Tips for the Traveling Photographer
Professional photographers have flight cases, a photo assistant, and a travel budget. You may not have these luxuries, and adapting your camera and lens inventory to include other essential items like strollers and Frozen DVDs may feel like a compromise, but it’s completely doable if you prepare adequately. There’s no reason your photographic record of your trip will be any less memorable.
When you’re picking out a camera bag, stick to the big names. They may seem expensive, but you wouldn’t wrap your Stradivarius in a beach towel, would you? Pros will often take more than one bag with them on assignment, so you should choose the bag based on the trip you’ll need it for.
- Look for bags with lots of double stitching and with the strap built into the bag. It should go all around the bottom, to support its weight.
- Traditional shoulder or messenger bags are good for a simple kit, such as a camera body and a couple of lenses, and small rucksack bags are good for carrying lots of lenses and extra equipment over long distances.
- Resist the temptation to take more equipment than you need “just in case.”
- It’s hard to give up your favorite fast prime lenses, but taking zoom lenses with you will cut down on weight and be more versatile.
- When packing your bag, the lenses need special attention. That carefully aligned barrel of glass can be easily damaged. Use a camera bag with lots of sectional padding.
- To avoid “rub marks” on the front elements of your lenses – when another item rubs against the front of the lens, permanently marking the coating of the lens – it’s worth considering neoprene sleeves or wraps (pictured) for each one or, here’s a trick: slide each lens into a soft wool sock!
Pack Your Bags
Packing your bag correctly will prolong the life of your camera equipment.
- Always take your cameras onto the plane with you as personal items. Again, this is an opportunity to be ruthless and cut down the amount of equipment you can take.
- Going through security shouldn’t be a problem for a well-packed camera bag that’s fastened securely.
- Don’t try to stuff lots of non-camera items in your camera bag before going through security. TSA screeners see cameras all the time; it’s rare they’ll search the bag unless they see something unusual in amongst all the electronics, but if they do they’ll have you take it all apart.
- Just like packing a rucksack, a well-packed camera bag will save you from muscle fatigue and injury over long distances.
- A harness over your body will spread the weight of your equipment, especially when carrying other bags (or children!).
These days, photo blogs will tell you that the best lenses to get are the fastest prime lenses. A prime lens is a fixed focal length lens, and those with the largest aperture, designated by small f numbers – f1.4, f1.2, etc. – are the “fastest”. These can work if you’re shooting in low light or have the space and strength to carry all that heavy, expensive glass.
But, for every three fast prime lenses you put in your bag you can pack a single zoom – or variable focal length – lens that weighs very little and is more versatile. The compromise is zoom lens are “slower” – zoom lenses rarely open to less than f2.8 – but with advances in noise reduction and chip technology, you can now dial your ISO – the light sensitivity – to absurdly large numbers and make pictures in low light without losing quality. Equally, you can use flash when it gets dark. Direct flash is never a flattering light, but using flash exposure compensation will soften it and make the flash effect less “punchy.”
You can also make disposable flash diffusers with pieces of white card. Spending $30 on a plastic bounce card seems crazy when you can build your own for under $1. Stick a stiff white card about 6 inches in height so it sticks out above your flash head when it’s raised at 45 degrees, and you’ve got a flash bounce card that will diffuse your flash output and give you a softer, more flattering light.
Whether you’re going to Rio for the Olympics or camping in Yellowstone, security is always going to be issue, so be cautious about when and where you use your camera.
Dos and Don’ts
- Don’t leave your camera dangling over your shoulder where it can be snatched.
- Do use a cross-body strap to secure your camera across your body.
- Do make use of the hotel’s valuables safe for things you’re not taking out with you.
- Don’t carry all your camera equipment if you’re going on a day trip and plan to do a lot of walking.
- Do plan your day – what do you think you’ll shoot? If you’re going to the local market town, you may only need one camera, a medium zoom lens, and perhaps a longer portrait lens (or long zoom) for street portraits.
- And don’t take a tripod – you won’t need it; it’ll weigh you down and potentially set you up as a target for crime.
- If you’re going on a more photo-intensive trekking vacation, perhaps the backpack will serve you best (packed “big bag” pictured below).
- Some of them have zippers on the side so you can remove equipment without having to take the pack off.
- Do you really need your camera on the beach? Sand and water are the biggest enemies of the camera. If you’re going to the beach, perhaps just use your smart phone for pictures.
Time Best Spent
Look ahead and schedule the places you’ll visit with your camera before you leave. Plan to shoot at the most scenic places at certain times of day. Early morning and late evening are when the light is at its best for landscapes; but when the noon sun is at its strongest, use the camera’s built-in flash to fill in shadows.
Remember, it’s a family vacation. Consider this a time to reconnect with the family after many weeks of work. Put down the camera at mealtimes, and talk to your partner and the kids!