After the huge amount of overseas travel I did last year (think Phillipines, Thailand, Singapore, France, Italy, UAE and Prague), I’m getting smarter about travelling with photography gear. Here’s some lessons I’ve learnt the hard way which will hopefully save someone some heartache.
The most useful thing I can do when travelling for photography is plan, plan and plan!! Have a good idea of what sort of photography you’re likely to be doing and only take equipment that you really can’t live without. I do a mix of interior, handheld work, landscape and street photography. For the interiors I need a light, prime, wide angle lens (20mm) and for cityscapes, I often need a zoom. But I can live without say a 300mm prime and most of the mid range zooms.
I can’t live without a tripod but I don’t take my normal heavy duty Pilbara tripod. I have a special, lightweight one that folds down small enough to fit into my suitcase. If you’re after one, look for carbon fiber if you have lots of money, or a 4 section (the norm is 3 section) tripod if you’ve not won lotto! By 4 section, that’s how many bits the legs fold into which determines how small it packs down. I choose to not take a flash as I mainly shoot HDR and really don’t need a flash.
When flying, I never check in camera bodies or lenses – they stay with me as hand luggage. As an extra precaution, I do have camera insurance that covers me anywhere in the world and is not as expensive as I thought it would be (only a couple hundred $). No, I wouldn’t get it if I didn’t have the business but it’s always an option.
The planning is not only going to save you weight on the flight (and most international flights are down to 23kgs total if you need more checkin baggage then Emirates have 30kg limit on economy) but also time once you’re at your destination. There’s never enough time at the exciting new location so it’s really important to know where you want to go. I like churches and also night cityscapes so I read travel guides to identify where I want to go. And then I have a look at images online to see what appeals. My upcoming trip to Russia is a good example. I’ve never shot in snow so I had a good look at what sort of images, how to shoot them, what time of day, etc. And I plan my day around the golden hours (sunrise and sunset) so that I’m always at a great location for photography when the light is awesome.
I am sensitive that some countries do not allow photography in places we take for granted. Likely candidates are military or government installations and until recently, even the metro in some places. Usually airports are no shoot zones (including parts of Perth International in case you didn’t know!). And socially, certain people are off limits. Be careful if you’re a male shooting women in some muslim countries. Conversely, be aware of shooting children in countries like America. Asking first will avoid these problems of course!
One of the most frustrating things is to arrive a great place (church or museum often) only to find that photography is not allowed. Or tripods are not allowed and I’ve lugged a tripod around the city all day for nothing. Most palces have websites that detail restrictions around photography (unless it’s Italy where rules are simply signs to be ignored hafl the time!). In some places, St Petersburg is one, you have to buy a permit for photography at the ticket office before entering.
Being in the Pilbara, we’re all aware of issues around shooting in hot weather. Cold weather presents different problems. Batteries go flat extremely quickly so I’m taking extra batteries on this trip. Also got a “do it yourself” set up for keeping the camera dry using a plastic bag and some laccie bands. And I’ve bought some very good quality lightweight gloves that give lots of movement but still keep my fingers warm. (Learnt that the hard way during my days as a survey assistant. Metal objects get really cold and make you even colder when you have to hold them!).
Special shooting techniques might be required. When shooting in snow, the camera’s light meter will often give a false reading resulting in dark images or blue casts. Using the histogram becomes vitally important. Being consciously aware of the “palette” has been helpful for me. The colour palette of the Pilbara is generally red, red, yellow and a bit more red. In Prague it was all pale green domes and orange roofs. Paris/Rome interiors had endless gilt giving it a yellow palette. I’m looking forward to St Petersburg having a very neutral (white/grey/black) palette when it’s snowed. Conversely I can’t wait for the Bladerunner feel of Hong Kong especially the flouro lights around The Escalator.
Happy travels and happy shooting!