Preparing for travel

July 13, 2007

Preparing for travel To successfully capture the essence of any destination, effective preparation is essential? by By Ian Rolfe

Everyone knows that successful travel without hitches requires careful planning and thorough preparation. When planning a vacation that is centred on photography, even more effort is required for travel to be a success.

Travel photography is a creative adventure, and away from home you have the opportunity to record the unfamiliar with a fresh eye. So, to find and bring home a true record of your travels, you need to be well prepared. The time of year for the particular destination you have chosen will be your first consideration, as well as equipment needs, film and other small incidentals that photographers always need to carry. What kind of weather and which season do you want to shoot?

Autumn color in North America, cherry blossoms in Japan, animal migrations in East Africa or the blue of the South Pacific all need to be timed just right, or your trip of a lifetime will be completely wasted ? photographically speaking.

Research on the Net, excellent travel guides such as Lonely Planet and even good quality brochures like Peregrine Adventures will provide an excellent start for your preparations. The average tourist only needs to know about hotels, where to get a good meal and perhaps the best beaches, but photographers need to know a lot, lot more. How far is that renowned scenery, what local festivals are there during our visit, the markets, the famous landmarks and the ease of getting to them all have to be worked out beforehand to avoid unnecessary delays and extra expense.

Equipment choice and how much or how little is never easy to decide, but knowing what we are likely to encounter on a particular trip will help in the decision. Newer models of cameras are more reliable than ever, so one spare body will be more than enough. Use that spare body for a different film type, and it will not be a waste of space. A good idea, and one used by many photojournalists, is having the second body as a compact digital camera to take snaps for candids, to send pics back to people you?ve met after the trip, or to simply record fleeting shots for scrap books etc. In the unlikely event that your main camera fails to work for whatever reason, the compact can be used instead..

Zoom lenses are perfect companions for travel photographers. If you can afford the newer type zoom lenses, then an excellent choice would be to carry one in the 18-35 or 24 -85 range, with the next one in the 80 to 200 or even 300 range. Many good photojournalists carry only two zoom lenses on two bodies and still sell plenty of pictures. Filters are a must, so if you have a system like the Cokin range then one filter holder and step up rings to match all your lenses will take up less room and make things a lot easier for you. Polarisers, ND grads and warming filters are all that you will likely need to carry, and having them fit into the same holder system is an added bonus.

If you’re using a film camera, how much film you need to pack and carry is never easy to decide.There are two important things to remember however. Count on using at least two rolls a day, and always buy your film before leaving home.

Many places in the world are unlikely to stock your film of choice, and if they do, it?s often a lot more expensive than you would pay at home (the exception being the US). A good idea is always to unpack your film from their boxes, put them all in a sealable container and carry it with you on board the aircraft in your cabin luggage. Don?t worry about X-rays at airports because they do not harm unexposed film, even with successive scanning (unless its 1600ASA or higher). It?s the X-rays that are used with hold luggage that you might have to worry about, so carry it with you and don?t pack it in your suitcase. If you can, try and pack one flash unit, and always take a tripod. If you value good image-making then your tripod is more important than extra clothes.

If you’re using a digital camera, try to bring as many extra high-capacity memory cards as you can. There’s nothing worse than being being forced to delete some of your photos because you’ve run out of memory, and there’s no where you can buy an extra memory card.

Too many photographers worry that what they shoot has been done so many times before. However this should not be a concern at all, because each one of us will have their own view ? new, fresh and exciting. Proof is in the vast amount of exhibition photographs of well-known places taken with an interpretive approach. So your job is to go out and take pictures, wherever and whenever you can!

Your comments are invited. Contact Ian Rolfe on

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