Air Travel with Large Format Sheet Film, Post-911

One of my recent Large Format workshop attendees emailed today with a horror story:

I had a horrifying experience a few days ago when I had asked TSA at the Rapid City, South Dakota airport to hand inspect my 4×5 sheet film. I had the boxes taped shut and the stupid idiots opened each box in broad daylight. At this point I don’t know how much was ruined, but certainly some was. I had spent two days shooting in the Badlands, part of which was in a violent thunder and lightning storm, which was a wonderful time for photographing.

I am lucky to have never shared Ken’s misfortune, but my rule is to always travel prepared and to expect the worse. Take comfort in knowing that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has published policies (available online) regarding traveling with film. In short, “[s]heet, large format and motion picture film” are “Specialty Films” for which a hand-inspection can be requested. Bear in mind that the TSA protects only U.S. transportation centers, so do not automatically expect pleasant and cooperative assistance when requesting hand checks abroad. Accordingly, the following recommendations may be of little use at the airport in Nice, France (this airport is not mentioned at random!)

Here’s what I do when traveling through U.S. airports:

1. Print out and carry with you at all times the TSA ‘Traveling With Film‘ document.

2. Make sure you understand the contents of this document and what protections it affords you.

3. When the TSA advises you that it’s perfectly fine to run your ISO100 film through the scanner, politely decline and request a hand-check. No matter what you are told regarding film speeds and scanner strength, the best precaution is to avoid ALL scanning ALL the time. The best policy is to not assume that there are a certain number of safe passes before your film fogs: Do not allow your film to be scanned! Be assertive and request a hand check or a supervisor if necessary. Refer to the TSA’s own document when they tell you it is safe to scan.

4. I highly recommend carrying in the airport with you a changing bag or changing tent. If you request a hand check for an OPENED box of cut sheet film – one on which the seals are broken – the TSA will likely want to open and inspect/swab that box. This is what the changing tent/bag is for. If they insist on open-box inspection, explain to them the nature of accidental exposure and then proceed to set up the tent. My experience with TSA and sealed/unopened boxes is that they’re OK with swabbing the outside of the box and and will not ask to open it. Your experience may differ.

4. Should you still posses and be traveling with Quickloads or Readyloads (remember those?), TSA can safely open the box and inspect the film packets, but make sure that they don’t pull on the metal clip sealing the packet end and accidentally expose your film!

5. When you’re done at security check, thank the TSA for their courtesy and cooperative hand-check. Feel free to ignore silly comments that ask why you haven’t yet switched to digital.

If this all sounds to be a bit of a headache, you might consider FedExing your film to and from your shooting location. According to FedEx, undeveloped film can be safely shipped with prominently marked packages and special labels. Ask your FedEx courier or call 1.800.GoFedEx 1.800.463.3339 (say “order shipping supplies”). Contact FedEx for more details about shipping professional large format sheet film.

I hope this information helps you and your film to travel safely and effortlessly. Happy large format shooting!

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Want to learn Large Format photography? My next Introduction to Large Format Photography workshop takes place November 16-18, 2012, in Death Valley National Park.  NO PREVIOUS LARGE FORMAT EXPERIENCE IS REQUIRED! Please click here for more information and to register.

You are visiting the blog of fine art landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.

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Workshop Announcements

Introduction to Large Format Photography – Death Valley National Park, California. November 16-18, 2012. Limited to 5 photographers.


Introduction to Large Format Photography workshop – Death Valley National ParkNO PREVIOUS LARGE FORMAT EXPERIENCE IS REQUIRED! This course is designed for experienced photographers who want to take their photography to the next level, and for those who have previously worked with large format but have struggled with it.  The large format camera offers the ultimate in control over the entire creative image-making process and large format negatives and transparencies that offer extraordinary resolution. The market is flooded with plenty of used and value-priced large format gear, and new high quality yet inexpensive field cameras have made this an excellent time to move up to the format with only a moderate amount of expense. At the completion of this intensive two-day workshop, you will be able to efficiently and confidently compose, focus, meter, and expose your own large format photographs. This workshop will take place in world famous Death Valley National Park. Please click here for more information and to register.

Visionary Death Valley – Death Valley National Park. November 29 – December 4, 2012. Limited to 10 photographers.


Visionary Death Valley photography workshop. Death Valley National Park.Co-presented with Guy Tal. Our first Visionary Death Valley workshop of 2012 was a sold-out success, and we look forward to helping ten more photographers attain their photographic goals in 2012.  Find out what makes this workshop unique, passion-filled, and inspiring to photographers of all levels. A perfect blend of photography, field classes, post-production, and passionate photographer/instructors all in one of the most visually stunning places on Earth has earned this workshop praise as “a tour de force of excellence, humanity, artistry, and knowledge“. There are many photography workshops and instruction manuals that teach craft and technique. Only Visionary Death Valley will lead you towards the heart of your artPlease click here for more information and to register.

You are visiting the blog of fine art landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website. You can also find Michael on Twitter Facebook, and Google+.

THANKS to My Recent Photography Workshop Participants!

I’d like to offer a big THANK YOU to my March Death Valley Photo Workshop participants: (L-R) Rina, Stacey, Bonnie, Clark, and Lupin, and yours truly. I had a wonderful time with all of you and hope that you had an incredible and unforgettable experience.

I’d also like to offer a big THANK YOU to my April Alabama Hills Introduction to Large Format Photography workshop participants: (L-R) Yours truly, Dave, Rodney, Savahna, Ken, Katy, and Ralph. I had a wonderful time with all of you and hope that the large format photography process has been demystified and that you proceed forth with confidence in the format. We had a Name this mountainbit of challenging weather all day Friday and early Saturday yet it made for glorious conditions, great photography, and sublime viewing of the High Sierra. Can anyone help me with an ID of the mountain seen here? 😉

I wish all of my recent workshop attendees the very best with their photography and hope to see everyone again in the near future!

My next Introduction to Large Format Photography workshop will take place in Death Valley National Park in late 2012 and will be announced on this blog and my newsletter in the coming days; please stay tuned.

My next scheduled workshop is Visionary Death Valley with Guy Tal beginning November 29, 2012. You can read more about our successful February Visionary Death Valley workshop and see a few images here, and you’ll find workshop details and registration information here. Our November Visionary workshop is beginning to fill, but we currently have space available.

You are visiting the blog of fine art landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.

Visionary Death Valley Photography Workshop Epilogue

Visionary Death Valley Photography Workshop, February 2012

Guy Tal and I concluded our February 2012 Visionary Death Valley (VDV) photography workshop last Wednesday on Death Valley NP’s Eureka Dunes, and to summarize our workshop with just one word: INCREDIBLE. We had a most wonderful group of participants who were engaged and inspired. We feel incredibly fortunate to be able to share our passion for creative photography and Death Valley National Park with a select group of individuals who are eager to move forward on their creative journeys.

Our workshop explored and photographed some of Death Valley’s most well known features – the vast Dante’s View; the surreal Badwater; the cosmic Racetrack; the sensual Mesquite Sand Dunes – as well as lesser known but no less extraordinary locations that are exclusive to Visionary Death Valley. VDV blends the perfect mixture of field photography, field classes, and a post-production classroom session (with laptops and projection) along with inspirational and philosophical discussions designed to challenge photographers to rethink the way they work and photograph. There are many photography workshops and instruction manuals that teach craft and technique; we’ve designed Visionary Death Valley to lead photographers towards the heart of their art.

A few workshop highlights: A brief but intense sunrise at Dante’s View; a downright ridiculous flaming sunset on our last night out with the Eureka Dunes extension group (see image at left); investigating incredible marine fossils and petroglyphs; the largest engulfing dust storm I’ve ever experienced in Death Valley (this occurred during preparations a few days before we first met our group); and F18 fighter jets screaming over Eureka Dunes at low elevations (it’s a violation of the wilderness experience, yet hard not to be awed by).

Guy and I would like to sincerely thank Anil, Annette, Bob, Don, Jon, Michael, Paige, Ron, Stephanie, and Tina for being part of the first of our Visionary workshop series and for being wonderful students and humans. We truly enjoyed your company and learning about each of you over those tiring but exciting days. We wish you well on your creative photographic journeys!

Our next Visionary Death Valley workshop is scheduled for November 29 – December 4, 2012 and you are all invited. We are also currently in the planning stages of Visionary Capitol Reef (Utah) in 2013. Please stay tuned for more information.

You are visiting the blog of fine art landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.

Workshop Announcement: Introduction to Large Format Photography: April 14-15, 2012

Large Format Photographer in the Alabama Hills

This workshop will take place in California’s renowned Alabama Hills (featured in scores of movies and television commercials), just outside Lone Pine, California, in the rainshadow of Mt. Whitney and the High Sierra). Limited to 5 photographers only.

NO PREVIOUS LARGE FORMAT EXPERIENCE IS REQUIRED! The large format camera offers the ultimate in control over the entire creative image-making process and large format negatives and transparencies that offer extraordinary resolution. The market is flooded with plenty of used and value-priced large format gear, and new high quality yet inexpensive field cameras have made this an excellent time to move up to the format with only a moderate amount of expense. This course is designed for experienced photographers who are ready to take their photography to the next level, and for those who have previously worked with large format but have struggled with it. At the completion of this intensive two-day workshop, you will be able to efficiently and confidently compose, focus, meter, and expose your own large format photographs. Please click here for more information and to register.

I hope you can join us!

You are visiting the blog of fine art landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.

Workshop Announcement: Visionary Death Valley. February 16 – 21, 2012

I am happy to announce my next workshop: Visionary Death Valley, February 16 – 21, 2012.

Death Valley National Park is a desert wonderland of immense scale, beauty and power. Its 3.3 million acres, the vast majority of which are roadless wilderness, encompass a staggering array of landscapes, unique geologic formations and colorful vistas. The largest National Park in the contiguous United States, Death Valley is both beautiful to behold and rich in history, mood and mystique. Its towering sand dunes, seasonally snow-capped mountains, warm springs and vast empty valleys offer endless opportunity for exploration and ample subject matter for the creative artist. There’s no place on Earth quite like it.

Internationally acclaimed photographer, author, and educator Guy Tal and I have carefully selected some of the park’s most unique locations for this workshop, and we’ll combine outstanding photography with inspirational, creative and technical discussion sessions. In addition to classes in the field, Guy and I will work individually with participants to address questions, assist with compositions, offer ideas, and share our knowledge. Discussions will include informative reviews and critique sessions of each participant’s images made during the workshop.

This workshop is sponsored by Chamonix View Cameras and Gura Gear, and all workshop participants are eligible for discounts on Chamonix view cameras and accessories and on Gura Gear camera bags.

Fore more information and registration, please click here.

You are visiting the blog of fine art landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.

‘Introduction to Large Format Photography’ with the Julia Dean Photo Workshops: March 2011

I’m excited to announce that I’ll be teaching my next Introduction to Large Format Photography group workshop in March 2011 with the Julia Dean Photo Workshops! The Julia Dean Photo Workshops (JDPW) is the West Coast’s largest and most practical education school of photography devoted to advancing the skills and increasing the personal enrichment of photographers of all experience levels and ages. They offer nearly 170 workshops per year, programming a variety of community events, and supporting artists through group and one-person gallery exhibits. In addition, JDPW offers workshops with and provides access to some of the most well-known and respected photographers in the world, including: Greg Gorman, Duane Michals, Mary Ellen Mark, Sam Abell, Douglas Kirkland, David Alan Harvey, Keith Carter, Phil Borges, Bruce Davidson, John Paul Caponigro, Alex Webb, Ron Haviv, James Nachtwey and more. It goes without saying that I’m very excited to have my name listed as an Instructor amongst these incredible photographer/teacher luminaries.

As the West Coast’s largest non-degree based school of photography, JDPW offers a broad range of coursework, with classes ranging from photojournalism and fine art photography to studio photography and portraiture. For students looking to become more involved in the photographic community, JDPW also provides yearly Membership Plans which provide numerous perks and benefits, such as: discounts on tuition, free admittance to events and guest lectures, credit towards a travel workshop and more.

My next Introduction to Large Format Photography workshop will be held at Joshua Tree National Park on March 12-13, 2011. For more information and registration, please see the JDPW website listing. Please let me know if you have any questions about this workshop. I hope to see you in Joshua Tree NP!

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.

Upcoming Workshops

Come join me in the Eastern Sierra for two exciting workshops!

October 5-8, 2010 Eastern Sierra Autumn Color Tour
All camera formats and experience levels welcome! Limited to only six photographers. Join me on this incredible and photography intensive three-day tour of California’s Eastern Sierra, Owens Valley, and the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. Come enjoy and photograph California’s finest autumn colors in one of the most breathtaking settings on the planet! For more information and registration….

November 6-7, 2010 Introduction to Large Format Photography
Alabama Hills, Eastern Sierra (just outside Lone Pine, California). Limited to only 5 photographers. NO previous large format experience required! My teaching methods and techniques are direct and easy to comprehend. At the completion of this intensive two-day workshop, you will be able to efficiently and confidently compose, focus, and expose your own large format photographs! For more information and registration….

I am happy to answer any questions you may have regarding these workshops/tours. Previous workshop participants can enjoy a 10% discount on tuition! Thank you for your interest.

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.

High Sierra Trip Report; NEW Tour Announcement

Mt. Goode in morning light

Mt. Goode in morning light

I returned home from the High Sierra earlier this week after concluding a private photography tour for my client, Balaji, who hails from California’s Bay Area. This tour was initially slated to include a few of Balaji’s friends, but illness and schedule conflicts left Balaji alone with me to endure the incredible light and beauty that only the Range of Light can offer. Due to snowpack this year that
Mosquitoes!

Mosquitoes!

was 143% of normal, bountiful snow still lingered at moderate elevations and the mosquitoes were like I’ve never seen them before in the Eastern Sierra. We were surrounded at times by virtual clouds of them!

Long Lake and Saddlerock Lake

Long Lake and Saddlerock Lake

Our tour began on the Eastside at South Lake and would take us over Bishop Pass and into the Dusy and Palisade Basins of King’s Canyon/Sequoia National Park. “Would” being the key word, as Balaji contracted Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) on our second day out, which forced us to move to a lower elevation and ultimately off the mountain sooner than planned. Without medication (Acetazolamide) or proper acclimatization (a slower and more gradual ascent to altitude), Balaji would be unable to continue climbing higher without suffering further ill effects of AMS.

Balaji photographs the Sierra

Balaji photographs the Sierra

A number of photo tour and workshop leaders have written recently about the importance of choosing a tour/workshop guide who is properly insured and carrying proper permits, yet many of these articles omit what to me should be an even more serious concern: is your guide first-aid and CPR trained and certified? Do they have the experience and awareness to spot something like AMS? Is your guide an experienced mountaineer and navigator who can guide you confidently and safely through the most difficult situations? Had I not been able to correctly diagnose and know how to treat Balaji’s condition, I could have ushered him to even higher altitudes and might have seriously endangered him (AMS can elevate to High Altitude Pulmonary Edema [HAPE]). Before you hire a photography guide to lead you into remote locations, make sure that they can provide a YES answer to these questions! When remote, help is often a long way away and cell phones may not be operable; you need to be able to trust your guide to make the right decisions on your behalf and to do so while under pressure.

Water and Granite

Water and Granite

After diagnosing Balaji’s condition, we descended back to our first night’s camp on the shore of beautiful Long Lake. Although he was not yet out of the woods, Balaji’s AMS-induced fatigue prevented him from making it all the way back to the car that evening. We spent a restful night at Long Lake, and although Balaji reported feeling great in the morning, it was evident to me on the walk out that Balaji was still afflicted with AMS. Medication will likely be his only solution to again returning to higher elevations. A rigorous acclimatization process can help (“climb high, sleep low”, and with slower ascents to altitude), but rarely fits well with ambitious plans and a restrictive number of annual vacation days (damn you, American employers! :)).

Evening clouds over the Sierra

Evening clouds over the Sierra

After most of Balaji’s group had signed off the trip, I offered a couple of openings to interested parties, although it was too short of notice to have any takers. Many persons wrote me expressing great interest in this outing, so I am again offering this High Sierra photo tour on August 25-29, 2010 (Wednesday through Sunday). Eligible participants must be in very good to excellent physical condition; must have previous backpacking experience; and must have experience at high altitude (12,000′ will be our
Mt. Agassiz, 13,891'

Mt. Agassiz, 13,891'

maximum, with an option to climb higher during downtime). This tour is open to only three participants; register now! I look forward to sharing the beauty and wonder of the Range of Light with you!

Many THANKS to Balaji for another great outing to the High Sierra! I look forward to getting you back into this region in 2011!

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.

High Sierra Photo Tour; Space available!

Sierra Wave over Mt. Tom, High SierraI have two spaces available on a private High Sierra Photography Tour that begins on Saturday, July 10 and ends on Wednesday, July 14. The tour begins at South Lake (out of Bishop) in the Eastern Sierra, from where we’ll climb towards Bishop Pass and into Dusy and Palisade Basins. We’ll spend four nights camped at beautiful High Sierra backcountry locations, and will photograph as often as light permits. We head back towards South Lake on Wednesday, July 14. Candidates must have backpacking experience; own all their own equipment; and must be able to comfortably walk up to seven miles per day at high elevation (12,000′ will be our maximum). Participants must be in very good to excellent physical condition in order to qualify, and a complete itinerary and full details will be provided to interested persons.

I know this is short notice, but for persons with flexible scheduling, it’s an awesome opportunity to see and photograph one of the most incredible sections of the High Sierra. Please contact me by telephone or email if interested. Thanks for your interest!

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.