In the past two posts we have discussed some pointers for doing research before you leave to ensure that you don't miss a location or an event and some tips on photos while on a family road trip. Now let's get serious about some other important issues.
Packing: do not check your equipment if you can help it. It has a good chance of being stolen or damaged. A photographer friend just returned from an around the world assignment for a large corporation. He started in Sao Paulo then to London, Paris, Barcelona, Moscow, China and home to Seattle all in twenty days. I sat down with him on his return to get the benefit of this recent experience to share with you.
He had to decide whether to carry on his computer or his camera gear from Sao Paulo to London. He chose the computer. He then spent two days in London trying to organize rental equipment for his shoot as his cameras and lights didn't show up. The lights followed him to Barcelona where they caught up with him on his first day there. The case with his cameras followed the next day. When the best camera did arrive it had been removed from his baggage and dropped or abused in some other fashion. He luckily had gaffer's tape with him that served to tape the broken battery slot cover closed on the camera for the rest of the trip. He offers that you should carry on as much as they will allow. Check your clothes etc. You can always buy new ones at your destination.
Photographers that make their living with these kinds of assignments are rather like soldiers. They learn to improvise when things don't go as planned. Try to eliminate all the possible misadventures you can think of before you go. If you have to check some of your gear, put it in the center of a suitcase with lots of clothes around it. Believe it or not the choice of suitcase can be important. Jay Maisel is a long time superstar photographer. I once heard him say that he buys his cases in the thrift store. He goes for the pink "old lady" suitcases that no one would ever think contained the expensive gear belonging to a top photographer. He lines the old suitcases with the same high-density black foam padding that is in most camera cases. Another shooter got stickers from a lab technician that indicated that the contents of his cases were bio-waste. Of course, under today's heightened security rules those stickers might be more problems than they are worth!
If you shoot film, take all you'll need with you on the plane and ask that it be hand searched. You should also be aware that the huge machines that some airports have for screening CHECKED baggage will also damage unprocessed film. But the digital cameras and the cards are all safe from damage from x-ray.
Sometimes the need to improvise goes beyond gear and bags. Another friend, National Geographic photographer, Mike Yamashita, tells the story of being in a situation where he saw a wonderful shot of camels while on his two year long sojourn to photograph the Silk Road. The problem was that the camels were all rental camels and each had a big number painted on its side. So he improvised; shot them backlit so the numbers didn't show and the resulting image is the cover of his book. To see the image go to http://www.michaelyamashita.com/
The world lost a creative force in photography when adventure travel photographer Galen Rowell and his wife were killed in a plane crash as they were returning from a photo workshop in August 2002. Galen told me that he trained for his photo expeditions to remote regions of Tibet and other places by running miles with a fully loaded backpack up and down the hills in Berkley, California where he lived prior to moving to a higher altitude in Bishop, CA.
One late afternoon in Tibet he saw a rainbow near the Potala (some spell it Potola) Palace in Lhasa. He recognized that if he could run fast enough, he could get in place so that the rainbow would be positioned in front of the palace. Even though the altitude was over 12,000 feet, he ran 2 miles with his equipment on his back in time to catch the elusive shot. His training and preparation paid off. The San Francisco Chronicle reported in his obit that a single, signed print of that shot had sold for $18,000 in the month before he died. It is also the cover of his book Mountains of the Middle Kingdom.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, Fodor's has a nice section on travel photography. Here are a few of their tips that I picked up from another site:
* For clear campfire shots, let your camera take its exposure readings from a well-lit face. Fire in the frame will throw off your camera's calculations. (Searching on "campfires" in Dreamstime reveals that this is an area that could use more images.)
Remember the no no's. Don't submit photos of Disneyland or any ticketed event where the ticket or the signage indicates that no photos can be taken. Even if photos are permitted, remember that the attorneys for many landmarks like to write letters and so we don't accept those images. Don't submit images of fine art or public sculpture if it could still be under copyright.
I have always said that in advertising photography there is no area of the world with poverty, no children with runny noses, no flies, no slums. For non-editorial use, concentrate on the good things associated with your destination. Zero in on close-ups of food, markets, traditional dress and unique angles of the overly photographed places of interest or go for the magic light moment. You may not have access to photograph Whirling Dervishes in Turkey but you can come home with an image of one on a handbag in a market. Improvise!
Article about digital cameras and airport security:
Interview with Jay Maise...but he doesn't mention suitcases:
History of travel photography:
Galen Rowell website: http://mlstock.com/
Mike Yamashita website: http://michaelyamashita.com