Advertising and Travel Photographer Susan Seubert Shares Her Packing Tips for Travel

Advertising and Travel Photographer Susan Seubert Shares Her Packing Tips for Travel

Greetings!  I’m packing for my upcoming trip with National Geographic Expeditions to Iceland and I thought it might be useful to share some of the tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years about how to make traveling a little more comfortable.  I estimate that I spend about half the year on the road in hotels, airplanes, airports, ships, boats, surfboards, cars, trains and just walking around.  It can be exhilarating and exhausting, so I’ve learned a few things that make everything from camping to glamping a little more pleasant.

  • Stay Organized.  The best thing to do while traveling is to develop good organizational habits.  This makes everything from passing through airport security to checking into hotels, to dealing with lost luggage, a lot easier. I photograph my luggage both inside and out so that in the dreadful event that it’s lost, I have a photo to show the airline and/or insurance company.
  • Packing Cubes Are Your Friend! In March, I had to travel to the East Coast to give a TEDx talk, (you can’t wear black or red for the video), head directly from there to Ireland to photograph a 2 week story in the bitter cold, (picture horizontal rain and blowing snow while carrying a carbon fiber tripod and a heavy camera kit), then head straight to the Caribbean to teach photography on a luxury yacht, (think 90 degree heat and opulent accommodations).  Just trying to work out what shoes to take was a challenge, not to mention having to wear arctic gear for shooting outdoors as well as some nice dresses for dinner on board the SY Sea Cloud.  When I pack my clothes, I separate everything into cubes based on clothing categories: dresses, socks, pajamas, bottoms, etc… Then, using white tape and a sharpie, I label each cube with its contents.  When I’m staying in a different hotel every night, my suitcase is already organized as though it were a closet.  Even if I’m exhausted and in a dark and unfamiliar hotel room, I can always find my clean shirts and my toothbrush.
A few of my packing cubes that will go in the gear bag for padding.
  • Pick Smart Travel Clothing.  Sorry guys, this is a post for the lady travelers 🙂 I wear skirts when I travel.  For one thing, they are much more comfortable for long haul flights, or hiking, than pants. They are also slightly dressier than jeans or sweatpants. I choose the Royal Robbins Cargo Skirt because it is made of stretchy, water-wicking fabric, so if you spill something, it’s easy to clean.  In my skirt pockets I can fit a small wallet, passport, iPhone X, Kleenex, a small bottle of hand sanitizer and some aspirin.  This way, I don’t have to dig around in a bag at security when they ask for my ID, nor do I have to rifle through my purse to find a credit card to buy a sandwich on the plane. I also slip a Shout Wipe into my pocket in case I spill, or am spilled on.  On my last flight to Dublin, I dripped mustard on my skirt.  I used a Shout Wipe on it on the plane, then when I got to my hotel, I just rinsed the skirt in water in the sink.  Not only was it not stained, the skirt looked freshly laundered! I wrote about my favorite travel clothes in a previous blog here, so if you want to read on, there is more info!
Royal Robbins Women’s Discovery skirt. Great for airline travel!
  • Your Medicine Is the Best Medicine.  There is nothing worse than getting sick when you’re traveling.  When you are staying in a place with limited resources, it pays to pack a few extra things for those “just-in-case” situations.  My favorite cough drops are Ricola Wild Berry and are difficult to find in the best of situations.  I pick up a Family Pack size every so often and pack a snack bag of them in my First Aid kit.  It is nice to have a small comfort like cough drops when you’re feeling miserable.  I also put Wet Ones and some lavender scented organic hand sanitizer into my kit.  In an attempt to avoid getting sick, I use the Wet Ones to wipe down my airplane tray table and I use the lavender hand sanitizer on my hotel pillow, which not only kills germs, the lavender scent is a natural sleep aid. A Benadryl stick comes in handy if you get bitten by just about anything.  It’s small enough to carry and doesn’t leak like a lot of other liquids. Deep Woods OFF! Wipes are not as messy as other insect repellants and are convenient if you really need to use this powerful chemical. A pocket size of Kleenex tissues is handy for just about anything, and don’t forget to floss!
  • Bar Soap. One of the latest trends in hotels is the bulk shampoo/shower gel/body lotion.  I really appreciate the fact that these decrease packaging waste.  The problem for me is that I cannot tolerate lemon scented cleaners and it seems that lemon verbena is the scent du jour.  I always carry a small bar of unscented soap in my toiletries kit when I’m gone for longer than an overnight trip.
  • Sunscreen. SkinCeuticals Physical Fusion UV Defense Sunscreen is my new go-to sunscreen for the face, neck, ears, etc… It is both broad spectrum and reef safe.  I like the sample size for my kit, and then get the 50ml for everyday use.
Some of my travel essentials: Kleenex, Dental Floss, Ricola Cough Drops, Bacitracin Antibiotic Ointment in a travel size, Advil Cold &Sinus Medicine, a bar of soap, Benadryl Itch Relief Stick, Lysol Spray, EO Hand Sanitizer, Shout Wipes, Wet Ones and OFF! Deep Woods Wipes.

For those of you who are traveling to some of the cooler places on the planet, the next section is an update on my favorite travel gear.  This may come in handy if you are joining me in my forthcoming trips to Iceland, Antarctica or Alaska.

  • Women’s Patagonia Down Sweater This jacket is lightweight, warm, warm when wet, packable, and provides good color for pictures.  I have two – one with a hood and one without.  You can layer them easily for extra warmth, which is a necessity when in Antarctica.
Here are my Patagonia tops, ready for the suitcase. Lightweight and stuffable!
  • These Boots are Made for Expedition Travelknee high neoprene boots from the MUCK company keep your feet dry, even when you submerge them completely for long periods of time.  They have a fleece lining for extra warmth. However, if you are traveling with Lindblad/National Geographic, you may want to consider renting them.  I tried the rentals out and they are great, plus it means you don’t have to haul them around the world – they can take up the better part of a suitcase. My Ariat Fatbaby Cowboy Boots are also waterproof, have a grippy sole with a wide toe box and are actually cute with a skirt. Keen Hiking Boots  are top notch because although they aren’t as waterproof as the MUCK Boots, they hold up well under wet conditions and are fairly lightweight.  I’ve had mine for years and although they aren’t completely waterproof, they still stay fairly dry.
  • Red Ledge Rain Pants Rock! These lined, waterproof pants are the best. They are warm and unzip down both legs so as you warm up you can cool off as needed. I picked up a pair in Sitka because the ones I had bought for the trip were insufficient for the Alaska deluge. I’ve been using them ever since not only in Alaska but at both poles.
  • Buff Headgearfor Warmth and Style: These are indispensable as I have very sensitive ears.  I wear them all the time in both cold and warm weather as a way to tame my hair in the breeze but also a way to cover my ears without ungainly headwear.  They make them in a light merino wool as well as a cotton/poly blend for warmer climates.  I often wear them surfing or SUPing to protect the top of my head from getting sun.  They are also good to wear when snorkeling to help keep your hair out of your mask.
  • ACCESSORIZE!  I always carry a few carabiners for my water bottle and lens wipes. Drybags are better than ziplocks to keep your gear dry in the rain or while you’re transiting in a zodiac. I carry these 3 for a range of purposes. The ThinkTank Rapid Belt with a Hubba Hubba Hiney and Digital Holster are great for keeping all of your gear on hand but hands free. Each camera bag from ThinkTank also comes with a rain fly which is super handy.  I use the BlackRapid Hybrid Breathe when I’m using a 2 camera setup, and also have leashes for them.
On assignment for National Geographic Traveler in Canada at Peyto Lake with the Think Tank Camera System and my Canon DSLR cameras.

CAMERA GEAR. What’s the best choice?  This is a question I am asked frequently, and there is no easy answer.  I still carry Canon DSLR cameras.  My brain and body are molded to the form and function of these cameras.  I love the sharp glass, responsiveness of the shutter and the control over everything using external buttons as opposed to having to dig through a menu to find a function.  Even the custom function buttons on some of the newer cameras, which are designed to put those at your fingertips, don’t seem to live up to their promise, for my purposes.  That said, my new favorite travel camera is the Sony RX10 III. (Note: They have since released the RX10 IV). This is a great, all-around travel camera that is fairly compact.  What blows me away is the fact that it has a 24-600mm optical zoom!!!  Seriously.  That’s very cool.  And it’s pretty fast.  The widest aperture is f2.4-4, but what disappoints me is that it switches to f4 maximum pretty quickly, so you can’t exploit the shallow focus once you’ve gone beyond about 35mm.  But for most travel photos, this camera has everything you need to shoot both cityscapes and wildlife.  It has a burst mode, is completely silent and can be controlled remotely with your smartphone.  It’s also very easy to send an image to your phone, thus not having the inconvenience of downloading an image and then transferring it to your iPhoto library.  It doesn’t allow for interchangeable lenses, but who needs anything else with the zoom range on this camera.  And it’s optical!  So for the money, this is my pick.  I found a blog post comparing the Canon 5DMK IV and the Sony RX10IV, and it covers all the things I would cover, so here it is.

Multimedia Journalist Susan Seubert for Smithsonian

A while back, I photographed a story about Haleakala, the volcano located on the island of Maui.  This is a very popular tourist destination where people go to watch the sun rise or go for a hike in the gorgeous volcanic crater.  It is also a sacred place for the native Hawaiian people. I had the good fortune of not only landing the story on the cover of Smithsonian, I also gathered video and audio for a multimedia piece that was subsequently edited by the team at Smithsonian Magazine and published on their web site.  There is now an HD version of the final piece to my web site as well as my Vimeo channel.  I’m very proud of this piece as it was extremely difficult to produce.  I gathered all of the sound in the field. I shot the video footage at the same time I was shooting stills.  It was not an easy task, but I was thrilled to have the opportunity to do so for such an amazing publication.


Aloha and mahalo nui loa for visiting my blog!

Travel Photographer Susan Seubert featured in the UK’s Photography Monthly

Although this announcement is a bit behind schedule, I am pleased to show that I was featured in Photography Monthly’s 2011 Technique guide.  The magazine is based in London and published in the UK.  Although the story was not published online, I received a wonderful double page spread featuring my work as well as a lovely interview which discusses the techniques I use as a professional travel photographer.  Cheers!

The Cover of January 2011 Photography Monthly

The interior spread featuring yours truly 🙂

Canon 5D Mark II Error 01 Message Follow-up

I have gotten tons of traffic to my previous blog post about my experience with the Canon 24-105mm lens problem.  Basically, if you get an Error 01 message on your camera and you’re shooting with a 24-105, it is the lens, not the camera.  I now have two of these lenses that I travel with: one new one and the old one which has been serviced.  It seems like there is no rhyme or reason to the failure, it happens spontaneously and without notice, leaving whoever is shooting with that lens stranded.   Canon has been very responsive to all of my problems – their CPS program is top notch.  But it is indeed irritating to be on location and have equipment failure.  On the other hand, I’ve had my fair share of purely mechanical failures before the popularity of shooting digital.  My Hasselblad has fallen apart more times than I care to think, but because it’s mechanical and the problem is usually due to normal wear and tear that a professional would bestow upon heavily used equipment.  This issue with the Canon 24-105mm lens is vexing, but I haven’t been notified of a recall.  If I am, I’ll be sure to post about it and if I get any insight from Canon as to why this problem seems so prevalent, I will share whatever information I can.  All I can say is that if you are going to get the lens repaired, send the body in to a Canon Factory Service Center with it and have everything inspected and cleaned at the same time. If you are a serious pro shooter, apply for the CPS program.  The technicians know their stuff and do a great job with repairs and cleaning.  Happy Shooting!

editorial photographer Susan Seubert and the Canon L Series 50mm 1.2 USM lens

This year, I broke down and purchased a Canon 50mm 1.2 L series USM lens.  It is spectacular for portrait work because of its amazing bokeh.  There is a lot of chatter out there about the spectacular price difference between the 1.2 and the Canon 1.4.  I also own a Canon 50mm 2.5 macro which is instrumental for me for shooting details of things from food to flowers but for portraits, the 1.2 can’t be beat.  Here are two examples.  One is a portrait of my husband, which I dropped into a film frame for effect – I’ve long been lugging around an analogue Hasselblad with a beautiful 80mm lens, which I’ve used for years as my primary portrait lens. It’s also fantastic combined with a few extension tubes. However, now that I’m moving into an almost exclusively digital workflow, I had to find a lens that I was happy enough with to leave my Hasselblad behind when going on assignment.  Don’t get me wrong, I still love working with film, but the practical side of my business has forced my hand on this one.  I’ve been taking the d65 wokrshop every other year to keep current on the latest digital workflow which has led me to adopt working almost exclusively in Adobe’s Lightroom.  That software combined with the Canon 5D Mark II’s and lenses I work with give me a great way to process thousands of images in a relatively short period of time, without sacrificing any amount of quality. (This year’s processed tally is almost to 13,000 client delivered images).  My digital library is now more organized than ever – I can find any image with just a few clicks of the mouse.  I hope you find this information useful!

Portrait shot with the Canon L series 1.2 50mm USM lens, dropped into a Hasselblad film frame using Photoshop CS5

my cat, photographed on the couch using the Canon L series 1.2 USM lens, processed using Adobe's Camera Raw and Photoshop CS5

travel photographer Susan Seubert about the importance of an assistant

Greetings!  As National Geographic Traveler is publishing the story I photographed about Barbados in the January/February 2011 issue of the magazine, I thought this would be a good time to write about the importance of having an extra set of hands around on a shoot.  These days, editorial budgets are very tight, so sometimes the job won’t allow for one but in certain instances, having a partner on a shoot is indispensable.  The other caveat is that often times I’m asked to also shoot video and collect audio, making my work at least three times as complicated as it was pre-multimedia.  That said, I always like to rise to a challenge, so I tried being a one man band for the first day of this assignment and realized, quickly, that it would be impossible for me to do a good job in Barbados flying solo.  Enter: fixer.  I am blessed with a partner in life that not only has an MFA in photography, but also can get himself halfway around the globe in 24 hours or less.  He was with me the morning of the shoot with the horses and took a couple of stills of me in the water.  I was just perusing some of the images and realized that he illustrated precisely why – under certain circumstances – it is necessary to have someone watching your back.  Barbados is as safe of a place as one can get in the Caribbean, but add thousands of dollars worth of camera equipment left unattended on a beach and voila, it’s like finding cash sitting around on the ground.  Anyone would be tempted to walk off with my carbon fiber Gitzo fitted with a heavy-duty Manfrotto head and, set atop it like a crown jewel, a Canon 5D Mark II with a pristine 24-105mm lens with lens hood, a 77mm polarizing filter and a nice Crumpler strap.  Not to mention my favorite accessory – a three-way hot shoe level.  It was enough of a bummer to not have a water housing to work with, but that didn’t stop me from walking into the water up to just above waist deep, to get as close as I could to the horses.  Lost in my enthusiasm, I simply left the other camera with aforementioned accessories, sitting behind me on the beach.  As I look at the photo of me in the water, I can tell that I was drawn in by the dawn swiftly changing to daylight, as is evidenced by the light on my white shirt.  These men and their horses were just then becoming well lit and I only had a few minutes before the magic of that morning dawn would turn into the white-hot Caribbean day.  In hindsight it was a bad decision and without my fixer there, would have most likely been a great loss.  But he stood on the beach, watching the gear so I could get the shot.  For that moment, I will be forever grateful to him.

walking into the water, leaving camera equipment on the beach...

water housing? I don't need no stinking water housing...

Portland Photographer Susan Seubert on why to hire an editor

A couple of weeks ago I had an opportunity to sit down with photo editor extraordinaire, Mike Davis.  If you haven’t visited his web site, you should.  It’s chock full of useful information and good stories.  Here in the backwaters of Portland, it’s rare to be able to have someone with such a remarkable résumé look at your work and give an opinion.  So I found myself at his doorstep, slightly hesitant, knowing where he’s been and who he has worked with and thinking that perhaps what I shoot isn’t up to his par.  My work has largely consisted of travel photography, mostly features for publications like National Geographic Traveler and The New York Times.  In the past, he has hired me to shoot for Mix magazine, when he was the editor there, but there’s something vastly different about bringing a group of photos to your assigning editor versus showing up with a hard drive containing over 600 random pictures just to see how he/she would sequence them.  I don’t know if it was good or bad that it took only a couple of hours to whittle those images down to a group of 24.

I had given my husband the same group of images with the same missive: edit the 600 down to 24.
He is no schlock when it comes to editing photographs.  He definitely has a completely different history: one informed by the complex world of fine art photography which is often out of step with Mike’s world: one that is heavily steeped in the tradition of photojournalism.  My husband is also just that, my husband.  He can’t possibly see my images without seeing me, (and my fragile ego).  Although what’s amazing is that there was a certain amount of crossover.

It’s important to find someone whose vision you admire and then allow them to see your work wholly through their eyes.  Step aside and let them look, check your attachment to pictures at the door.  Mike’s history and experience informs all his decisions about how he sees. His perception is truly unique.  He saw things in my pictures that I never have and never could.  It was a wonderful experience and I’m sad I didn’t take more pictures for the initial edit.  I’m thinking of going back.

Here’s Mike’s Sequence.

The final 24, in order of appearance

These images were made with every possible variety of camera from Holga to Hasselblad.  I’ll be printing this as a small book soon.