August 2011 Question & Answers

The Brewers are up by 7.5 games in their division and the Packers are looking good in their preseason games for another run at the Super Bowl. Sweet corn is on sale on the roadside in Wisconsin and the weather is neither too hot nor too cold. All seems right with the world.

As such it is time once again for another Q&A.

Annabel Candy from asks: Hi Gary, I have three, yes three digital cameras. I love taking photos and, like everyone, I don’t think I’m bad.

Taking photos while traveling is always a highlight of my trip but I never get out of automatic mode, even on my SLR. It seems too complicated! So please can you share one or two easy ways to get out of auto mode?

The easiest thing to do is to take your SLR and put it into aperture priority mode. Set it to the lowest possible f-stop and take some test photos of something next to you with good lighting. Then take some more photos increasing the f-stop each time. Then put the photos on your computer and compare how they are different. This is beginning the process of developing an understanding as to why you want to use certain apertures.

When you change your f-stop you are changing the size of the hole in your camera which lets in light. The smaller the f-stop number, the larger the hole. F/22 is very small hole and f/2.8 is a very big hole. The bigger the hole, the shorter the focal length. If you have seen a photo where part of the photo is very crisp and the background is very blurry, that is an example of a short focal length and a very large aperture. If you seen an image where everything is in focus, then it is probably a very high f-stop, like f/22, and a very small aperture.

Most photographers shoot in aperture priority mode, unless you are doing sports or nature photography where shutter speed is more important.

Once you’ve taken some test photos and can see the difference, then just start shooting all the time in aperture priority mode. Get to know the exposure adjustment buttons on your camera (+/-) and learn about the histogram. Then just start taking a lot of photos and you’ll get a feel for what aperture is the right one to use given the circumstances.

The key is to just start doing it. That is the only way you will ever figure it out.

Christmas in Macau

Cathy Williams asks on Google+: I want to spend Christmas out of the country. Have you been somewhere at Christmas time that felt extra special? My thoughts: Aruba. Germany.

I spent Christmas day 2007 in Macau. It was the first Christmas I had been away from home. All of my Christmases outside of the US have been spent in Asia, which probably isn’t the most festive place to celebrate Christmas. That being said, I think visiting Germany or Austria around Christmas would be great. From what I’ve been told the Christmas markets have gotten a bit touristy but I don’t think that is a reason to avoid them.

I’ve been to Aruba and think it is a great place, but I’m not sure if they do anything special for Christmas. I think you’ll basically just end up spending a lot for a room. All things being equal, I’d avoid resort areas during Christmas and New Year. You will end up paying a premium to experience crowded conditions.

Miranda Graham Richter asks on Facebook: Hi Gary! How do you and Chris Christensen know each other? I listen to This Week in Travel and Amateur Traveler podcasts but have always wondered how you two became buds. Also, I just recently learned that Ira Glass from This American Life and Philip Glass are cousins! (Did you know that?)

I was aware that Philip and Ira Glass were cousins. There is a great interview online where Ira interviews Philip. It was actually the first time they met. Ira also narrates a version of Wichita Sutra Vortex that was performed in the SoHo Apple Store with Philip Glass on Piano (Link requires Spotify).

As for how how I met Chris….

Chris was my lieutenant back in Vietnam. We were stationed outside of Da Nang at a little place called Hill 147. Charlie had been hitting us bad for weeks and one day a shell landed in the bunker Lt. Christensen was holed up in. He was hurt bad with shrapnel in his leg. I managed to pull him out dragging him with his collar in my teeth all the while holding off the VC.

On the helicopter to the MASH unit, Lt. Christensen told me that he owed me his life and that if at any time in the future I needed anything from him, I only had to ask.

Decades later I came up with the idea of This Week In Travel, and the rest is history….

Greg Baskin asks on Facebook: Is it possible to travel the world with one carry-on bag and yet have all needed to camp in the one’s backcountry?

Sure, you just have to be aware of what you are giving up. At a minimum you are talking about carrying a tent and a sleeping bag. If you want to carry it on a plane, then I’d guess you are looking at a 30-50L backpack. You will probably need to eliminate a lot of clothes and not carry much in the way of electronics.

That being said, I’m not sure why you’d need to carry everything on the plane. If you aren’t on a business trip or under a tight schedule, the extra time required to pick up a bag isn’t that big of a deal. During the last 4.5 years I’ve been traveling, I have checked a bag on every flight save for one. I have never had a lost bag. Yes, you do want to travel as light as possible, but when you are traveling around the world and have all your things with you, you can actually travel too light. You need to find that balance.

Mike Willits from asks: What has been your favorite off the beaten path location?

I’d have to go with somewhere in the Pacific. Probably Micronesia or the Solomon Islands. I visited the island of Rennell in the Solomons which gets about a dozen visitors per year.

Many of the islands you can visit in the Pacific are so far off the beaten track, there is no track. Even islands like Rarotonga which are geared towards tourism get nothing compared to what some islands in the Caribbean get. They are just too remote and too far away. There is nothing like a remote island for getting off the beaten path.

Nathan Dintenfass asks on Google+: Do you have an opinion on Is SmugMug ripe for a new generation of competition?

I played with 500px a bit, but I’ll be honest that I’m not really sure what purpose it serves. It isn’t really designed to be a photo hosting site. On the merits of just photo hosting it doesn’t even come close to Smugmug or its competitors. If you want to share photos with other people then I’d put them where the people are: Facebook or Google+. Flickr seems like a better social network for photographers. All I can figure is that it is trying to be a community for high-end photographers, but I’m not really sure of the market. It doesn’t seem that there is anything I can do on 500px that I can’t do on Smugmug or some other site.

11 thoughts on “August 2011 Question & Answers”

  1. Hi Gary, I’m a very faithful This Week in Travel listener. You talked about Google Earth and I found how you used it to mark the places you’ve been. You are correct, you can hardly see the map with all the pins. I know how to make a KLM file for google earth. How do I embed it in my site like yours? I’m using WordPress.

    I did do the trip trace like Jen suggested but I like your Google Earth map best:)

    • First, create the KML file in Google Earth. Then upload the file to your web server. Then open that file in Google Maps (just put the URL in the search box). Then embed that URL on your page.

      Look at the source code on my page if you want to see how I did it.

  2. Hey,

    Just thought you’d like to know that changing your aperture is NOT changing your focal length (that is your “zoom” or your angle of view, e.g. 50mm). Your aperture changes your depth of field, (acceptable depth of focus), ie the amount of blurred background.

    It takes quite a while to understand the relationship between aperture, sensor size, focal length and depth of field, but it’s well worth exploring if you want to better your photographic skills.

  3. hi Gary, just wondering if u have ever been to Jaipur,India. I am quite sure you must have heard about it , thanks to this Heritage City, its a beautiful city , a must visit especially during the festive season, also check out the Temples decorated with flowers n leaves each one decorated differently for different festivals, the well planned city by the former Kings, old heritage building and places such as Pushkar are also a must see. Infact Jaipur is in itself a whole package though it dose not have much to offer as far as adventure sports are concerned also not to miss out the Markets with a lot of ethnic stuff to gift to your friends and relatives. Please do plan a trip to Jaipur if u havent yet, also if u have do plan again please do visit us. Love to see you in Jaipur Regards

  4. One of my most embarrassing habits is that when I am particularly amused I chortle (a gleeful snorting sound). I guess I should not have read this post sitting in the airport at Chicago’s O’Hare airport as my wife is now pretending she doesn’t know me.

    The truth is that Gary and I don’t actually know each other but he pays me to be his friend on This Week in Travel and photoshops me into pictures. It started out as a good way to earn money… but has gotten kind of creepy.

  5. Hi Gary,

    Thanks so much for answering my question:) What a lovely surprise and now I have no excuses! I’ll give it a go and hope to share some shots soon soon:)

    Love that you recommended the Pacific Islands to Mike Willits.

    I’ve visited Fiji and love Vanuatu. I got married on one of the other islands (Esprito Santo) and it was quite an experience.

    Islands are always special and Vanuatu especially so. The people, culture, history and scenery will knock your socks off.

    What more could we ask for when we travel?!

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