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Grab bag of travel tips

A mixed collection of photo tips for travelers


Be sure you have plenty of film or, for digital photographers, lots of memory card space, before leaving home. Many travel destinations can't supply your needs if you come up short.
Be sure you have plenty of film or, for digital photographers, lots of memory card space, before leaving home. Many travel destinations can't supply your needs if you come up short.

MAKE SURE YOUR CAMERA IS READY TO TRAVEL

Ask a good camera shop to check your camera a month or so before you leave on vacation. This is a good time to give it a thorough cleaning, too, particularly if it is dSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera, and contains dust particles. When you get it back, if it is traditional film camera, shoot a short test roll using its various features, including its flash, then have the roll processed so you will not only be sure the camera is working properly, but also that you are operating it properly. Test your digital camera in the same manner, and download the images to your computer to check them for flaws. Then, buy some new batteries, including batteries for your flash, if it uses separate batteries. What next? Buy spare batteries. You will eventually use them anyway, so it is not money wasted, but you will curse yourself if your camera runs out of power just as the best shot of your voyage appears in your viewfinder.

BUYING NEW PHOTO GEAR FOR THE TRIP?

If you buy a new camera or lens for your holiday, get it well in advance of your departure date so you can test it and become familiar with its controls. You’ll be able to remedy any problems before leaving. Shoot at least one roll of film and have it processed before leaving home. If a digital camera, shoot several different images. The finished images will show up any problems, and give you time to ask your camera dealer what is causing them and how to correct them.

This would have been a fine holiday picture if the subject had been placed in brighter light.  Watch out for shadow areas when composing your travel images.
This would have been a fine holiday picture if the subject had been placed in brighter light. Watch out for shadow areas when composing your travel images.

ASK BEFORE YOU SHOOT

In foreign lands, be sure you are permitted to photograph government or military installations before you take their pictures only to discover (sometimes unpleasantly) that you have violated a local law or restriction.

Other subjects you should avoid shooting unless you’re certain it is all right to do so include religious and cultural ceremonies. It is prudent and courteous, anyway, to show respect for other peoples’ cultures, traditions and beliefs. Enquiring beforehand may save you a good deal of embarrassment or trouble with local authorities. If you learn it is permissible to shoot events of this nature, be sure not to disrupt the proceedings and not to draw attention to yourself. You are there to record the event, not to be the event.

PHOTO NOTES CAN BE INVALUABLE

Keeping a notebook record of your photographs as you take them can be invaluable. You may think you will never forget the name of the place where you took that one fabulous picture, but unless you write its name down before the end of the day on which you photographed it, you may even forget what country it was in when the pictures return from the lab weeks later. Photo captions should include at least the place name, the date and any relevant description.

If you also number your exposed film canisters as you go along, cross-referencing the numbers with your notes, you will be sure of correctly identifying every image. Just be sure to transpose the numbers to the photo lab’s order envelopes when you have your film processed, since labs discard the canisters when they develop the film.

Don't forget close-ups of the kids when on holiday.  Shoot more family pictures and less scenery for a more memorable vacation album.
Don't forget close-ups of the kids when on holiday. Shoot more family pictures and less scenery for a more memorable vacation album.

TAKE ALONG AN INSTANT-PICTURE CAMERA, TOO

If you take a Polaroid or other instant-picture camera along in addition to your main camera, you can use the prints to check your composition for important shots, and can also earn goodwill by giving the prints away to local children or others whom you photograph. Of course, you may wish to take all your travel pictures using an instant camera, and that's fine, too. Of course, you won't need a separate instant-picture camera if you are using a digital camera. Almost all permit you to view the picture you just took, but you will have to them printed to provide copies to people you photograph.

DON'T RUSH YOUR PICTURE-TAKING

A common mistake in travel pictures is to rush them. There is so much to do and see that you may feel you just can't do enough quickly enough. But, an extra few seconds' wait can mean the difference between mediocrity and great images. Take sufficient time to properly capture the scene, which may mean waiting for people or animals to move into better positions for an interesting composition, or just waiting for the clouds to move.

Costumed characters who entertain as they move through the crowd are usually happy to pose, but don't take too much of their time getting the
Costumed characters who entertain as they move through the crowd are usually happy to pose, but don't take too much of their time getting the "perfect" shot.

DON'T TAKE TOO MUCH TIME, EITHER

Don’t hang around if it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen within a reasonable time frame, like a couple of minutes at most. Move on and enjoy your holiday. There will be many other interesting scenes to capture.

There is also such a thing as taking too much time to compose and take a picture. Being too fussy often ends up killing spontaneity and removing the fun. You can worry a good picture to death.

KEEP FELLOW-TRAVELLERS IN MIND

If you are traveling with family members or others who don’t share your photography interest, don’t allow your zeal for picture-taking to ruin their holiday. Sure, it’s all right to record their activities during your vacation, as long as you don’t spend more time posing them and composing pictures than you do enjoying the attractions of the area. Besides, candid photos that you take when they may be unaware are usually the best. If you feel you can't get the pictures you want because you have to keep up with the group, set aside some private time with your camera while the others are engaged in an entertaining past-time or having a nap. You will all enjoy holiday harmony while you still bring home the images you were seeking.

Take special precautions to protect your camera when using it at the beach.
Take special precautions to protect your camera when using it at the beach.

HOT SPOTS

If you will be visiting a tropical country or any place where the temperature will be hot, you will need to be considerate of where you leave your camera when not in use. The front or rear window of an unventilated, parked car under the hot sun is just about the worst place for a camera, and also for film, whether it has been exposed or is still unexposed. Cameras, whether film or digital, just don't like to be baked. (It is also an open invitation for thieves when your camera is in plain view.)

If you can't take it with you and you can't park your vehicle in the shade, place your camera (or your entire camera bag) in a spot inside the car where it will be in shade while you are gone. The floor or even the trunk will do, unless it is likely to heat up like an oven in open sun. Be sure to crack the windows for cross-ventilation.

A little forethought can go a long way. If you know you will have to leave your camera in the car, then purchase a small cooler in which to store it. Don't use ice to keep it cool, unless the ice is double-packed in waterproof plastic baggies with no chance of any water affecting your camera as the ice melts. A better cooling solution is found in frozen gelatin bags that don't leave any trace of water. Be sure to place your camera (and film) in a plastic bag before placing it in the cooler, then when you remove the camera from the cooler later on, leave it in the bag while it warms up to the ambient temperature to avoid harmful condensation forming in the camera.

BEACHES CAN BE UNFRIENDLY TO CAMERAS

On beaches, keep your camera protected from salt water spray, dust and sand. A inexpensive plastic storage bag may save your camera from irreversible damage.

Don’t store your camera in a beach bag with wet towels or swimsuits. Never leave it unattended while you go for a swim. You may think no one saw you put it under your windbreaker, but odds are some miscreant did, and you will return to find it gone. (In some countries, a trip next morning to the local flea market may provide you with the opportunity to get it back.)

You may be better off to leave your expensive camera in the hotel when you venture onto the beach, and instead take a one-time use underwater camera that will be more resistant to contact with sand and water. They take great pictures in shallow water, and will provide your travel album with additional interest.

Got what you feel is a great photo captured ashore while on your cruise holiday? Check to see if your cruise is running a photo contest, and enter it. You never know. You might just win.
Got what you feel is a great photo captured ashore while on your cruise holiday? Check to see if your cruise is running a photo contest, and enter it. You never know. You might just win.

CRUISE LINE PHOTO CONTESTS

If you think you may have taken an exceptional picture while on a cruise holiday, find out if your cruise line is one that runs photo contests among its passengers, as many do. Your picture may win a prize. Click here for tips on cruise photography.

GROUP TRAVEL AND GUIDED TOURS

If you have a single-minded interest in taking pictures during most of your holiday, group travel is not an alternative for you, unless, of course, you are traveling with a photography group in which everyone has similar interests. You will find yourself playing catch-up, disrupting the tour group’s schedule and generally being frustrated with the lack of empathy for your photographic goals. Group travel generally doesn’t provide much time for individual exploration or delay to wait for the right moment for a picture.

Do yourself a favor, and don’t travel with a group operating on a tight schedule if photography is your primary interest.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take your camera on a guided tour. Group travel is an excellent way to cover a country’s highlights, and you will have plenty of opportunity for picture-taking provided you can keep up with the group.

TAKE AN AIR TOUR FOR THE BIRD'S-EYE VIEW

In many travel destinations, it is possible to take a local tour in a small aircraft at relatively low cost. Often these mini-flights bring you closer to the area's main attractions, like helicopters that bring you face-to-face with Mount Rushmore, permitting you to get once-in-a-lifetime shots that will truly round out your travel album. For tips on aerial photography, click here. It's not as hard as you may think. And, of course, you can always take pictures through the window of your commercial flight. Click here for more information.

This high-altitude view of Dos Palmas resort in Honda Bay was taken through the window of a commercial jet aircraft just after take-off from Puerto Princesa, Palawan.
This high-altitude view of Dos Palmas resort in Honda Bay was taken through the window of a commercial jet aircraft just after take-off from Puerto Princesa, Palawan.