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The Best Equipped Guerilla Photographer

by Tom Donald | February 27, 2014

gaffers tape


Do we mean photographing guerillas? Flak vest, hard hat, AK-47 and a small SWAT team, eh? No, this is the down and dirty photographer, who can only carry a camera because you are traveling very light. Business traveler, hiker, you name it. So you have to make do with what you brought or what is around you. Of course, it won’t be a nice, bright, sunny day to make it easy. The real shot will be one of those "on the fringe" Pulitzer Prize winners that you cannot pass up, but you don’t have the trusty camera bag with all the gear to support this tough shot. You have to use the brain pan and what is available. And perhaps a few pre-emptive items that still fit in one of your shoes in the suitcase.

So let’s first consider what does "traveling light" mean? Can you carry a DSLR? If so, you have some built-in flexibility. At least you can choose a best compromise lens. Of course, if you have an 18-300mm why would you care? You have all you need. They are expensive little devices, however, not terribly small or lightweight and not all of us have one. We do not know where that great shot is going to be, but err toward the wider angle lens. If we don’t have enough lens for the long shot, we might get lucky and have enough resolution to crop it and still get the picture. On the other hand, your 70-200mm zoom will have a tough time getting anything useful indoors. A simple prime lens like a 35mm, 50mm, or 85mm are best for shooting guerilla style because they travel well and you can use your feet as the zoom. Also, most point and shoots tend to have a fairly wide angle anyway, because they are optimized for social situations. And wide does great for landscapes, group shots, indoor work. So the small camera might be just fine.

The other thing to think about is you probably do not have a computer. Memory chips are small, so carry as many as you can rationalize or you have. Quick note...you can fit about 50 SDHC cards in a pill bottle. Or carry the biggest one you have that will work with your camera. Same goes for the battery. If you have a spare, charge it and carry it. If not, hopefully you can sneak the charging unit into your toiletry bag. Note that the memory card might well outlast the battery capability, particularly if you use flash, unless you have a charger or spare battery.

We have all our clothes, business stuff, toiletries and we have stuffed the suitcase until the zippers are blushing. Can we pack one peanut butter sandwich in there? Yes? Great. We just got lots more capability.

One of the old standby items is called gaffer’s tape. From the film industry it is used to do things on the set, like tie up or cover video and audio cables. You have duct tape? Leave it at home. Unlike gaffer’s tape, duct tape adhesives tend to leave residue. Gaffer’s tape is a cloth tape with other similar characteristics but a different adhesive. If you go to the local hardware store you may not find gaffer’s tape. One substitute is the blue masking tape used in painting. The blue stuff is short term adhesive meant to be taken off again. While not as strong, since it is paper based, you can still use it to temporarily stabilize a camera, hold up a reflective surface, etc. For our purposes, 1 inch wide is fine. Unless you have an over talkative traveling mate, in which case you may want three inch tape.

You just checked the news on your iPhone and tonight is the lunar eclipse. Or perhaps you just want to take your own hero shot using the timer and put the camera on a stable surface in this rock strewn desert. You need your trusty tripod. Here is a tip. Take a quart sized zip lock bag with you. If you need a tripod, fill it with sand, dirt, rice, the heavier the better. That buckshot you had saved up for the guerilla hunt will do well. This makes a nice sand bag that allows you to place your camera on uneven surfaces, arrange it so that it is level, and render it rock solid for that long exposure. The bag will fit in your shoe with the other clandestine camera gear. One other option is the small gripable gorillapod. Great for traveling and can attach itself to many different objects by wrapping its flexible legs around it. Travels pretty easy as well.

joby gorillapod

Lighting can be a challenge. Assuming that same minimalist peanut butter sandwich volume, a handy piece to go with your tape can be a rectangle of aluminum foil, two to three feet long, folded up tightly. For reflecting your flash or sunlight, use the dull side, since it diffuses the light better. Out in the strong sun? Have your model hold the foil under his/her chin at an angle that directs the light to soften those harsh shadows. Bring an A-clamp or two to help hold up a reflector or just to hang your clothes to dry after your epic guerilla photo journey.

Next time we will talk about what you might find on the scene. Meanwhile, keep thinking about how to use what is around you. You might end up on Survivor!

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Tips-n-Tricks #331

Challenge yourself to find beautiful "pockets" of light. They can be hard to find and sometimes it depends on the time of day. Good places to look are in small rooms with windows, the very beginning of a shaded patio or tree, close to any non-sun facing window. taking photos in beautiful light will better your chances at making beautiful photos.

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