Jacksonville’s Main Street Bridge, officially the John T. Alsop Jr. Bridge.

Recently I’ve become a traveling photographer. For the past nine years I have been crisscrossing the country as part of a traveling product representative. Believe it or not, it wasn’t until recently where I started to take advantage of the travel perks. That was due to a hiatus I took from photography in general – which is a discussion better saved for another article. While this is an awesome opportunity to get some neat shots, there are downsides.

Still “At Work.”

Photography while working takes discipline. Our schedule has us working every day that we are in a city. Regardless of how long the event is. I’ve done little three-day shows all the way to twenty-eight days in a row. Pre-planning must happen to pull off photography adventures due to this fact. However, if you have a few days off while on a work trip, then this makes planning much easier! I have arranged photo excursions ranging from staying a few extra days to waking up at 2:45 am to drive an hour or more to a location, photograph an area, and still make it to work by 10 am.

Google Maps, PhotoPills, and Lightpollution.info Are Your Friend

A trip to Jacksonville, Florida last February is what I consider my first real work/photo trip. Work sent me to Hawaii in 2016, which was a no-brainer to extend that one. Therefore, it doesn’t count! Last year was also the year I took astrophotography more seriously and wanted to improve. Once we received our work schedule, that’s when I looked at Google Maps and a light pollution map to plot where to go. I use lightpollution.info when on a computer, and the Light Pollution app on a mobile device.

Early season Milky Way presents its own unique challenges as the core is only visible for a short window of time and low on the horizon. PhotoPills is incredibly helpful with pre-visualizing the Milky Way. This is my go-to app for Milky Way planning. It will give you times of visibility, as well as the trajectory of the core. For the Jacksonville area, I had an option to go west to the Osceola Wildlife Management Area or north to Georgia. The biggest challenge facing those who cannot scout locations during the day is how accessible an area is at night and how easy it is to navigate.

Based off researching a few areas, I decided on Jekyll Island, GA. It was easy to find, overlooked the Atlantic, and most importantly – accessible at night. Apparently, Florida State parks close after 10 pm. Jekyll Island was 73 miles from where we were staying in Jacksonville. You’ll need a car.

Google Maps is helpful in not only figuring out drive times but also in getting a virtual “feel” for the terrain.
Light pollution map of the greater Jacksonville, FL area. Although the wildlife refuge is darker than Jekyll Island, I choose to photograph at the Island. It overlooks the Atlantic, providing a known clear horizon line. I also would not be shooting directly into Jacksonville’s light pollution.

Priceline.com

I needed a rental car to pull this trip off. Off to google again. No joking, I typed in “rental cars in Jacksonville.” Priceline.com was the first to pop up with some ridiculously cheap rental car prices. I assumed that car rentals were expensive. I rented a car for $15/day. Of course, there’s fees and taxes, but it still wasn’t bad. Rental places try to upsell insurance, too. Check with your insurance provider to see if they cover rentals. No need to pay extra if you have coverage already. Pricing varies based on location, and some areas are cheaper than others. Never hurts to shop around. The best part is they allow free cancellation without a time limit. I’ve canceled cars an hour before picking up.

This little revelation has drastically helped me make the most of work trips. Sometimes I’ll only have the day we fly in for sightseeing. During a trip to San Jose, I rented a car to drive down to the coast, returning the car the same day. For less than $50 including fuel! Can’t beat that! Uber or Lyft would have cost over $100.

The first composition from the adventure. Walking around in the dark can be a challenge, so settled for the first big branch I came across.

Back to Florida

Remember the point about being able to cancel a car up until the last minute? This is handy in case the weather doesn’t co-operate. Florida is in a wet climate. The weather can change on the drop of a hat. Another aspect I didn’t think about was fog. The cooler nights and warm daytime temperatures created an early morning fog. I check the weather like a crazy obsessive fool at times, but it does make or break a trip when dependent on clear skies. Luckily the forecast gave me at least one promising morning. Since this trip was short, and the hotel didn’t charge for parking, I kept the car for the three days. Parking is another essential factor to consider when renting a car!

My Kind of Party!

When telling my co-workers what I planned to do before work, they looked at me like I was absolutely crazy. When I saw them in the lobby at 2:45 am, that confirmed the craziness. I was leaving, they were coming back from the bar. We all had a pretty good laugh at that. Now to drive to a place I’ve never been to in the dark. Jekyll Island is one of many barrier islands off the coast of Georgia. They are easy to find. There’s a guard shack at the entrance, as it does cost $10 to get into. If you are entering a place at night, its unlikely someone will be there to accept cash. Knowing entrance fees beforehand is important!

There definitely wasn’t a shortage of driftwood!

This trip taught me valuable lessons. It was my first foray into squeezing in Milky Way sessions while having to work the same day. This does take patience and motivation. Most people I know don’t want to get up at 2:45 am to go take a few photos, and then straight to work. The rewards are worth the effort!

Carrying all that Baggage Around

I have a few “lists” of necessary items for traveling photographer trips. I optimized this list for flying. Try to carry on as much as possible! Most airlines let you have one carry-on and one personal item. Recently, airlines began offering basic rates that DO NOT allow a carry-on. Be sure to check what fare level you purchased!

United Airline’s Personal Item and Carry On Bag rules. Each airline is different. Make sure to check with your carrier. Some also charge for carry-on bags, now. Image courtesy of liligo.com

Additionally, the smaller regional jets are TINY. The overhead bins barely fit a backpack. If you have to gate check a bag, which you almost always will on a small plane, try to cram all the camera equipment in a backpack. This way your valuable items are still with you. Pro-tip: Airlines don’t charge you if your bag is gate checked. Typically on the small jets, the gate checked bags are picked up plane-side in the jetway. Check with the gate attendant for information.

Basic List of Necessities

Here is a basic list of electronics I try to cram into a carry-on. I like to photograph an assortment of subjects, so this list keeps getting longer. Feel free to adjust accordingly!

  • Camera Body
  • Lenses – I usually have a telephoto, a wide angle, and a “normal” lens, like a nifty fifty.
  • Batteries – extra batteries for your camera, headlight, trackers, GPS unit, etc.
  • LED light panel – If you plan on using Low-level lighting. I picked up a Flashpoint LED video panel. It’s super light and slim. Makes it easier to pack. Prior I used the Neewer LED panel.
  • Filters/Filter Holder – ND filters and Polarizers are great for sunrises and sunsets, so I carry a few. Some specialized wide-angle lenses require a filter holder.
  • Laptop – I may be alone here, but I prefer the smaller laptops to travel with. 15″ Laptops are hard to fit in a smaller backpack that can count as your “personal item.” They also weigh more. So I found that traveling with a 13″ laptop is the sweet spot.
  • Star Tracker – These are great to have if you want to do detailed Milky Way photography. However, they are heavy and bulky, even in their current “compact” form. These are not necessary to take along, as you can get awesome shots without one.
  • Tripod – Do not forget the Tripod! I’ve done this before, and have had to use rocks, backpacks, and whatever else to try to do long exposures. Very difficult and frustrating. Also, invest in a GOOD Tripod. I’ve tried to skimp here, and have regretted it. I use the Sirui W-2204 Carbon Fiber tripod. It is lightweight, reasonably priced, and can fit in a standard carry-on bag.
  • Ball-head/Tripod Head – This goes along with the Tripod. A good ball-head will save you a ton of frustration in the field.
  • Flashlight/Headlight – Preferably one with a red light, since this light won’t affect your night vision.
  • Basic Tools. – Screwdriver, pliers, Allen keys, etc. I have been in the field with the adapter screw stuck in the tripod head. I muttered a few choice words trying to get that thing to come loose. Pliers would have saved the day. A simple screwdriver and Allen keys are nice to have since those tighten down and loosen the various adapters for tripod attachments or camera L-brackets.
One of my last images for the night. Blue hour was setting in but still managed to click off a few more shots.

Warm Weather List

Shooting in warmer temperatures is much easier to deal with. There’s no denying that! Here’s what I typically bring to places that will be on the warmer side:

  • Sweatshirt or light jacket – it can get chilly at night, even in areas that are hot during the day.
  • Insect repellent – Outside of the desert areas, you’ll encounter pests such as mosquitoes or ticks. Both are annoying and can carry diseases. Wearing closed-toe shoes or boots, and long pants/long sleeves can help, too.
Here’s where a little bit of light beforehand would have been beneficial. I would have loved to have these shapes with the Milky Way!

Cold Weather List

This list is more extensive than the Warm Weather List. You may need more than a carry-on bag for this list! To date, I’ve driven to all my winter destinations. Cold temperatures can be miserable, and frostbite is not something to take lightly. However, the rewards of capturing a beautiful winter scene are worth the effort! I bought all my gear from the Ice Fishing sections of various outlets online.

  • Parka – These jackets are specifically designed for cold weather activities. For the longest time, I tried to get away with a regular coat. Invested in a parka this winter, and it was, hands down, the best purchase I’ve made in a long time. You can find decent deals if you are willing to buy last year’s style. I bought a Stryker Ice “Climate” Jacket for half off on Amazon because it was last year’s style. When I went out in the Polar Vortex, this jacket kept me warm at air temps of -32F and a windchill of -55F!
  • Gloves – Designed for layering, there are several types of gloves. Stryker Ice manufactures one for dexterity, and then a second one that you wear over those for when you don’t need your fingers. Some gloves feature a pocket that fits hand warmers in. Those are awesome!
  • Snow Pants – Even if you don’t plan on playing in the snow, these pants are AMAZING. They block wind and keep your legs warm.
  • Boots – Waterproof and insulated boots are a must!
  • Thermal underwear and Thermal Socks – This is your base layer and designed to keep your body heat optimized by being close to the skin. Thermal socks also help keep heat in.
  • Face mask – For those really extreme temperatures, these help keep exposed skin for a minimum. I’ve only needed a face mask a few times. Most of the time if its in the teens or above, the parka’s hood and collar are sufficient enough.
  • Hand Warmers – these little miracles are a godsend! I buy them in big packages and always have them on hand. You can shove them in pockets, boots, gloves, and use them to keep your lens warm in case it starts to condensate.
First light is always magical.

Never to Late to Start!

I have a hard time letting go of the past. Those “would have, should have, and could have’s.” With 9 years of traveling, most of which I didn’t do much with, I fight with all the “time wasted”. I want to state that it is NEVER too late to chase your passions or dreams. One goal of this traveling photographer blog series is to highlight the mental blocks I’ve encountered and how to overcome them. The journeys I have embarked on helped immensely with personal growth and overall happiness. The next Traveling Photographer article will cover the “Great Milky Way Chase” of 2018.

Links

https://www.google.com/maps

https://www.priceline.com/

https://strikerbrands.com/

http://www.siruiusa.com/

http://www.adorama.com/

https://www.lightpollutionmap.info

https://www.photopills.com/

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