CONSIDERATIONS FOR THE TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHER
Travel / Getting there
Calm and Zen-like approach to customs, good packing technique, a care-free attitude to traveling, adaptability
Divide your gear into two; set one goes in the hold, set two in your hand luggage. Set one contains everything you can still shoot without if you had too; spare camera body, tripod, tripod heads, filter holders, tools, possibly a few of the larger lenses and cleaning liquids go in here, all well wrapped in clothes and spread out across the case or throughout your rucksack. If you can afford it and have space, then a hard Peli-Case will go a long way to protect those expensive lenses in the hold, but unless you’re going to be based in one place it can be difficult to travel with.
Our second set, as hand luggage, contains everything we essentially need to shoot with; primary body, primary lens or two, laptop/tablet, cables, cleaning cloth, lens blower, memory cards and your itinerary (if you shoot with a flash then one flash too). Okay if you just have to use a tripod then get a small one and try to fit it in. If your hold luggage goes missing, you can still shoot with this small gear set, albeit after adapting your schedule to account for the missing gear. ALL BATTERIES go in your hand luggage too, EVERY SINGLE ONE, even the small ones. It’ll make things heavy, but that’s just how it goes when you fly. Sensor cleaning liquids are ok in hand luggage, but from experience just put it in the hold.
TIP: As a general rule of thumb: smile, be polite and let customs empty your entire hand luggage if they want. They usually extract every single lens from my hand luggage and put it through the x-ray in individual trays, then the bodies, then the laptop. I just have to smile and try to remember how I packed it all!
Secondary camera body
All secondary lenses
Tripod & Heads
Tools (screwdriver, Allen keys, hex keys, tape, etc)
Lens and sensor cleaning kit #1 (inc. liquid)
Water proof roll sacks
Day pack / mini ruck sack
Shutter release trigger
All other travel gear as per trip requirements
Primary camera body
50mm f1.4 and/or primary lens
Lens and sensor cleaning kit #2 (no liquid)
Portable tripod for emergency (I use a Packapod)
Laptop or tablet
Card reader & wires
Money, credit cards, phone, etc
Ready to go!
A train station - Somewhere
- Get off the beaten track – It’s obvious, and we’ll come back to this in a month of two in more detail, but if you want interesting, honest, life-in-motion, you need to stray off the tourist path and shoot everything that interests you. As you progress, you’ll become addicted to this as it reveals nothing short of photographic gold. I’m not talking about scaling a Palace wall, just step 10 meters to the right and take another look, then try left, move on and try again.
- Hire a guide and driver – Budget the money and hire a driver and guide for the day. Be assertive though, many guides have a pre-designed route that they will take you on, so if you have something in mind let them know right away.
- Hit the tourist spots at different times
- Setup, aim, and wait – be patient, keep watching, and shoot when you least expect it.
- Shoot out the car window – YES! It’s great fun, more about pot-luck than exact science, but it’s great fun during down-time as you move from A to B. Just ramp up the ISO, squeeze as much shutter speed as you can out of the Aperture, and hold the shutter down until you fill the buffer. I usually shoot 3 or 4 at a time, although I once shot about 300 in succession during a carnival!! Never look at the images as you shoot, just fill the memory card, swap in a new one, and keeping shooting. Looking through the images later in the evening brings back that feeling of picking up your analog images from the Kodak shop 🙂 Hey, remember we’re here to have fun too!
- Shoot in extreme weather – When it rains, you get wet. But don’t worry, you’ll dry out again!
- Shoot the sky at night – Find the location during the day, then head back at dusk, set-up, crack open a beer (or wine) and enjoy the process of shooting!
- Get up early and shoot the food markets – Get in there early, don’t get in the way, use a telephoto if you have it, and then sit down for breakfast. Bliss!
- Shoot constructed images with local models – If you want to build a portfolio of constructed images, so those that require the photographer to physically create the image, you might consider enhancing ‘honest life-in-motion’ concepts with local models. Look them up before hand, get in contact over email, try to use an agency if possible, and keep in contact until you meet. Discuss ideas together, and devise a concept that both of you are happy with. Always pay over the odds, it keeps people happy and gives you more time play about with ideas as you shoot. I’ve hired models for the whole day, planned 3 or 4 shoots, had lunch in between, and even learnt something about the destination! It’s worth noting that this can require a few Speedlights and triggers, plus a decent telephoto lens, so maybe keep this idea for when you’re feeling a little more adventurous.
Shooting with regional talent keeps my portfolio diverse.
Katerina Joumana - Austria
Exploring off the beaten path yields fantastic, unique results.
Tioman - Malaysia
Shoot fast and keep moving. This clown in Beijing didn’t see me coming until it was too late.
Beijing - China
When the weather turns bad, get your camera out and look for great images. Disclaimer – don’t shoot lightning from a roof in the middle of nowhere. It’s a stupid idea. I’m telling you, A BAD IDEA. Don’t do it. DON’T DO IT.
Kampot - Cambodia
Abstraction works on so many levels, just don’t expect the elite to agree with you.
St Petersburg - Russia
This tutorial was written as accompanying documentation for a course I ran for diploma level students in various countries around the world between 2012 and 2016. Aged 16 to 19 years, these students undertook a semester of photographic practice and theory whilst performing regular assessments to gauge learning. I found that whilst all students were capable of passing the required criteria, some found it hard to put their new found skills to effective use once the course had finished, I figured there needed to be some way to help them remember the core lessons as they went on through life, developing their skill set. So I wrote this. I’ll update it as and when I feel I need to as the vast majority is common sense, tips based on a fair amount of experience and some key reminders. Most of this will age fairly well, but of course technology changes ever faster, so perhaps take the camera suggestions with a pinch of salt 😉
Barnaby Jaco Skinner
Full time photographer & publications specialist
I'm a professional photographer and artist. I've worked and lived around the world, spending most of my adult life on the run from conformity and routine; it's a lifestyle that lends itself well to exploring this vast Earth we call home. This virtual place is home to some of my latest work and acts as a portal for business and workshop clients.