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March 16th, 2009

Tips from a science photographer 7

Posted by Chris Linder

Check out the rest of this series from Chris Linder, who went from writing grants as an oceanographer to getting NSF grants to visually document scientists. His insights range from grant writing to this post about packing for the extreme conditions of Arctic and Antarctic expeditions. Also, you can register now for Chris’s upcoming webinar live from the Bering Sea.

As Chris explains, this is why he uses hard cases for his gear.

As Chris explains, this is why he uses hard cases for his gear. Photo by Chris Linder, WHOI

The simple answer to the question, “How much gear do you take?” is, “As much as I am allowed.” Each expedition has presented a different sort of logistical challenge. For a ship-based expedition, like the trip aboard the Swedish icebreaking ship Oden, there was really no limitation to what I could bring. A 400-foot-long icebreaker is like a small floating city, and typically you can walk your gear right onto the ship.

For other trips, like shooting in remote Antarctic field camps, I was severely weight-limited. Everyone traveling to McMurdo Station (the largest U.S. base on Antarctica) is allowed only 85 pounds of personal luggage on the C-5 flight from Christchurch to McMurdo (not including carry-on). When you factor in the heavy weight of parkas, cold-weather gear, and boots, there isn’t much room left for photography equipment. So for that trip I loaded my heaviest gear into a small carry-on backpack and packed the rest of the lenses, tripod, and accessories into socks, long underwear, and parkas, and stuffed them into a combination of hard and soft cases.

Generally, while traveling I carry a small backpack with essential camera gear plus two hard-plastic Pelican cases—one for laptops, chargers, and hard drives, and the other for extra photography and communications equipment. Often the cases will be sitting out in the rain or snow for hours at a time in transit, so waterproof hard cases are essential. On a typical expedition, I will bring:

  • MacBook Pro for photo editing
  • Dell laptop for Iridium satellite data communication (if necessary)
  • two 320GB Lacie rugged hard drives for photo storage
  • assortment of cables and chargers
  • two Nikon camera bodies (D2Xs and D300)
  • assortment of lenses (10.5mm, 12-24mm, 17-55mm, 70-200mm, 105mm macro, 300mm)
  • accessories (1.4x teleconverter, strobe, gels)
  • communications equipment (Iridium satellite phone or BGAN Inmarsat, data modem, chargers)
  • carbon-fiber tripod and heavy-duty ballhead
  • small collapsible reflector/diffuser

On location, I prefer to work out of a waist-belt system made by ThinkTank. I carry one body with two lenses in a Digi Holster 50 and the rest in lens cases strapped to a heavy-duty waist belt. This system allows me to quickly swap lenses without slowing down, while also preserving my spine. Since 99% of my photographs are not posed, being ready to grab a shot at a moment’s notice is critical.

Be Part of the RESOLUTION: What’s was the hardest lesson you ever learned about packing or traveling with gear?

One Comment

  1. March 16th, 2009 at 10:15 am

    Cameron L. Martindell

    Great list! Thanks for sharing that. I managed my experience at South Pole Station with a Nikon D70 and a 28-200mm. Here are some of the results:

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