On Travel Photography

Travel Photography 101

Although there’s no sign of it yet, here in the NYC area, summer should be just around the corner. Summer usually makes us think of vacations, time off, and trips across the country or around the world. We usually want to document our journeys, in particular when visiting places we’ve never seen before, hence our interest in travel photography.

So, what should we consider packing (mostly in terms of gear) when going on a trip?

Sunset at Haleakala. Photo by Alina Oswald.
Sunset at Haleakala. Photo by Alina Oswald.

First things first. Before you buy that plane ticket, or any ticket for that matter, for your trip, do your homework.

Read about the place you’re about to visit: customs, the best time to visit, interesting things to do or see, interesting or unique phenomena or events or happenings happening in that area, etc.

If traveling to a foreign country, learn a few words in the language of the country you’re about to visit. Mostly everybody living outside the English-speaking countries speaks English, oftentimes fluently. That said, addressing a local in their own language, even if using only a couple of words ( a greeting, for example, also learning how to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ in that particular language) goes a long way. It not only helps you make a good (first) impression, but it can also open doors for you and, quite possibly, help put better connect with the right local guide who then can show you the best, off-the-beaten-path places to visit and photograph (for example).

While doing your research you might end up learning about a unique phenomenon happening at a certain time of day, month, or year. It goes without saying, but plan your trip or schedule your day around that event, if you want to capture it. Figure out how and when it’s best to get there and photograph it.

For example, when preparing for my trip to Hawaii, I was looking through a travel book about Hawaii. That’s how I learned about the Brocken spectre optical illusion that could be observed if you’re lucky enough, from the top of Haleakala (Haleakala National Park, in Maui) at or around sunset. And so, I read some more about the Brocken spectre and glanced at a few images, and then planned on arriving at the summit way before sunset. As the sun started to set, I started to look for the spectre. Luckily for me, the Brocken spectre showed itself. And I did capture it, first with my telephoto lens, and then with my wide-angle lens, and also with my iPhone.

Brocken Spectre. Haleakala, Maui, Hawaii. Photo by Alina Oswald.
Brocken Spectre. Haleakala, Maui, Hawaii. Photo by Alina Oswald.

Or, again, do your homework, research, and invest in activities that would allow you to see the places you’re visiting, and the world, from a new perspective. For example, invest in an aerial tour or boat tour or the like, if you’re interested in taking a few shots that you’d not be able to capture otherwise.

Here are three aerial images of the smoking lava fields of Big Island, Hawaii, featured in a juried photo show at SoHo Photo Gallery, in NYC, a few years ago:

Here are also a few aerial shots of Hawaii’s Napali Coast:

On gear:

When packing for your trip, if you fly internationally, don’t forget that on international flights you’re allowed a 50-lbs suitcase and a carry-on. (Some airlines let you also bring a purse-size bag.) Everything else costs extra. So, pack wisely!

When it comes to packing your gear, it would be a good idea to keep in mind some of the following:

  • the purpose of the photographs you’re going to capture while on your trip: are you going to shoot just for fun or are you planning on putting together a book, or photographing for a possible story, project, etc? For example, if you plan on photographing for a project (book, portfolio, others) it would be a good idea to plan that project ahead of time so that you have a better idea of what you’d like/want/need to photograph while on your trip; other considerations when planning your projects, might include the length of your trip, how many days you’d be able to spend in a certain place, expenses associated with the project (beyond the travel expenses for your trip, you might want to consider the rides, shorter trips you might have to take while on your trip, in order to photograph what you need for your project)
  • in terms of gear, unless you can afford it or in case you are on assignment and somebody else (aka, the client) pays for travel and other related expenses, it’s a good idea to travel light, if possible. Bring the minimum amount of gear necessary to do your job. For example, consider packing:

*monopod instead of a tripod

*kit lens or zoom lens instead of prime lenses (unless they are the lightweight variety–some of the prime lenses can be quite heavy; also, do pack backup lens(es) and even a small camera (point-and-shoot) or camera body)

*plenty of memory cards and additional batteries, chargers, etc.

*external flash? That’s a nice-to-have item, sometimes a must-have item, in particular, if you’re working on a project or on an assignment

*laptop? That’s a tough one…. If you can use a tablet instead, it would be great, but that’s not always the case. If you end up packing a tablet, make sure that all the necessary apps are uploaded (and that the newest versions of those apps work). Same goes for your smartphone.

Against the Wind.
Yours truly facing the storm in Aloha Land.

One other note:

If you show up at the airport with your camera bag, stock full of gear, there’s a very good chance that you and your gear are going to be thoroughly inspected. Just go with the flow (you can’t do anything about it anyway). Keep in mind, though, you might not be able to reach the gate in record time.

Other things to consider:

  • wear comfortable clothes and shoes
  • wear clothes with pockets and pack those pockets ahead of time, the same goes for the pockets in your carry-on bag or purse;
  • dress in layers (it’s usually a good idea)
  • check-in ahead of time and print your boarding pass before you leave for the airport, if possible
  • have all your devices (smartphone, tablet, etc) charged
  • bring an actual book, magazine, your (printed) notes, or something to read
  • have a valid passport (you might have to renew your passport months before it expires)

Enjoy your trip!

As always, thanks for stopping by!

Alina Oswald


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