Learning Photography with the Professionals – Expedition to Jordan
My heartbeat quickened and I held my breath as we reached the last turn before our first glimpse of The Treasury. And then…there it was, just a sliver of it, in between the towering limestone cliffs of the Siq.
We were at the ancient city of Petra, on an epic photography expedition to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan!
In the fall of last year, Great Escape Publishing announced a photography expedition to Jordan. It was not just a trip but a photography expedition, with a group of dedicated photographers who would be led and mentored by an award winning documentary film maker. With little photography experience, I didn’t give much thought to participating at first. But my mind kept begging the question, “What better way to learn photography?” Few opportunities offer a better experience than to be immersed in it with an experienced group led by an Emmy Award Winning Producer and Photographer.
It was also difficult to overlook the fascinating location. Consider Jordan, second only to Israel for its number of Biblical sites! We would traverse the geographical area of Jordan, beginning and ending in Amman, the capitol city. We would take camel and jeep excursions from our lodging at the Rahayeb Desert Camp and have tea and bread at a Bedouin home from our lodging at Feynan Ecolodge, both located in the Wadi Rum Desert. We would lodge at the luxurious Crowne Plaza Jordan – Dead Sea Resort & Spa and float in the Dead Sea, lowest point on earth. We would visit ancient cities such as Petra, Jerash, and Umm Qais.
The ancient Nabataean city of Petra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Petra was once a vital and thriving crossroad or caravan center between Arabia, Egypt, and Syria-Phoenicia, part of the area that later became known as the Silk Road. My mind conjured images of long camel caravans carrying incense from Arabia, silks from China, and spices from India.
I had never used a camera other than my trusty iPhone X and my nice little Canon point and shoot. These offered pretty good photos, had enough complexity, and served my needs well enough that I had nagging doubts about learning more. I pondered whether it would be worth the time and money that it would take to learn to use more professional photography equipment. I also wondered if I would be able to learn enough in time to avoid being a burden on this expedition.
In the end, the decision boiled down to the opportunity to see Jordan, especially to see it the way photographers see it!
I soon learned that one question always leads to many, many more with photography.
There are a vast number of choices available with Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) cameras and mastery of them is a lifelong endeavor. I had an almost overwhelming number of decisions to make and things to learn in a short period of time.
I started with the following questions.
What online courses, tutorials, and/or YouTube videos are available?
What brand and model of camera is best for my needs?
What kind of lens and how many do I need for this expedition?
What is the best tripod?
Should I purchase or rent the equipment?
Do I know any professional photographers and would they help?
Answers to the initial questions led to more questions!
Should I get a mirrorless or traditional DSLR camera?
What equipment carrier and camera straps are best?
What version of post-production software do I need and how do I use it?
Is there special cleaning material for camera equipment?
How many batteries would I need and how many battery chargers?
Would I need a remote shutter release or use the timer on the camera?
What kind of memory cards would I need? What memory card holders?
If I rent the equipment, what company is the best?
As I heard many, many times, the type of camera and lens you need depends on what kind of pictures you want to take and where you’re going to take them.
Equipment selections for the Jordan Expedition.
Sony a7III Mirrorless DSLR Camera.
Sony FE 24-70mm f2.8 GM Lens
Sony FE 16-35mm f2.8 GM Lens
MeFOTO GlobeTrotter Carbon Fiber Travel Tripod Kit
Remote Shutter Release and cable
Three Sony NP-FZ100 Batteries and two battery chargers with cables Tiffen 82mm Variable ND Filter
The mirrorless DSLR camera is lighter in weight than traditional DSLRs. Although Sony took the lead in developing mirrorless cameras, other brands are catching up and some are said to be just a good. Seasoned photographers are beginning to add a mirrorless camera to their collection, especially as their favorite brands catch up in mirrorless technology.
After spending countless hours studying Tutorials, YouTube videos, talking to professionals, and handling all the mirrorless choices in the store, the Sony mirrorless camera stayed consistently at the top of my list. It is highly regarded by professionals and felt sturdy, like military equipment. The most complaints about the Sony has to do with the complicated internal menu but I decided to give it a try anyway.
It was a big leap to bypass Sony models recommended for beginners and go directly to the full-frame image sensor. The 5-Axis In-Body Image Stabilization (IBS) influenced my decision. Also the finger grip on the Sony a7 models fit my hand much better than the earlier models.
The next question was whether to get the Sony a7III with 24.2 MP (megapixels) or Sony a7RIII with 42.4MP. For now, my choice is with the Sony a7III. Convinced that it has everything I need, I opted for faster speed in continuous shooting mode over greater resolution. Whew, the buyers dilemma!
There were many choices and trade-offs in camera lens. Quality of the glass, weight, image stabilization, and versatility are some of the factors to consider. Based on conversations with experienced photographers, including the instructor, and listening to countless YouTube videos, I decided on two lens. The Sony FE 24-70mm f2.8 GM Lens (instructor’s favorite) is versatile, produces sharp photos and I would use it approximately 85% of the time. The second lens, Sony FE 16-35mm f2.8 GM Lens would be used for special wide angel shots and nighttime photography,
I wanted to capture my first picture of the stars!
The decision to rent was easy. Renting provides an opportunity to get to know the camera before investing. The staff at Great Escape Publishing led me to Lensrentals. A few weeks before the expedition, I rented a camera, tow lens, and a tripod to become familiar with it. That worked out great and I ended up changing to different lenses for the expedition. The service at Lensrentals is incredible. For example, on the second rental, just a few days before I was to leave for the expedition, the equipment arrived and I found that the shutter release wouldn’t work. I called Lensrentals and the service representative led me through several tests with the equipment before decided to send me a new shutter release. The next day the another shutter release arrived. They also sent another camera, just in case the port on the camera was inoperable!
The Director at Great Escape Publishing cautioned wisely that cameras are advancing rapidly and we might want to study the market before making a purchase.
In fact, many Sony reviewers are optimistic that Sony will provide a more user friendly internal menu in future models.
1. Take the journey! The photography expedition to Jordan was worth every penny invested, even for a beginner. It was chock full of incredible sights, awesome experiences, endearing people, and delicious food.
2. Start learning by taking a basic course in digital photography. There are many online courses. Community colleges are a great resource.
3. Listen to YouTube videos. There is an inexhaustible amount of YouTube videos about DSLR camera brands and models, and camera lens. They guide you in determining your equipment needs for all kinds of photography, portrait, landscape, astro-photography, etc.
4. Handle the equipment in the store to see what “feels” right. These days, there are very few dedicated camera stores but you’ll find a variety of equipment in most major department store chains,
5. Talk to friends who use professional equipment, for hobby or business. My friends answered questions on email, in person and even loaned me their equipment to test.
6. At the recommendation of the staff at Great Escape Publishing, I rented the camera equipment for a week prior to the expedition, to get used to its basic features.
7. Print the manual and use it to become familiar with the camera. Sony also has an online handbook and I referred to it often. Sometimes I even Googled my questions and found the answer faster.
8. Rent instead of buy. This gives you a chance to learn more before you invest a lot of money. Also these days’ cameras are improving rapidly. Renting will give you time to watch the market to see if there is a newer model on the horizon. Many reviewers of the Sony camera want to see a more user friendly internal menu in future models.
9. Buy a carrier on wheels for your equipment. Right away I realized that my backpack was too heavy to lug through all the airports and later on the expedition. I bought a luggage cart, which was a lifesaver but also a nuisance. Next time I’ll have a backpack with wheels!
10. Check to see what version of Adobe software is current for managing and editing of your pictures. For this expedition, I needed Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic. It’s best to check with an experienced photographer as there are others versions.
Sales representatives in the photography department at Best Buy were very helpful. Some have an incredible amount of experience and took the time to show examples of their artistic work and explain the photography equipment they used.
Pat DeMars, Pat DeMars Photography, professional photographer and friend. Pat answered all my email questions and it was through his guidance that I selected the camera lens to use for this expedition.
The Director and staff at Great Escape Publishing answered my questions promptly and led to my selection of a camera. Lori Allen published tips that helped me decide to rent instead of purchase. Karin responded promptly to my inquiries, helped me begin my search for equipment, and find a reputable rental store. The folks at Great Escape Publishing are professional and genuinely interested in helping people with their needs.
My fellow expedition travelers took the time to make me a better photographer and traveler with photography equipment. They answered questions, looked out for me, and inspired me with their awesome photography skills and stamina. I learned something from everyone in the group. They are true professionals and mentors! I’m especially grateful to Mary and Audra. Mary kept me on track with the itinerary and Audra continues to mentor me on using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.
Mohammad brought the history of Jordan to life with his superb storytelling skills. I took notes! There is a vast amount of material for future stories to go with the pictures I took along the way.
Salam accompanied us on the expedition, assisting along the way and enhancing the experience with his endearing personality. His family prepared an incredible dinner for us on our last day in Jordan. It was a pleasure to meet his wife, two little children and extended family members.
Joe and Kathy Sindorf, professional photographers and humanitarian filmmakers, provided the “secret sauce” to creating incredible photos. It was a pleasure and an honor to work with them. With their assistance, I took my first photograph of the stars!
Eddie Goff, my sweet and patient husband, reviewed countless YouTube videos on cameras and lens and accompanied me to stores to discuss camera equipment.
In addition to studying photography, there are other books I read to prepare for this expedition.
Our Last Best Chance A Story of War and Peace, King Abdullah II of Jordan, With a New Forward on the Arab Spring, Apple Books
The Silk Roads A New History of the World, Peter Frankopan, Apple Books
Lawrence in Arabia, Scott Anderson, Apple Books
Here are some of my pictures taken with the Sony a7III during the epic 2019 Jordan Photography Expedition.