Question & Answers #5

It has been a long time since I’ve done a Q&A, so I figured now would be a good time to take a break from my photo editing and answer some questions. Questions came from my Facebook Page and from Twitter.


This photo always bothered me. I felt if I had a better camera or a faster lens, I could have taken better photos of Notre Dame in Paris
This photo always bothered me. I felt if I had a better camera or a faster lens, I could have taken better photos of Notre Dame in Paris
I had several people basically ask the same question. Dana Byers, Lou Lauer, Maureen Billingham from Facebook and Erin De Santaigo from Twitter all want to know what sort of camera gear I use.

For the first 3.5 years of my travels, I used a Nikon D200. About two months ago I upgraded to the Nikon D300s and so far I’m pleased with the purchase. The low light performance is much better than the D200, which was my biggest complaint with the camera. I was tempted to get a Nikon D3, but I couldn’t justify the cost, in addition to having to replace all my lenses with full frame lenses.

I carry three lenses with me:

  • Nikon 18-200mm VR. This is my all purpose lens. If I only can bring one lens with me as I go out for a day, this is what I will use. It is not a perfect lens, but it does most of what you want a lens to do. I’ve been using this since the day I purchased my D200 and I am probably due to replace it soon. It is showing a lot of wear and tear.
  • Nikon 12-24mm wide angle lens. This is probably my second most popular lens. There is a lot of fun stuff you do with wide angle lenses and considering much of what I shoot is landscape photography, having this lens makes a lot of sense.
  • Nikon 50mm f/1.4. I got this lens last year for two reasons. One I wanted a very fast lens for low light situations and, two, I wanted a lens with a very narrow depth of field to play around with. I don’t use this that often, but I really should play with it more.

I also have a Nikon SB-900 flash that I carry with me. I haven’t used it that much, but now that I have the D300s, I can use the built in flash as a controller and use the SB-900 as an off camera remote flash.

My tripod is a Manfrotto carbon fiber tripod with a Manfrotto ball head. It is by far the heaviest and largest thing I carry with me. In fact, the most recent bag I purchased I got because it could fit my tripod.

Other photography related things I carry with me include a shutter release cable, backup memory cards, micro fiber cloths to clean my lenses, a Leatherman tool, and an Allen wrench.

SCUBA Diving

Me trying my hand at underwater photography in the Great Barrier Reef
Me trying my hand at underwater photography in the Great Barrier Reef
Chris Mitchell of asks: Where is the next place you’re going to go specifically to scuba dive and why?

I first learned to SCUBA dive in Maui at the beginning of my trip in 2007. Since then I’ve been diving in Fiji, the Cook Islands, Micronesia, Palau, Australia (east and west coast), Thailand, Papua New Guinea, Egypt, Cayman Islands, Aruba, and Curacao.

Believe it or not, I didn’t visit any of those places expressly to SCUBA dive. I view diving as something to do while I’ve visited a place, but not necessarily a reason to go somewhere. Even a place like Palau, which is heavily dependent on diving for its tourism, I found there are things to do and see above water.

That being said, there are places I would love to go diving: Sipadan in Borneo, Tubatha Reef in the Philippines, Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands, and Chuuk Lagoon in Micronesia. I’m sure there are a bunch of places I don’t even know about that would be great.

Given how I travel, I can’t really carry around my own SCUBA gear nor can I carry around an underwater housing unit for my camera. If I had an underwater housing for my camera, I suspect I would seek out more diving opportunities just to take photos.

Why Haven’t I Been There?

Mariellen Ward of BreatheDreamGo asks: “Why haven’t you been to India yet?”

I probably get at least one question like this a week. Why haven’t I been to X? or Have I been to X?

The honest answer is that despite how long I have been traveling and the number of places I’ve been, the world is an enormous place. The number of countries I have visited is still smaller than the number of countries I haven’t visited. There are some very big places I still haven’t been to: India, China, Russia, Brazil, Central Africa, Central Asia or Antarctica.

In the particular case of India, I was planning to go in 2009, but I had set a deadline of being back in the US for TBEX in Chicago in July. India is an enormous country, so I didn’t want to just go see the Taj Mahal and leave, so I left it to a later date.

I was going to visit mainland China in 2008, but when I was ready to go they stopped issuing visas before the Olympics.

It is actually possible that I might visit India briefly in 2011 for a special project, but I’ll talk more about that when I have details.

2011 and the Future of Travel Blogs

Kash Bhattacharya of asks: What do you see as the key emerging travel trends for 2011 + where you do see bloggers role in travel industry?

We are still in a transitional period for media and travel media in particular. Despite declining ad revenues, companies still spend more money on television and print than they do online, even though that is where people spend more time now. Baby boomer managers nearing retirement have no incentive to change, and there are ad agencies which have large, multimillion dollar incentives to keep selling ads they way they always did.

That being said, things will change and are starting to change. It will just take time. Consider my humble blog. I have about 20,000 subscribers and that number is constantly growing. In the last 12 months I’ve had 1,500,000 unique visits to my blog and almost 4,000,000 pageviews. The cost of this operation is my backpack, a camera, a laptop and food/lodging/transportation for one person. I spend less than the average New Yorker does just living in Manhattan.

Now consider a big magazine like Conde Nast Traveler. They have expensive offices in Midtown Manhattan, some of the most expensive real estate on Earth. They have an enormous staff of people who they have to pay to live in New York. The cost of a single full page ad in one issue of Conde Nast Traveler can go for $100,000. One page, one issue, one magazine. Conde Nast Traveler has a circulation of about 800,000 people. Of those 800,000 people, how many will even notice the ad, let alone take action on it?

For that $100,000, you could easily fund my entire operation for a year. I dare say, any independent travel blog could operate on half that amount. The money wouldn’t be spent on expensive real estate, Manhattan salaries, or support staff. It would be spent on TRAVELING! My audience obviously isn’t the size of Conde Nast Traveler (yet :) but the difference between their reach and mine is much less then the difference in our cost structures. I could get by on $50,000/year, and they probably lose money bringing in $50,000,000/year.

Now ask yourself, what the impact would be of flipping a single page of a single issue of a single magazine be versus sponsoring a popular blogger for an entire year? What would be the impact of that in terms of direct traffic driven to a website? I would wager that you would get several times the impact working with a blogger for a year than you would on the single page flip of a single magazine. Not to mention all the creative marketing things you can do with an individual blogger that you can’t do with a company. (I don’t mean to pick on Conde Nast. This analysis can just as easily apply to any major magazine. Everyone I’ve met from Conde Nast are great people, and I’m not saying that just to be nice.)

My relationship with Gap Adventures is an example of this trend. I expect to see more of this in 2011.

Companies will eventually wake up to this reality. Your marketing dollar can go a lot farther if you don’t have to pay for expensive offices, enormous staffs, and glossy paper.

I am very bullish on the future of travel blogs in the travel industry.

Golden Age of Travel

Michael Robert Powell of asks: Do you think this is the golden age for absolute freedom travel? Or is it approaching the end as the world changes fast?

Excellent question! I think there has never been a better time to travel than today. More of the world is accessible at a lower cost than ever before. We have more information than ever before and we can community with people around the world in an instant and at almost no cost.

Don’t believe the naysayers who think that the golden age was some time before the rise of the internet. Everyone has nostalgia for the past.

The time to travel is now!

25 thoughts on “Question & Answers #5”

  1. Wow…scuba diving, really want try that someday. Hope i get a chance to try scuba diving.^^ Love to travel around the world.

  2. I love it. I found you just in time to see your gear post. I have a D300s that I upgraded from a D80. (I also carry a Canon S90 in my purse or pocket for when I can’t take the big camera). I went with the D300s for the same reason you did – the lenses. I pondered very hard over the D700 and finally decided to stick with the smaller sensor and not have to upgrade to new lenses.

    I generally use the kit lens that came with my d80 the 18-135. Like you I have a wide angle and a 50mm. So far I’ve very much enjoyed using all my cameras.

    Anyhow, I’m very glad I found your site. I’ve never done much traveling in the past because circumstances always seemed to be wrong. Now I may finally be able to get myself in gear and go. I’ll have to look at your blog a bit more and see if you have posts about how you plan your trips. Although I should probably just pick someplace and go rather than get too detailed. :-)

  3. Hi gary, your site is great, thank you so much for sharing with us. For christmas i’m going to buy a ninkon D700.. My last photocamer was theft in Tenerife :( :(

  4. Gary, You carry that gear everywhere? Isn’t it kind of a pain? Just curious. Glad you answered these questions. Nikon just came out with a D7000 which is quite nice too. Great in low lighting.

    Also, does blogging help pay for your travel? Or do you still subsist on the monies from your house and businesses? What is a feasible amount to live on each year?

    You should really write a book on how to do this traveling.I wouldn’t have a clue!

    • Actually, I am working on a book and yes, I do carry all that around with me. Except for the tripod, all my camera and compter gear fit in one (heavy) bag.

  5. So totally agree and am so entice to travel. I have always dreamed of going nomadic and in this digital era, it is easier. You blog is motivating and inspiring.

    True, a smaller scaled business is more profitable than giants. The net is the giant ball that rolls endlessly. I don’t watch TV anymore. Plus there are more products on the net that I have discovered that I have never seen on TV. This is a paradigm shift for advertisers.

  6. Hi gary, your site is phenomenal, thank you so much for sharing so much knowledge with us. I am a passionate traveler along with my husband and I wish I would have taken better pictures in some of our former travels. We will take you up on your advice on the cameras and we thank you so much for all you share with us.

  7. I find your take on the future of travel blogging fascinating Gary…and I couldn’t agree more about the many more benefits a company would receive developing a relationship with a blogger for less than the cost of advertising. But even with the older traditional school marketing execs slowly leaving the business, what kind of timeline do you put on that type of relationship.

    Besides this brand new Gap Adventures program you’re a part of I just don’t see much of that trend in the market right now – agencies are still trying to pay minimal amounts for a small add on a blog rather than the notion of sponsorship?

    • There are other companies looking at these sort of deals. I know because I’m talking to them :)

      It is going to be smaller companies who have strong founder/CEO types who take the lead on this. It is only that sort of company which can do that sort of marketing. A low/mid level person at an agency isn’t going to suggest something this novel because they have no incentive to do anything other than the norm.

      Once a few companies have successfully done this, then you will see more companies put their toe in the water.

      Even though the amounts of money we are talking about are small in comparison to traditional ad buys, new projects get a lot of attention, which is why companies are reluctant to try them, especially if it could backfire on them and make them look bad.

      My guess is by the end of 2011 most bloggers will be able list a handfull of companies in the travel sphere which are working closely with bloggers. By 2012 you’ll see a few more companies start to work with more bloggers. Then again, one really big company could accelerate this process substantially if they take a leap.

      • Ooo, in the know, well then thanks for sharing this trend, it truly hadn’t occurred to me before :) This is creating all sorts of ideas in my head now!

  8. I feel your pain on the Notre Dame pic–I had trouble getting good photos in there with the dim light. Granted, I still have my old Nikon D50. I’m dying to upgrade!

    I love your thoughts on the changing of travel blogs. For some reason I never thought about comparing company spend on print ads versus funding a blog. You’re so right–they could probably get so much more out of a dedicated, decently-read blogger than a one-shot deal in a publication. I’m encouraged by your new relationship with Gap Adventures, and I really do hope that is a trend that continues to grow.

  9. Great post. I also travel with some heavy photo gear, but I plan to use that to make money while I travel by selling stock photography (I already do pretty well with photos I’ve taken in South America). Right now I carry a gorilla pod for a tripod and have considered getting a proper tripod to take. However, since I’ll also be taking my skateboard… eventually I have to say enough is enough.

    I agree that the best time to travel is now.

  10. I REALLY like the math in the magazine ad vs. blogger equation. A LOT. I find it, well, compelling, certainly. I hope that travel companies and/or publications react the same way.

    • It gets more compelling when you look at the 1/6 page ads. Those run around $20-25k for a single page on a single issue. Not only are you paying through the nose, but you are competing for attention with other ads on the very same page! I don’t think anyone can possibly remember more than a handful of ads they see in a magazine, and you have to remember them to take action at a later date. On the web, you can take action instantly and you get much better data on the success of the ad buy.

  11. Great Q&A Gary, Im glad you chose the question about the future with the travel blogs. One of the reasons that I started my blog was because I feel the travel economy so to speak will move in the same direction.. cheers

  12. You know, I didn’t realize that we use the exact same lenses that you do. . . . the only difference is that we use the Sigma 12-20 rather than the Nikon 12-24. I guess great minds think alike. We also have a 120-400 mm that we take when we go on safari, for those close up shots. I love our SB600 flash, especially for food photography. We have a pocket bouncer which helps a great deal with the flash. I’m kind of surprised that you don’t carry a air pump thing to clean out dust inside your sensor —- or does the D300 have a sensor filter included?

    • It has some sort of sensor cleaning mode. Honestly, I’m terrified at the idea of cleaning my sensor.

      I would very much like to get a bigger zoom. Something out to the 400mm range, but they are expensive and heavy. I have never taken good wildlife photos for that reason.

      • A note about going to bigger lenses. One of the big advantages of the DX camera bodies is that you get a 1.5 bump in effective magnification because of the smaller sensor and the decreased viewing angle. Technically, your 18-200 is more like a 25-300. If you eventually switched to an FX sensor camera, the 200/2.8 with a TC-14 or -20 teleconver would be a nice compromise. You lose an f-stop but they weigh next to nothing. Handy to have when you really need the range.

  13. Hey Gary — you probably could have gone with the D700 instead of the 300s. It has the same sensor as the D3, but in a body about the size of the 300s. It also has a compatibility mode for DX lenses so you could have used them until you felt like replacing them. It is also far less expensive than the D3.

    • I looked into it, but I didn’t like the “compatibility mode”. You technically can use DX lenses on the D3 too.

  14. Gary, thanks for the inclusion and answer. And I agree – despite my travel years – nothing like the present. So go now … and enjoy!

    Regards – MRP | the candy trail … a nomad across the planet, since 1988

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