Pack light, look after your kit and keep smiling – here’s our 10-point plan to follow if you’re serious about taking better photos
If you’re on the trip of a lifetime, don’t let the theft or mechanical failure of your camera and lenses mean you can’t take pictures. If photography is important to you, make sure you have a spare camera – even if it is just a simple compact. If the worst happens and your camera is stolen or broken, then you can still shoot.
Don’t overlook lenses, either. Many people travel with an 18-200mm super-zoom, which has such a wide range it rarely needs to be changed. But pack the kit lens that came with your camera too, in case your first choice lens goes wrong or gets damaged while you’re on the road.
Always keep your gear clean: dirt or dust on your sensor will show up as ugly black marks on your pictures. Smudges on your lens will affect quality and can cause flare. Clean your gear every night. Some cameras have a sensor that vibrates, but this may need extra cleaning.
A manual blower (try Visible Dust’s Hurricane Blower) will jet dust from the sensor (never use compressed air). You might also need a sensor brush if you are doing a lot of travel to dusty areas. Blow grit and dust from lenses and filters, then use a washable micropore cloth to clean them.
Digital images are essentially ephemeral. They can disappear in an instant due to theft, mechanical breakdown or corruption. However, they are easily duplicated, so there is no excuse for losing images. Memory cards are cheaper than ever.
Take enough so you don’t have to reuse them. Copy pictures to a laptop and back this up to a hard disk such as LaCie Rugged Hard Disk. Also, copy cards to a standalone storage device (browse at www.hypershop.com). Only then reuse a memory card. You can also back-up to DVDs in internet cafés. Store one back-up in your hotel; carry the other.
Most travel books recommend that you don’t carry valuables on you – but as a photographer, you don’t really have a choice. However, you should take basic precautions against robbery. Try to be aware of your surroundings and take local advice about dangerous areas.
Carry your camera securely, and look out for bag-snatchers on motorbikes. Never leave your camera or camera bag on a café table or where anyone can grab it and run away. Learn to work quickly: if you stand fiddling with your camera for ages, you’ll attract attention. If you are taking a risk, back up your memory card first – just in case.
The point of travel is to have a good time. Travel enthusiastically and this will come across in your pictures. If you are a miserable, resentful traveller, how can you expect anyone to be inspired by your photos?
Also, be curious: climb every hill to see the view, take a look around every corner, get up for every single sunrise. You only get one life and should try to cram as much in as possible. Travel photography shouldn’t be regarded as a chore. It is the perfect motivation to embrace the world and the best excuse to walk up to just about anyone and say hello.
Before you get to a destination, do some research about what to see and do there, and what you want to photograph. Find out if there are any festivals happening and loosely plan your itinerary. Check out photo library sites such as Alamy and Getty Images to see what sorts of pictures other people have taken and where they took them from.
When you arrive, ask around: is there anything else you have to see. Ask both travellers and locals to see what they suggest; be prepared to find that some of the suggestions just won’t work. Tourist offices can be useful for details of events.
Should you get worried about taking expensive gear to various shady parts of the world? The answer is no: pay someone to be worried for you! Always have adequate insurance. Learn the conditions, and stick to them.
If you are not covered for leaving gear in a car, don’t do it. If you have expensive gear, then you will need a separate camera policy. Don’t rely on normal travel insurance. Consider new-for-old insurance, where gear is replaced, not compensated at the second-hand rate. Check out Camerasure, it has amateur, pro and semi-pro policies.
People will ask you to take portraits when you travel if you look like a photographer. Although you have to be mindful of robbery, always walk around with your camera out if it feels safe.
Also, look people in the eye, smile a lot and always be prepared to approach people, ask questions or just make a fool of yourself. You have to put yourself in situations where you can expect to see people that you’ll want to photograph, then try to do the things that they are doing in order to break down barriers.
There is nothing more frustrating than running out of battery power or memory cards when you have a great potential shot in front of you. Carry at least one spare battery and more memory cards than you think you will need.
Always keep batteries charged, wherever possible; if you’re away from power, use an inverter (like the Belkin AC Anywhere) to recharge from a car cigarette lighter. Avoid excess reviewing of images and use your optical viewfinder rather than the LCD screen to preserve battery life. Change the card before it is full, so you can shoot freely whenever you need to.
If you are a keen photographer, you will probably tend to accrue all manner of gizmos, gadgets and equipment. Some of these will be vital to your photography, such as a tripod, battery charger and filters. Others will just take up space and weight. Only you can work out what is useful and how much you are prepared to carry – but don’t take anything that you really don’t need.
Also buy carefully: try to find the smallest chargers and accessories you can. It’s even worth having two-pin euro plugs on all your gear as they are smaller and lighter than UK plugs.
Have you ever wanted to take better travel photos? Then join the Wanderlust team and professional experts for two photography workshops to brush up your photo skills. Find out more here.