The “Art” of Traveling With Your Camera
I recently returned from a trip to Peru, which included a trek to Machu Picchu. As with almost any instance of international, “just-for-fun” travel, the trip was a heck of an experience, which allowed me to see new things, meet new people and revel in the fact that I managed to escape the confines of the desk for a while. (insert sound of author’s excitement here)
As a photographer, I could barely contain myself in the days leading up to the trip knowing that countless photographic opportunities awaited me. However, getting to that point would take a healthy bit of research, some head-scratching and tough decision making. Below I have outlined seven bullet points that represent some of that head-scratching and decision making.
As I am quite sure that I’m not the last person who will ever encounter tricky situations when traveling with a camera, I thought it would be helpful to share my experiences and invite all of you to chime in with your own thoughts in the comments. Here goes:
1) Consider Your Equipment Carefully
It’s important to be realistic about what your photo goals are and what that means in tangible terms. If you’re on assignment, sure, go ahead and bring the kitchen sink. If you aren’t, adopt the less-is-more attitude. I chose to shoot with (and carry) only one lens on my DSLR. It was a 24-105 which suited most every situation just fine and challenged me to make due with what I had. Plus, when it came time to hike over a 14,000 foot pass, I was glad to not have a bag full of camera equipment.
2) Learn the Airline Luggage Restrictions
I’m sure some of you reading this can recite all the restrictions for every airline in your sleep. Not me. I had to do some healthy research before packing. I didn’t want to check any luggage for fear it would take it’s own vacation without me, so I was bound by the “one bag and one personal item” carry-on rule of most airlines. And the one bag had to be somewhere in the ballpark of 24″ x 17″ x 10″ and not weigh over a certain amount, which is different from airline to airline. The personal item had to fit under the seat in front of me…in all of that “extra” space. If you are trying to travel light, these restrictions will pretty much dictate what you can/can’t bring … which forces you to simplify … and that’s a good thing. Not to mention, you will possibly save a boat load of money in baggage fees.
Pay attention to airline luggage specs before you leave.
Probably wouldn’t fit in the overhead bin…just guessing.
3) Laptop. Really?
There are many reasons to take your laptop with you when traveling: photo editing, storage, communication. In most scenarios it’s a no-brainer. That is, IF it’s right for you. I decided against it since I didn’t want to carry it, didn’t want to worry about it and quite frankly, didn’t want to use it. I love editing photos on my big, beautiful Mac at home where my workflow and comfort are dialed in and the coffee pot is nearby. I have found that editing in the field and on the go usually results in me re-editing once I am in a more prepared frame of mind.
This should be obvious. Take a battery and a backup battery. And then take one more. Knowing how fast they drain by just hanging out in the bag, I didn’t want to risk it on a four-day trek where outlets don’t exist, and the primary photo op is on day four. The cold Andean nights didn’t help things either. Every night, I wrapped the batteries in a jacket and put it in my sleeping bag to keep them warm(ish).
To drive this point home, let me mention this: Seeing the face of someone who realizes their only battery is dead after hiking for four days to get to Machu Picchu aint pretty.
Waiting for the sunrise to hit Machu Picchu. Terrible place to have a dead camera battery.
5) Backing Up Files
Ug. This topic. At home, I have a backup system that is automatic, redundant, and works great. On my trip, things were a bit different. Actually a lot different. I had no backup plan. Since I didn’t take my laptop, there was nowhere to dump files. I considered purchasing a portable, battery-powered drive, but it would have been expensive and yet another thing to carry and keep charged. So, I went with the “buy lots of memory cards” plan. As Tony Rix, our IT guy here at RMSP, reminded me, “hard drives fail more than memory cards anyway.”
6) Take a Point and Shoot
No, not as your primary camera, but as part of your overall strategy of documenting your travels. Face it, a big DSLR camera can be a burden to carry at times no matter how good of a bag/pouch/sling/strap system you have. Also, while hiking on the trail, it was easy to access and allowed me to not use battery life and storage space in my primary camera, thus allowing me to capture better, larger files when it really counted.
7) Keep It On You. Always.
Shouldn’t be too hard right? After all, we’re photographers. If you commit to having your camera on you at all times, some of the other decisions actually become easier. For instance, my personal carry on item was my camera and thus never left my sight. It didn’t take up space in my one permitted piece of luggage and I never worried about it getting mishandled. My memory cards were in a pouch in a side pocket of the bag, thus allowing me to be uber-aware of the physical safety of my files. When you have no immediate back up, this bit of security is invaluable.
Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned in the process of traveling with a camera is that the decisions that have to be made are specific to each trip and each photographer. As long as you dedicate some mental energy to thinking through various scenarios, and knowing your own comfort level with taking photographic risks, you will most likely be fine.
The views from the tent weren’t half bad.