Everyone has an idea of what might constitute the "perfect trip" for them. That idea might change as we gain more experience and spend more time actually traveling. When I was in college the trip I wanted to take was the classic "backpack and Eurail through Europe trip. I spent a semester doing that with a girlfriend. Now, I don't think I'd have the same enthusiasm for carrying around a big back pack, camping out in freezing weather and making fried eggs on a Blue Gaz stove in an Alpine meadow as ice melts off the tent. I've traveled enough for corporations to be a bit spoiled.
While landscape photographers might want to go into unsullied nature to find the confluence of beautiful land and perfect light people interested in music would rather haunt the music clubs and concerts of big cities ready to document that once in a lifetime performance.
Right now, 2013, I have the idea that I really want to spend ten days discovering Tokyo. Not all of Japan---that's too big a bite to chew off---really, just Tokyo. I have several friends who lived and worked in Japan and they are quick to tell me how misguided I am. That I should consider Kyoto for the gardens and the temples, etc. But that's the trip for them, not for me.
I have a lust to be in a big city, filled with people and buzzing with energy 24 hours a day. My own Lost in Translation tour. So I've been building momentum. Gearing myself up to get geared up. Planning to start planning.
I know I want to go alone. So I'm planning to go in the middle of the Fall. Ben and Belinda will have settled into the routine of work and school. Neither would really have the option of taking that much time off for an adventure that really revolved solely around me wandering the streets taking images and video of things I find quirky, exciting, whimsical, funny and abstractly definitively Japanese. Nor do I want to take time for planned lunches and formal dinners. I'm not interested in building team consensus in the morning or making a visit to a must see site just because it's in someone's guidebook. I'll go alone and then, when it's everyone else's turn I'll stay home and hang with the dog while they do their thing.
I know I'll want to use some of the massive airline miles I've accrued over the last ten years and never used. I'll investigate the best way to leverage those points from affinity programs to pay for airfare and upgrades. I've pegged the first week and a half of October as a slow season so I'm looking around to see when the black out dates are and how I can get around them if I want to get specific with my arrangements.
I need to figure out where I'll make base camp and find a hotel that works. My biggest concerns for lodging are quiet and a place to charge batteries.
Then I need to start writing proposals to companies who might think that co-sponsoring part of the trip in exchange for a series of articles written about my experiences in their factories or engineering facilities are worth some sort of traded value. I'll start with Sony and go from there.
When I get closer to the date I'll start packing. I'll want to take two identical cameras. One reason is to have an identical back up that works exactly the same and takes the same lenses, batteries and attachments as the primary camera. Second is to have two cameras that can be set the same and use interchangeably while walking and shooting so I can use two different lenses without having to stop and change them out on a single body.
If I were packing to go tomorrow I'd take two Sony Nex-7's, two of the 18-55mm kit lenses and the 50mm 1.8 OSS lens. All of the lenses have IS and I like both choices. For me, convenience and general competence outweigh performance at the zenith of possibility. The above cameras, two chargers with six batteries and ten 16 gigabyte SD cards is an awesome imaging system for traveling and it all fits in a small and inconspicuous bag. No flash and no tripod. I've been down both of those roads before and come to the conclusion that it's not possible to be prepared for every and any eventuality. It's better to plan for an optimum part of the curve and work there.
The real gear is a good pair of comfortable walking shoes and a good attitude. That and a jumbo helping of curiosity.
I've traveled with cameras for the better part of 25 years now and I've done it every which way. I took 25 pounds of medium format Hasselblad gear with me on assignment to St. Petersburg, Russia, along with nearly 100 pounds of lighting. That was a logistical (but at the time, necessary) nightmare.
One time I went to Rome with just the right kit and I wrote in my journal about it. I said I would only want to bring a fast, auto focus camera body and a medium range, fast zoom. At the time I was thinking 28-85mm f3.5 or f4. Now, with nice ISO at 800 or so I would revise that to be a medium range zoom that ends up at f5.6 on the long end. As long as it's reasonably sharp.
If the past is a guide to this trip then it will go something like this: Arrive and sleep. Get up every day as early as possible and walk the streets in targeted areas just absorbing the sights and shooting the things that interest me. Ten to fifteen miles a day. A card of images a day. Every night, after supper, I'll sit in my room and write about the day in my journal. What I saw. What I ate. What I heard. What I bought. And so on.
The secret to making it all work in my head is to have a goal in mind before I step on the plane to go. I can already envision a show of images at several of my favorite galleries. Right now I'm thinking black and white but that may be because it's the way I worked on my most successful trips in the past. And I like the way black and white prints work on the walls.
The new wrinkle will be a conscious integration of video. Snippets tied together with the intention of digging down into some interesting aspect of the trip. I'm not sure what that will be yet but it will come to me before departure.
Why am I sharing this? Because writing out loud is a good way of making it real and gaining the momentum to follow through. But I'm also keenly interested to hear from you in the comments or offline if you've traveled to Tokyo recently, or live there now. What would you see? Where would you go? What are the new social trends? Where would you base camp? And, if you shoot or have shot in the streets there, what cameras and lenses did you find to be workable or optimal?
My long term goal is to make several trips there and to really see the city before things change again. I want to share my interpretation of the experience with my friends and a wider audience.
Final (vital) question: Can you get good coffee without too much fuss in Tokyo?