Whether you are addicted to social media or not, sitting in the cockpit of a helicopter flying over a wilderness area is not a good place to get a nasty surprise.
As a careful planner who checks and double-checks equipment, I received a bolt from the blue about five minutes after we took off for the snow-capped peaks of Tombstone Territorial Park in Canada's Yukon Territory.
I had two Pentax DSLR cameras with long lenses around my neck, but before we had even sighted the mountains, the battery warning light on one camera began flashing.
Impossible. I had charged the batteries for both cameras overnight in my hotel. "Cold-weather malfunction," I thought. I popped the battery compartment, made an adjustment and continued shooting.
Five or six frames later, the warning light started flashing again. Luckily, the main reason I had even bought that camera was that it could be powered by four AA batteries - just perfect for someone who likes being out in the wilds.
In the cramped cockpit, I went purely by feel rather than sight. My camera bag was beside my feet. One-handed, I unzipped the main flap, reached inside for the loose AA batteries that I always carry as backup, and placed them in the camera, using utmost care not to drop any of them as I knew they would have rolled out of reach on the cockpit floor.
I was back in business: the camera had a full charge. But things were about to get worse. About a minute later, the warning light on the second camera began flashing. Luckily I had plenty of spare batteries to get me through the flight.
Yes, I had charged my battery packs thoroughly. Yes, I had tested them when I placed them in the cameras before leaving the hotel. Yes, I had used a Canadian adapter.
But despite being aware of the different voltage, I had forgotten one vital step: I had neglected to flick the switch on the voltage selection mechanism.
Luckily, the simple backup habit of always having spare batteries enabled me to keep shooting throughout the flight.
Social media was in its infancy back then, but the vast majority of today's travellers will be shooting images and video clips with DSLR cameras or hi-resolution smartphones before posting them on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, as well as a host of photography sites.
So here are some handy tips to make sure you are never faced with a "helicopter moment" where you have an unexpected malfunction:
1. Carry a spare charger.
The last thing you want is a charger that malfunctions or a cable that splits or frays from being wound too tightly. If you normally carry a charger in your suitcase, put the second one in your hand luggage. Even if your checked-in baggage goes astray, you will still have a spare.
2. Check the memory on your phone.
The resolution on smartphone cameras now is a lot higher than early-generation digital compact cameras and DSLRs. That means your images and your video clips are going to be high quality, but the higher resolution also means that you will chew into your capacity a lot quicker.
So if you have more than 1,000 or more images on your phone, back them up before you leave home. That way, if you shoot 500 images of icebergs, sunrises or skyscrapers a day while on holiday (yes, believe me, it is possible) you can easily delete your other earlier images, knowing that they are already backed up.
3. Carry spares.
Do the math. Before you blithely pack a single 8GB SD card for your trip, consider this: Even if your camera is shooting compressed-format files of about 10MB, your SD card is going to fill up fairly quickly. At that setting, roughly 800 images are going to fill your memory card. Consider taking a 32GB card instead and a spare of about 8GB or 16GB.
4. Have a back-up plan.
It is always safest if you are able to back up your photographs and video clips on holiday, even if it means using online storage options such as Dropbox.
And if you are only using a phone rather than a camera, and shooting just a handful of images a day, consider e-mailing the images to yourself - just in case you drop your phone into the Niagara Falls.
5. Carry a portable hard drive.
It is a great option, even if you are travelling with a laptop, to back up your photos and video clips. Most travellers pack their camera and laptop in their carry-on baggage. So think laterally and put your portable hard drive into the luggage you check in at the airline desk.
Even if you lose your hand luggage, the portable hard drive in your suitcase will still have all your photographs and film clips. A 1TB hard drive weighs very little and is about half to one-third the size of a very slim paperback novel.
6. Think before you edit an image.
If you compulsively edit while travelling, this one is for you. So you love putting a vintage tint on architecture shots or manipulating colours on landscape photos?
Then you do not really want a situation where you have edited an image comprehensively and saved it over the original rather than as a copy. To prevent angst, copy an image before editing it, or save the edited version with a different file name. If the original image is, say, IMGP8888, save the edited version as IMGP8888a.
7. Check the voltage.
Been there, done that. The last thing you want is a nasty surprise like my helicopter moment. So check your adapter, the power source and the voltage in the country you are visiting. No one wants a bolt - or a volt - from the blue.
This article was published by the Special Projects Unit, Marketing Division, SPH.
This article was first published on July 21, 2015.
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