Travel really does broaden the mind. And helpfully, for our purposes at least, it helps to refresh a jaded photographic palate too. Going to a new place – whether it’s 100km away or 12,000 – helps to keep boredom at bay by providing you with new visual stimulation, and sometimes throwing new photographic challenges at you. However, that doesn’t mean you should go unprepared. Working out a few details beforehand will help you meet those challenges. Here are a few things to do before travelling, and a few things to think about when you’ve arrived…
1: Do your homework
Want to make the most efficient use of your time on a trip? Then you need to plan in advance what you want to see and shoot, including the best and simplest way to get to your chosen locations. There are plenty of resources available to the photographer these days, from traditional guidebooks to travel blogs and websites. Instagram is another good place to look for inspiration – though try not to be too unduly influenced by the photos on view. There’s no point going to a location and shooting the same thing as everyone else!
2: Write yourself a list
There are few things worse than getting to a location and then realising that you’ve forgotten a vital piece of kit. I’ve now got a list of photography equipment that I work through when packing for a trip. The list includes obvious items such as camera and lenses, as well as smaller – but no less vital – things like lens cloths and battery chargers. If I later find I’m missing something that wasn’t on the list then I update the list when I get home.
3: Travel light
You’re probably now thinking I’m contradicting myself. I’m not. Honest. Travelling light means leaving kit you really don’t need behind. There’s no point in taking every lens you own if the more exotic ones don’t get used. I like to keep things simple and generally only take 24-70mm and 70-200mm lenses. (And perhaps a prime or two.) As long as I’ve sufficient focal length coverage for most shooting situations I’m happy.
4: Stay safe
Photography equipment is expensive So, firstly, make sure it’s fully insured before you set off, particularly if you’re travelling abroad. Secondly, and this goes right back to tip 1, check to see if there are any no-go areas at your destination. Pretty much every city or town has a rough section. Don’t be tempted to go there if others advise against it. Thirdly, try to be aware of what’s going on around you as you shoot. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the moment and not notice potential danger.
5: Avoid cliches like the plague
In my view, saying a subject or location is iconic is just a polite way of saying it’s over-photographed. How many photos have ever been shot of the Eiffel Tower or the Statue of Liberty? (There’s no prize for the correct answer, but it’s going to be a lot.) However, by far the majority of those photos will have been taken from one or possibly two viewpoints. (I’ve been to places that had signs to show you the best vantage point to shoot something… Oh dear.) There’s nothing wrong with shooting a familiar subject or location. But if you can find a new take on it, a different view possibly, or shoot at an unusual time of day, then you’ll be creatively ahead of most people.
6: Make notes
I use keywords, added to my photos in post-production, to make searching for images easier. Keywords are generally words that fit a particular photo – from the specific location of the photo, to words that describe the subject. To make my keywords as accurate as possible I make notes at the time of shooting. These aren’t usually too involved, but they do act as a useful way to jog my memory later. It’s also useful to geotag your photos if you can too, either with your camera’s GPS, or via your phone.
7: Politeness goes a long way
Whether you’re in a big city or a small town there will be locals all around. It’s their home after all. If you want to photograph people then ask permission. It may feel slightly awkward, but it gets easier with practise. If someone refuses then give way with grace and look for someone else to approach. Learning a few useful words in the local language – hello, please, thank you – will help to smooth international relations along.
8: Set the alarm clock
The middle of the day is often the worst time to be out shooting. In summer, the light is generally hard and contrasty, particularly if you’re vaguely close to the equator. Early morning (or late evening) light is generally more aesthetically pleasing, and – as an added bonus! – there are fewer people around first thing, and it’s generally cooler too. If you’ve swapped hemispheres though, don’t forget that the seasons will be flipped. Summer will be winter, and autumn will be spring. You’ll need to take account of any regional difference in the length of day before setting your alarm clock.
9: Leave the family behind occasionally
My family is great and I’m sure your is too. It’s just, well they do get in the way at times: complaining when you take time setting up that perfect shot, or suddenly getting all hungry and demanding to be taken somewhere to be fed. If you can, arrange some ‘me-time’ when it’s just you and your camera. You may have to bribe the family with something special another day, but it will be worth it.
10: Look after your memory cards
Having shot your photos you really don’t want to lose them before you get home. If you have a good Internet connection consider backing them up to a cloud account whenever possible. (This easier with JPEG than Raw admittedly.) Some cameras have two card slots. If you’re lucky enough to own such a camera use one to write back-up files to as you shoot. If you manage to fill multiple memory cards on your trip then make sure you don’t accidentally erase them. Keep them separate from your other cards, flick the write-protect switch to on, or wrap a rubber band around them to show that they’ve been filled.