Reef's Roofs
Reef’s Roofs by Ernie Larsen
Our new columnist focuses on best practices for traveling photographers.

by Ernie “Poppa” Larsen

Almost everyone I know takes a camera with them when going on vacation or attending other special occasions. And that’s it – the camera. Nowadays with the advent of the compact, multi-function digital camera, basically that is all that you would need.


I can’t believe I actually said that. I’m an equipment junkie and former Boy Scout; my nickname should be “Be Prepared Poppa.” You should have seen what I carried in my DOMKE F2 bag while I was shooting for the local newspaper. That was then and this is now – technology certainly lessened my load. So, when I discussed my proposal for a basic photography themed column with the editor of Suitcase Ready, I jumped at the opportunity to share my expertise.

This inaugural article is pretty basic; if you have any comments or criticisms just post them at the bottom of this column and they will be forwarded to me. Also, if there is a specific photo concern you would like explained, resolved or further discussed let us know. Suitcase Ready is all about smart & savvy traveling –  it’s a two way street so let’s hear from you!

Without further ado… The Traveling Camera.

Whether it’s off to the revel in the mysteries of Machu Picchu or a pink sand beach in Bermuda why not take some time and simple precautions that will insure you will come back with some neat photos to show off to the folks at home?

Let’s compare your camera to an automobile; 99.9% of every car delivered has a spare tire in the trunk or storage area, correct? So, how about some spares for your camera. Right away before we go any further – I can see some naysayers who are dismissing the extras even before they finish this piece. People who are thinking “I can get 300 shots with my camera before needing a charge; isn’t that enough for a week?”

Let me enlighten you with a real-life situation that friends of mine experienced. This is an example of “just bringing the camera” that resulted in about 10 good photos from a 12 day trip. My friends, Bob & Carolyn booked a trip/cruise to Alaska. The price was pretty substantial, it was something they had talked about for many years – a major traveling event in their lives.

The second day into their trip Carolyn noticed the ‘low-battery’ warning on her camera was blinking. She asked Bob where he packed the charging cord; he replied ‘I thought you packed it’ – you figured that was coming, eh? I’m sure we all have done that, forgot to pack something assuming our partner remembered.

Anyway not having a spare cord they thought they could buy another battery. Nope, nowadays, batteries for these compact digitals are in reality a specialty item; available from a photo store or by mail order photo sites. You can’t just meander into CVS and pick one up like you do with a 4-pack of double A’s. They did try to find a one-time use camera for sale – with no luck. Their travel mates said they would share their photos with them; you know how that goes, well I do. They haven’t seen any of their fellow travelers’ snaps and that is why we just got to see 10 very good photos.

I really felt bad for them – once in a lifetime trip and all. Wouldn’t you agree this is an excellent argument to carry a spare battery? I sure would. Soon after arriving home after the trip, they purchased a spare battery for their camera. They are also contemplating another camera. If you do this, make sure the cameras use the same type batteries and memory cards.

And, you guessed it – I have a few other suggestions to make certain your vacation picture taking will be as stress free as possible.

Minimum suggested equipment for a trip:

1. Camera

2. Spare battery

3. Spare memory card/s

4. Charger cord

5. USB cord (for downloading pix)

6. USB flash drive (to store pix)

7. Lens cloth (for cleaning the lens)

8. Case to carry the camera and extras

 (editor’s note: it’s also a good idea to bring the camera instruction booklet if you’re not very very familiar with all aspects of your camera)

As for memory cards (all my digital cameras use the SD units) I prefer SanDisk, based on the recommendation of a NIKON rep and the technical sales clerk at the outlet where I purchased the camera. If you prefer to shoot a large file size, RAW or movies – make sure you have a memory card with the highest capacity the camera will accept. And if you are a prolific shooter, you may need several memory cards.

So, there you go, my investment for the spare battery and SD card was around $40.00 (after-market batteries were about 60% less in cost than the name brand). A minimal price to pay for peace of mind and knowing my trip will be adequately recorded for a lifetime of memories.

Bon voyage and happy shooting!


Having begun his interest in photography at the age of 7, Ernie Larsen has worked for several newspapers, shooting events like the Olympics, Grand Prix racing, spot news and advertising photography. He has also photographed 850+ weddings, and experiments with pinhole photography and lomography. Ernie and his wife have traveled extensively in the US, Caribbean and Europe.

This article was originally posted November 4, 2011.

Ernie Larsen  2011©


The Traveling Camera