Tips & Tricks: Traveling as a Photographer

Our Tips & Tricks series aims to give beginners, amateurs and professionals alike more ways to approach different aspects of photography and videography. For each installment, we’ve enlisted the expertise of our MPEX staff and have received their feedback on method and equipment.

There are already a million and one things to consider when taking a photograph. If you’re traveling, the number of things to consider is more like a billion and one, and that’s a low estimate.

It’s the summer, and chances are some of you will be embarking on a photo adventure. Here are some tips and tricks for traveling as a photographer, from getting your gear to your destination to capturing the best possible shot.

Before you even leave your house, you’re going to want to make sure your gear is secure. A busted-up lens and camera body won’t do you much good. So get a good bag [1] — we suggest anything by Lowepro, especially the Vertex 300 AW, which fits a ton of gear but is also an appropriate carry-on bag.

Each piece should be packed separately. Lenses should not be attached to camera bodies, and everything should have the appropriate caps on to avoid dust and damage. At the same time, don’t bring everything you own. [2] Plan accordingly and intelligently. What camera and lenses can you not live without? Those are the pieces of gear you’ll want to bring. Some of us have lenses that we love but rarely have use for. Chances are when you’re out in the field, you’re probably going to want to use the lenses that you feel most comfortable with, so bring those. Plus, not only will you have to get the gear to your destination, but then you’ll also be lugging that gear around with you wherever you go. Do you really want to have a metric ton of gear equipment strapped to your back all day long? We didn’t think so.

camera bags

Packing extra backpacks and smaller slings and camera pouches is probably also a good idea, in that case. And don’t forget your tripod! Having one travel tripod, such as Manfrotto’s new BeFree tripod, and one heavier-duty tripod is a good rule of thumb. If you’re planning on shooting some video, you might want to consider a monopod, too. You will also want some backup hard drives, memory cards, and battery chargers, though don’t pack too many batteries since “TSA regulations limit the amount of lithium you can take on a plane, and your camera’s batteries likely take a lot of lithium. For DSLRs, this usually maxes out at around two batteries.” [1]

Don’t be afraid to utilize subterfuge when traveling with your gear. Digital Photography School suggests ways to blend in:

If you do have a new camera specific bag and are still worried, tone it down. Get it dirty. Beat it up a little. It might seem lame, yet a well traveled bag is less of a target than a new one. A new bag says, “I have money and likely don’t travel much.” A worn bag is still a target, but, in a field of likely bags, ranks lower for an attempt. Toning it down also goes for your dress. I’m not insisting you purchase local clothes and try to be completely local when you arrive, but take a look at what others are wearing and try to blend in some.

You can even go so far as to “make your camera look like a heap of trash.” [4]

You can't tell but this is actually a 5D Mark III.
You can’t tell but this is actually a 5D Mark III.

As for air travel, give yourself enough time to go through security. [5] Chances are the TSA won’t find your camera gear suspicious, but you never know. They might take the time to unpack your bag, and if you packed a decent amount of bodies and/or lenses, it could take a while. Also, try to be one of the first people on the plane so that you can make sure your bag is safely stowed away in an overhead compartment that is actually near your seat, if only for your own peace of mind. Oh, and don’t check any bag that contains photo gear. [2] There is a much, much higher chance of it getting lost or damaged if you do.

So how about when you actually arrive at your destination? It probably goes without saying that you’ll want to keep certain things in mind when taking your photographs. Before you even go out to shoot, you should research your location. [6] Search for photos of your destination beforehand to find its most photogenic angles, nooks, and crannies. Obviously you want to make your own images and not just copy what everyone else has done, but knowing where the most popular sites are can give you a foundation from which you can put your own unique spin. Flickr and 500px are obvious resources for this, but sites like ShotHotspot or Geocaching can be even more valuable.

Photo by Tyler Foote
Photo by Tyler Foote

But don’t just stick to the tried-and-true tourist traps. You can get more unique, lively photos by exploring the places where locals live. In fact, including residents in your images will capture a “sense of local flavor” that cannot be replicated anywhere else. [6] Meet the locals by learning a few words of local dialect or having tea. [8] Likewise, if you’re traveling somewhere that’s very foreign and new to you, you might want to hire locals when traveling, especially if you require assistants, or even hire the people you’re going to photograph. [4] Not only will it make it easier for you to communicate with other locals, but you will also probably discover and explore locations that you never would have otherwise.

Photo by Jophel Ybiosa
Photo by Jophel Ybiosa

Where you choose to stay could also have an impact on your photo opportunities: “Staying on the center of town or having a room with wonderful views can create a lot of great photo opportunities.” [3] Plus, traveling isn’t just about taking awesome photographs, but also getting to know a new region of our incredibly diverse world. Learn to speak a little of the language, sample the local cuisine, view some local art and dance to local music. How are you going to capture the spirit of a place if you don’t immerse yourself in that place? If you’re shooting landscapes, capture “experiences rather than landmarks.” [7] Chances are we’ve seen that particular landmark your photographing photographed a million times. However, we haven’t seen it from your perspective, so capture your experience of the place, not just the place.

Photo by Steve Filipiak
Photo by Steve Filipiak

Keep in mind things like condensation, especially in locations with extreme temperature shifts from interiors to exteriors. There’s a very simple solution to this, however: Keep “your camera in a Ziplock bag whenever you aren’t actively shooting with it. The condensation will collect on the outside of the bag instead of your camera, keeping your camera dry.” [2]

Photo by J. Todd Poling
Photo by J. Todd Poling

Swap out your memory cards often; in case you lose one, you don’t want to lose every photo you’ve taken that trip. And wear your bag in front instead of behind you if you can. [3] And if you photograph some of the locals, keep in touch with them. [4] This will be especially valuable if you plan to return to that location, because you’ll already have an on-hand tour guide and place to stay, or at least someone who will be able to tell you the best places to eat.

Safe travels!

Sources:

1. Lifehacker – How Can I Safely Travel with My DSLR Camera and Photography Gear?
2. Digital Photo Secrets – Quick Tips for Traveling with Photography Gear
3. Digital Photography School – How To Keep Camera Gear Safe While Traveling
4. Joey L. – 5 Critical Tips for Travel Photographers
5. I Heart Faces – 4 Tips for Air Travel with Your Photography Gear
6. Digital Trends – 9 Travel Photo Tips for Capturing the Best Images to Satisfy Your Inner Wanderlust
7. Wall Street Journal – Snap Out of It
8. SLR Lounge – Travel Photography | Tips for Breaking the Ice

Midwest Photo

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