A Headlamp is a Travel Essential

Scenario 1: Sure, there’s a campfire, but it’s not enough to let you see what’s on your plate. You’re alternating between a fork and a flashlight. That’s no way to enjoy your ramen.

Scenario 2: Digging through your bag for your earplugs when your tent mate has shattered your sleep with her snoring takes both hands.

Scenario 3: That budget hotel is on generator power, and that goes off at 10am. It’s 3am, it’s as dark as the inside of an elephant, and you have to pee.

You need a headlamp. I’ve tested a few of these and I’ve settled on a favorite, Petzl’s Zipka Plus 2. Here’s what I like about it.

The Zipka has a spring-loaded retractable cord rather than a typical elasticized webbing headband. It’s super compact right from the get-go because the design has cleverly eliminated the strap. I like that you can strap it to your hand or your arm or whatever – tent pole, beer can… if it’s the circumference of your melon, you can put the lamp around it and it will stay put. Win.

Next up? There’s a red light mode. That snoring camp buddy? You don’t have to paste her with high wattage while you’re rooting around in your bag. You’re not a jerk. This is a really nice feature I didn’t know I wanted, and now, I think it should be standard. The red light is just, well, it’s more polite, so it’s great for dorm rooms, too, or any situation where low light is a better choice.

There’s a blinky mode, too, so if you’re striving to be seen (say you’re using it as a bike light), you can set the blinker to go off in either red or white light. It’s really bright when it’s blinking in the full power white light mode, if they’re within visible range (a maximum of 35 meters, according to Petzl) your crew will find you. When it’s blinking in red light mode, it’s not as bright, but it’s still useful for making yourself seen by those around you.

You can use the white light in two modes — full and “economy”. In economy mode,the light is plenty bright for reading and, according to the specs, the light will last for up to 140 hours. That’s a good long time.

Finally, if you’d like to attach the light to something, Petzl has an adapter kit that allows you to mount the light in bunch of different scenarios, including to a standard elasticized headband.

As I mentioned, I have a few headlamps (including the Irix, that Gadling Gear Guy Kraig Becker reviewed here) but this one is my favorite. It’s tiny, it’s bright, it has more features than I thought a headlamp could possibly need — and I like all of them. Mine lives in my travel bag now, I don’t head out on a trip without it.

Notes from the road: Sarah Landau, lighting designer

Photo By: Simon Westgate

The music industry is a traveling one and the touring professionals within the music industry are the focus of Notes from the road. My first Notes from the road story profiled sound engineer Mike Babcock. Now that the summer music festivals are firing up, so are the engines of all those vans and buses that bring touring acts to your city. Musicians and their crew members intrinsically know travel. Today I’m introducing you to a lady who has been gallivanting across the globe for years by way of her work in the music industry. Folks, meet lightning designer Sarah Landau. She’s done lighting for artists like Jason Mraz and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Get to know her and maybe one day, if you’re lucky, follow in her footsteps.

%Gallery-123835%1. How did you get started in lighting?

I was a theater nerd in high school, so signed up for some theatre classes my first semester in college, one of them was Lighting 1. I had an amazing professor who inspired me to view light as an artistic medium–the stage as a canvas. After college i worked in community theatre and off-off broadway in NYC. While living in Brooklyn, I got a dayjob at a production company where old-school roadies gave me on-the-job training in all the practical skills I needed to build a lighting rig. Working weekends at a music venue, I learned how to program and operate lights for lots of different kinds of music. Though professional referrals I got my first and subsequent tours.

2. How do you work with music to create designs?

It all begins with intuition. I interpret the vibe of the music into a visual vocabulary of style, colors, brightness, shadows, backdrops, and lighting positions to get a general concept. That’s then tempered by logistical constraints of budget, size of venues, crew size, etc. Once the design is in place, it’s a matter of choosing which elements of a song necessitate cue changes in lighting, and what those changes consist of–again, a largely intuitive process, with some trial-and error to see what works and doesn’t. Timing the lights to perfectly match tempos is easy, but it’s way more satisfying to tap a button along to a drum beat, and play the lights like an instrument, live.

3. when did you first start travelng for work?

I got my first tour in 2006. Since then, Ive been on the road an average of about 7 months of the year. I quickly realized I didn’t need to keep an apartment, and put my belongings into storage. When I have time off, I rely on craigslist and airbnb for sublets. Without a homebase to worrry about, I live wherever I feel like it. It’s often NYC that I feel most at home, but I’ive been able to try out lots of other places–Vancouver and Melbourne being my favorite livable cities so far.

4. Who have you worked with?

I’ve toured with Brand New, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Gossip, Beach House, Jason Mraz, Glassjaw, All Time Low,The Jesus and Mary Chain.

5. Any tips for bands looking to hire a LD?

Make friends with house LDs at the venues you play and/or check out youtube of your past performances–if a show looked particularly awesome, get in touch with whoever was running your lights at that venue, and see if they’re available!

6. Hygiene secrets for the road?

Flip flops for sketchy dressing room showers. Baby wipes for days you don’t have a shower. Lots of extra socks. I always bring along a sachets of lavender–one to toss in with dirty clothes, and another one for my bunk. Additionally, earplugs are necessary if there is a snore-chestra in the tour bus at night.

7. Favorite places so far?

Touring has taken me to 6 continents, usually always big cities: some of the highlights have been Lima, Tokyo, Ljubljana, Casablanca. But one of the biggest perks of my job are the free flights to and from the tour–they provide the perfect opportunity to tack on travel for pleasure at the beginning or the end of a run, by flying out early, or delaying my return, or just using the flight “home” to go somewhere else cool instead. With this method, Ive been able to go to many more places–New Zealand, Estonia, Copenhagen, Iceland

8. Where are you hoping to go that you havent?

I want to see more of Africa, South America, Russia, and China. I also need to get up to Alaska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana, so I can say I’ve been to all 50 states. The Azores, Canaries, and Galapagos Islands are on the top of my to-do list, as well. And of course, Antarctica, so I’ll have been to every continent.

Travel Photo Tips: using a 50mm F1.4 lens to redefine low-light shooting

If there’s one question I’m asked more than any other when it comes to DSLRs, it’s usually one dealing with low-light shooting. Being able to effectively capture a scene in dimly lit situations (or at night altogether) is one of the toughest things to do in photography. Even if you have a flash, you have to be careful when firing it if you don’t want to simply blow everything out and ruin the “mood” and “feel” of a night shot. The most common problems with night images are this: too much blur, too dark of a shot overall or too much noise in the shot. How do you solve those issues? It obviously depends on the camera and accessories you’re using, but one surefire way to make your existing DSLR entirely more capable at night is the purchase of one single lens. The 50mm F1.4 is as close to a magic bullet as there is in the photography world, and if you travel, you can bet you’ll end up wanting to take photographs after sunset.

The 50mm F1.4 has a lot of things going for it. For one, it’s available for nearly every DSLR out there. You can find dedicated versions (either first-party such as Nikkor or third-party like Sigma) for Nikon, Canon, Sony and Olympus DSLRs, with plenty of aftermarket solutions out there for even more brands. Secondly, it’s incredibly small. My D3S camera body dwarfs the 50mm F1.4, and when I’m trying to conceal my camera and get it into concert venues and the like, having a “stub-nose” lens like this makes it much easier to get through. Thirdly, it’s relatively cheap by FX (or full-frame) standards. And finally, the shots you can get from this lens are truly amazing, and they can enable you to capture memories of a trip that you’d otherwise never be able to. Read on for a few examples and suggestions on how to best make use of this low-light masterpiece.

%Gallery-116211%First, you’ll need to understand a little about why this lens is so cut out for taking low-light shots. The trick is its aperture. For a refresher on how aperture affects your photographs, have a look at a prior article here. This lens can “step down” to f/1.4, which is a fancy way of saying that it can allow a flood of light in compared to most lenses, which can only step down to f/3.5 or so. When you’re shooting with limited surrounding light, having the ability to let your lens pull more light in from practically nowhere is vital.

This allows your shots to be brighter, your shutter speed to be faster (which lessens the chance of unwanted blur) and your trips to be more memorable. The 50mm aspect is also important; this is not a zoom lens. It cannot be zoomed at all. If you aren’t familiar with “prime” lenses this will probably be strange to hear, but you literally have to walk forward and back while holding the camera to get closer / farther from your subject. 50mm, however, is a solid distance that’s useful in the vast majority of circumstances, and since there’s no zoom to worry over, the lens is the easiest in my collection to travel with.

Using the 50mm F1.4 at night is pretty simple. Regardless of what DSLR body you have, I’d recommend setting the aperture down to f/1.4 (using Aperture Priority or Manual Mode) and firing a few test shots. Compare that to shots with the aperture set at f/3.5 or higher, and you’ll notice an immediate impact. The flood of light that is allowed in by the F1.4 lens is really incredible, and in many cases, it allows a shot to be taken that would never be possible otherwise. Of course, all of this is assuming that you’re trying to avoid using a flash in order to retain the mood of your scene; lowering the aperture all the way to f/1.4 is simply an alternative to using a flash, and it’s one that natural light lovers greatly prefer. The gallery below gives you an idea of why — retaining the low-light vibe while still letting in enough light to capture a bright, sharp and blur-free image is reason enough to consider one of these lenses for your collection.

Owning this lens most definitely isn’t the only way to take low-light shots. You could use a flash, purchase a new body with a higher ISO range (something like the Nikon D3S) or move your shot into a place with more external light. But if you’re unable to move your shot (the Grand Canyon is a little hard to relocate, especially after sunset), you aren’t willing to spend thousands on a new DSLR body and you aren’t fond of how a flash distorts the vibe of a night shot, there’s hardly a better and more affordable alternative than the 50mm F1.4. For Canon owners in particular, there’s a 50mm F1.2 that allows even more light in, but of course it’s over four times more expensive; the 50mm F1.4 for Canon bodies is around $350 on the open market, whereas the F1.2 version is over $1,600. It’s hard to justify that increase.

I should also mention that while the average 50mm F1.4 lens will cost around $350 – $400 regardless of what brand or body you’re buying for, there’s a bargain alternative even to that. Many companies also make a 50mm F1.8 lens, which allows nearly as much light in, but not quite as much. The good news is these are usually around half as expensive as the F1.4 variety, but in my experience, it’s definitely worth saving up and getting the F1.4. It’s a lens that’ll never leave your collection, and will likely follow you around for as long as you’re into DSLR photography. $350 or so is a low price to pay for the ability to take blur-free images in dimly-lit restaurants, at outdoor sporting events and in concert venues, not to mention millions of other after-dark opportunities.

Curious to learn more about travel photography? See our prior articles here!

Shopping for a new 50mm F1.4 lens? Check here:

Photo of the day 12.07.09

This beautiful shot shared by Code N in the Gadling Flickr pool is a masterful example of showing how a photographer can maximize and manipulate the light to the utmost advantage. Code N has perfectly exposed all the streetlights, the sunset in the background, and the reflections in the water in Shanghai to stunning effect. Beautifully done.

If you’ve got some great travel shots you’d love to share, be sure to upload them to the Gadling pool on Flickr. We might just pick one as our Photo of the Day.

Photo of the Day (6.28.09)

Most photos you’ll see of sailboats are full of visual cliches. Typically the background is all puffy white clouds, set against a brilliant blue sky and brightly colored ship’s sail, stretched taut in the forceful winds. This shot, by Flickr user Ben Grogan, doesn’t fall victim to the typical sailing photo traps. I love the darkly ominous sky menacing its way across the photo’s left, slowly melting into a brilliant cheery spot of sun on the far right. Meanwhile the sailboat seems frozen in the midst, caught between dark and light.

Have you taken any great sailing photos recently? Or maybe just while you were floating in the pool? Why not add them to our Gadling group on Flickr? We might just pick one your as our Photo of the Day.