watch for sharpening artifacts along dark/light edges, whiskers and leaves, etc.  I strive to avoid that crunchy look that you normally get with plug-ins and off the shelf actions.  Note: if you want to emphasize something, consider de-emphasizing the inverse; i.e., desaturating, toning down or blurring the background.  Also, I avoid over-saturating or doing color balance adjustments on just the subject/s which looks unnatural to me. 
          • What rules for me is maximizing tonality.  That's what maintains that three dimensional presence; and, I prefer working with channels to accomplish this goal.  That's because when using a brush - to paint in dodging/burning, color balance, saturation, curves, sharpening or noise, etc., we are essentially painting with a flat instrument -  i.e., 10 - 100% (in Lightroom or Photoshop); whereas, light wraps around or falls off a subject.  Using channels in Photoshop helps to preserve this light fall off.  Studying black and white classics helps with developing tonality seeing abilities; i.e., I always refer to my Arnold Newman books because his compositions also tell a story. 
          • There are many ways to tackle objectives - the 30 second, 3 minute, 30 minute or 3 hour approach (again ala Katrin) - and each approach has it's plus and minuses.  So, pick your battles and invest your time where it really counts.   For me, my effort is focused on making a good sharpening mask and getting rid of color cast/noise without ruining the mood of the lighting or flattening out wrap around light that I worked so hard to achieve while shooting.  I also tone down distracting specular highlights (because the eye is drawn to light tones). 
          • If you learn things the hard way first, you'll be able to judge the effectiveness of easier methods (i.e., advancements in raw converters and plugs-in); and, you'll end up with more consistency in your work. That's why, I like to understand what's underneath the engine - exactly what the Photoshop tools and Lightroom sliders are doing (the so-what's) - so that I can minimize overlapping, conflicting and negating effects.  
          • Sharpening: only sharpen what's important.  Also, make sure that your eyeglasses, if needed, are dead-on accurate.  I can't comment on sharpening plug-ins because I never use them.
          • I find it invaluable to take my time when working with new versions of Lightroom and Photoshop as often, the slider algorithms can change dramatically.  
          • The following folks are excellent at explaining what's important and how to tackle different objectives: 
          •  If you want to learn/understand what's happening underneath the engine while performing Lightroom/Photoshop tasks  - while avoiding the pitfalls like crunchy edges, halos and garish colors - then Tim Grey at timgreyphoto is the go-to guy.  
          • If you want to better understand retouching, masking, channels and creative seeing, pick up some Katrin Eismann DVDs or books, including her Creative Digital Darkroom (co written with Sean Duggan) or Real World Digital Photography co-written with Sean Duggan and Tim Grey.  I was fortunate to have spent 2 weeks learning from Katrin, before she became Chair of the Masters in Digital Photography Program at the School of Visual Arts in NYC.  Katrin last updated her Photoshop Masking and Compositing book in 2012.  
          • If you want to improve tonality skills - seeing, optimizing and printing fine art ala Ansel Adams - then sign up for a Charlie Cramer workshop.  Charlie studied under Ansel and teaches at the Ansel Gallery workshop in Yosemite.  He only shoots in flat lighting, yet his eye and curves technique can pull out the most subtle nuances in an image while still looking natural.  His prints are drop dead gorgeous and he can start you on your roadmap to beautiful prints as well.
          • And backing up a step, I think that Bruce Dorn, a Canon Explorer of Light, is a great teacher and master of lighting and fashion/glam portraits.  Everything he does has timeless beauty and he helps you to think outside of the box.  
          • Note: none of these skills are learned overnight, or even in a year.  Mastering these skills is a multi-year commitment and is no different than achieving excellence in your professional field or with other hobbies. 
          Don't Rush but Don't Get Backlogged 
          • Don't blast through selecting and editing images, only to conclude "what was I thinking?" down the road.  Handle these new assets with thought and care; and put your best foot forward at the get-go.  It not, you'll find yourself re-doing edits over and over because your brain knows when something is amiss.
          • OTOH don't get too backlogged and leave images sitting trip after trip.  That's because some of the emotion and reasons that you took the images in the first place get lost over time.  In addition, it'll feel more like work as opposed to fun the longer you procrastinate.  Ouch - guilty!
          Eyeglass Wearers
          • Consider investing in a pair used strictly for computer editing (plus light reading) and verify that the prescription is spot on once a year.  Trust me, it makes a world of difference.

          Chris