Travel essentials: How to plan the perfect photo adventure
Veteran photo tour guide Darran Leal shares seven great travel tips for any photographer planning their next big adventure.
1. On your own or with a group?
I really understand the negatives and positives of both solo and group travel. Travelling by yourself has obvious benefits, and the biggest is flexibility. You're in charge and you can go where you want when you want to go there. On the downside, it can be lonely, you might not get to the best locations and in some places it can be dangerous. The advantages of joining a tour group, and a photo group in particular, is the access it gives you to amazing photo opportunities and the joy of sharing those experiences with people who love photography as much as you do.
2. Hire a guide
The more homework you do before you leave the better your trip is likely to be. Start with Google, but also check out 500px.com to see what kind of images have been shot at the places you're planning to go to. Documentaries and magazines can be useful too but talking to photographers who have already been, might offer the best source of information and help to give you a picture of what to expect so you can optimise your time. Nothing beats local knowledge though, so try to hire a local professional photo guide for a day or two. This can be invaluable, particularly in remote countries where you don't speak the local language. They can show you the best locations and often make it easier to connect with the locals. When your time with the guide is up, give yourself a few days extra to revisit the locations for the best results.
3. Itinerary and tours
Unfortunately most standard tours will frustrate a photographer and poorly organised itineraries will not maximise your photo interests. A good itinerary will help you to target, optimise and ideally sort out logistical issues before you leave home. If you're planning your own trip, I would suggest you work on a day by day itinerary. Write up what you think you would like to do and make sure you give yourself enough time. Start with breakfast and finish with dinner or a night time activity. If you're travelling with a tour company and paying for a guide, you are not paying for them to have a private holiday or to optimise their own photo interests. They should be ‘ hands on’ helping you with everything from booking in for flights, to pre checking the logistics of the adventure each day.
Security, for both you and your equipment, has always been an issue. Unfortunately, most insurance policies will not cover camera equipment in your main check-in luggage case. For this reason my camera bag is virtually always with me, except on the occasions I might leave it in the hotel room for a city street walk. On these occasions, I will just take a camera and one lens. My suggestion is to book good accommodation and keep your equipment out of sight and not obvious, never leave equipment locked in a car and don't walk in back streets (where most problems might occur) and limit night walks. Also, never count money in public, wear expensive jewellery, or show off any wealth in a poor area.
5. Accreditations and insurance
There are a number of accreditations that are worth being aware of when you are booking your trip. ATAS is a national accreditation scheme, run by the Australian Federation of Travel Agents, endorsing agents who have met strict financial and customer service criteria. As Australia’ s best travel agents, they can provide you with peace of mind when purchasing travel. The Council of Australian Tour Operators (CATO) and International Air Transport Association (IATA) are also seals of approval recognised worldwide. Today you can book many travel services online yourself, but be aware of the pitfalls. For example, booking a sequence of international flights and not allowing enough connection time - I personally aim for around three hours. If you buy a cheap seat, you most likely will have limitations to changing your ticket, plus higher charges will be charged for changes. Travel insurance is essential for most trips.
6. Flights and transport
Travelling with camera gear and associated weight can be an issue. Check with each airline, as luggage limits can vary between international and domestic carriers. I travel as light and simple as possible. My travel kit is one semi soft suitcase with roller wheels - 70lt in size. I keep this to around 15/17kg. I then have a LowePro ProTactic 350AW backpack that can carry all of my camera gear. This relatively small bag weighs around 7kg with my kit. Finally, I have a small shoulder bag for my MacBook Pro. A laptop in your camera bag is guaranteed to go overweight and is often ungainly to carry on your back. Most airlines will only allow 7kg of carry on weight, and often two pieces are allowed. The 7kg limit will apply most often for your largest bag.
7. Photo gear
This is the easiest facet of travel, yet some people get very hung up on this point. Once I look at the equipment list of the photographer, they are simply trying to take too much. If you are having weight and travel issues, give this some thought. Camera gear is personal and will vary greatly. The brand of camera has no bearing on one being better than another for travel photography. The good news is that any current generation camera will offer you great results and you can travel light. In fact my general snapshot camera is my trusty iPhone. At 12MP, I can print an image easily to 1m on the longest side for a super-sharp high quality result. My son Pearce has even dropped his kit to just one lens to some destinations. His 50MP camera body allows for a lot of cropping, using a general purpose 24-70mm f2.8 lens.
Photographers love to explore and challenge their skills. My best suggestion is get out, shoot and set yourself goals. Perhaps it will be a large coffee table book of your holiday. I bet you surprise yourself.