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Gadgets makes no photographer

Photography is all about your eyes, your visions and your creativity. If you don’t see that special thing it’s all over from the start. Yes you can learn it, but you still have to have it in you. Compare it with something else, music for example. Yes I could learn how to play the guitar to have enough self confidence to play a Bob Dylan tune on a party, but I’ll never be good at it. I can buy a fancy steel string acoustic guitar but it wont help me, except for looking nice in my apartment (okey that’s quite important too, but not in this discussion).

With that said I don’t think no one should get the most expensive camera and gadgets just because they think it’ll automatically make them a good photographer. On the other hand, you should try to get a camera house and lenses that you can grow with and learn how to use. My own personal struggle is not to go for the professional gear all the time, but it’s damn hard and that’s maybe also why I write this as some kind of foreword to this blog post…

Back to the title of this blog post: Photo gadgets. I’m a geek and I love new technical inventions, especially within the photography scene. This is why want to share what types of stuff I have in my bag and on my desk.

While on the field

  • » The bag: Lowepro SlingShot 300 AW
    • This is a really well designed bag for photographers on the run. With the ”sling shot” functionality you can have the bag on your back and within seconds swing it to the front and open it just a little bit to be able to reach all your lenses and accessories. The only drawback with this model is that it can’t fit my MacBook which I miss every now and then when I’m doing longer photo sessions (the 350 AW model has space for this though).
  • » My camera: Nikon D90
    • My first own digital Nikon and I must say that it has been performing extraordinary well. I’m soon reaching 20 000 exposures and that’s only in a 9 months period and it has only struggled once, which was after a whole day of massive shooting (3 000+ exposures). Adding a battery grip and this consumer DSLR can go on for hours without draining out the batteries. I can’t however say I’m too impressed with the movie functionality and shooting in low light shows that the DX chip (i.e. not full frame) adds quite a lot of noise. It’s also a bit slow when firing several shots at once and the write times to the memory card can be a pain when you’re about to miss the opportunity of a moving subject. But as whole I’m happy and I’ll keep this baby in my bag until it breaks down into dust.
  • » Lens: Nikkor 35 mm f/1.8
    • Even though it says 35 mm it’s actually a 50 mm if you calculate it to a full frame camera. It’s light, small, has a lowest aperture of 1.8 and costs almost nothing. If you own a Nikon DX camera this one has to be in you camera bag. Period.
  • » Lens: Nikkor 14-24 mm f/2.8
    • My latest addition. Yes it’s twice as expensive as my Nikon D90. Yes you should not buy the best professional gear. But damn it’s good. I haven’t made any hardcore tests yet but the quality of what I’ve seen so far is beyond anything I’ve experienced. And the best of all, it’s a full frame lens so I can use the day I upgrade my camera house.
  • » Lens: Sigma 50-150 mm f/2.8
    • I got this telephoto zoom lens 5 months ago when I worked with the photo project Me, triathlete. I needed to be able to get closer even though I couldn’t physically. I kind of miss the lack of shake reduction but when I chose between this lens and Nikon’s 70-200 I couldn’t convince myself it was worth the triple price. Also, there were rumors of an updated 70-200 (which just happened a few weeks later).
  • » Flash: Nikon Speedlight SB-900
    • Directly when I bought this flash I cursed myself of getting the most expensive gadgets all the time. But now I’m happy I didn’t return it. Together with the Lastolite Ezybox (see below) I can’t live without it when photographing on the field. A portable. powerful and wireless flash which might be a bit too expensive but you wont regret it.
  • » Flash soft box: Lastolite Ezybox
    • Photography is all about light and even though I’m not a huge fan of artificial dito I still have to use it quite often. When I studied photography I loved the big soft boxes, which created a smooth and natural light, and this is almost as it gets when you want to have a portable and cheap solution.
  • » Under the water: ewa-marine U-AXP
    • I wanted to do some underwater photography this summer, especially for the Me, triathlete project. After a few days of Google and flickr search I understood that ewa-marine had products that matched my needs and wallet. It’s a low budget ”housing” which basically just is a thick plastic bag, but it doesn’t leak and it works. Good enough for me. The photos I took are still in Lightroom but I’ll post them soon, I promise.

My digital dark room

  • » Computer: MacBook
    • It might not have the fastest CPU but it’s doing everything I want it too and it’s light enough to bring out on the field if I need to. Upgraded with 4 GB RAM.
  • » Monitor: HP 23″ widescreen
    • No you shall NEVER EVER EVER work with your photos on you laptop screen. Not even the latest MacBook Pro models have well enough calibrated screen, in my humble opinion. Get an external one.
  • » Wacom: Wacom Intuos2 A4
    • I’m the worst illustrator ever but I’ve somehow managed to learn how to use a pen instead of a mouse and now a days I can’t really understand how I could be able to do any photography work without a Wacom board.
  • » Software: Adobe Lightroom
    • I get a lot of questions regarding what software to use and it feels that I keep on repeating myself. The library functionality is far better than Bridge and the developing tools (for RAW images) is outstanding. I think 90 % of my time is spent in Lightroom and the rest in Photoshop.
  • » Software: Adobe Photoshop
    • Heavy retouching needs makes this program a true need. I guess this software doesn’t need any more attention than this.
  • » Backup: Several external hard drives
    • I once managed to drop my one and only external hard drive that hold all my free-lance work. Poff, no more photos (since I had started to use the Nikon D100 at the magazine I worked for) and no happy face for weeks after. If you have some money left and really need to spend it – get an extra hard drive. If you already have one, get one more. I have my whole photo library mirrored on three different external hard drives to be extra sure that I wont loose anything important.

Kalmar Triathlon (Ironman) 2009

Shaving the legs

Marcus Hultgren’s goal for the triathlon season of 2009 was to be among the fastest top ten Swedish males on the Ironman distance at Kalmar Triathlon 2009. A tough mission that would force him to cross the finish line after an estimated 9 hours. I’ve been following Marcus for the last months so this was not only his big weekend, but also mine, since this embarked the peak of my photo project.

First of all: Marcus ended up on 14th place (among Swedish triathletes in the same age group) with a finish time of 9.30:24. I could’ve forced you to read the entire text before telling you the result, but now I’ve spoiled it all so let’s just get along and focus on the interesting part.

I know many of you readers, including myself, have no idea what an Ironman means and especially not Marcus’ goal. So let’s put it all into perspective: no more than about 20 Swedish males have ever done an Ironman under 9 hours (according to So if you already thought that swimming 3.8 km, cycling 180 km and running 42.2 km was hard enough you now understand that doing this on 9 hours is bad-ass tough.

You might think that 14th place is a huge loss when your goal was to be among the first ten. Well, if you just read the numbers it’s hard to argue against; 14 instead of 10 is a miscalculation with 40 %. And the time this year was only 2 minutes better than last year (finish time 2008: 9.32:46). Marcus had about 200 more training hours before this years Kalmar Triathlon, compared to last year, and a more dedicated schedule overall – how come the results were not any better?

1 hour until the start

The answer is both simple and complex, but to summarize it all in one word it would be: human. Yes it’s just as simple as that. You train forever and ever and put all your energy and focus on one single race and when the day comes and you stand there facing your biggest challenge it’s all up to your mind and body and nothing else. You can’t do anything else than just push yourself as hard as you can (and a bit longer, harder, faster) and hope it’s enough. If you have a really good day you’ll crack all your expectations and if you have a plain good day you’ll run in on a time that would fill most triathletes envy. The line between these days is very thin and the side you land on is most often up to your own mind. Motivation is a key factor to success on elite level and even though Marcus wasn’t fighting for the podium he still needs a mind as hard as his muscles.

Of course I got disappointed when I during the race realized that I wasn’t able to reach my goal. I really gave 100 % the whole time and I was simply not able to push it any harder. It feels strange when you know you have it in you but it’s impossible to bring it out. The only thing I can feel pleased with is that I gave it all.

Training is of course the most important thing, no doubt, but I guess that is something everyone understands. Was there maybe something in Marcus’ training that could have been better planned?

I had this mad ’boost week’ exactly one month before Kalmar Triathlon and I don’t say that it wasn’t smart to push my body for 40 hours during that week, but if I’m doing it again next year I’m scheduling it one week earlier. The ”rest period” between the boost week and the actual race should also have included some quality training with higher speed.

But let’s get back to the actual race which took place on August 1st 2009. The preparations for this specific day had been going on for weeks and even months and as the sun started to rise over Kalmar it all went very smoothly and quickly. Breakfast, pumping the tires with a correct amount of air and then grabbing the already packed IKEA plastic bag in one arm and the bike in the other. It wasn’t much talking the first hour, but I guess that was a combination of time (we got up at 4.30 am) and a lot of things spinning around in everyones mind. In one way the race had already begun, even though it was two hours until the hoot would mark the start.

Getting tagged

The social part of Marcus woke when we got the transition area. Talking to all friends and competitors at the same time as he prepared his spot seemed like something he had done his entire life. The clock quickly ticked down to race start and I guess I was more concerned about the time on the watch then Marcus, he seemed utterly cool and calm. And why would he be nervous? This was just another competition and it was just to go on routine. Myself, I had thousands of things to think about: where to stand during the transitions, where not to stand, did I have all my memory cards for the camera with me, did I remember to empty them, which lens to use when, how to spot Marcus in the water when they all wear the same head caps? I could go on forever, but I guess you understand my situation. Even though I had followed Marcus on several triathlon races during the past weeks I still felt a bit uneasy about the whole situation. There were simply not any room for failure.

As a whole I was very pleased with the day. The swim start happened so fast I almost missed it, but the low placed sun was perfect for some epic photos of the triathletes as they swam out into the open water. Transition 1 (from swim to bike) was over in a blink and I really had to use my legs to keep up with Marcus as he ran towards his transition spot. Each leg of the cycle course was 60 km, which mean the athletes rode it three times making it perfect with at least two photo opportunities. And if T1 was over in a blink T2 was even faster, which made it hard to get any good photos of Marcus as he parked his bike and put on his running shoes. The marathon course was also divided in three parts and it was a ”pleasure” to see them all get more tired for every lap. Yes of course I wanted them all to be tired, that is what makes a good photo.

So what happens now Marcus? Is the season over for this year? An Ironman next year too? What about a trip to Kona, Hawaii?

I’ve now had a month of recovery but the training for season 2010 actually just started. Being a triathlete means more than just one single race for me, it’s a lifestyle. Doing an Ironman is not as important as everything else around it, but yes I would definitely not say no to a slot for the ’real’ Ironman on Hawaii. My plan right now is to have a middle season next year where the main focus is to have fun and then during 2011 go to Frankfurt to compete for a Hawaii slot the same autumn.

Marcus’ performance was really outstanding and it was a true pleasure to be a part of his journey from the start at 7 a.m. until the last steps over the finish line 9.30 hours later. With all photos in front of me it’s hard to pick out just a few so I hope all of you will enjoy this bombastic slideshow.

But do not think that this project is over only because Marcus season of 2009 is. I still have a few photos to show you and I’m in full planning of an exhibition in the near future. Stay tuned for some more sweaty and powerful photos.

Competition: Kalmar Triathlon (Ironman) 2009, July 30th
All photos are also available on Flickr, click here.

Competition: Kalmar Triathlon (Ironman) 2009, July 31st
All photos are also available on Flickr, click here.

Competition: Kalmar Triathlon (Ironman) 2009, August 1st
All photos are also available on Flickr, click here.

This is an ironman

Kalmar Triathlon 2009 is over. It was a tough race; windy and hot. Many great athletes ran right into the unmerciful wall. Marcus crossed the finish as number 14 in his age group.

My camera managed to fire around 3 000 rounds and I guess I wont have to tell you that a few hours will be spent just to go through them all. Instead of letting you wait I give you two teasers. The rest of the photos, together with a summary of the race, will be posted hopefully sooner than later.

Below you can see a happy ironman crossing the finish line. ”I felt quite clear in my head, but as soon as I crossed that line my mind told me to find a place to lie down”, Marcus told me afterwards. After about three minutes he was up on his feet again with a smile on his face.

Well fought Marcus, hugely impressive!

Marcus crossing the finish line

Tired hero