One of the biggest joys in photography is being able to capture new and exotic places around the world. Travel and photography are two sides of the same coin — perfect companions — yet the modern world sometimes makes traveling with your camera difficult. Today, we are going to have a look at some hints and tips on how to travel with your equipment.
One of the most common mistakes of the novice photographer when traveling is to try to take everything. Think carefully about your destination: are you going to need a big fast telephoto? Do you really need two DSLR bodies? Can you use a monopod instead of a tripod? Very often, you can substitute two lenses by taking a small, decent compact camera and leaving your most-used lens on your DSLR. Think about whether you need a flashgun or all of your filters. Do you need to take a laptop, or can you maybe back your images up online in a cyber-cafe?
Your goal is to select gear that will give you the widest range of options using the least amount of equipment.
Be rational about the equipment you wish to take
Get the right camera bag
There is a bewildering choice of camera bags available to photographers today, from over-the-shoulder-bags to backpacks. However, there is one consideration that overrides all others for the traveling photographer: will it pass as hand (carryon) baggage? There is nothing worse than arriving at the airport only to be refused boarding with an oversized camera bag.
Beyond this, you are going to need a bag that will be very comfortable to carry all day, that will have a good degree of weather proofing, and that has lots of pockets for storing things such as memory cards and filters.
Find the right camera bag
All airlines are not equal
Returning to the hand baggage theme, think carefully about the airline you choose. Many budget airlines have very strict regulations about the weight and size of hand baggage. Often 5kg is the maximum weight, which is not much more than a DSLR and a couple of lenses (not including the weight of the bag). Some budget airlines also charge for hand baggage, and have exorbitant overweight fees. Mainstream airlines tend to be more flexible in their hand baggage requirements. Companies like British Airways, in fact, effectively have no weight limit (within reason).
A little tip to help if you are carrying overweight bags is to be amongst the very first to check in for the flight. As the airline does not yet know how much total weight there is, they tend, in my experience, to be a little more tolerant of overweight bags.
Pick your airline carefully
Do your research
Whether you are going on holiday or a photographic expedition, research is a vital part of your preparation. In these days of Google Maps, Wikipedia and Wikitravel, there is no reason that you should not have some advance familiarity with your destination. Research the places that you wish to photograph using specialty websites. The Photographer’s Ephemeris is a fantastic way to work out where the light will be for a given time at any location. Using a combination of this and Google Maps, you can work out a detailed plan for your photographic shoots.
Research your locations and times of day
Also look at the location of your hotel or apartment in relation to the places you wish to shoot. Find out how you can get to locations by the required time: can you walk there? Will you need a taxi? How much will that cost? These are factors that can hinder you getting the best light if you don’t prepare.
Dangers and annoyances
Starting from the airport, never put any of your valuable equipment in the cargo hold. If your camera bag is overweight, consider moving filters, spare batteries, etc. to your main baggage, but cameras, lenses, laptops, etc. must stay with you.
It’s a sad fact of life that photographers can be easy targets for theft. We often forget our equipment when shooting. Keep your bag strapped to you, and be aware of your surroundings when shooting.
When you research your location, find out the typical scams. For example, a common scam in South America is for someone to put shaving foam or something similar on a bag, and then to try and clean it off. As they distract you with this, a second person will steal from you or your bag. In parts of Eastern Europe, there are sophisticated gangs that steal top-end lenses. They recognize the pro lenses and know which way the bayonet mount turns. They can remove a lens from a camera without you even noticing.
With a little research and by staying alert, you can avoid these issues and the chances are that you will have a great time.
Traveling with your camera can open new doors to your creativity and new ways of seeing the world. In the words of Mark Twain, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” It is also a great way to get great pictures.