Ah the joys of Travel in this modern era. Today. getting ready for any trip requires a ton of preparation. What lenses do I take, which camera bodies, how much weight am I willing to pack around, what to check, which bags – well you get the idea.
The first thing that you need to do is make a list of the places that you want to shoot. Once you have this list, then get a map and plan the best route. Do this east to west, north to south or the opposite, so that you can change your route at the last-minute, according to weather.
Next, I try to create a shortlist of hotels for each location where I plan to stay. This is usually determined by either sunrise or sunset shooting, or both. Remember to get their addresses prior to leaving. Driving should be planned at the poorest light time (usually the middle of the day), and do not under-estimate the time required to travel short distances in other countries, I have seen 250km take 7 hours in India for example. If you are planning to drive, then a portable navigation device is a must. You can preload destinations, shoot locations, and add tons of other valuable info.
I then check Internet sites such as pbase against my list of locations. These websites are excellent for finding out what locations, lenses and focal lengths that have been previously used by other photographers. Also remember to check out Google images, it can help with unique viewpoints. Check out each location with Google maps, this can tell you compass orientation for sunrise and sunset. I also use this for mapping locations for set up.
Buy a guide book before you leave, personally, I like DK books, but you may have a favourite. These books are invaluable for guiding taxi drivers, guides etc… Consider a few Apps for your smart phone, I find citymaps2go invaluable
By this time we should have a pretty good idea of what lenses to bring. If your like me, you will be bringing a zoom set that usually encompasses the 17-200mm range, and a prime set. This is the single biggest issue that confronts photographers, mostly because we have to lug the stuff around. Many a trip, I have hauled gear around and not used it, so it is soul searching time – what will you really use? You need to really be ruthless, because the extra weight will ruin your trip, tire you out prematurely, and impead your photography. Too much weight, and its work, and nobody likes to work as a sherpa.
If you need to buy a lens then look here.
If you choose to carry a zoom and prime set, then you will need a way to lock them up in your hotel room. This is where the Pelican 1510 is very handy, it is lockable and you can then lock it to something in the room with a Pacsafe cable lock.
I usually use a single large backpack to transport all of the bodies, lenses, and filters and a Pelican 1510 for the “other” stuff. These two bags would comprise my carry-on. I pack a 27″ roller suitcase (with a hook) with clothes, hats, etc… that will be checked. If I need to check my tripod, no problem, the Pelican locks and is crushproof. You need to make sure that you can wheel all of this around, because far flung airports seldom have baggage carts. So now we pack everything, try it out, and weigh it.
Update: As many of you will know, carry on weight limits keep on shrinking. The Pelican is a heavy bag by itself. Lately, I have been exploring the use of lighter weigh alternatives, such as Rimowa and Pelican’s new Elite Luggage
Quite often, I will pack a small collapseable shoulder bag in my checked baggage. The small bag is very handy when shooting primes, because I can accomplish fast lens changes securely with the bag in front of me. A waist bag would also accomplish the same thing.
Weight is a big issue with airlines today, once its packed, weigh everything ad make sure that it is within the carry-on and checked baggage limits. Traditional airlines, or legacy carriers tend to have much higher baggage limits than low cost airlines, which have smaller baggage allowances. That bargain airfare may end up being more expensive due baggage charges. Many traditional airlines have a second baggage charge that is a reasonable fixed cost irregardeless of weight and size, make sure that you check all of this prior to booking. This is often a determining factor for me, when I choose an Airline. Points are also very valuable, they can add up quickly for that free trip. Quite often, after two or three long haul trips, you can do freebe. Check out affiliate credit cards too, as you can often double dip for points when booking a trip.
If you will be traveling on a regional carrier, be very conscious of overhead baggage limitations. The Pelican will fit under the seat, but will your backpack fit in the overhead. Not all airlines will follow the camera bag exemption, so if you need to check one of the two carry-ons, then the Pelican is secure, and strong enough to with stand any checked baggage abuse.
Many Countries require a valid visa for travel, check with the Consulate or Embassy for your particular visa requirements. Passports must have at least six months of validity as of the date of leaving the country, renew it if required prior to leaving. This is very important, because many countries will not allow entry without this validity.
Do you have the required vaccinations for travel. For this you need to check with your local Doctor, and/or Travel Clinic. Here are a few links to checkout vaccination requirements:
Travel Insurance is a requirement. Most countries in the world require foreigners to make payment for medical services PRIOR to treatment. Operations can be very expensive, get the deluxe package before you leave, its a small amount of money, and you will have the peace of mind.
Various Countries have differing laws regarding privacy and photography in general. You need to understand what is allowed, and what is not. Violating these laws can create a whole host of legal problems, so do your research both online, and with the consulate if required. Some Countries will allow small cameras, but not SLR’s, and no tripods is a common rule. In many cases getting special permission to use a trpod will allow almost unfettered access to historical sites. Dig deep and find out how to get permission, who to contact, and what the fee is.
So, we are packed, weighed, ready for our photographic trip. Just remember to enjoy yourself, and look a little deeper into the people and their culture. There are tons of stand off snapshots all over the web, but little quality photography. most of all don’t rush it. Have a great trip – Andrew