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DIGITAL PHOTO OF A BUSINESS TRAVELER
By Chris Barnett
May 2, 2013 -- Ken Kobre has taught college-level photojournalism for more than 35 years, but he isn't tethered to the classroom. With summers free and the financial squeeze on at California's colleges and universities, Kobre practices what he teaches and is on the road chasing stories as often as possible.
Over a two-year-stretch, for example, he flew around the world embedding himself with Associated Press photographers in various hotspots to shoot and produce a documentary for public television stations. Deadline Every Second: 12 Associated Press Photographers on Assignment wasn't a show-and tell-promo piece sponsored by the news organization, either. Kobre "self-funded" not only his travel expenses, but all of the filming, editing and production costs, too.
"It was like one long business trip broken into different legs except that it was more like a soldier of fortune traveling solo," he recalls.
There was the time he flew into Tel Aviv on Lufthansa to shadow the AP photographer Tera Todras-Whitehill in Jerusalem. Toting a $3,000 Panasonic 140 video camera, wireless and shotgun mics and two tripods, the then 65-year-old Kobre was ducking rubber bullets, dodging tear-gas canisters and frontrunning angry mobs. It was all done to capture the courage of a seasoned war photographer covering the chaos of the ongoing Palestinian and Israeli conflict.
After wrapping up the documentary, Kobre knew that academia alone wasn't going to pay the bills. Kobre has penned textbooks on photojournalism and video journalism, but his curiosity, mechanical mindset and concerns over cash flow have also driven him into the treacherous entrepreneurial waters of the business world. Fortunately, his wife, a detail-minded former editor of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce's monthly magazine, pitched in as self-appointed marketing director, comptroller, travel agent and logistics director.
His first patented invention, Professor Kobre's Lightscoop, lets any digital SLR camera owner get professional-looking lighting from a pop-up flash. It sold well and emboldened him to jump into the fiercely competitive fray of creating an iPhone app. Launched last month, Kobre claims his VideoPro Camera app gives the iPhone, iPad or iPod many of the features of a $1,000 video camera. The app controls the zoom speed, focus and exposure; monitors the sound quality; and reduces the "wiggly" image that mobile devices often produce. All for just $4.99. (It's sold at the Apple App Store, of course.)
The demise of the traditional film camera has made travel for Kobre and other professional photographers somewhat easier. "I'd carry hundreds of rolls of film, light meters, camera bodies, lenses, strobes, slaves, battery packs, cases, tripods, cables and microphones," he recalls. It all weighed "at least 60 pounds" and Kobre says he was always required to pay airlines for overweight luggage.
Another benefit of the new generation of digital cameras? No worries about hand-checking film and no fears about the impact of X-ray machines at the security checkpoint. But since he tries to carry on as much gear as possible, Kobre still has problems at airport checkpoints since he is frequently pulled aside for secondary screening.
"Photographic equipment definitely raises suspicions and that causes me delays, but it goes with the territory."
Kobre, now 67 years old, has learned some other travel realities the hard way. Filming at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, an Israeli cop snapped a wireless mic and there was "no replacement available in all of Israel. Now, I travel with three microphone cords and three of everything critical to a shoot, especially power strips."
The six-foot-tall Kobre admits he needs extra space to stretch out and stow the equipment he takes onboard, but won't spring for roomier business-class or premium-economy seats. "I'm almost always traveling on my own dime, so I try to book an aisle seat in the exit row."
What's more, he never lets his carry-on bag out of his sight nor does he stow it in an overhead bin more than one row away from where he's sitting. His current carry-on gear: a Macbook Pro, a Kindle, plus cameras and lenses. If he shoots more video than his laptop can handle, he loads it onto two external hard-drives. One drive is stored in his checked suitcase and one goes into the four-wheeled suitcase that serves as his carry-on bag.
The San Francisco-based Kobre's long-haul airlines of choice? Mostly United, Air France or Delta with the edge to Delta "because the food is better and they seem friendlier." For short domestic trips, he books Southwest Airlines.
Overseas, Kobre flies the discount carriers, especially easyJet. "I fly easyJet whenever I can. The routes aren't always direct, but easyJet is exactly what it says it is--cheap and easy." One exception: He won't fly Ryanair, which he "hates. The Web site is difficult to use and the baggage charges at the airport are exorbitant."
Kobre and his wife aren't particularly loyal to any hotel chain. They prefer to bunk into other people's homes using either Airbnb.com or VRBO.com. The only caveat: The rental property must have working WiFi. One other exception: the Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites at Phoenix Airport North. Kobre says midweek rates are usually around $100 and "the suites are big and beautiful, the WiFi is free and it always works."
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ABOUT CHRIS BARNETT Chris Barnett writes about business-travel tactics and strategies that save time and money and help minimize hassles. He is based in San Francisco and has written for a wide variety of major newspapers and national magazines.
THE FINE PRINT Joe Brancatelli makes this space available to Chris Barnett in the spirit of free speech and to help encourage editorial diversity and the wider discussion of important travel issues. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property of Barnett. This material may not be reproduced in any form without the express permission of Chris Barnett.
This column is Copyright © 2013 by Chris Barnett. JoeSentMe is Copyright © 2013 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.