Travel Tips For Photographers

April 18, 2017

Mark is a  wedding photographer, and author of Shotkit, interested in accumulating as many travel tips for photographers as possible.

I have asked Mark to provide some travel tips from photographers who have a lot of experience of working overseas, as well as introduce some travel tips of my own. His tips include everything from general advice right down to specific products he uses to make his travels more enjoyable.

If you have any good travel tips of your own, let us know in the comments so everyone can benefit

General Travel Tips

  • Check all your camera gear, actually shooting some frames upon arrival. Strange things can happen to your gear whilst up in the air.
  • Check to see if you can photograph in the country without work visas. Shooting a wedding in Bali for example requires something specific.
  • Network with other photographers. Lina Hayes got in contact with a few photographers who had also shot in the same area that I was going to be shooting in. They provided useful advice about the local areas and gave some ideas and inspiration on where to shoot. This is especially useful if you have limited time to location scout beforehand or if you just need some back-up spots.
  • Check your business/equipment insurance. Will they cover theft, damage etc. overseas? Another good tip from Lina.
  • Backpackers often carry garbage bags whilst travelling to cover their bags in the event of a downpour. You should do the same for your camera gear, or just to use as somewhere dry for your photography subject to sit.
  • Phone your bank before you travel to alert them of which cities you’ll be using your cards.
  • Resist the temptation to source the cheapest flights and accomodation possible. Invest in yourself to ensure you perform at your very best – you owe it to your clients who are paying you to be there over someone local.
  • Always carry a business card of your accomodation and photography work venue to be able to show taxi drivers.

Health & Safety Travel Tips

  • Pickpockets and losing personal belongings are unfortunate eventualities you need to prepare for. Lay out all the contents of your wallet on a photocopier and copy either sides of all cards. Put this piece of paper somewhere safe. As a second backup, scan it and email it to yourself.
  • These small, lightweight Bosvision retractable cable locks are incredibly handy, not to mention inexpensive. You should always carry one to be able to quickly secure the zippers on your bags, then secure your bag to an immoveable object for short times.
  • Prepare a ziplock bag with medications to cover general ailments. Imodium is essential. Get the biggest ziplock bags so you can use them to cover flashes and other gear when caught in the rain.
  • Always drink bottled water and eat food that is piping hot. Pack a greens powder to cover all your nutritional bases in case of poor food selection. I recommend Amazing Grass Green Superfood. Spoon enough for a daily dose on your trip into a ziplock bag, include a plastic travel spork (which can also be useful to eat with) and carry in a small, cheap protein shaker like this one.
  • If you’re really worried about your camera being stolen whilst it’s on a strap on your body, attach a tripod plate to the base, then thread the same Bosvision retractable cable lock through it and your belt, belt loop, or just anything that would prevent a pick pocket from slashing your strap and grabbing your camera.
  • One other way to prevent attention to your camera gear is to try and make it look less valuable. You can try wrapping parts of your camera body/lens clumsily with masking tape, or covering logos where possible. Masking tape is perfect since it leaves no residue when removed. See below for another great use for masking tape.
  • If you simply have to check in your camera gear, consider investing in a Tile Bluetooth Tracker to help track down your luggage should it go missing.

Packing Tips for Travelers

  • Everyone agrees that the best way to pack your clothing is by rolling it – here’s a tutorial. It’s also worth investing in some packing cubes like these.
  • These lightweight Balanzza Mini USB luggage scales are best in class and perfect for checking you’re maximising your carry on quota.
  • In an ideal world, you’d only have carry on luggage. If this isn’t possible, be sure to pack at least your essential gear in carry on, then you can check in other items. If your checked luggage goes missing (it does happen!), you still need to be able to complete your client’s work, so plan accordingly. I use the excellent Think Tank Airport Takeoff for my carry on camera gear and a separate backpack.
  • If you really must take a tripod with you to achieve a perfectly stable shot, I’d highly recommend nothing any bigger than a ‘tabletop tripod’ like the ones on this list of the best travel tripods. The aim of the game is to have the lightest luggage possible, and even a lightweight regular size tripod will be overkill.
  • Tim Ferris‘s trick to avoid lost luggage is to pack a starter pistol in your checked luggage (or these starter blanks). At the check in desk, declare your case as containing a fire arm and it’ll be marked for extra careful treatment – there’s no way your airline is losing a bag containing a firearm.
  • Pressure and temperature in the checked luggage compartment can affect camera gear, so keep this in mind when packing. Cases such as this Pelican 1510 SC can handle extreme pressure/temperatures well and fit in the overhead compartments.
  • Invest in crease-resistant clothes. I recommend several brands in this post on clothing for photographers which are crease-resistant and quick drying, meaning you can hand wash them and have them dry by the morning.
  • Pack one smart set of clothes in your carry on in case your checked luggage goes missing. Smart tip by Barbara Rahal.
  • Find a pair of shoes that look smart but feel like sneakers. The Cole Haan Lunars are my faves.
  • Pack some Shout stain removal wipes incase of inevitable food/drink spillages whilst travelling.
  • Pack a lightweight waterproof jacket such as these excellent North Face Venture jackets which are packable and affordable.
  • Pack a small flashlight. You’ll be surprised how dark it can get outside in some areas away from the city lights. A good quality one like the LED Lenser P7.2 can also double as some fill light on your subject in a pinch, and you can tape some CTO gel to the front to balance it.
  • Pack some duct tape. Even if you have no idea what you’ll need it for, one day you’ll need it, and you’ll be thankful you have it.
  • Another one to pack is masking tape. Stick a length to all your bags and anything you don’t want to lose, and write your phone number on it using a Sharpie permanent marker, another useful item for your camera bag. If nothing else, it’ll help you distinguish your check in luggage.
  • Have all your batteries fully charged in case the electricity isn’t working in your destination country. Also, more than 4 batteries are not allowed in your carry on, so remember to pack the rest in your checked in luggage. Nice tips from Barbara. I recommend these precharged Eneloop batteries for your flashes.
  • According to Barbara who has travelled extensively for her photography work, some countries only allow one camera per traveler (Mexico used to be like this). In these instances, you can always try and ask your client to carry one camera body!
  • Get yourself a good travel wallet for easy access to all your essentials. I got the Holdfast Explorer Wallet following a recommendation from Robert J Hill. It’s a great travel wallet made specifically for photographers – I love the memory card holders and belt clip in particular. The build is rugged and handsome, as you’d expect from Holdfast Gear.
  • If your bag is anything like mine, you’ll have a spaghetti bolognese of cables and wires inside! This Skooba Cable Stable is great for keeping them all in check, and essential if you’re bringing things like camera chargers and other cable accessories.
  • Body wipes are great to refresh yourself on the plane before landing. These Sea to Summit Wilderness Wipes are the best you can get.
  • Get a great toiletries bag like the Eagle Creek Pack-It Wallaby with a hook so you can hang it in the airplane toilets – the sink area gets wet and messy quickly. Wirecutter tested 6 models and the Eagle Creek came out number one.
  • 1 travel plug (this LOOP one is rated number 1 on Amazon) and one power strip is all you need – nice tip from Paul Woo. The Accell Home and Away power strip has a built in surge protector, USB plugs and the ability to plug items on different sides of the unit, so it can handle odd shaped plugs like those used to charge Macbooks.
  • Manfrotto Nano clamps are great to fix flashes to places where you’d normally need a light stand. I tend to prefer ball bungees which are cheaper and lighter.
  • Traveling via Singapore? Pack your swimmers so you can take advantage of the rooftop pool and arrive fresh at your final destination. I love the Outlier shorts I reviewed here that double as fast drying swimmers.
  • For the ladies – find out if the city you are traveling to sells tampons. Some don’t, like Athens.
  • If you’re planning some underwater photography and don’t want to splurge on pro camera housing, consider a DICApac. I’ve used them in the past and they’re fine for very shallow photography in clear waters. Just be sure to test it before you leave on a t-shirt to easily spot for leaks.
  • These Eagle Creek Packit Packing Cubes are very popular. Not only do they keep your clothes organised well, they also allow you to fit more into your bags. If you travel frequently, you may want to consider keeping items pre-packed in the units, ready to throw into your bag at a moment’s notice.
  • If you spend a lot of time in hotels, invest in a pocket sized projector to project movies from your phone or laptop to the wall. It can also make culling easier than using your small laptop screen. Jeff Newsom’s favourite pocket projector is the Asus S1, which he also uses for creative portraits.
  • A portable backup battery pack for your phone/USB devices is essential. The most popular one is the excellent Mophie Powerstation XL which holds up to 8 complete charges and lets you charge two devices at once. If you’re planning to charge higher power devices like iPads, you’re better off with the 12,000mAh version.
  • A compact travel camera is a good idea rather than lugging around your pro gear whilst abroad. My choice of best travel camera is the Olympus OMD-EM5 Mark II, but other popular ones include the Fuji X100T, the Canon G11, the Sony a6300 and the Ricoh GR. I’m also a big fan of using my pro body (currently the Nikon D750) and a high quality but lightweight prim lens, a current favourite being the Nikon 35mm f/1.8G (review here). If I were a Canon shooter I’d get the Canon 40mm f/2.8 and Canon 24mm f/2.8 pancake lenses. If I had a Fuji interchangeable lens cameras I’d get the Fuji 23mm f/1.4.
  • I don’t usually use a camera strap when I’m just shooting with one body, but when I need one for traveling I like the Blackrapid RS7.

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Guest post by Mark Condon, a British wedding photographer based in Sydney. Mark is the founder of Shotkit and author of the Shotkit Books, Lightroom Power User, More Brides and LIT.

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