As a photographer and a photojournalist, I’ve had the pleasure of working on assignment in 43 different countries these pass four decades. Working in these countries taught me a lot of things, especially when it comes to travel photography, and so today I’ll share some tips for your future travel photography adventure.
First, do research for the best attractions for your travel photography along with establishments to visit like top-rated restaurants and entertainment. While doing this research look for the best times to travel to avoid price hikes during peak season, and to take advantage of lower prices plus smaller crowds during low- or mid-season. You can save a lot of money in your travel photography if you plan wisely.
Also research the weather, along with local customs and courtesies so you don’t wind up in a dilemma. Check websites like the U.S. State Department for travel alerts and even the Center For Disease Control and Prevention for any warnings and updates on things like the Zika virus.
For example, when I was an active-duty combat photographer for the U.S. Army, I was sent out on Operation Support Hope with a journalist to document the Rwanda refugee crisis. In our intelligence briefing we were told to avoid bodies of water plus Lake Victoria for various reasons, especially to avoid contracting Schistosomiasis, a disease spread by parasites living in fresh water.
Pack A Medical Bag
It’s also wise to pack a small bag with first aid, plus pain relief medication, your prescribed medications, anti acid, and because you never know, IMODIUM® A-D, an anti-diarrheal over-the-counter drug. Keep all your drugs in their original packaging as some countries will put you in jail if you have any pills or tablets and you can’t verify how you purchased them.
Don’t Become A Target
You also want to dress down and not look so “American” when traveling outside the U.S., so avoid wearing expensive jewelry and clothing with American logos. As we all know listening to the news, Americans are targets in some foreign countries, so make sure you don’t stand out as a target. This includes learning some simple phrases of that country’s language—the last thing you want to do in a non-English speaking country is to immediately ask, “Do you speak English?”
Some locals think that question is actually rude and will usually answer “no,” but if you try to speak their language, they’ll take that as a sign of respect. Normally they become more polite when they see you are trying and often respond with, “That’s OK, we speak some English.”
When it comes to travel photography, don’t spray and pray with your camera. Take the time to find the right shots, look for the best light and angle, go after a story-telling photo, not a mediocre tourist snap. It’s about quality not quantity. Look beyond what is in front of you, walk around and try a different angle. One mistake many travel photographers make is relying on only zoom lenses. Slap a wide-angle or 50mm lens on your camera and get close—zoom lenses set us further back from the people, culture, and attractions we’re trying to capture.
Avoid Bulging Bags
Pack a light camera bag for travel photography, carry one or two zooms, a wide-angle, a back-up body or point and shoot, spare batteries, and spare capture cards. Bring an external storage device, whether it’s a laptop or a self-sufficient hard drive for daily backups of your photos—cards do fail, usually at the worse time. Less gear also makes you less of a target.
Learn About the Community, Customs, and Culture
If you photograph local people in your travel photography, take time to learn their customs and culture, plus put your camera down and talk to them, then ask permission if it’s OK to take their photo. If your trip is lengthy, take time to learn about their community, you’ll be surprised what you’ll find. Once on assignment in Beaufort, North Carolina I went to the shrimping docks to photograph the oldest fisherman there, and in a conversation another fisherman told me, “the TideRunner boat was used for the movie Prince of Tides.”
I located the boat captain, Emmett Paul, and asked if I could spend a couple of days documenting their shrimping. He agreed for a case of Budweiser beer each morning delivered to his boat. I agreed and off I went every morning hours before sunrise on the TideRunner, and not only did I document the shrimping with him, his son, and one deckhand, but on the second day I helped bring in the nets and sort each catch.
My hands got dirty and I got smelly, but this helped me understand what it’s like to shrimp and that experience helped me later when I sat down to write the story that accompanied the photos for publication. In the end the captain gave me about 25 pounds of shrimp to take home for my work. That was almost 25 years ago!
In all your travel photography, take notes. It’s easy to forget people’s names, specific locations, etc., but if your photos get picked up for publication it will help for caption information. Notes are also good should you decide to revisit someday, especially if you want to save time and money.
Thank People, Write a Review
Along the way and especially when you’re getting ready to leave, make sure to thank everyone. People remember and this will go a long way should you return. Don’t forget to rate or review the locations you visited, the places you dined, and even the places you stayed at, especially on TripAdvisor, another great source to research your future travel photography adventures.
With that I close, and as always, I ask you not to forget the men and women who proudly serve to protect our freedoms, including the freedom to travel safely. God bless them, their families and friends, Rolando.