Preparing for travel photography

Two young women photograph the festive atmosphere on Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Photo by Joel Carillet.

Before you leave, take these steps to ensure a great photo vacation

for our travel photography Free Photo Webinar

Here's a definition of disaster. You are on the photo vacation of your dreams -- A safari in Kenya, the mountains of Machu Picchu, or maybe just the streets of New Orleans. You are feeling extra creative. The light is great. Your subjects all seem to fall into place. You raise your camera to shoot.

And then... nothing. Your camera is dead. Imagine how you would feel at that moment.

Ask any accomplished travel photographer, and you will learn that the process of creating great travel images and avoiding a disaster starts long before you leave your home.Take these steps to avoid a travel photo disaster.


Research the location

Where are the ideal photo ops? If you have limited time, improve your efficiency by researching the best shooting locations. Flickr is a good starting point to see what other enthusiasts captured at your destination. Check the travel magazines to see where the pros shoot their award winners. If you have an iPad, check out Trey Ratcliffe's Stuck on Earth.

When is the light good? There is nothing worse than getting to your travel destination and realizing you are there at the wrong time of day. The Photographer's Ephemeris is a great tool to see exactly where the sun will be at any time of any day.


Travel light

Professional photographers travel with two camera bodies and a bag of lenses. Good for them. Unless National Geographic is sponsoring the trip, you will want to travel much lighter. 


DSLR cameras

One lens should do, but I'd take two for the best overall coverage:

50 mm f/1.8  or any other fast prime is an option that will be useful for evening & night shooting. It can also be helpful in museums or other locations that ban tripods or flashes.

Take an all purpose zoom. Most manufacturers have an 18 - 200mm, which is a good choice. Also check for 18 - 300 mm (or 270 mm) options.


Compact cameras

You are already traveling light, so you have no excuse for not taking your camera everywhere. Pocket or purse. Take it along.


Cards & backup

Memory cards are so inexpensive, there is almost no need to worry about taking hard drives or computers for backup. Calculate how many pictures you plan to take and purchase enough memory cards to allow you to shoot without backup. Most cards are fairly durable, so unless you lose them, your photos should be safe. 

Eye-fi SD cards are great because they download your images to your computer or tablet wirelessly. They even come with a feature that automatically deletes and clears images from the card after they transfer. Use one of these, and you shouldn't need another card.

If you have wi-fi available, daily upload to cloud storage will help ensure your images are safe. Dropbox or Google Drive are basic storage options. Now that Flickr has upgraded to provide up to a terabyte of free storage, you can easily use that as a backup alternative. Just remember to set your images to private if you aren't ready to share them with the world.



Take at least two batteries. Three batteries are ideal. You don't want to see the battery icon blinking just when you reach your destination. Remember an extra battery is less expensive than planning a reshoot. 

If you use a compact camera and plan a lot of overseas travel, consider a camera that takes AA batteries. You can get AA replacements practically anywhere.

Remove your batteries from your camera while you are traveling. If you mistakenly leave the camera in the on position, the camera might drain the battery during travel, and you would arrive at your destination with no battery power. If you are going through TSA screening, keep a battery nearby, however. You might need to turn on your camera to prove it works.


Travel safe

Before you leave, copy the serial numbers and descriptions of all your camera gear. You'll need this information handy if you should lose your camera.

Take a photo of your business card or your name and address as the first frame on each card. If someone finds your lost camera, chances are they will flip through the images. There's a greater chance of having it returned if they have your information.

Consider purchasing insurance, so that your gear is protected from theft or damage. 

Camera rentals can be a good alternative for travel. Use an online rental company and have them ship your gear to your destination.

You know those cool camera straps that have the name of your camera model? Ditch them in favor of a neutral option. Advertising your expensive model is like screaming how much money you are carrying in your wallet.

Along the same lines, keep your camera in your bag if you aren't taking pictures. I've seen people set cameras on tables of cafe's and restaurants. That's asking for trouble in my book.

Finally, carry some plastic bags in case you ever need to shield your camera from rain or extreme weather elements. Whether you encounter rain or shine, you can be prepared for the photo vacation of your dreams.


Travel Photo Webinar

Once you arrive at the photo vacation of your dreams prepared to shoot, how do you capture the best? Join me for our next Free Photo Webinar. Lets discuss how to take great vacation travel photos. 


Share your favorite travel photos:

Do you have a favorite photo from your travels? Share it with the rest of our attendees. Share it with me, so we can showcase the best of our community during the webinar. Just tell me where you took the image. During the webinar, you can tell us the story behind the shot.