Picture
Prepared salads for evening meal on cruise ship.
While there are no guarantees that you won't become ill, major cruise lines these days are usually clean as a whistle.  The American Coast Guard performs random surprise inspections of cruise ships as does the Canadian Health Inspection Agency when cruise ships call in Canadian ports.  As of this writing in July, 2013, the ship we are next sailing on, Island Princess, can be checked here and here.  Not only can you see the score the ship received, but you can also see any problems that were identified and the solutions undertaken.  It is not unusual for ships to score 96 - 100, although lower score do appear from time to time.  Ships scoring below 86 are considered to have failed the inspections.

What about Norovirus you may ask?  Noroviruses are a very common group of viruses (only the cold virus is more common) that can cause stomach and intestinal illnesses.  The virus is spread from person to person quite easily and is often brought on board a cruise ship by a passenger or crew member.  It can also be spread through contaminated food or water.  There seems to be a report of Norovirus outbreaks on cruise ships with alarming regularity but this is because it is so closely tracked on board with each ship having to report instances of illness (including zero illnesses) for each itinerary they sail.  These results are then made available to the public here.  The Center For Disease Control provides suggestions about preventing Norovirus here. There also appears to be no correlation between inspection scores and instances of Norovirus outbreaks so it is important to me diligent about sanitation regardless of how well the ship you are travelling on scores.

Washing your hands regularly, carrying and using hand sanitizes, not touching public parts of the ship are always ways to limit your chances of getting ill.  One area we really like to avoid touching are handrails in the stairways.  We will lean our hip or forearm into the railing to maintain balance and avoid touching a part of the ship that is regularly handled by large groups of people.

Jan and I also only drink bottled or boiled water on the ship.....or ice cubes sanitized in various types of alcohol :-). As we are sensitive to changes in water (often laid in at each port of call), we find the consistency of bottled water good for us and it eliminates the possibility of drinking contaminated water.

We have been very lucky.  On fifteen plus cruises we have never come down with anything resembling Norovirus.  We have, on longer cruises, developed a dry cough.  This kind of "cruise cough" is often attributed to the air conditioning system in stateroom dying out the air too much in the evening.  I have only noticed it on cruises of ten days or more, and a couple of cough drops seems to help out if this should develop.

Don't worry about illnesses at sea.  Take regular precautions and you will find yourself fit as a fiddle upon your return to dry land.


 
 
Picture
Think Tank Urban Disguise 40 at Calgary Airport
Back in 2011 I wrote this piece about one of my favourite camera bags, the Think Tank Urban Disguise 40.  Well, the bag is still around although it is now known as the Urban Disguise 40 V 2.  I have had this bag for years and it is still my "go to" camera bag for travelling.  This is especially true for anything that involves air travel as I can fit everything in and it still fits inside that little cage that sits beside every airport gate in the world.  The photo above shows my camera bag stuffed to the gills and resting on the floor of the Calgary airport on our way home after being away for five weeks.

I now travel with a Fuji X-Pro 1 and a series of prime lenses, but by the time I put a 17" laptop and iPad into the case with the accompanying adapters and connectors, I can fill this bag easily.  Always remember, when you are looking for a camera bag, consider how much extra stuff you are going to want to carry rather than consign to the baggage hold in checked luggage!  I highly recommend setting out on a table everything you would want to travel with - try to trim it down and only then begin to think about what size of bag you want.  We often forget about all the extras we carry including power adapters, spare batteries, spare camera body, lens and sensor cleaning supplies, filters, cables, paperwork, etc.  This all adds to the weight you will be carrying and quickly takes up a great deal of room. 

If  we are going to fly someplace where we intend to stay for a period of time, my bag is packed ridiculously full for the plane ride and then is emptied upon arrival at our final destination. 
If we will be flying somewhere and then moving around quite often, I will really lighten up on the accessories and then carry everything in the camera bag all the time.  If we are travelling by car, I usually just put a steamer trunk of gear into the trunk and hope the backseat will hold our luggage.

So, with all this in mind, I thought I would post this update just in case you were looking for a great and versatile camera bag.


---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Photographers spend a great deal of time looking for the perfect camera bag hoping it's available on the next trip to the store.  Every bag is a compromise unless you have found one that folds the space-time continuum in such a way that a small bag holds a lot of gear and all of it doesn't weigh very much.  Sadly, I haven't seen that bag available at my local camera store, so I have had to make some sacrifices and select a bag that obeys the laws of physics.

One of my first camera bags for my digital camera equipment was the now discontinued  Bob Krist Travel Bag sold by L.L. Bean.  It had the distinct advantage of being taller than wide, thus allowing for a full size camera with a mounted long telephoto to be dropped into it.  At 14" X 12" X 5" and with a vertical configuration, it always felt a little awkward to carry.  While it had some endearing features including the ability to transform into a backpack, after a couple of years I was back to looking for a different bag.

Years later my over the shoulder travel camera bag is still a ThinkTank Urban Disguise 40.  Into this 13" X 10" X 4" black ballistic nylon bag goes as much gear as I would normally want to carry.  Typically I can put a Canon 5D Mk II body with grip and separate 70-200 f/2.8, 24-105 f/4, 2X extender and a digital derringer of some sort.  Without the grip on my 5D, I usually store the camera with a mounted 16-35 in the middle compartment, a 70-200 f/2.8 on one side and a 300 f/4 on the other.  Again, this still leaves room for a digital derringer to be stored in the central compartment giving me more than enough equipment for almost any circumstance.

As with most other camera bags, the inside can be configured in many different ways by attaching various partitions and platforms using hook and loop attachments.  The folks at Think Tank provide a huge selection of these partitions with the bag so there is no shortage of ways to configure the inside.

The rear zippered compartment holds my netbook and power cable.  The two expandable front pockets can hold portable hard drives, small prime lenses or an external flash.  This still leaves another zippered compartment between the main one and the front pockets.  Here there are pockets for pens, paper, lens cleaner and cloth as well as a "Pocket Rocket" - a folding wallet that will hold CF and SD cards and clips to an lanyard mounted in the bag for security.  Soft, stretchable outside pockets on each end of the bag allow for water bottles or the like to be stored where they can be easily accessed.

It's really the little extras that set this bag apart and shows that photographers were involved in the design and testing of this product.  While most bag hardware is now made of plastic, all clips, rings and zipper pulls on this bag are of metal to stand up to the most severe wear and tear.  The zippers are weather resistant and the bag comes with its own rain jacket that can be installed over the bag on rainy days.  There is an open pocket on the back of the bag that can be used to hold paperwork or, with the bottom portion open, it becomes a sleeve that will fit over the upright handle of a rolling suitcase. 

The adjustable, curved and well padded shoulder strap makes this bag relatively easy to carry even when loaded to the max with gear.  The zippers are lockable with any luggage lock you would care to use.  Most importantly, this bag is airplane friendly and will fit under the seats or in the overhead bin on the tiny CRJ's that fly in and out of Saskatoon.

As the name of the bag implies, it is meant to be nondescript rather than shouting out that it's filled with expensive cameras.  Short of carrying around a converted diaper bag to discourage thieves (I've done that,  by the way), this bag will limit unwanted attention during your travels.

The best indication that a bag works is how long a photographer uses it and this one has been my primary travel bag for ten years now.  The bag still looks great - as the photo above will attest - and is large and flexible enough to carry all manner of camera gear.  If you are still looking for that perfect bag, this one - or another in the Think Tank lineup may be in order.
 
 
Picture
Passengers waiting to board their cruise ship in Vancouver.
No doubt about it, cruising can be a relaxing way to see the world at a leisurely pace away from the daily grind of busy lives.  While cruise companies would like you to believe that you will be sharing your adventure with few other passengers, this is simply not the case.  As ships increase in size, so does the number of passengers on board.  With a number of ships now carrying 4000 to 5300 passengers each, they are really like floating cities.

While there are bottlenecks or choke points along the way where you may feel like your part of a cattle call, the cruise lines have developed methods of quickly organizing and moving large groups of people.  If you want to avoid feeling crowded on your next cruise, consider some of the following strategies:

1. Avoid the new, mega-ships.  Holding in excess of 5000 passengers, mega-ships manage these numbers relatively well while at sea.  Upon reaching land, it takes a while to disembark this many passengers and get them away of their shore excursions.  Even if you are not taking a tour, you are left in town with a huge number of fellow passengers doing the same as you.  The streets and shops become crowded and local sights are difficult to get near.  God help you when two other mega-ships are in town at the same time that yours is!  My advice - find a "smaller" ship - there are great one out there that carry 1800 to 2300 passengers that will give you a more intimate experience.  Several cruise lines also offer "small ship" options where there are 800 or fewer passengers on board.

2. Use Cruise TT (Timetable) to determine what ships are in port with you on a given day.  Once you have chosen an itinerary and ship, drop by Cruise TT to see if there are many ships in port at the same time as you.  You may find that going a week earlier or later means that there may be less passenger traffic in town with you.  Travelling earlier or later in the cruise season also means there should be less ship traffic to compete with.  The fewer ships in port with you, the less congested the streets and sites will be and the more you will enjoy your time on shore.

3. Consider private tours in the ports you visit.  It is now possible to make your own tour arrangements, often at a discounted price, online before you leave.  The cruise lines will scare you by telling you that you will be left behind if you aren't back in time (this is entirely true) and that the quality of the tours will not be a good (not entirely true).  With the ability to read reviews online, you can usually be assured that the tour will be of equal or better quality than the ship can offer, and with fewer participants.  Make certain that your tour gets you back to the ship one or two hours before you sail, just to give you a time buffer should things go wrong. 

4. Go against the flow whenever possible.  Many passengers go on tours early in the day when the ship had docked and shop once they are back.  Consider doing your walking and shopping first thing and then take a later tour.  If you are taking a ship sponsored tour, the ship will never leave until the tour had returned and everyone is on board.  Another option is to avoid the main tourist areas of a port and move a block or two off the well travelled tourist trail.  Ask your crew on board where there are interesting things to see and do in port - often they know how to avoid the crowds and the tourist traps.

5. Think creatively on sea days.  Many passengers find sea days the most crowded as everyone is on board and apparently on the same schedule.  Everyone wants breakfast in the cafeteria between 8:00 and 10:00 am, lunch between noon and 2:00pm and dinner between 6:00pm and 8:00pm.  If you are an early riser, no trouble, but lunch can be a problem.  Rather than fighting your way through the cafeteria, consider a civilized sit down meal in the dining room or order in room service.  Many ships have specialty restaurants that are open on sea days for lunch at no additional charge so this may be your chance to try a different location to eat.  Most ships also have pizzerias as well as hot dog and hamburger stands so you can grab a quick lunch on the go without fighting for a table in the always crowded cafeteria. 

6. Sit back and relax.  There are bottlenecks you just can't avoid.  One of them is usually in the embarkation and disembarkation halls - especially in Canada and the US where US Customs agents are involved.  Vancouver's Canada Place is a great example of this.  With sometimes three ships sailing on a given day, the number of passengers who must pass through customs and check in can be quite large.  Customs clearance and boarding usually won't start until noon and then will carry on until 4:00pm or 4:30pm.  By the time you clear airport-style security, customs and make it through check-in, you will have been standing in line for quite a while.  Carry the least amount of weight you can - drag or wheel your carry-on and leave the heavy bags with the longshoremen to wrestle on to the ship.  Everyone has to go through this process and whether you arrive early or late, there will probably be some waiting in line.  Disembarkation can be just as long, especially if US Customs is on high alert.  We have stood in line for close to two hours waiting to clear Customs in Los Angeles.  Having said that, we have walked right on to and off at ports like Southampton and Dover in the UK, so your mileage may vary!

Finally, enjoy the company!  Ships become like small towns - almost everyone is up for a conversation about the weather, the scenery or the last tour they took.  If you enjoy meeting and visiting with people, a cruise ship is a great place to make new friends and acquaintances.  So, the next cruise you take, bring your curiosity and patience and you will be rewarded with some wonderful new experiences to bring home with you.

Had any crowded experiences or have you developed ways to avoid/manage crowds?  If so, leave us a comment to help fellow passengers!

 
 
Picture
Solberry Muffins
We are sometimes asked if folks with special dietary needs will have difficulties finding things to eat on a cruise ship and the answer we give is always the same - there is always a way to accommodate your specific requirements.

Your first action is to identify what you need in the guest profile you fill in on the cruise company's website once you have registered for a cruise.  If you require Kosher or gluten-free meals, they can be provided for you as long as you let the cruise company know four weeks in advance.  If you are booked for a cruise, do this now!  If you have ANY questions about having your needs met, don't wait until you are on the ship, phone your travel agent or the cruise line today and discuss this with them - better to know in advance what is possible than to have surprises once on board.

You will notice that vegetarian and vegan diets are not listed on the guest profile as cruise companies work to meet these needs every day on every cruise.  There is always a selection of fresh fruit and salads on the buffet and two or three vegetarian selection in the restaurants.  The secret, whether you eat in the restaurants or buffet, is to get to know the head waiters.  They will consult with you about which items on offer meet your needs and what they can do for you if there are none that interest you.  In the restaurant, the head waiter can bring you the next day's menu and help you make a selection that works - or they can help you order off menu.  There always seems to be excellent vegetable stir fry and curries to order and the kitchen will go out of its way to meet your needs - you just need to identify what you require as soon as possible.  Head waiters are programmed to produce acceptable solutions to each guest's dietary needs so your request will not be the first they have had.

At the buffet, talk to the servers behind the line and if they are not able to help you identify vegetarian or vegan options then ask what else they can make for you - the kitchen is not far away and can make off menu items just like in the restaurant.  I have found that working with the same waitstaff each evening means that they remember your needs and will more readily be able to help you.  In the regular restaurant this will not be a problem.  In the "Anytime Dining" restaurant where you may be seated anywhere, you are going to want to sit in the section with the same head waiter so he/she knows what your requirements  are.  In the buffet line, try to speak to the same servers or locate the same head waiter on the floor to deal with.

As with anything else on a large cruise ship, you need to be proactive in identifying your needs, deal with the same staff as often as possible and give staff some lead time to meet your requests.  Remember, if you don't get the assistance you need, ask to speak to the guest relations representative on board as soon as possible so you are not disappointed during your adventure.

 
 
Throughout May and June, 2013, we will be drawing for one Craft and Vision ebook each week.  Simply comment on each week's new blog posting and be eligible for the draw.  While you need to leave an email address so we can contact you, it never appears on the web site and we do not collect or sell emails.  You will never see an email from us unless you win.

Craft and Vision ebooks are inspirational reading for all photographers.  The books are not about the equipment you should buy or the buttons you should twiddle.  Instead, they will help you hone your photographic potential by improving your vision of the world while bringing new excitement and impact to your photos.  For years I have enjoyed these books and have learned a great deal from them.  Treat yourself - leave a comment and perhaps walk away with an ebook that will inspire you to new things.  Watch for weekly announcements on Twitter and Facebook or drop back here from time to time.

Our first draw is from May 8 to 15.  Drop by here and leave a comment.
 
 
HO Train Set at the Living Desert, California.  Photo by Jan Dougall
Out door HO train set at the Living Desert, Palm Desert, California. Photo by Jan Dougall
Pioneer Town, California?  Ghost town in British Columbia?  Nope, the HO model railway at the Living Desert, Palm Desert, California.  You can make even the smallest scenes seem like they are real by using a telephoto lens, shooting from ground level and using a wide aperture.  This gives the image the same perspective as if you were very small and standing on the ground. The wide aperture gives a narrow depth of field similar to a life size landscape.  To complete the illusion, you need to watch the background to ensure there are no "giant" people standing in the background tol spoil the illusion.
Picture
Another Living Desert shot taken at "ground level" (actually I was crouching down) with a narrow depth of field - notice how the waterfall in the background is out of focus.  Converting the picture to B&W gives it more of a period feel, I think.  The small model fireman on the train gives away the fact it's a model and not the real thing, but I like the overall look and the tonal range in this image.

Give this a try next time you are near anything miniature.  Just image you are small enough to walk around in the scene and shoot from that "eye level". Use a long lens and a wide aperture and you should have images that look very real.


 
 
Picture
In this age of super saturated images, it's sometimes easy to forget the simple beginnings of photography when everything was rendered in black and white, sepia or, for a real change, selenium.  When you strip away the colour from an image you are left with only tonal values from white to black, as well as the shapes and texture of the scene. 

To create an effective black and white image you need to look at a scene in front of you differently.  You need to pay attention to the highlights and the shadows, where they fall in the image and how they relate to one another. You need to ask yourself if there are sufficient differences between the lights and the darks of an image to give a pleasing range of greys in a final picture.  If all the colours have the same tone, the final image will appear flat and muddy.

Looking for  shapes and their textures in a scene help to determine where the interest will be and where the shapes should be placed in the final image.  This is a great place to rediscover the rule of thirds.

The image at the left was photographed at the Living Desert in Palm Desert, California.  The adobe walls in the original image were great but the texture was lost amongst the colour.  Stripping away most of the colour and toning the image slightly brought out the texture in the wall and cacti and the complimentary shapes of all of the picture elements.    The colour image had too much information in it and the composition appeared to be quite flat. 

Picture
Sometimes a picture has so few colours in it that it is, by definition, already monochrome.  The image to the left of Paris rooftops had shades of grey and beige and not much else - a flat and optically boring image.  By converting it to a high contrast black and white image, all the boring colour was stripped away leaving only the shape and texture of the roofs to contemplate.  The image has the added advantage of looking like a black and white etching or antique postcard and I think the image now reflects the age of the buildings themselves.

It takes a while to train your brain to think in black and white but once you start noticing shape and texture, you will be on your way to making some very compelling images.  You can start by taking some colour images you already have and converting them to black and white in your favourite image editor.  You will soon begin to see which ones lend themselves to being rendered in black and white.  Once you can see the difference, you will be ready to go out and experiment in monotone images.

Interested in exploring your photographic potential?  Join us September 16, 2013 as you embark on a seven day Alaska cruise and photo seminar.  More information is available here.


Leave a comment between May 8 and midnight CT May 15, hit the retweet button on this page and you will be entered to win the ebook "The Magic of Black and White" from craftandvision.com  Remember to leave your email address so you can be contacted (emails do not appear in the comments). 

We do not collect, save or sell email addresses - we only use your email address to contact you once, if you win.  Email addresses are destroyed once the contest is done.
 
 
Picture
“But that's the glory of foreign travel, as far as I am concerned. I don't want to know what people are talking about. I can't think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can't read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can't even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.”
Bill Bryson, Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe

I think Bill has it right - really travelling means losing yourself and even your understanding of the world sometimes.  Whether that means losing yourself on a beach for a week with a series of books or trying to navigate places so foreign that nothing is easily understood, there are many ways to escape the ordinary.  This is probably what draws many of us to travel - the chance to forget about deadlines at work, bills that need paying and household chores that need doing.  If you do it right, you can even forget the date, day of the week or, in extreme cases, the time of day.  The longer your journey is and the further from home you venture, the easier it is to exist outside of the day-to-day; to really lose yourself in another time and place.

Our trip several years ago to Nuuk, Greenland was a prime example of this.  Cruise ships stop here on occasion in September when the ice supposedly has melted enough to allow a close approach to shore. Once ashore we had the run of the town, which had suddenly grown in population by a factor of two with the arrival of our cruise ship.  The folks were friendly and welcoming and as long as you remembered to look both ways before crossing the street (traffic signs are suggestions here), you really can't get into any trouble.  And speaking of signs, many are written in Greenlandic (Kalaallisut), the language spoken by the Inuit of Western Greenland.  Helpfully, most were also written in Danish, which meant that I could stand there and understand that I was completely illiterate in TWO languages while also appreciating just how exotic and exciting that was :-)

Jan and I easily navigated through the town and learned there was a baby boom underway (nine months after the coldest, darkest month of the year), that raspberries where $12 for a small container, and the we could shop at the same JYSK store we had back in Saskatoon.  Although we were here only a day, it felt like we were far away from our usual lives and selves.  To be able to share, even for a few hours, the way other people lived in such a remarkable place was a real gift.  

Recently I have gotten to know a fellow traveller who I would like to introduce to you.  Adam Shepard has just spent a year travelling the world and taking the time to really learn about other countries,  people and himself in the process.  His new e-book, "One Year Lived'" takes the reader with Adam through seventeen countries as he lived, worked and learned along the way.  His book begins with his first bungee jumping experience and proceeds on from there in easy to read and engaging prose.  Adam is a traveller, not a tourist, and as he year progressed, he met incredibly interesting people and experienced each country in a new and unique way.

To mark the release of Adam's book on April 18, we gave away a pdf version of his book "One Year Lived" next Wednesday, April 25 at 6:00pm CT time.  And the envelope please....... congratulations to Jeff-yes-that-Jeff for the win! 

Further information about Adam and "One Year Lived" is available here. or read the press released via the link below.
one_year_lived_press_release.pdf
File Size: 154 kb
File Type: pdf
Download File

Speaking of  remarkable journeys, our upcoming Alaska Cruise and Photo Seminar on September 16 will give participants a chance to escape the ordinary and practice their photo skills in one of the most spectacular places on earth.  Drop by our home page and see where we will be going and what we will be doing.
 
 
Picture
Images arranged using Layout app
For many people the quick answer to this is "yes".  With smartphones now equipped with cameras that resolve north of 8MP, the picture quality is getting pretty good.  Yes, the size of the sensor is tiny and the grain in the image if low light images can be distracting, but since most of us will not be making large prints, the results can be quite good. 

The advantage to these cameras is that they are always with us so the chances of "capturing the moment" are very good.  Without an optical zoom, you are not going to use these for hunting land animals or birds, but for people pictures and landscapes they preform quite well. 

It is now possible to download a number of very good apps which will improve the photos you can capture.  Some even help you with the presentation of your final images.  I have been playing recently with:


Simply B & W: an easy to use program that lets you convert your camera or photo library images to very credible black and images.

Layout: an great way to, ah - layout your images with good looking frames around them.  Display individually or in groups as seen above.

Picture
Panorama image taken at Joshua Tree National Park with Pano Camera app on iPhone 5
Pano Camera: a very simple to use app that will create panoramas up to 360 degrees wide.  Simply take your first image and then line up the automatically generated targets for the next shots.  The final image is pretty good considering it takes next to no time to do and doesn't require a tripod.

Whether you use your camera in "plain vanilla" mode or tarted up with an app or two, smartphones today provide a great alternative to a compact digital camera.  If you don't need a telephoto, if you aren't using it in exceedingly dim conditions and if you don't make large prints, this may be all the camera you need.  If you haven't tried some of the photo apps out there, treat yourself, they cost very little and can add a great deal of versatility to your photography.
 
 
Picture
There never was a Leica camera that looked quite like this one supposedly issued to the U-Boat service of the German navy in WWII.  Certainly the very few that ever existed don't look as pristine as this as they have, literally, been through the war.

This camera seems to have the look of a real pre-war Leica II.  It is engraved with "E. Leitz Wetzlar" on the top deck.  The lens cap reads "Leica" and it appears to have a 50mm Elmar f/3.5 lens.  But as well marked and beautiful as it is, and in spite of the silky smooth controls, this is a fantasy that never existed.  This is really a Russian Zorki rangefinder, copied to a very large degree from a Leica II, and produced in huge numbers between the end of WWII and the mid 1950s.

Whoever worked on this camera was able to strip down, repair, paint, engrave, and reassemble what is today a beautiful looking camera.  To a Leica collector it is very easy to tell this is a fake with telltale features including chrome front screws which should be painted black.  The shutter release is without the internal threading for a Leica cable release and the internal rangefinder cam that connects the lens to the rangefinder system is entirely the wrong shape.

Picture
So, we know what it is not: what it is - even as a fake - is quite fascinating.  Not only was the craftsmanship on this camera outstanding, but someone knew a great deal about WWII German U-boats.  The camera is supposedly presented at Wilhelmshaven, Germany, where the Kriegsmarinewerft built and launched U-boats.  There is a rear presentation plate to "the brave submarine commander, in grateful recognition."  There is also an engraving indicating that the commander was in charge of the U-boat flotilla "Weddigen", the first Nazi flotilla to be formed in 1935.  The usual German eagle, swastika and "M", supposedly for "Marine", are emblazoned on this little camera.

Other fantasy Leicas have appeared on the market but few of them have the extensive engraving and presentation plaques that have been added here.

Have I put any film though it?  No, and I doubt I will.  As a camera is it more of a collectible than a user as I would hate to blemish the beautiful finish on this interesting "Leica".  Have you ever encountered one of these Russian fakes?  If so, share your experiences here.