From Estonia With Love - Part Three

Part three of the From Estonia with Love interview. Motorcycle travellers Margus and Kariina talk about hand-held panorama photography, shooting video documentaries of their adventures, recording audio, food, music, border crossings and more...

Be sure to check out Part One and Part Two.

Now something I really like is your hand-held Panoramas. You don't trim the edges - so they are jagged where the individual panoramas overlap - but the freedom of the compositions is incredible! You grab everything that catches your interest. It looks really unique.

(Click any image to view full size and higher quality - All photos copyright Margus Sootla)

Personally I’ve hesitated making panoramas because I was convinced the results would be terrible without a pano-head on a tripod, finding the convergence point of the lens, all that stuff. I mean that’s really too much work when you’re dealing with life on the road.

I know there’s the parallax error issue that will mess-up objects that are very close to the camera, but you seem to avoid that problem in your compositions.
Have you got any tips for composing handheld panorama shots?

Not really, I can't even describe it since all panoramas need different techniques. Just practice a little with handheld panoramas, give each frame some overlap and try to stitch them later and see if it works - many times you need to stitch them manually. You'll learn the small tricks in the process.

So are you shooting your panoramas in manual mode, so the exposures match?

Most of the time the camera is in manual mode, but recently I've started to use a polarizer on the panoramas. This makes things more complicated - I change the exposures over the frames plus I play with the angle of the polarizer to even out each frame. Sky is the most difficult and even with very hard trying you can't get the ideally smooth panorama in terms of exposure, but I've started to kind of like the "dynamic" feel in those panoramas. Maybe it's an acquired taste too.

Installing a Turn Tech Lithium Iron Phosphate battery in a KLR650

I admit to being neglectful when it comes to my motorcycle battery
Dumb-luck has saved me in both British Columbia and El Salvador.

Dead battery in El Salvador

The 19th century alchemy of a lead-acid battery is a mystery to me. Fill the cells with distilled water at midnight during a full moon till the lead begins to bubble... 
As far as I'm concerned, the starter motor either turns the engine over, or it doesn't.
Maybe it's the fact that checking the water level of each cell requires the removal of the panniers, two side panels, the seat, the battery holder and the +/- terminals. Not something I'm likely to do at the end of a hot day in Honduras.

Way out West-1300972

Back in Canada, the battery I had bought over a year ago in El Salvador was beginning to fade. It wasn't holding a charge and very nearly left me stranded after a fill up at a gas station when I was given an opportunity to try a 5Ah Lithium Iron Phosphate, (LiFePO4) battery from Turn Tech - a one-man outfit based out of the USA. 

The Turn Tech battery is related to the batteries you'll find in your laptop or your cellphone, but apparently they use iron as a cathode rather than graphite. Which is great if you understand things like:

Like I said, the bike starts, or it doesn't - Check the Turn Tech FAQ if you need the nitty gritty.

Joe Turner of Turn Tech was quick to answer my uninformed questions by email; 
  • Is the battery big enough to start my KLR650? 
  • Can I run accessories like an electric vest with the Turn Tech battery? 
  • What about long term storage?

"The answer to running accessories off the battery is yes.

One note though, if the accessories are left on the battery will be drained. If the battery is drained too far it can be damaged.

The bike has more than enough power to everything while the bike is running, with the bike not running the battery will drain fairly quickly (a little more than 1 hour).

For storage I suggest putting it on a tender overnight, disconnecting one leg, negative or positive, and then just let it sit. When getting it out of storage put it on a tender while you get the bike ready, then reconnect 
the battery."

So from what little I've read, I'll be expecting:
  • Longer operating life out of the battery
  • Ten times longer "sitting time" before the battery will go flat
  • No distilled water to worry about.

And yes, it is tiny: 1.9lbs for the Turn Tech, while the stock battery weighs in at 9.6!

The Turn Tech battery is not model specific, this 5Ah battery is intended to be used in many different motorcycles. The upright positioning of the Turn Tech battery posts don't match well with the KLR wiring harness- The terminals are specially shaped to fit a stock battery and the leads are stiff, without enough slack to twist the wiring into place. I don't want to modify the stock harness, in case I have to re-install a stock battery somwhere in the back of Bolivia.  A couple of 3" extension leads made-up of parts from the auto supply place should do the trick. 
I plan on using extra open-cell foam leftover from my Pelican cases to fill the void space and to keep the tiny battery from rattling around. It might be worth fabricating a plastic frame to support the battery and to make an emergency stash compartment for bulbs, fuses, brake pads etc. I have even seen a few reports of bikes that use the half size 2.5Ah battery ditching the battery box altogether and installing the battery inside the airbox...

I couldn't wait to try the 5Ah Turn Tech on the KLR, so just to be able to connect the leads I flipped the battery upside down  - orientation doesn't matter once you've ditched a lead acid battery. The bike started right up with gusto, noticeably quicker than a charged stock battery, which surprised me.

I'll update this post with photos once the battery is properly installed and will report back on the Turn Tech batteries' reliability and performance. I have a feeling that no news will be good news... 

*update* I'm learning more about amperage, and discovering that 5Ah might not be enough current for the battery to keep itself charged on the KLR. I believe Turn Tech makes custom batteries, I may need to go that route and have a 14Ah battery made. More research to be done yet...

From Estonia With Love - Part Two

And we continue with part two of our From Estonia with Love interview, with world travellers Margus and Kariina.
Be sure to read Part one of the interview here

(Click any image to view at higher quality - All photos copyright Margus Sootla)

So Margus, you do the bulk of the photography. You’re shooting with several cameras; you have a pretty serious medium format Pentax shooting film, a compact camera and a couple of video cameras as well.

Let start with the compact cameras - you’ve been through several!
You started with a simple Canon PowerShot A710is - Lost it to pickpockets in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Then you upgraded to Canon PowerShot G11 in jakarta. 

Now the G11 is an advanced compact camera - you can manually adjust all the settings. I noticed that your "snapshots" got a lot better after you bought the G11 - Did having a more capable camera encourage you to try harder with your digital photos?

From Estonia with Love - Part One

The threadbare riding gear is faded, the colour bleached-out by the sun. The passports are full, newer stamps overlay the old.  The bike is scarred and worn from multiple crashes and countless tip-overs.
But like Ilford 120 through a Pentax, Margus and Kariina defiantly roll on, taking some of the finest overland travel photography you will see.

(Click any image to view larger, higher quality photos - All photos copyright Margus Sootla)

How long have you two actually been on this epic? Have you lost count of the days? Do words like “Tuesday” or “Weekend” have any meaning at this point?

We set out on the 1st of October 2008, so it is something like two and a half years by now - after a while you really stop counting the days and the months! The initial plan was to do the circle in 1000 days but now it seems we'll be going over a little.

Days of the week are pretty irrelevant, as are the numbers on the clock - we wake up when the sun rises and go to sleep soon after it sets, which is quite an organic way to go about our daily life.