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Chapter 11

Travel Photography

Travel photography poses some problems that you do not usually face. One is simple, the more equipment you take the more you have to carry.

So each piece of your equipment should do as much as possible so that you can carry as little as possible. In the next section you will see equipment that has survived the true acid test, that is it has proven itself able to get the job done and be worth it's weight. I've dragged camera stuff through 15 countries so I know something about traveling light.

When you get in country you probably will not need to carry everything all the time. So keep what you do not need locked in your suitcase, which you can chain to your bed, if need be.

Or, put the stuff into the hotel safe. See the security section for more on this and some problems that can exist.

Always have your camera ready. Keep the camera around your neck or over your shoulder. If carried over your shoulder remember to keep the lens toward your body to avoid damage. Also carrying over your shoulder makes the camera easy to steal.

Keep an extra can of film taped to the camera strap. If your camera needs a battery keep a spare taped to the strap as well.

Do not count on finding special batteries while traveling. The same is true for film. Take more than you estimate that you will need. There is no telling what film and batteries you will find along the way and you will have no control over what they cost or what condition they will be in. One thing is certain it they won't be cheap, this is especially true if you are going to a tourist resort. For the best price look for professional quality photo shops in big cities or other locations where they sell lots of film.

If you will be in a large city you can probably find what you need at decent price, but it will take time. And that, my friend, you may not have.

And, if your luck is like mine, you will find the good price after you have purchased film for a more expensive price.

    Yes, oh yes. It happened to me in London. By the way, London is a marvelous city. You can read the signs and speak the language. The pubs are spectacular as is the beer. Ask for a pint of their best bitter. You won't be sorry. Go to Speakers Corner on Sunday morning. It's a blast. Bring the camera. I got some excellent shots there, you will too.

What To Photograph

Some people shoot everything in sight; twice. Why? Well the first shot may not come out.

Don't do that. If the first shot does not "come out" why take more? Do double shoot when you find that fantastic shot. Yes. Yes. Yes, do double, or triple shoot it. Even shoot an entire roll of film, if you wish. I've done that. You should too. When shooting slides that's called duplicating in the camera and it is much cheaper than having duplicate slides made. Better quality too.

Do this:

  • Take pictures of your friends and family

  • Look closely at backgrounds. The background can do a great deal to enhance the picture. You won't need to tell people where you went with the Washington Monument or the Taj Mahal in the photo.

  • Use signs and well known landmarks and even the names on buildings, including the names of airports, hotels, etceteras.

  • Look, look, look, and then pose your shot.

  • Do not worry about people laughing and carrying on in the shot; it just adds character.

  • You can ask a local person to take a picture for you so that you can get in the photo. When no one is around use your camera's delayed timer to get in the picture.

Remember that your camera takes a rectangular picture. Never hesitate to turn the camera and compose the picture vertically instead of horizontally. This is particularly effective when photographing someone full length.

Be sure to compose, enough room all the way around so that no one gets their head cut off. This is also good for buildings, some animals and lots of other situation when the main element of the picture is vertical. This tip is a good one, keep it in mind.

As to what to photograph. Well that's an easy one just about anything that attracts your eye. Be on the lookout for people looking at things. What are they looking at? You can get some fine shots by being on the lookout for people watching something.

Here are a couple of things that you should do, especially if you are traveling with expensive equipment.

  • Get paperwork from the United States Customs people and have your equipment inventoried before you leave the country. By doing this one simple act you will protect yourself from having to pay duty on your camera when you reenter the country. This is of particular importance if the photographic equipment is new.

  • To find the Customs near you look up US Customs in your phone book.

  • Keep the paperwork with your passport. And don't loose it.

  • Also seriously consider having your equipment insured. Should it be lost, damaged, or stolen you will be glad you did. If foul play is involved file a police report and obtain a copy.

Traveler's Aids

We will leave the world of camera's for just a bit include some information on what to pack. From a lot of experience you will always find the following in my luggage:

  • A rain coat/jacket with pockets and a hood. This single article is so important that it can not be over estimated. You will use it all the time.

  • A small one-person umbrella.

  • A length of 1/8 inch nylon rope for hanging laundry. Ten feet or so is fine.

  • A pair of rubber open toed shoes. For those trips to the bathroom that is outside, down the hall, or in the bush. Or to walk to the beach. Or when in some showers. What? You think everything is clean out there?

  • A flash light. I recommend the small aluminum ones that use AA batteries. Keep it in your camera bag and if you need to defend yourself hold it in your fist. It can be a devastating weapon. And while it seems to be only a flash light you will be glad to have it should it be needed.

  • Nylon or silk underwear because they dry overnight.

  • Finger nail clippers.

  • A small, but very effective first aid kit containing: aspirin, cold medications, prescriptions in their original container, a Band-AidsTM, and other such stuff. Note: Do not transport prescription drugs in anything but their original containers.

  • Extra eyeglasses and sunglasses.

  • A Swiss Army Knife (or other tool), belt case, and assorted small tools. Note: some airlines consider a Swiss Army Knife an offensive weapon. Pack it in your luggage.

  • Several ink pens and a notebook in my camera bag.

  • A hat.

  • Sun block and insect repellant.

  • And not necessary but good to have. A decent, disposable paperback novel. The disposable part is good because if you leave it somewhere that somewhere can be thousands of miles away in a few hours.


Since you spent all the money on this bag of photo stuff it might be nice to own it long enough to complete the trip and bring it home.

Get a chain, padlock, and a strong suitcase. Preferably one that can not be cut open. Lock the gear you will not be using today into the suitcase and chain it to your bed.

Be careful when depending on hotel safety deposit boxes. While they appear to provide excellent security verify that a signature is required for access, if not, anyone with the key to your room can get into the box.

Should someone want your equipment enough to attack you for it, let it go. It's not worth getting hurt over. That's what insurance is for. Remember this is a vacation after all.

While this gets very far removed from photography it is worth mentioning anyway. If you will be traveling in remote areas it is very much in your best interest to take a First Aid Course.

When in remote areas you will not be able to count on anyone, but yourself and those in your party. It is very, very easy to get far away from help. This is particular true in developing countries.

Be prepared to be on your own. One last thing: choose traveling companions carefully.

The Travelers Camera Bag

Consider that you are going traveling. You load up the camera bag and realize that a mule will be needed to carry it. So unpack the bag and look for an another way to get the photos you want.

Let's begin with lenses. Here we will assume that you are using a 35mm camera with interchangeable lenses.

You have a couple of choices; you can go for fixed focal length lenses or use a zoom. If you go the fixed route you will want a 35mm, 50mm, and a 100mm or a 135mm lens. That's three lenses in all. At least.

To add versatility you might get a teleconverter, a 2X should do nicely. The 2X teleconverter will double the focal length of any lens it is attached to. Your 35mm becomes 70mm, 50mm becomes 100mm and your 135mm becomes 270mm.

The down side is it will cut your lens aperture in half. A lens with a maximum aperture of f2 will become f4.

Your other choice is one or two zoom lenses. These lenses cover a lot of ground, but they can be slow and as the sun fades that will become a consideration. Check them out carefully they are a fine way to ad versatility in a small package.

Specific Equipment

Here is some equipment that is light and will greatly extend your picture taking abilities.

A Traveling Tripod

Loose that big tripod and get one small enough for your camera bag. To use a little tripod at eye level collapse it to its smallest size and hold it against a building, tree, fence, truck, whatever. Use it upside down in doorway if you have to. That's right put the legs up against the ceiling. do what ever it takes.

The Bean Bag

Make your self a small bean bag with a zipper at one end. Leave the beans at home. When you arrive buy beans and fill the bag. Do not bring the beans home with you. If you can not find beans use rice. Works great.

The Monopod

For the traveler a monopod solves one problem and creates another. It's nothing more than a one-legged tripod without a pan head, very light, quick to use and doubles as a cane or walking stick. Not as sturdy as a tripod. Other things you can try are modified canes or an ice axe fitted out with a pan head, or take a pan head that can be clamped to your ice axe.

A Reversing Ring for Macro Photography

The reversing ring provides close up capability at very little expense and weight. By allowing you to attach your lens to the camera body backwards the minimum focusing distance is drastically reduced. Of course, the lens will no longer be automatic or auto focusing. Mine stays permanently attached to my 50mm lens.

Rear Lens Caps

This is a cheap and elegant solution that will save space and make it easier to work out of your camera bag. Tape two rear lens caps together back to back. Attach your lenses to the caps and store two lenses, one on top of the other. Need the bottom lens? Lift out the pair and remove the one you want.

Film Cans

Here is a simple solution to a vexing problem.

Have you ever tried to figure out which film can is empty, which contains fresh film, and which contains exposed film?

When you remove film from the film can press the top of the film can into the can itself. Now you know at a glance which one's are full and which are empty.

Rewind exposed film all the way into the canister. This way you can easily determine that this particular roll of film has been exposed.

Place the exposed roll of film into a film can and mark the film can top with your pen or nick it with your pocket knife.

At the end of the day, remove all exposed film and replace it with fresh unexposed film. Do not carry exposed film around with you. There is no need. Keep it locked in your suitcase or in the hotel safe.

When traveling with a large amount of film carry only what you will need for the day.

Your Camera Bag

Do no go cheap here. There is no economy in placing hundreds or thousands of dollars worth of photo gear in a twenty dollar bag. When choosing a bag consider:

  • Can you easily open an work from it while it is on your shoulder?
  • Is it rugged and padded enough to afford real protection and keep its shape when you are carrying it?
  • Does the shoulder strap go completely around the bag or is it simply stitched on at each end?
  • Are the steel d-rings on the shoulder strap welded closed? Unwelded d-rings can pull apart.
  • Does the bag afford security from prying fingers while you are wearing it?
  • Does it have compartments for film, accessories, maps, tickets, directions, a flash light, extra batteries, a pen, notebook, etceteras?

The Camera Strap Doubles As A Steady Rest

In a pinch you can use your camera strap to help steady the camera. It is not a great support, but it is a little better than nothing. See Exploit Your Equipment in Chapter 11.

Stop reading this. Go take pictures.

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