Packing for a Photography Backpacking Trip in Iceland

I just returned from a 10-day photography trip to Iceland that involved both camping and backpacking. Before I left, I took some pictures of the gear I took along for a blog post. Now, I’m sure that at least half of the readers of this blog just yawned, closed the window and got back on Facebook when they saw that the topic was packing. But, I’m convinced that there are a lot of photographers out there that will use this list as a resource. So, I will write on undeterred.

I’ve never really been a “packing list” person, but I recently created a detailed packing list specifically for this trip. Below is what I brought along, organized by major category. There will be very little commentary in this blog… just pictures and a list of items.

Photography equipment

Below is a picture of everything I typically bring if there is enough room. I’ll leave some things at home depending upon the trip. Virtually all of this (except the large tripod if I bring it) gets packed in my carry-on for the flight.


f-Stop Tilopa Bag (not pictured) with internal camera unit
Rain cover, straps, hooks for camera bag
Canon 5d Mark III with tripod plate
Canon 5d Mark II with tripod plate
Canon battery charger and extra batteries
16-35 w/ hood
24-105 w/ hood
100-400 w/ hood, ring, tripod plate
Memory Cards and case
Card Reader and cable
580EX II flash(es)
STE-2 flash trigger
Umbrella (Lighting)
Portable flash stand and connectors
Lee filter, holder, polarizer
Gitzo GT3542LS Tripod
RRS ballhead
Tripod adjustment wrenches
Lens air blower
Lens cleaning cloths, wipes

Camping Gear


North Face Tent
Tent Footprint
Sleeping Bag and stuff bag
Sleeping pad w/ bag
Inflatable pillow
MSR Stove w/ case and accessories
MSR Fuel Bottle
Foldable Pot
Foldable cup/bowl
Foldable measuring Cup / Drinking Cup
Water bottle
Whistle & Compass
Small Fenix flashlight
Swiss Army Knife
Water purification tablets
Sunscreen – Mini
Camping Towels


Because I want to keep this blog rated “G” for family viewing, I’ve excluded my underwear from this picture. But, trust me, I brought underwear to Iceland.


Short-sleeve and long-sleeve “base layer” shirts
Long underwear bottoms
Hiking pants
Hiking pants 2
Socks (Heavy)
Socks (Light)
T-shirts for sleep
Pajama Bottoms
Patagonia Down Jacket
North Face fleece jacket
Rain jacket
Rain pants
Winter hat
Baseball hat
Thin gloves (waterproof)
Fisherman’s Boots
Hiking Boots
Hiking Sandals
Clothes dry bag (Medium)
Clothes dry bag (Small)
Larger ziplocks for shoes
Sunglasses and case/bag
Glasses and Reading Glasses w/ case



Freeze-Dried Meals (I brought around 12)
Protein Bars
Hot chocolate
Gatorade powder packets

Miscellaneous and Equipment


MacBook and cable
External drive and cable
Cell phone and charger
Electric adapter(s)
Memory stick
Headphones – small
AA Quick Charger and adapter
AA Batteries and case
Copy of passport
Airline itinerary & Boarding Passes
Cash (USD / Foreign / Tips)
Ziplock bags
Eye Shield
Ear Plugs
Duct Tape
Things to light a fire (not pictured… check on airline regulations for approved items and how to pack)

Medication / First Aid / Toiletries


My prescription meds
Prescription Cipro
Alcohol prep pads
Elastic wrap
Nail clippers
Lip Balm
Towlettes – Small
Bio-degradeable toilet paper
Hand sanitizer
Razor – electric
Contact case
Small contact solution bottle
Contact lenses (extras)
Eye glass wipes
Glasses repair kit

China Photography Trip Highlights

It has been over six weeks since my last blog. Much too long. There are three reasons for my long absence. First, I was preparing for an 18-day trip to China. Second, I was taking an 18-day trip to China. Third, I was recovering from 18 days in China.

A number of people have asked me what these trips are like. So, I thought it was fitting to do a blog about the trip, including where I went, what my strategy was for getting good photos and what my days were generally like. Sound good? If not, the good news is that there will be a blog post on a completely different topic in about a week.

Where did I go in China?

I flew into Guilin and spent 9 days there “on my own” with a local Chinese guide and driver. This area is known for the beautiful karst mountains and Li River, as well as the cormorant fisherman. The picture below has all three. A short drive away are the Longji rice terraces, which are amazing. I then traveled to XiaPu with a group of other photographers from Asia, led by Steve Chong ( Steve has become a good friend and is very experienced at leading photography tours in Asia. XiaPu is well known for its painterly landscape scenery.

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Xingping Fisherman : Prints Available

A fisherman on the Li River at Xingping near Guilin taking a break.

What was a “typical” day like?

While in Guilin, I had a routine that I followed every single day for all 9 days, without exception. Every morning, I woke up around 4:00 and got to a great landscape location for sunrise. This usually meant climbing a hill or taking a boat in the dark to the location, then spending perhaps 3 hours there. After coming back and having breakfast, I would take a short break and then head out to local villages where my guide and I would walk around in search of interesting looking people for portraits. Our typical strategy was to inquire where the older people of the village lived and go knock on doors. After shooting portraits, we would head to a sunset location, where we would stay until after the sun went down. Then, the day ended with traveling back to the hotel, followed by dinner, backing up my photos and generally getting to bed around 11:30 or 12:00. So, the basic routine was sunrise-portraits-sunset with a few meals in between.

For the second half of the trip, I was with the group, so I followed the group’s schedule. Because this was focused more on landscapes and seascapes, most of the shooting was at the beginning and end of the day.

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One Eye Closed : Prints Available

Chinese man from the Longji area takes a break outside his house.

What were the hotels and food like?

I had specifically instructed my Guilin guide that keeping costs low was a priority over staying in nice hotels. Let’s just say that he took this seriously and that I stayed in some pretty bad hotels. In one case, there was a dead bug on the floor the size of a small bird.. and a rusted drain pipe in the sink, so that all of the water and whatever else going down the drain ran out all over the floor. The room hadn’t been cleaned in a long time as far as I can tell. In XiaPu, I was with the group and stayed in a very nice hotel and ate good food.

What were your strategies for getting good pictures?

First, I carefully chose my local guide in Guilin. I was on a budget and found a number of people advertising themselves as photography tour guides. However, the fact is that a number of these are tour guides who occasionally bring photographers around. I really needed someone that knew photography well, including what spots were good for sunrise and sunset. I needed someone that was used to working long hours, including getting up very early. Also, I wanted someone that knew the local villages and could help arrange portrait shoots. Although there was a foreign guide or two available, I went with a well-connected, experienced local guide.

Second, I planned for bad weather. In this part of China at this time of year, the weather does not cooperate most of the time. For my landscape locations, I built in at least two opportunities at each of the higher priority locations and then had a full free day at the end of the trip for going back to a spot where I didn’t get good weather. Also, I didn’t let bad weather deter me from shooting. Even if it was raining, I hiked to my location and waited for a break in the weather. This paid off a couple of times, such as with the picture below.

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Clouds Over the Li : Prints Available

Clouds from a viewpoint atop Xiang Gong Shan mountain

Third, I made sure to keep the itinerary flexible. I made this clear up front when I booked my guide. On the 2nd day of shooting, we learned that the Li River was still flooded from torrential rains the previous week. The Li River was so high that the cormorant fisherman could not be on the river. My guide suggested we wait it out a day and hope for the best the following day. Instead, I flipped the itinerary on the spot and we went to the rice terraces first, re-booking all the hotels and driving in the opposite direction. This turned out to be the right decision, since the Li River remained too high for the fisherman until the day we returned back from the terraces. Much of the trip would have been ruined if we hadn’t changed the itinerary.

Fourth, I combined several different categories of subjects for variety. This was helped by combining the time on my own in Guilin, along with time with the group in XiaPu. Also, my focus on environmental portraits allows me to shoot during the day rather than only focusing on landscapes during the very beginning and end of the day.

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Twins : Prints Available

Two women in silhouette on beach outside XiaPu, China

What were some of the challenges I faced?

There are numerous challenges in a trip like this. For example, the travel logistics all went fine until the first day. Our flight into Hong Kong was diverted to Taiwan where we spent a night. This meant missing all my connections and my reserved hotel. I had to get on my phone to cancel and rebook flights and hotels. I also had one case where my local hotel name was not written in Chinese on the reservation, resulting in a very angry taxi driver. Sleep deprivation was a big challenge, as I averaged around 4 hours of sleep per night for 18 days. Lastly, I had to deal with a lot of rain, although I did have some good luck with the weather.

One final note: an interesting experience.

Back in 2012, I was in Guilin for four days and took the picture below. Fast forward three years later and I somehow ended up in the same village and came across these same ladies, sitting in the same positions on the same stairs and wearing the exact same clothes. This time, they had no interest in having their picture taken, but it was fun showing them the picture I took in 2012.

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Friendship : Prints Available

Older Chinese women sitting on the stairs

Cities at Night

Yes, yes, I know it has been awhile since my last blog post. Well, I have a good excuse. I have been devoting all of my spare time in the last two months to helping my wife launch her newborn and child portraiture business. You can find evidence of this at

Although I don’t specialize in cityscape photography, I do enjoy city lights and have managed to get a few decent night pictures. Here are my top three pieces of advice for getting cool pictures of cities after the sun has gone down:

Shoot at twilight. Photographers call twilight the “blue hour”. Just prior to the sky going black, it turns a beautiful cobalt blue for perhaps 20-30 minutes. This is a great time to be shooting pictures of cities. Take a look at the two pictures below. The first was taken at twilight, so you get the nice color contrast of the blue and gold.

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Pulteney Bridge at Twilight : Prints Available

Pulteney Bridge lit up at night

The picture below was taken after the sky had already turned black. Booorrrriiiinnnnngggg.


Capture motion. Assuming you are shooting at a reasonably low ISO, night pictures require long exposures. This gives you the opportunity to capture motion, whether it be moving clouds, tail lights, water or anything else.

My favorite city night shot is below. The whole image looks basically out of control. I used a 30-second exposure with low, fast-moving clouds overhead. Although this was taken well after twilight, the lights of the city turned the clouds orange in the exposure, which looks as good or better than the twilight. Without the moving clouds, this picture would have been a tosser.

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The London Eye : Prints Available

London Eye spinning at night

Process in black and white. Don’t put your camera away after dark. Even with a black sky, you can still get compelling black and white city shots. This is because black and white images rely on contrast, not color. The picture below was taken late at night and looks much better when converted to black and white than the original color image.

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Eiffel at Night : Prints Available

Shot from below the Eiffel Tower in black and white

How to Get Sharp Pictures – Part 2 of 3

We are back with Part 2 of our 3-part series on taking sharp pictures. To recap, we are focusing on seven common causes of less-than-sharp images and how to address each. Part 1 focused on the notorious “camera shake”. Part 2 will introduce causes #2-4. With a reminder that I am only touching briefly on each, let’s jump right in…

CAUSE #2 – MOTION BLUR. While camera shake relates to movement of the camera, “motion blur” is about elements in your composition moving. Motion blur can happen with both your subject and your background. Your moving subject might be a person walking, while your moving background may include trees or grass blowing in the wind. Now, not all motion blur is bad. In fact, some of it is downright cool. However, it is important for you to have control over whether you want to freeze or blur the motion.

Motion blur happens when the shutter speed is too slow to freeze moving elements in the image. In addition to the speed of the moving elements, the space that the moving elements take up in the frame is a key factor. So, the distance to the subject and your lens choice play an important role. Once again, below is a link to a recent blog on shutter speed which deals with both camera shake and motion blur. For those that do not feel like clicking on the link, some starting points for freezing motion are to use 1/125 – 1/250 for slow moving objects (walking people)… 1/500-1/1000 for fast moving objects (running people and moving cars) and 1/2000 for very fast moving objects (race cars).

CAUSE #3 – INACCURATE FOCUS. Getting good focus isn’t quite as straightforward as it would seem. Here are some guidelines for getting good focus, starting with some tips which hold true whether you are using autofocus or manual focus:

  • Zoom in when focusing. If you are using a zoom lens, you will get better focus by zooming into your subject to lock focus and then zooming back out as necessary to take the shot.
  • Use “live view”. If your camera has it, you can get more precise focus using “live view”, which is Canon’s terminology. Live view (or whatever it may be called for your camera’s manufacturer) allows you to view and focus via the LCD screen on the back of the camera. You can zoom into a very small part of the image for precise focus. Live view is typically used when you are photographing still subjects on a tripod, as hand-holding the camera and looking at the LCD screen is not a stable way to hold the camera.

Here are some tips which apply to auto-focus only:

  • Test (and adjust if necessary) the autofocus of each lens on each camera. Don’t assume that your autofocus is working perfectly. I had to send a brand new top-quality lens back for repairs because the autofocus was WAY off. It is a good idea to test each lens’s autofocus with your camera on a tripod. There are some relatively inexpensive tools which will help you determine if your focus is off and by how much. Most of the better cameras will then have a micro-adjustment tool, where you can adjust the focus of your lens (or camera) and re-test to help it focus properly.
  • Be careful when re-composing with very wide apertures. Generally, photographers using autofocus will lock their focus, then recompose for the shot. This recomposing means a slight movement of the camera. For very wide apertures, such as 1.2 or 1.4, this slight movement can throw the image out of focus. So, be as careful as possible not to move forward or backward. If you are aiming the camera at an angle (as opposed to straight towards you subject), this is even more of an issue. If re-composition is necessary, some photographers using f1.2 will snap a few images, moving very slightly back and forth between each shot in an attempt to get one shot in focus.

Now, here are tips for manual focusing only:

  • First, try using manual focus. Many people never use it. However, you can sometimes get better results than with auto-focus. I always use manual focus when shooting macro subjects and some of my landscape images.
  • Getting good focus on manual is dependent upon two things: 1) Your eyesight; and 2) the diopter being adjusted properly if your camera has an adjustable diopter. The diopter is the little window that you look through when composing your image through the viewfinder. Adjust this until it is sharp to your eyes.

I know this might be “link overkill”, but I did do one other blog on focusing for moving subjects. Here it is:

CAUSE #4 – ISO AND APERTURE COMBINATION. We’ve discussed shutter speed. However, ISO and aperture can certainly affect the sharpness and quality of your image.

  • Use a lower ISO when possible. Your ISO setting determines the sensitivity of the camera’s sensor. The higher the ISO, the more sensitive it is to light. However, as you raise the ISO, the picture quality suffers in the form of “digital noise”. Shoot with as low an ISO as possible under the conditions, without compromising the image from an inappropriate shutter speed or aperture combination. Newer cameras, such as the Canon 5D Mark III, can handle high ISOs with minimal noise.
  • On a related issue, it is worth a brief mention here that aperture determines depth of field. Wider apertures (lower f-stops, like 1.8) have less depth-of-field, meaning relatively less of the image outside of the plane of focus will be sharp. Narrower apertures (like f/22) will have greater depth-of-field, meaning most or all of the image front to back should be in focus.
    • However, many people are not aware that lenses have differing levels of sharpness across the range of apertures. Generally, the sharpest aperture of your lens is 1-3 stops above the widest aperture. So, if your widest aperture is f2.8, then f5.6, f7.1 or f8.0 will typically be the sharpest. This does not mean that your pictures will be blurry at f/16, but it is useful to know that these apertures produce the sharpest images and factor that into your choice of aperture. You may still want to shoot wide open or at a small aperture to get the depth-of-field you want.

    That is more than enough for today. We’ll deal with the last three causes of less-than-sharp pictures in Part 3.

Including Reflections in Your Images

There is an old adage that “two is better than one”. Like most old adages, there are exceptions to the adage. For example, I just used the word “adage” twice in the same sentence and it sounds kind of crummy. Nevertheless, from a photography perspective, I think Taylor Swift was really onto something when she coined this timeless phrase.

Including a mirror image reflection of a subject can result in a pretty cool picture. I regularly look for reflections in water, mirrors, windows and other reflective surfaces when out shooting pictures. Here are some examples:

Reflections in Water – Landscape photographers regularly use reflections in water as an important compositional element. In most cases, you will want to avoid cutting the reflection in half, so you might have to bend or break the “rule of thirds”, sometimes putting the horizon line dead center in your composition.

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Fishing on the Li : Prints Available

Chinese cormorant fisherman on his boat

Reflections in Mirrors – The shape of the sign and mirrored reflection is what makes the image below (somewhat) interesting. When using a wide-angle lens, you often have to be careful to keep yourself and your camera out of the reflection while also keeping interesting elements in the reflection.

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Reflection on Wacker Drive : Prints Available

Color rendition of a reflection in a sign on Wacker Drive

Reflections in Windows – I did an earlier blog on “watching the windows” when composing, so this is a bit of a repeat. Notice how the reflection in the windows adds color and contrast to the subject.

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Church on the Coast : Prints Available

Red and white coastal church with the beginning of a beautiful sunset overhead

Creative Use of Other Reflective Surfaces – In the shot below, the reflection is the subject, as opposed to complementing the subject. Reflective use of shiny surfaces, such as black plexiglass, is often used in product photography and even portraits.

The Beach