In the course of interviewing more than two dozen professional travel photographers, we picked up some advice. Here are their best hints for the journey— and photos—of a lifetime.
Doing Your Research
-- Learn as much as possible. Start with the tourism website of the destination that you will visit.
-- Read the Lonely Planet guide for your destination, then try to avoid the must-see places it recommends. They will be swimming with tourists.
-- Search Flickr.com to see what other photographers are shooting at your destination.
-- Despite the previous three tips, your best research will happen when you hit the ground at your destination. Whatever you learn prior to traveling will be secondary to the sources you will find there.
Going and Staying There
-- Visit at the right time, and find out—by speaking with locals—what “the right time” is.
-- When booking rooms in dicey locations, ask if the hotel offers a safe place for storing gear.
-- Search for hotels that are centrally located, near potential subjects, offer a view from your room, and have a roof deck. If you’re staying for several days, try switching rooms—even hotels—nightly for better views.
-- To avoid forgetting battery chargers or laptop cables, set them next to your car keys, wallet, or purse — never on the floor.
What Gear To Pack
-- Most of the photographers we interviewed travel with surprisingly similar kits: a fullframe DSLR, f/2.8 ultrawide zoom lens, image-stabilized 70–200mm f/2.8 zoom, 2X teleconverter, lightweight carbon-fiber tripod, electronic cable release, and portable storage device for backing up image files.
-- Try to bring a backup camera body, preferably one that’s identical to your primary body. Working with different button configurations is confusing and inefficient at best, and disastrous at worst. In many foreign countries, cameras are significantly more expensive and often outdated compared to what you get in the U.S. Having a camera body overnighted to you can incur hundreds of dollars in local customs tariffs.
-- A camera poncho like the Aqua Tech SS-Sport Rain Cover will keep you shooting in wet weather.
-- Bring lenses that suit your subjects. If you’re visiting mainly cities, wide-angles will be more useful than telephotos.
-- Collapsible reflectors are better than flash units. They don’t depend on batteries, they fold up flat, and they produce a softer, more flattering light. They also show their effects in real-time and can be slowly adjusted for nuanced changes of direction and intensity. Of course, you’ll generally need to have someone else hold the reflector, but enlisting the aid of a nearby local often can pay off in unexpected ways.
-- Use many smaller memory cards (2GB) instead of a few large cards. That way, if you lose one or it becomes corrupt, you haven’t lost too many images.
-- Bring a digital compact for when a larger camera isn’t practical. A Canon PowerShot G11 or Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH1, for instance, can be invaluable for situations in which the noise of the shutter is inappropriate. Waterproof compacts such as the Pentax Optio WS80 are perfect when the weather isn’t.
-- A small digital voice recorder such as the Olympus WS-400S can help capture ambient sounds, interviews, and notes or reminders to yourself.
-- For remote destinations where your subjects may never have seen a photo of themselves, a pocket-sized, battery-powered printer like the Polaroid PoGo can build trust, gain cooperation, and open doors.
-- Energy bars and bottled water will let you keep shooting through the lunch hour. Why waste time eating?