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Travel Photography - Camera Gear

As a photographic enthusiast it is inevitable that at some point your camera gear will accompany you on your travels or holidays. I have put together some do's and don'ts and some useful tips on maintaining your camera equipment whilst travelling. I have tried and tested all of what I have written, and it works. I have carried camera equipment on busses, trains, speed-boats, ferries, up mountains, and underwater.

Planning your trip
Before leaving your house, make sure that you know what it is you want to achieve from the trip. See article The Travel Photographer. Is it a fun family holiday to a sunny location, or is it a trip where the main emphasis is on capturing travel images? Let us look at the latter.

Know your subject, research and choose your equipment accordingly.
Spend time on the internet or in your local library for an idea of images that are available and the kind of images that are already out there. Look at travel brochures of the area. Make sure that you know exactly the region that the images were captured in as well as the climate. There is no use in wanting to capture wonderful images of fields full of poppies only to discover that once you haves trekked half way across the globe you find that the poppy harvest has already taken place and now all you have is miles and miles of brown earth!

Make notes to carry with you regarding times and dates for special events, place names and routes you may have read about.

In a lot of brochures you will read that to get to a certain waterfall (or wherever you want to go) you take the local bus. Be careful of this too, the local bus is not always the same as the busses we are used to back home. It is no fun to sit in a cramped mini van that is not roadworthy, travelling at break neck speeds for 6 or 8 hours. Look at the locations you wish to photograph then compare then to a map of the area and plan you trip accordingly. The same applies to travelling by trains or boats and ferries.

Once you have all the information you need, you can start selecting your camera gear.

Equipment checklist
tickCamera - Camera body (usually 35mm for travel as it is lighter) (medium format-bulkier, more expensive and not as automated) always carry a spare body. This could be purely for back up or could be used with different films speeds or lenses.

tick Lenses -There is a variety of lenses available today; many of the lenses can be used for the same task. When travelling it is best to choose lenses that you can use in more than one instance. As an example, one of the lenses I carry is a 105 mm f/2.8 lens. I can use this as a true macro while it is also good for portrait style images. For certain areas, e.g. a busy side street it gives an interesting perspective and it is a fast lens. I also use this for a lot of my underwater work.

Let us look at some of the available lenses and the uses whilst travelling.

Subject - Small seashell, postage stamp or piece of jewellery
Lens - True macro lens for high magnification, 60mm, 105mm or 180mm.
Other choice lens - Zoom with macro capabilities.

Subject - Distant action, e.g., surfing, white river rafting, bull fighting.
Lens - Telephoto lens, usually from 400mm upward.
Other choice lens - A zoom lens with a focal length of at least 300mm.

Subject - Landscapes, cityscapes, tall buildings, trees, market places, bridges
Lens - 20mm to 35mm focal length.

TIP - 28mm focal lens gives a 75 degree coverage, similar to what the eye sees, going down further to a 15mm focal length and the angle changes to 110 degree angle of view. This will cause images close to the lens to appear even closer and be larger than images further away from the lens. This gives a distorted image. With wide-angle lenses once you have composed your image, take some time to study the image through the viewfinder to see if everything appears ok and that there are not elements in the picture that you do not want or that are not needed. A wide angle will give a distorted view to a building, making it appear wider at the bottom with the sides narrowing to a point at the top. Where possible, change to a longer focal length and move back from the subject. When ever in doubt, make sure that the film plane is parallel to the subject.

Subject - Lifestyle, head and shoulder / portrait type images.
Lens - 85mm to 135mm focal length.
Other choice lens - 70mm to 210mm / 300mm or similar.

Subject - Confined indoor spaces - bathrooms cubicles, hotel rooms, guard huts.
Lens - Wide-angle - 20mm or full frame fish eye.

Tip - Remember the distortion factor with wide-angle lenses, plus the fact that a fish eye will "bend" the corners of the image. Another thing to remember is if using flash; your flash can cover the same area as your lens. It is often a good idea in situations like this to use bounce flash, preferable off a ceiling or wall, this spreads and softens the light, doing away with a "hot spot" that often appears in these types of images.

Subject - Museums, libraries, art galleries - or other places where flash photography is not allowed.
Lens - A fast lens of f/1.4 or f/1.8
Other choice lenses - Most f/2.8 lenses

Tip - Use a "fast" film, ISO 400/800 or higher. Use a tripod because shutter speeds may be long. If shooting digital, experiment with white balance, EV settings and in camera ISO settings.

So, as you can see, if you were to pack a 17-35mm a 35-70mm and a 70-210mm/300 you should be covered for most eventualities.

PLEASE NOTE - I am writing this with 35mm SLR cameras in mind. Most of the digital SLR'S on the market have CCD's that are smaller then that of a 35mm film so the focal length of the lens changes. A 20mm lens will act as a 35mm lens. Please be aware of this when you pack your lenses with your DSLR.

tick Film or digital storage - Buy all your film before you leave, unless you know for a fact that you can purchase the type of film you need where you are going. Make use of bulk buy specials, always check the expiry date of the film, and be careful how you store your film. At home I always keep my film in a fridge and in a polystyrene container en route. Once at the hotel I will put the film into the fridge and remove it only a few hours before I need it. All my film is kept in separate plastic packets as this helps with condensation. If you have film (or a lens or camera body) in an air-conditioned area (or where there are vast temperature changes) and you take it to a warmer area, condensation will form on the packet and not on the equipment or film.

For digital storage, make sure that you have enough memory, and that you have the means to download from the card to clear it and to save the images. Here you have a number of choices, firstly you can carry a portable hard drive, this can be very convenient and these days they have large enough storage for most photographic trips. Secondly you could carry a laptop with you and lastly you could download you images at a local camera or film store. But, before you leave make sure that you know that such a place exists.

Tip - When ever possible, make a back up of your work. Once I have finished shooting for the day, I download my images onto my Mac Power Book, orientate them, then burn them onto a general back up DVD, then burn them to a specific named CD, before I erase them from my camera.

tick Travelling with film - I personally recommend carrying all your film with you when flying. That is exposed and un-exposed film. There has been a lot written on airport x-ray machines and the damage that it can cause. I do not know enough about it to expand on the subject, but the x-ray that people go through and your hand luggage goes through is not as powerful as the x-ray machines used to check luggage going to the hold.

tick Tripod / monopod and cable release - I never understand anyone who does not use a tripod. To me they are as valuable to my work as my camera. If you want to know more on tripods, see Garry Edwards article on tripods in this forum.

tick Filters - There are literally hundreds of filters available, from special effects to polarizer's to graduated neutral density filters. I use 81 a or b filters on all my lenses which helps to combat blue light and "warms up" the images. What ever your motivation for the particular filters you use, always have skylight filters on your lenses to protect your lens and always carry Polarizer's. These cut out flare and darken colour, ideal for shooting water, sky and any areas where there is a lot of glare - e.g. a glass building.

tick Flash - I would highly recommend carrying a flash unit with you, although I know a lot of people do not use them at all. Most of the flash units these days are small and compact so are easy to travel with. Make sure the head can tilt and swivel. It is also good to have a connecting sync cord to use the flash off camera. I personally use my flash nearly all the time, yes, even in the middle of the day. If you know how to use it properly you can use it for subtle fill flash to do away with unwanted shadows, you can set your camera EV to darken the background while the flash lights only the subject, you freeze action and light up dark shaded area in the background holding it off camera.

Make sure that you have enough batteries for your flash, do not rely on buying them when you are away. If you have rechargeable batteries, make sure you have an adaptor and know that the voltage at your destination is compatible.

tick Light meter - If you use a hand held light meter and do not rely on your in camera light meter, make sure that you have spare batteries.

tick Reflectors - These are relatively inexpensive and come in handy a lot. They take up little room in your bag and are light. Try to get the fold up type that has a spring metal rim, these fold up to next to nothing and expand really quickly when you remove them from their carry bags.

tick Cleaning and repairs -

square Camel-hair brush, bulb blower or aerosol compressed air (anti static for digital users!) Make sure can carry this on your flight!
square Watch makers screwdriver set
square Long nose needle point pliers
square Super glue
square Lens cleaner fluid and wipes
square Duct tape or equivalent (comes in handy for 101 users)
square Pack of sealable plastic packets
square Silica gel - preferably in clothe bags
square Note book and pen/s
square Magnifying glass (you may never need it, but when you do it will be invaluable
square Cotton wool ear buds
square Old tooth brush
square Role of sellotape

Tip - I carry a small can of WD40 and a pack of condoms with me. Ha ha, I know what you must be thinking, but no, the use I have for these is for my tripod or monopod when working in water. No, you don't need to take your gear into the water, you can always use a longer lens, but I prefer to get as close to my subject as possible, and I am not going to let a little water get in the way of a good image. Be careful of water on your camera and lenses, this includes spray and humidity.

tick Carry bag - A back pack style camera bag is good but not always ideal, a shoulder slung back works better because you do not need to put it down to remove equipment or change film or lenses. The last thing you need is to be changing lenses on the floor in a market and the next thing it is being run over by an ox wagon. Camera vests are also available but I have no experience with these. I carry a backpack style bag plus a solid shoulder slung bag. This has an "o" ring and a gauge to let me know the level of humidity in the bag. A good choice is always a hard case, but not always cost effective or practical. I keep my underwater housings and accessories in one.

Tip - Of the three insurance companies I approached for quotes, all of them insisted that all my camera gear should be kept in a hard case that could lock.

tick Insurance - You can add additions to home insurance policy, or purchase specialist photographic policy's. Speak to people who use either and get their feed back. I know there has been a lot of talk of this subject in the forum. Which ever one you choose, make sure you have insurance.

Tip - It is a good idea and personal recommendation that you record all your equipment details, i.e. make model, serial number and retain any receipts when purchasing. Photograph all your equipment and try to include serial numbers, make and model in the photo. This could speed up any insurance claim that you may make and could speed up the acquisition of an insurance policy.

tick Arrival at your destination - Once you arrive at your destination look at local postcards for ideas as well as the local travel agents. Many of them will display photographs of the area and surrounding areas. Speak to the hotel staff, taxi drivers or local shop keepers for advise on the best vantage points for certain images. Although you will have arrived with a preconceived idea of the images you want to capture, look around to see if there is anything else you find that is interesting.

Maintenance and cleaning whilst on the road
Camera body - Remove the lens, hold upside down and use a blower. Use your camel-hair brush for any remaining dust particles. Use camel-hair brush on reflex mirror.

Tip - Dust on the reflex mirror may not seem important because the mirror locks up when the shutter is open, BUT any dust on it can and will work loose and find it's way onto your film. This becomes even more of a danger when shooting with a DSLR (digital SLR), where the CCD is static and attracts all types of hair, lint, sand and dust. Inside my camera's (I use Nikon and am not sure if all cameras have this) the sides leading to the film shutter and CCD are of a black furry type material. I have found that a lot of dust and small hairs sticks to this so I use a piece of cello tape wrapped around an ear bud to dab this area. I find that if I rub the sticky side of the tape between my fingertips a few times, it lessons the amount of adhesives on the tape and therefore does not remove any of the black fabric.

Camera back - Open camera back with camera upside down, use blower and camel-hair brush, taking special care not to touch any of the shutter components. Take note of any hair or dust stuck in the hinges. If you find that there are, the toothbrush you packed comes in handy.

Lenses - Clean both rear and front lens elements with a lens clothe or lens wipe (one being a micro fibre cloth the other being a paper lens wipe) Make sure there are no fingerprints or other smudges. Use a cotton wool ear bud around the top of the lens focusing ring and screw threads. This will get rid of any unwanted grime that builds up from a combination of moisture and dust. Always use a Skylight or other filter to help prevent dirt and damage to lens. Always use a lens cap when not shooting and always use a lens hood, this not only avoids unwanted glare on your images, but can help protect your precious lens in case of a fall or bump.

Viewfinder - A lens wipe with a drop of lens cleaner will remove any dirt or grime. While you are doing this, look all around the viewfinder; it is amazing the grime that collects there from the constant contact with your eyelids, eyebrows and nose.

General maintenance - Prevention is better than cure (especially when you're up a mountain!)
When cleaning your camera, take a few minutes to check that the neck strap attachments are in place and haven't worked themselves loose, check that the dials and buttons on the camera are not loose and do not have hairs, grass or other objects stuck under them. Check all metal parts for obvious signs of rust (I know that most metal parts are corrosion proof, but they are plated and any scratches will expose the metal underneath that will corrode) If you have tripod quick release permanently attached to your camera, remove it, clean it and the underside of the camera and replace. The least you should do with this is to check that the screw is still tight.

Camera bag - I bet you are wondering why I would be mentioning your camera bag here, but it is amazing how many people never ever clean it out and how much dirt, dust and muck gets trapped in there. Remove all your gear, remove all the valcro'd dividers and give it a good shake out. Take a piece of cello tape or duct tape and touch the internal sides of the bag and the removable dividers to remove stubborn dust. Check the straps for wear and tear and that the buckles or plastic clips are not coming loose. Check all the zippers for wear and tear too.

Tip - Every now and then, and especially if I am in a very wet place, i.e. near crashing surf or at the bottom of a waterfall or in the rain, I will run a piece of bees wax over the camera bags zippers. You can buy these blocks of bees wax at most scuba diving stores as this is one way you treat your dry suite zippers. This is where I got the idea from, and have had some good success with this technique.

General - All sync leads and contacts should be checked regularly. All lenses and filters should be spotless every time you take your camera gear out with you.

Moisture and your camera and lenses
Moisture is your camera equipments biggest enemy. Don't be afraid to shoot near or in water or to shoot in the rain, but be aware of the dangers and take precautions. When shooting in the rain, even from the shelter of an umbrella or open door way be aware of water being sprayed onto the camera and lens by passing vehicles, bicycles or wind. Cover your camera in a plastic packet and tear a hole in the front for the lens to "peep" through and make sure you can see through the viewfinder. Don't worry that you cannot see all the controls and dials on your camera; you should know your camera like the back of your hand already! Have a super absorbent clothe or kitchen towel handy to wipe the lens. You should only get spray on your filter, because as we discussed earlier, you should be using one as a normal course of protection - right?

Humidity, moisture in the air and condensation are factors that we very often overlook, usually because we cannot physically see them all the time. A good way to combat moisture like this is to use silica gel. You can purchase this at just about all good camera shops. I find it best to buy large quantities; about 1.5 kg's at a time then have small amounts decanted into small cloth bags that are sewn shut afterwards. This gel absorbs moisture in the air that would other wise get into on onto your equipment. There is no use keeping the silica gel in its original plastic bag! When the silica gel is saturated, i.e. it can no longer absorb any more moisture; you can place it near a fire or in a pan on the stove or in a microwave to dry it out. The gel I use is a light blue colour when dry and a deep purple when wet. I am sure there are many different types and colours with different characteristics. Ask around for advice.

Place these cloth filled bags in all the compartments of your camera bag. I also put it in my printer and in my lap top bag. It works.

When in particularly wet areas, put each camera body, lens and other piece of equipment into separate self-sealable plastic bags with a cloth filled bag of gel.

I hope this helps you when you next go travelling to far away places in search of that one perfect image. As I said in the beginning, I have tried and tested all of these methods and they work. I am sure that this is by no means the full and final list of tips on travelling with your camera, so if you have any tips that would help other photographers, please let us know.

Mark Ossendryver has been a keen amateur photographer for many years, shooting both land based and underwater images. He is self taught in all aspects of his work, and through other business interests has had the opportunity to travel extensively, namely to USA, South Africa, Mozambique, Transkei, Tunisia, Egypt, Malaysia, Thailand and most of Europe and the Canary Islands. Mark and his wife now live in Thailand where he concentrates 100% of his time photographing and writing. This was an easy choice, following your heart and your passion to break into the world of photography and writing, but is not an easy life, having given up their home in Chiswick, and said goodbye to friends. Besides photographic articles such as these, he is submitting articles to Lifestyle magazines with articles and images ranging from Oriental cooking to architecture. He has a company, "Mark Ossendryver Photography" registered in Thailand and is currently working on two major projects with his wife and Thai partners. These are namely a guidebook to the Islands of Southern Thailand and The history of Phi Phi Island.

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