Workshop Prep Time

I know, you want to see photos. Okay, here's one:

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Thom on safari; photo by Lambert Orkis

Now, let's deal with the dull stuff for a moment.

Getting ready for a big photo trip, let alone teaching a workshop of 12 students while on the trip, isn't something you enter into lightly. I deal with a lot of this in Big Trip Planning 101, so if you're thinking about one of these big multi week trips, you might want to go and read that article.

But as workshop leader, I've got a few additional things I have to get done in addition to what I write about there. 

First, I have to figure out how to project in the middle of nowhere, and how to have backups for that should we have a failure of some kind. That means light, but effective portable projectors, portable screens, AC power, and making sure we have cables so we can project from either my machine or my assistant's. As I've described in various safari articles, backups are important. Something will fail on this trip. But if I've anticipated that and have an answer I can get by if I have a single failure of anything. 

Our main projection solution this time is again a light, but high end Optoma projector. Mine broke last workshop (after accumulating nearly 200,000 air miles and who knows how many bumpy road miles), so we're using my assistant's this time. I've got a smaller, not-as-bright nor state-of-the-art HP projector with me. I found a great 3M portable screen to use, but when we went to get a backup for that, it turns out that 3M has already stopped making it. Yuck. Okay, Plan B: our tour guide Adam Hedges has a screen he's bringing.

And would you believe that I'm up to my eyeballs in raw foods? Say what? 

Well, you don't bring your beanbag filled on this trip. The big bags might weigh as much as 10 pounds filled, and you've got to fit that into International 44-pound baggage limits to get to Africa. So everyone brings empty bags that need filling. Filling with what? Well, whatever we can find in quantity in Maun, Botswana that meets some basic requirements. When I land in Maun several days ahead of my students, Adam will be meeting me with some samples based upon what we talked about. So the very first thing I have to do on the ground when I get to Botswana is look at corn, beans, and maybe rice and approve a bulk purchase. 

Another thing you might not think about is labeling. I spent most of an afternoon putting small labels with my name on all my gear and batteries. Why? Well, imagine what happens when you have 40 EN-EL15 batteries from various folk that need charging and everyone's scrambling for one of the sockets off the generator at lunch. Generally, my assistant Tony manages that process and is very good at keeping everything sorted out, but it helps a lot to be able to identify our gear directly. I've got a couple of batteries getting up in Age value now, I wouldn't want someone else to pick one of those up off the charger thinking it's their brand new battery. 

I also give each student a thumb drive so we can get images from their systems to mine for image review each day. 12 thumb drives to keep track of. Yep, they've been relabeled for the students so we can sort them through quickly. 

One other thing that I did in the last week (after some regular communication with students about what I was doing and what I thought they needed to think about [which resulted in this article on safari prep]), was to do one last minute check of cameras and lenses students were bringing. Both Tony and I looked over the student lists and made some final suggests for tuning the gear they were bringing where necessary. We found a couple of folk who were overloaded with certain options, lacking others. Thing is, on a long trip like this, you do want backups, but you also want flexibility for the things other than animals that we can and will photograph along the way. 

I'll have a full listing of gear at some point in this workshop blog, but I can tell you we're heavy on D800, D7100, V1, and V2 cameras. The 200-400mm seems to be the long lens of choice (and is what I'm using on my D800E). We've got some Canon and m4/3 shooters on this trip, too. Last Botswana workshop it seemed like everyone had D3's and 500mm's, so this workshop will be a little different in what it produces photographically, I think. Then again, maybe not. We all get so hung up on gear these days that we sometimes can't see the pride from the lion.

I'll bet that most of you won't be able to tell which image came from which camera and lens when we get to the meat of the blog (and if you want to test yourself, just go back and look at the Botswana 2010 or South Africa 2010 workshop blogs). I believe it's more important to have equipment you know well and can use optimally rather than whatever produces the latest and greatest buzz. I'll write more about that once we start shooting. I can tell you this, though: the odds that the best photograph of the workshop will be taken by the most expensive, most buzz-worthy gear are not all that high. 

Don't get me wrong. Almost no pro on the planet going on safari would pick lesser gear over better gear without a very specific requirement behind that choice. We bring what we think are our best cameras, our best lenses. Since I don't tend to take bursts of shots and I don't need any more up-the-nose shots of lions, my "best camera and lens" is not an D4 and a 800mm f/5.6. I tend to prefer animal-in-environment shots, which is why the D800 and 70-200 and 200-400mm is a better choice for me.  

And I can't tell you how many times I packed and repacked gear, weighing each combination. When an airline says that they have an 18 pound limit, you'd better have a method for getting to 18 pounds, just in case. As it turns out, for one of my bags it's all the batteries I'm carrying that are the killer. You can't put loose lithium batteries in your checked bags (legally), so I've got a bag-a-batteries in my carry-on. Turns out that those batteries are what really put me overweight for my carry-on, so I've come up with a system that just allows me to easily transfer them out of the bag and into my jacket.

Workshop prep is all about the Boy Scout motto: be prepared. For just about anything. The better prepared you are, the easier the execution is, the easier it is to manage disruption or change that's thrown at you. 

So if it seemed like this last week before I began traveling I wasn't posting quite as much as usual, it's because I was deep into prep mode. 

We're almost ready to get to the meat of the workshop blog, so consider this just some prep for you, too. Before we begin, ask yourself this: what is it you'd pick to carry with you on safari? What do you think you'd be trying to shoot? What would you expect to be your most successful types of shots? When we're done with the workshop blog, ask yourself those same questions once again and see if your answer has changed. 

Time to get on a plane to Africa.

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See 'ya in Botswana.

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