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Packing Tips for Travel Photography

by Jay Hargett, August 2008


Check www.tsa.gov and your airline's Web site to figure out how you'll need to divide your gear among carry-ons and check-through bags. Note that restrictions on lithium batteries were imposed on January 1, 2008.

Before you leave the house

It's assumed that you'd have an itinerary, either from your travel agent or from resources like the Fodor's Guides to places you want to visit. These things help you get the most out of your trip and still be able to get good pictures of it without having the enjoyment of the place or location be sacrificed. If not, then just be aware that you may need to make contingency plans for shooting purposes.

You should begin your planning with insurance of your cameras and equipment you plan to take with you with your insurance carrier. Be up front and honest with them, and tell them that you want to insure it for your trip. Most carriers will simply cover them on your homeowners/renters policy, and some with separate policies. Either way you're covered for loss or theft of the equipment. You will need to get serial numbers, make, model and descriptions of all the gear you plan to take. Digital photos wouldn't hurt, either. Then, you'll need to go down to your local US Customs Office and get what's called a "Certificate of Registration" for personal effects like this taken abroad. This is Form CF4457, and can only be acquired at the agency's offices. You can locate your nearest US Customs Office at the following web address: www.customs.ustreas.gov. You must physically bring the equipment you plan to take to their offices for their inspection, and they will then confirm the information on the form and stamp it. This is done for the purposes of being able to get your gear back into the country without having to pay duty on your own equipment. Their stand is that just because you say you left the country with it, doesn't mean you really did. This form proves that, and will make the possibility of potential problems go away. Travel insurance for travelers outside the U.S. is highly recommended, for the obvious reasons. You might also want to check with the CDC's web site for health related issues, and the US State Department's web site for travel advisories, and the FAA's website for travel restrictions.

Learn some key phrases in their language. Be prepared with proper clothing for the climate you're visiting.

What and how to pack your camera gear and film

According to the FAA, you are now limited to one (1) carry on piece and one (1) "personal item" loosely defined as a briefcase or purse on any flight originating in, and returning to, the U.S.. I suspect this does not mean you'll be able to get away with a fully loaded backpack or photography vest coming on board along with your designated carry on, so plan accordingly with a contingency. That may mean that you will either need to check your gear in something a bit more secure (a good Halliburton case is my recommendation), or be able to fit all in one carry on and a "briefcase". Be prepared to have it "dump searched" to make sure it does what you say it does. I'm told they will treat it as a laptop and need to see it before they'll pass it through. Again, plan for a contingency, as this is all still being defined. The FAA tells me that you can still request a hand search of your film, but it will be at the screener's discretion, and based on how crowded it is at the screening post. So my advice is to ask for the hand search, but don't get bent if they make you run it through the gate scanner. You also do not want to leave an exposed roll of film in your camera. If you're asked to make it operate, you may need to open the camera's back, thus ruining your exposed film. By carrying the film handy in one of the outside pouches of your carry on, it can easily be extracted and shown to the security people for hand checking at the security gates without inconveniencing other passengers behind you in line. I recommend putting your film rolls in clear plastic tubes available from Porter's Camera for around $3/each. These are sturdy containers, and allow for quick and easy inspection.

Know that your 120/220 medium format film has a greater chance now of being scanned if it is still in the foil pouches they come in. I honestly don't know what would be worse; having it scanned or having it exposed to light outside of the foil pouch, so use your best judgment on this one. Porters Camera does sell colored plastic film boxes that open easily for inspection and have a good light seal. This may be an justifiable alternative. I suspect that you shouldn't bother with the lead-lined bags any more. That just invites it being scanned with the CTX 5000, and you then risk it being pulled aside as a possible threat, delaying your bags, possibly indefinitely.

I personally use 2 different pieces of carry on luggage, depending on what camera kit I take. I have learned (the hard way) that if you're going anywhere, have an extra change of clothes and an overnight kit with you in your carry on luggage. When we went to Egypt, our luggage was delayed by 2 days, after a day and a half it took to get there. Being a plus size, you don't just run out and buy more clothes in downtown Cairo, because that particular size is simply not available. So, do be aware that you can get half way around the world and not have a thing to wear but the clothes on your back. The same goes for your cameras, prescription and other valuables.

I use a matching luggage backpack on wheels from my luggage set, at a minimum. I also have the matching smaller carry on suitcase that can be shoved through the x-ray window. For more fragile items, I also have a Halliburton Zeroller 105 brushed aluminum suitcase on wheels. I pack the cameras, lenses and etc., in good LowePro shoulder carrying cases packed inside the carry on bags for added protection.

The following link is for an article courtesy of Bob Atkins on photo.net, and is the best I've read for overall packing of camera equipment and luggage restrictions. The article can be accessed at: photo.net/photo/nature/carryon

Composition tips

Keep a journal, including notes, to refer to on your trip. Then, tell a story with your shots, including the fun stuff. People shots require people skills, so be hospitable and sensitive to their feelings about being photographed. Keep the camera at eye level for people shots and try using a diffuser with fill flash to soften harsh light to make the eyes stand out. That's where the sharpest focus should be. If you want to eventually publish these images, get a release. An excellent way to do this is to have them printed on 3X5 note cards, or even the large Post-It Note Pads. But don't shoot just for that reason. Use the light to your advantage, and compose as a photographer, not a painter. For instance, try and take a different viewpoint of your subject than the average shot everyone else takes. Shoot both horizontal and vertical shots. Pay close attention to the background and keep the foreground strong. Reflections can often add impact. But, reflection on the front of your lens is a bad thing, so use lens shades that work with whatever filters you want to use, like a good polarizer. Be sure to label everything, both on your canisters and in your journal so you can keep up with it. And, remember to reduce your impact on your surroundings by not throwing your trash out, including film wrappers or the packaging it came in.

What film/cameras/lenses you should take

First, be sure to carry multiple rolls of various speed films, like ASA 400 or 800. Lighting is something that is often taken for granted in some of the more economically depressed areas of the world. Most interiors will not have the light needed to get a good image on slower film (ASA 100, 200) and with slower lenses (f/4 or higher). Be sure to carry at least 2 rolls of a name brand ASA 800 speed film. A single trip to a museum or religious building that does not allow flash photography or tripods will burn up a roll of 800 easily. The higher speed film will allow the camera to be hand held steadily enough to get a clear picture. I recommend staying away from ASA 200 film, as it has been neglected by the film manufacturers with the increase in quality emulsions. That means you'll get as good or better prints from ASA 400 than from 200, and get the added ability of having a sharper picture with slower lenses and lower light.

Some quick words on the shooting process/planning. In a word; Bracket. Film is cheap, and it's better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. Also, try to split up your shots of a single location or event on more than one roll. Bracketing helps you do that. And, if a roll gets damaged (for whatever reason), you're not out all of your priceless images that were all on that one roll. Be sure to carry enough film to change one out in the middle of the roll, too. Again, this protects you from losing a whole roll of a single place or event. FYI, I shoot almost exclusively print film, and don't bother with slides because of the necessity of internegs to get them to prints, or the likelihood of poor knowledge of the positive transfer paper for prints. Unless your a working photographer planning on making money from submitting the images you shoot, stick to print film.

Most people touring other countries like to carry an instamatic camera. I do too, even though I also carry a pro camera like the Nikon F5 or the Pentax 67II. Carrying an instamatic is a good rule of thumb as a backup. But I want to focus on a higher end camera because of what and where you'll be shooting. Many times, the tours you'll be going on will be during the worst part of the day for quality photography and you'll be far closer to the site details than your instamatic camera lens will be able to capture. I'll not get into the different arguments for manual vs. autofocus, but I will recommend that you get a camera that will accept a variety of lenses. One lens in particular is a 20mm to 24mm fast (f2.8 or faster) wide angle lens. This will be your primary lens in trying to capture the grandeur of the Temple of Karnak in Egypt or the splendor of the Cathedral in Seville, Spain. For example: a 35mm lens has a horizontal field of view at 50 feet of roughly 62 feet across; a 20mm lens has a horizontal field of view of 105 feet at the same distance! That means more stuff on the print that would not otherwise be there with a longer focus lens. I recommend you put this fact to the test at any higher end camera store where they will let you look through the lenses for comparison. But remember: the faster the lens, the less light you need to get a good picture. This means that if you buy a wide angle lens, it needs to be f/2.8 or faster, so that you can get enough light to be able to hand hold the shot. Of course, expect to pay handsomely for this aperture, especially for perspective corrected lenses. The Nikon 20mm/f2.8 D AF was $500.00 when I bought it. My Pentax 45mm/f4 (equal to 22.5mm in the 35mm film format) for my 67II was a grand. But believe me; it's worth every penny when the prints come back, especially from a once-in-a-lifetime trip.

I usually carry a Nikon F5 kit or my Pentax 67II medium format (120/220 roll film) kit when I travel. I rarely take both, even though I'm a pretty big fella. I have 2 backups to my 35mm kit; a Fuji instamatic that I absolutely love and my trusty old Olympus OM2n. The key here is knowing the capabilities and limitations of anything you take with you, and you'll bring home what you intended; great pictures that will represent a trip of a lifetime. I took my F5 to Egypt and Greece and my 67II to Spain. The medium format images enlarge much better than 35mm, but the gear does weigh a ton to carry around in rough terrain. The F5 kit I took to Egypt was on the edge of being inconvenient, based on the physical demands of accessing the monuments. We went into the middle pyramid on the Giza Plateau and you had to literally crouch down to climb down to the tomb. A big camera and allot of gear is not what you want to haul around in Egypt, especially in the heat of the summer. Spain, on the other hand, allowed me to carry much bulkier gear and still be able to be mobile enough to enjoy myself without being overly inconvenienced by it's size and weight. The logistics of seeing the monuments and events there were not as demanding. Knowing these things in advance will help you decide what to bring along for the tours.

There are alternatives to all of the equipment you take with you to shoot with. The Contax G2 is a superb outfit, and you can get a variety of superior Zeiss manufactured lenses, including a 21mm/f2.8 for it. A cheaper alternative is an old and trusty Olympus OM2n and their fine 24mm/f2.8 Zuiko lens (which I have, and bought on ebay!). Just make sure you get the camera serviced and the light seals replaced (if it's not been done in the last 5 years), and put a roll of film through it before you leave. And, as always, take plenty of batteries. But in the end, you just have to understand what you're gaining and what you're giving up by making compromises. Knowing your camera's capabilities and limitations, before you depart for the trip, is the key to understanding these compromises. But most of all, remember that this is a vacation, not a job assignment. To be inconvenienced by a load of camera equipment will definitely suck the enjoyment right out of a really nice place to see and experience. If you're gonna work; work. If not, don't. Knowledge, here, is the key.

I realize that all photography experts say to put your camera on a tripod, or at least a monopod whenever and wherever possible. A whole industry exists around light travel gear such as that. Well, I'm letting you know here and now that they are very much frowned upon almost everywhere you'll go, especially in Egypt, and especially in any museum or large center of worship on the planet. Some places will not even allow them to be physically taken into the monument or facility, making you have to either check it with security or leave it outside somewhere, like back at the tour bus. Against some people's better judgment, I'm recommending that these items be left at home (or at least back at the hotel), and simply shoot faster film. Unless you have the luxury of being in a place you want to shoot for an extended period of time to scout it out, leave the tripod and monopod at home, and make an effort to find something to brace up against. That little technique will make all the difference in the world, and not bend the security people out of shape. After all, most of the touring you will do, initially, will be with an organized tour group, and time is often of the essence. Tripods and monopods are simply not conducive to this, regardless of how well they are designed or organized.

Some basic travel tips when traveling with film and photo equipment

As I indicated earlier (but it bares repeating), there is a new x-ray process that is used to look at checked baggage that will damage or "fog" any speed film.. As a result, you should not pack your film in your checked luggage, but rather, carry the film onto the plane in your carry on bags. You also do not want to leave an exposed roll of film in your camera.

I do, believe it or not, recommend you process your film before you return home, but only if you feel confident that the place you choose appears capable of doing it competently. If you have to x-ray exposed film on your return home, you still run the risk of fogging your exposed images. By getting the film developed over there, you get to see the results in time to maybe do something about fixing a potential camera operation problem in the field. You also get to walk them through the metal detectors without x-raying them, and then be able to review them on that 10+ hour flight back home because the movies stink. But be sure to confirm that the photo processing shop has one of the good automated minilabs, and that you process the film in a major metropolitan or population area. Also, don't try anything fancy, like push processing or enlargements. Just get proof prints and get reprints and enlargements after you get home. But I do recommend maybe giving them a test roll to do before giving them your priceless pictures to develop. That's a good test of their competence, and establishes a rapport with the developer.

Most of these type of outfits have the ability to make sure that their high-dollar minilabs work right and are regularly serviced. Look for the Fuji, Kodak or Konica minilabs in the photo processing store, and they should be able to give you an acceptable level of quality and service. Most places that have this level of equipment have the signs out front advertising that fact. But make sure that you actually see the machines in the storefront. Also, if you have multiple rolls, you'll need to nail down a firm completion time, regardless of the language barrier. You might also inquire as to a quantity discount. We had 40 rolls developed in Athens, and the clerk was more than happy to give us a quantity discount if we could give him a little extra time, which we did. And we got very good prints and were very pleased with the turnaround.

T-Mobile Customers: Leave your phone at home

Our founder, Philip Greenspun, had an interesting experience with T-Mobile while traveling to the Bahamas:

"My T-Mobile cell phone bill came today. The Bahamas trip cost $144 in roaming fees. The interesting thing about this is that the phone was turned off for nearly the entire time that it was in the Bahamas and I didn't make or receive a single call. When I settled in at the first hotel, I noticed that no service was available. To save the battery, I turned off the phone. Once or twice at other islands, I turned the phone on to see if service was available, and once or twice it was, but I turned the phone off afterwards. So the T-Mobile system knew that I was in the Bahamas, but the phone never rang and no calls were ever connected. Nonetheless, they billed $3 for every incoming call that anyone attempted to make during that time and then another $3 as a "voicemail fee" for the person talking to their voicemail system. If the person leaving the message was longer-winded, and spoke for two minutes, the total charge for the call would be $12.00 total.

"One interesting note is that when I checked my voicemail, there were only 5 messages, yet T-Mobile\ charged for 21 inbound interactions with their voicemail system (at either $3 or $6 per interactio\ n).

"I called T-Mobile customer service and asked that they remove these charges. They refused."

T-Mobile officials say that the fine print in their contract allows them to bill customers for international roaming charges even when a phone call is not answered and even when the handset is powered off. As soon as your handset registers itself on a foreign network, T-Mobile is free to assess roaming charges that are typically about $3 per minute. Because of the way that they account for an unanswered call going to voicemail, you will pay $6 for each unanswered call.

Apple iPhone customers should also be cautious about taking their phones overseas unless they have negotiated an international data services plan with their carrier. The iPhone will make periodic data connections to check for email. U.S. carriers have been known to bill their customers literally thousands of dollars in roaming charges during two-week European trips.

Security

In predominately Islamic countries, be EXTREMELY careful to know the local religious customs and beliefs, and respect those beliefs in your photographic approach. Almost universal taboos include photographing Islamic women, and anything that could be remotely construed as a site of national security.

Ask around, or check with your hotel, about a good guide and pay him or her well. A good guide will be as instrumental in getting good pictures as your technique. Be generous to a fault in tipping, but don't flash allot of bills around. Also, it is important to realize that your high end camera probably costs more than many in a third world country make in year. Same thing with your high-dollar watch, rings and other jewelry. Being sensitive to this means being careful to not flaunt a level of wealth that would invite ill feelings or criticism, or worse.

I should cover some things about your personal security, now more than ever. It's real easy to be completely enthralled by the grandeur and splendor of some of the world's wonders. That is precisely what a thief counts on when walking off with your bag or camera. Simply being aware of your surroundings, and being a bit more careful about what you are doing, is the best and least expensive way to protect yourself and your gear. I would also recommend you place your equipment either in the provided hotel room safe when not in use, or locked back up in your luggage while out of your hotel room. After all; out of sight, out of mind.

As we've learned from September 11th, our personal safety is of primary concern. While this does not mean we should all become hermits, it does mean that we MUST be both diligent and sensitive wherever and whenever we travel, especially abroad, and very especially throughout the Middle East and neighboring Islamic countries. Do NOT depend on our government to be everywhere you go, as this is an unreasonable expectation. But being informed and prepared will do more to guarantee your safety than anything else.

And finally, understand that you're a visitor in their country, not the owner. Being polite and respectful makes everyone that much more aware of how much we all have in common, rather than accentuating our differences. And be aware that sometimes the vendors are just trying to make a living. Although they may be annoying (haggling is an art form and a source of immense pride and enjoyment in many of the places you'll visit), it's all part of the game that's played out on a daily basis. As long as your money doesn't come out of the pocket it's in, there's no point in getting or being upset over any exchange that might be taken to be anything other than it should be; part of that game.

And remember, by keeping your eyes and ears open, you can make a trip of a lifetime just that!

Jay is a Multimedia Specialist at Tomball College


Article revised August 2008.

Readers' Comments


Add a comment



Fabian Gonzales , July 20, 2001; 07:18 P.M.

I want to caution the reader about processing film abroad, especially in 3rd world countries.

I once processed my slide film at a local store in Bangkok. I asked the clerk how they process the film, and she said it gets delivered to Kodak's processing center in Bangkok, and would take several days to get back. It seemed safe enough, and Bangkok is hardly the worst place in the world, so I gave them my 40+ slide films shot in Nepal for processing.

Every single roll of film came back with a wide scratch covering almost the entire length of the film, ruining the pictures for enlargement and publishing purposes. Personally I will never process my film abroad again, but if you do, I strongly advise you to locate a photo lab used by local professional photographers.

John Clark , July 23, 2001; 10:24 A.M.

As an aside, I am assuming everyone who is going to travel is aware of the threat of deep-vein thrombosis - i.e. blood clots, and becoming more common on long-haul flights.

It's important to try to keep some kind of exercise going on those long flights, particularly in the feet. You don't want something like that spoiling your shooting!

I would further the recommendation of a wideangle lens for shooting in tourist-swamped architectural sites - it's so easy to get in close and take images which appear to be deserted, even when surrounded by happy snappers - example below:

Karnak, Egypt, 1996, Sigma 18/3.5

You'd be surprised how busy it was when I took this, but being able to take a couple of steps forward and shoot from a crouching position, I got a decent shot (amongst many).

John

Quang-Tuan Luong , July 23, 2001; 02:11 P.M.

The author shoots negative film. If you're a slide shooter, remember that (a) reliable E6 processing is much more difficult to find than negative film processing. It's also much more easy to travel with 50 rolls of unprocessed film than with 50 boxes of slides. (b) there is no high-quality high-speed E6 films, so you might think twice before leaving this tripod at home. Also, I am not sure why one would want to bracket negative film or carry a back-up camera of a different brand than your main camera. Finally, personally, if I have in mind any photography (always :-)), I just don't get on an organized tour.

Keith Chan , July 23, 2001; 10:25 P.M.


Tibetan kids walking home from school.

I just came back from Tibet and Nepal, and in such countries where the culture and people are so colorful, I found this to be the most useful:

SHARE YOUR CAMERA WITH THEM.

I found that many of these people hid immediately when they realize you are pointing a camera at them. Although it seems obvious to us that we are only taking a picture, a lot of these people are not familiar with what you see when you look through a viewfinder. Let them touch your camera, hold your camera -- one man in Tibet was amazed when looking through my 17mm lens, and took a portraiture of me. Afterwards, he would let me take many pictures of him and what he was doing without any hindrance.

It also helps to really interact with the people and gain their trust, and not "just be another passing tourist" with camera-raised. They often start asking questions about your home, and once the rapport is generated, they will graciously let you take their picture, or even want a picture with you!

Just make sure they understand it is not a polaroid. Many of them do get disappointed not to have a souveneir immediately.

Jack Walton , July 24, 2001; 09:22 A.M.

I've photographed a lot in India, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, China as well as Europe and Africa. This with a Rollei 6008i and an M6. If travelling by train, have a camera bag which is comfortable because you will want to use it as a pillow. It won't disappear that way. I board the aircraft with the camera bag into which is tucked clean underwear, a razor and toothbrush.

You may be able to use a tripod in a lot of places, but do so discretely. In Italy I was hounded out of one of the basilicas when using the Gitzo. In France, they have no problem with tripods in most churches, but not so at S. Chapelle in Paris (it's no longer a church.) Too bad, S. Chapelle has the most amazing stained glass windows. Forget about using a camera in the Sistine Chapel.

In India a few rupees will get you a permit in most museum, and will win the aquiescence of the guards in most temples. Be respectful of customs. On the Orissan coast of India, Hindu zealots won't take kindly to trying to enter a temple reserved for Hindi's. In some parts of SE Asia where you are required to remove your shoes, it's helpful to carry along a pair of "booties" - the socks which you get from airlines.

China - a 2 1/4 can sometimes be viewed as a "professional camera" and you may have problems with guards. You don't want to risk confrontation in China.

This isn't a joke -- when travelling in India, make sure to take the liquid brand of Pepto Bismol. This I learned from a physician travelling with me in Southern India (actually the food is better in the South, than in the North). The CMC (carboxy methyl cellulose) in liquid pepto makes the difference. One physician I know takes Pepto "prophylactically" as soon as he lands, and it works. Purportedly, there have been articles in JAMA and the New England Journal of Medicine which discuss this. At any rate, it works and will save your trip. Another suggestion for India - eat vegetarian - the quality is better.

T Armstrong , July 25, 2001; 10:33 A.M.

Save all your expired credit and store cards for when you travel. Carry a cheap wallet in your pocket with a small denomination of local currency and all the expired cards ... meanwhile keep your valuables against your person (money belt etc)

If accosted and money etc is demanded the decoy wallet may go along way in preventing further harm.

If traveling in India / Nepal etc pack plenty of biro's / pens. The school children will pester you constantly as they are a sought after commodity. Avoid dishing out sweets as this only encourages bad practice.

Also beware of people begging for milk powder, they'll often take you to a shop where you duly purchase the powder, and once your back is turned the shop keeper will buy it back from them at a hugely reduced price. If you think the case is genuine open or break the seal on the packet, if no anger / tears ensue you've done someone a good deed.

pack excess ziplok bags, they are invaluable, at a push with a ziploc and some tape you can fashion a comfy pillow for your head instead of resting it against rattling windows ... speaking of which earplugs are the number one must have in the travel kit!

Dont be shy in hiring a local, you'll often be "accosted" on the streets or near monuments etc in India and Nepal by "unofficial guides wanting to learn English" which can be a bit offputting. We ended up paying a local shoe shiner for the duration of our stay in Kathmandu, more than willing to chase down things that we needed to find as well as guide us around Thamal. And the smile on his face when we presented him with a set of new sandals when we left made for a lot more than photo oportunities.

Never let your equipment / valuables be stored in the hold of a bus, through Thailand it is common practice for a couple of individuals to spend the entire journey in the hold going through all the bags.

phew ...

T Armstrong , July 25, 2001; 10:36 A.M.

On the topic of Insurance for camera equipment, while in the UK I have used golden valley insurance. and they offer an excellent service including full replacement and a variety of rates.

George Maurice , July 25, 2001; 11:02 A.M.

If you have one, bringing a Polaroid is a good idea. You can give the photo to the people you are interacting with. I seems to open them up, and they get a kick out of the picture.

John Rabkin , July 27, 2001; 02:23 A.M.

I recently travelled for a month and a half throughout Europe. I took with me two "senior" name brand manual focus cameras, the kind that are build to stand a stampede and an fast 50mm lens. This trustworthy, simple and effective combo cost less than a modern autofocus lens and allowed my to enjoy my trip without paranoia. I did not take a camera bag but just stuffed my cameras into my backpack when not using them. I noticed all to many people with modern SLRs and lenses that are neither of proffesional quality nor small enough to be out of the way, not here or there. My Photo.net review of the equipment I took along can be found Here.

Keith Dunlop , July 28, 2001; 12:30 A.M.

I must echo Keith's comments about letting shy people handle your camera. While trekking in the Mount Everest region of Nepal last March, I came across a group of three young children playing with a puppy behind a stone farm house. While photographing a wheat field nearby all three came running up to me shouting, "no picture, no picture". Their parents had obviously taught them how a photograph would steal their sole; a Buddist superstition. I got down on my knees and let the children look at each other and their puppy through the viewfinder of my F4 and they all giggled with glee at their new discovery. Watching the amazement in their eyes and sharing laughter with them is a moment of human connection with a foreign culture that I will never forget. After that, they eagerly posed for portraits and tugged at my shirt with I got up to leave.

Andrew Booth , July 28, 2001; 08:12 P.M.


Budda, Penang, Malaysia. RZ67II, Astia, Gitzo tripod.

A few comments, based on years of travelling (and a few years of living in East Africa).

  • "Be generous to a fault in tipping" No no no! PLEASE don't do this! This is the sort of intrusive tourism that alters indiginous populations in a very short length of time. It's nice to be generous, and $5 is nothing to a rich Westerner on a $3000 vacation, but in some parts of the world it's a few weeks wages. Please be more sensitive. You shouldn't be paying for photos either. Paying might work the first time it's done, but after a while it encourages tourist ghettos, with jaded natives posing and squabbling for tourist dollars.
  • Buy some 'behind the scenes' guidebooks. Fodors etc. are aimed at big bucks tourists tramping a familiar tourist route. Lonely Planet and Rough Guide attempt to leave the tourist trail, and IMHO produce much more informative books.
  • Have a plan. Wandering around with a camera is a good way of getting 'happy snap' pictures, and also a good way of not enjoying your holiday. Have a photo day where you get up and take great pictures, and another where you carry a point and shoot, but make a point of enjoying yourself.
  • Take a tripod, since you can get some great photos with one. I carry a small lightweight Gitzo mountaineer which fits INSIDE my backpack, so I can take it everywhere. Alternatively, at least take a table top tripod, since on city trips you can always find something to put it on to gain more height.
  • Get insurance. Your life is much more valuable than your camera, and insurance means you could give a camera up without worrying too much if the situation demanded. Insurance also means you feel comfortable taking your most expensive gear abroad. Why leave it at home, this is what you bought a good camera for! I also rely on my insurance papers (I have Golden Valley Insurance in the UK - very good) to provide proof that I owned these items with these serial numbers before I left the UK - in case customs question me.
  • Buy "Lonely Planet: Travel Photography". This is a great book written by an accomplished photographer. It covers all you need to know with helpful tips only experience can provide.
Happy travels!

Jim Stork , August 09, 2001; 12:18 P.M.

Something we've always used on trips to steady our shots is a bean bag. We've actually sewn one up in a fabric bag. It can be carried unobtrusively and slapped anywhere to support a camera. We've laid it over pipes, window sills, parking meters, door jambs, anything. If you don't have one, you can always stop in a food store and get one, usually for less than a buck. Cheapest camera support you'll ever own and available almost anywhere.

Jay Hargett , August 10, 2001; 06:06 P.M.

I'd like to say that, as usual, the comment string to my article is very humbling, with each and every response a pearl of wisdom for everyone at all levels of photographic experience to benefit from. They are greatly appreciated and accepted with graciousness and humility.

My only exception to the above comments is on the tipping aspect of any trip. It is true that a "fiver" to an affluent traveler is negligible in the overall cost of an excursion like the ones I've been on. It is equally true that this can be as much as a week's salary in some of the poorest parts of our planet. But, "indigenous population" doesn't mean stupid, just poor, to use the commentator's apparent definition in form. Charity begins at home, and their home is as important to me as my own.

However, it would seem that my visit to their culture is defined as "intrusive" only by those who would speak for those whom he or she do not realistically represent to their legitimate benefit, but assumes that theirs is the higher purpose. So let me respond this way:

Our generosity and compassion is defined by the personal character that wields it.

Make of that what you will.

Jay Hargett

Andrew Booth , August 12, 2001; 08:46 P.M.

I think you misunderstood me. I don't refer to anyone as stupid. On the contrary, I respect them and I don't believe they require my pity and charity. My plea is not to expliot, but to do a little research and moderate your largesse.

On one hand, a small amount of money (small to me or you) can have a disproportionate effect on someone, which is extremely gratifying (to both giver and receiver). On the other hand, that money DOES distort a local economy, so the tourist ends up affecting lifestyles and changing/destroying the place they were visiting. This is intrusive, and I don't believe that we as tourists should be doing this.

Overtipping is easy and it feels good; but if you choose to do this you HAVE made a choice, and should accept the consequences of your decision. Personally, I believe it's irresponsible. I digress from travel photography however - please feel welcome to respond by email.

Jay Hargett , August 13, 2001; 10:52 A.M.

You're right on one point, it does digress from the subject at hand. And whether it's believed or not, I do appreciate your point of view, even if I do disagree with it's merit. Being able to "agree to disagree" is an important lesson I've learned in the collegiate area I currently work in.

You're point, if I've got it right, is that what I consider an economic benefit, you consider an economic distortion, resulting in it's change and/or destruction. The point is that I disagree, in principle, to this assertion. Change is inevitable, and it's characterization is a matter of perception.

I stand by my previous comments.

O.K., I'll get off my soap-box now!

Jay

Jeff Rothstein , August 14, 2001; 10:00 P.M.

This is a wonderful, intelligent and informative thread. With the several expressions of concern about airport X-ray machines, I'm surprised no one has talked about lead-lined film bags. Are they ineffective? (I hope not, I've been using them for years with no ill effects I can see, but I'm very much an amateur.) Would welcome your thoughts.

Jeff

Jeff Rothstein , August 14, 2001; 10:07 P.M.

So sorry, I forgot to check other threads before asking my question, which is (of course) thoroughly answered elsewhere. Please forgive the breach of photo.net etiquette.

Jeff

Jay Hargett , August 22, 2001; 04:25 P.M.

No problem, Jeff! I went to a thread myself, and was surprised to find that these newer machines, as I'm understanding it, could be powerful enough to "see" through them if the lead lining is "thin" enough. But I wouldn't know just how much that thickness would be. I would imagine, though, that if they could not see in it, your baggage would be set apart for a physical search to determine what was in it, and that might be a bad thing. If you have a connect you have to make quickly, you might not even see your bag for a few days, if ever. I remember Herb Keppler of Pop. Photo. doing some tests on it, but memory fails me on what the results were. Maybe someone has a bit of technical info in this area they could share...

Jay

Wee Keng_Hor , September 09, 2001; 04:20 A.M.

Girl with baby, Cusco, Peru

Pay or not pay for photographs? I won't if I simply take a photo. I'll if I make a photo and the person ask for it.
When I take a photo, it means I simply take a shot of the person without any special effort from him or her. I made a photo when I need the person to specially pose for me.
The yong girl with her bay sister was colorufully dressed up specially for her picture to be taken by tourist in return for photo money. I would not pay if I simply snap of picture of her in the Pisca market, Peru. However, the lighting too harsh and I can't let this opportunity go. So I dragged her to a spot with a less clustered background. And I paid her for this photo. Although she wasn't happy with the amount (US $0.50), I strongly feel that is was sufficient for that couple of minutes.

Jay Hargett , September 13, 2001; 11:25 A.M.

As we all know by now, the issues of air travel security, as a result of recent terrorism, will directly impact us all. As this is a fluid situation, some aspects the above article may now be somewhat obsolete. As more information becomes available as to how traveling with photo gear will be possible, I'll update it as best I can. And, if anyone would like to comment on the new security climate and it's impact on your recent travels, please, by all means, do so. Frankly speaking, this will most certainly affect us all, regardless of nationality or location, and the more information we have, the better informed we'll all be.

On a personal note, our hearts must go out to all those who have lost so very much in this attack. I don't think it's possible for any of us to really know just how devastating a loss like this means to you. But, know that we are there with you, at the very least, in spirit.

Jay Hargett

Dennis McKenzie , February 21, 2002; 02:33 P.M.

I sugest using a low profile monopod like gitzo monotrecker. looks like a walking staff or cane. And when at it shortest length can be imposing to would be theives. I filled the end of mine with steel shot and expoy to give it more heft which made it more steady to shoot with but also made it into a efective baton of which I have training in the use of. As well as my son. It also does make a great staff or cane I have used it a lot in the Alaskan bush to cross streams and as an aid in climbing steep hills. When travling with a friend you can use each other as a tripod, my son and I did this a lot in Italy when tripod or monopods where not allowed(use monopod as a cane and limp a bit,it worked) Also I like using a waist belt system using a padded tool belt found in most good tool stores. you can customize it with all types of camera zoom bags and small zipered pouches. Make sure all such bags are not just closed with velco alone. Attaching the pouches to the belt should be strong. When using velco flap atachments you can atach it to the belt with electric cable ties(some come in black) Also the tool belt has a strong buckle like a belt, no fast release plastic snap type. People just can not come up to you and with one deft movement drop your belt system to the ground. You can carry more weight with this system and add more or less at your will. I used a rig like this in Italy last year for 4 weeks and it did not ware me out and I'm 53 with lower backpain etc. I transport this system on planes in a normal backpack which does not shout "CAMERA stuff please steal me." In cooler temp. I ware a dark trench coat which worked well in Italy in the winter. It coverd the belt system. Also good shoes are very important as one will be doing alot of walking we used "Merrell's" they look more like a slipper, are very light, need no breaking in, get the ones that have the soft foam that goes around the top of the shoe. The most comfortable shoe I have ever put on. Cost as of this writting was only $50. Dont buy the cheaper knock offs at Wal-Mart etc.

Kate Irelan , July 19, 2002; 05:42 P.M.

The author talks about getting film hand inspected, and I hate to say it, but in a lot of countries, that simply isn't an option. I recently returned from Russia, Mongolia, and China, and the m.o. there was either it goes through the x-ray, or it doesn't go on the plane. Luckily, I had brought a lead bag, and I had no problems (except in Chicago!) with using it.

adam buteux , August 01, 2002; 05:22 A.M.

Fuji make some fine ISO 200 film - both their print and slide (Sensia II) are great films for that extra speed. Good compromise as 400 ISO is a bit iffy in my option - though I do carry some on holiday just in case.

Jamie Marshall , September 07, 2002; 05:58 A.M.


Photo: Black Dzao woman, Sapa, Vietnam (© Jamie Marshall / tribaleye.com)

I enjoyed reading the article and coments and thought I'd take this opportunity of sharing a few thoughts on the theme of photographing people whilst travelling.

* Watch people and their behavior - studying peoples habits, gestures, expressions, movements and postures will help hone your observational skills. Capturing the right mood in your subject can make or break not only a portrait, but a landscape which has human content.

* Stopping a stranger and asking if you can take their photograph requires a certain degree of confidence. If you don’t speak the local language, try and learn at least a few words – this helps break the ice, and does so by showing respect for their culture. Be friendly (yet always respectful) and use hand gestures to indicate your photographic intentions.

* If walking up to a complete stranger is a bit daunting at first, take advantage of brief acquaintances - such as a street trader you have bought something from, or the rickshaw driver who took you to your hotel, or the owner of the restaurant you’ve eaten in for the past 2 nights. It’s easy to strike up a friendship with people; showing postcards, or photographs of home and family can help break down social barriers.

* If someone objects to having their photo taken, abide by their wishes. Sometimes perseverance can achieve results, but if this fails, smile, say thank you, and walk away. Unless you’re an insensitive moron, upsetting someone for want of a photograph is really not worth it and seeds mistrust of all foreigners with cameras who follow in your footsteps.

* If shooting with other photographers, and particularly when another photographer is trying to build up a rapport with a potential subject, PLEASE do not swan over and shoot over their shoulder – it might upset the subject, the photographer or both.

* The issue of paying people for them agreeing to pose for a photograph is a contentious one and best left to the photographers discretion. Most travelling photographers I know tend to adopt the approach that unless you distract someone from their work, paying is not to be encouraged as it sets a precedent and paves the way for the expectation that everyone carrying a camera is a potential debtor ! Discretion aside, there there are other exceptions - such as giving money to a religious beggar. Monasteries and other religious institutions often rely on public support through donations. Paying children is also not to be encouraged (as is giving sweets unless you give toothbrushes away at the same time) - it's a sad indictment when the first words children learn is the name of their local currency said with palms outstretched. In most situations I like to give postcards of home - in this way the exchange becomes more of a cultural than economic one. If travelling in poor, rural parts of the world, pens of course are valuable for schooling, and friendship bracelets make nice treats too.

* If you agree to send someone a copy of their photo then make sure you do. Ideally, travelling back with photos taken on a previous trip is the way to go but not everyone is afforded this luxury. It is something I have had the opportunity of doing in Latin America on a number of occasions and requests will flood in for more photo sessions.

* Some places are already so affected by mass tourism that a photographer will be unable to get consent for a photograph without paying for it. The choice is yours.

_________________________________________________

Happing snapping :o) Jamie

_________________________________________________

Jose Pedro Espinosa , December 20, 2002; 03:00 P.M.

I'm Latin American, and I visited a lot of countries in the word. Sometimes, often than I expect, I founded "gringos" that look the locals over the shoulder. This actitude always create bad feelings in the locals against the American people, and in some places, in special in Asia this actitude is very strong. If you visit a temple, walk on your nude feet, don't worry, you will never get a desease, other way you are saying "This place is not clean enought for me". Try to learn some words in the local language, this always help a lot because the locals feel that you have real interest to get their culture. About tips, go slow, for some people the tip is the way as a "gringo" say "I'm very rich, and you are a poor people". Not all the people is dangerous, be relaxed, be friendly and your trip will be better.

tOM Trottier , March 12, 2003; 02:39 A.M.

Want safe water? Bottled is usually good, but you probably have unadvertised pasteurised water in your hotel room (or nearby bath). Hot water tanks keep water at temps & times which pasteurise them.
- tOM Trottier

Robert Sheldon , April 22, 2003; 09:31 P.M.

I am surprised no one has brought up the subject of digital photography for travel. I used a digital camera for my last month long trip to Europe and will never travel with film again. All those airport worries about X-rays are a thing of the past. And convience, no more either carrying two cameras, one with low speed and the other with high speed film, or trying to change film everytime I walked from outside to inside a cathedral. All I do now is twist a dial or push a button and presto, the "film" speed is changed. I can preview the shot to know if I "got it" and not be disappointed 2 months later when the developed film arrived. I can try several exposures on the spot and know which one is a keeper.

Bob Sheldon

Jay Hargett , June 18, 2003; 10:11 A.M.

I met Bruce Collier in Dec. '99 as part of our tour group to Egypt. Since that time, we've emailed each other regularly about our on going photography experiences. He recently went to Croatia with a load of large format equipment, film and accessories, and he's graciously allowed me to post his current comments here:

In May 2003, I traveled to Croatia from Portland, Oregon, going through airports at Portland, Seattle, London Heathrow, and Vienna outbound, and Zagreb, Heathrow, and San Francisco inbound. I carried with me 7 boxes of 4x5 Readyload film (64, 100 ISO), and some 130 rolls of various medium format film types up to 400 ISO. All of this was packed in a single carry-on, my camera bag comprising a second carry-on.

I've done similar trips in the past, but this was the first one under the new Transportation Security Administration (TSA). My overall assessment, admittedly based on one trip, is extremely positive. This is in comparison to that of other countries as well as that which existed here in the US before TSA. Very professional and thorough, very courteous, and very willing to approve a request for hand inspection. To see when this is appropriate, take a look at their page:

http://www.tsa.gov/public/display?content=375

Based on my itinerary, the film had the potential to be x-ray scanned 7 times, so it was in my best interest to request a hand-inspection whenever possible. I actually recommend hand-inspection for any long-haul trip because you never know if your itinerary will be changed by the airline as mine was twice. Since x-ray damage in cumulative, any chance to get a hand-inspection should be taken.

The film was actually x-rayed 5 times, the reduction of two coming from hand inspection at Portland and the fact that the Seattle connection allowed me to stay on the gate side of the security line. My request for hand-inspection at SFO would have been honored, but for a variety of reasons, I did not make this request as I should have.

Hand inspection consisted of taking swabs for chemical residue analysis as well as a visual inspection. This is time consuming, so give yourself the extra 15 minutes or so. If possible, do not break the seals of the packaging as this will increase inspection time. For example, any LF box already opened had its contents examined, too. Since I was carrying Readyload film, it was no big deal. Had I been carrying bare sheets, I would explain that to the agent. But, if they insisted, I would opt for the x-ray scan at that point. The medium format film was typically in 5-pack boxes and even some of that was still inside the multi-box cellophane, so that actually went quick. I did have a bag of individual rolls (still in wrapper) and each one of those got swabbed. Since higher speed film would get damaged sooner than the lower in the event of an x-ray, I decreased my odds by packing the 400 ISO film in lead-lined bags. These were opened and inspected as well.

Only the US agents were willing to hand-inspect. Despite assurances that England would do it, that was not the case and even the supervisor was not willing to take the time. I explained that the effects were cumulative and that I was going through many airports, but he would have none of that. It was pointless to argue, and I also realize that the security staff has far more important matters to be concerned with, so I quickly gave in. Vienna and Zagreb, same thing. I've been to other European airports in the past, and so far, I have found none willing to hand-inspect. Perhaps a European reader with far more experience could comment here.

After 3 weeks of shooting, I went to the local DHL office at Zagreb airport to inquire about shipping the film home. They said they could tag and label the box "Do Not X-Ray", but that that does NOT guarantee that it will not be x-rayed once in the US. I have to believe that the request to not be x-rayed would be honored; otherwise, many products would be damaged. Yet, I was unwilling to take the risk and tried my luck again with the airport security. I'm happy to report that of the 60 exposed sheets or 30 rolls of films, none showed any sign of fogging from the five x-ray scans encountered.

My thanks to Bruce for his very timely comments, above!

Jay Hargett

Jay Hargett , January 15, 2004; 11:57 A.M.

I just learned something very important about shipping film via UPS within the continental US to avoid gate scanning of your film stock in and out of airports. If you think that shipping your film was safe from X-rays via UPS, you'd be wrong. I've had this now confirmed from a rep at UPS via an email question regarding that very issue. At first, they did not want to tell me anything about their security procedures whatsoever, but I persisted, and here was the response:

Please include the following line in all replies. Email Reference Number: UT20040114_0000004799

Dear Jay Hargett:

Thank you for your reply. All packages in the UPS system will be scanned during shipment. The scanners that UPS uses are not powerful enough to have an adverse affect on photosensitive film or equipment.

We hope this information is helpful. If we may assist you in the future, please feel free to contact us.

Thank you for using UPS Internet Services.

Flora

--here was my response back:

It does help, and I do thank you for your response.

However, you are incorrect on ANY X-rays not having adverse effect on photosensitive film.

I would refer you directly to Kodak's own Technical Information Bulletin, #TIB5201, on the effects of even one pass through an equivalent of a gate scanner. And, the article, "The Truth about Airport X-rays", by Jason Puddifoot in the January '04 edition of Photo Life Magazine.

But I do thank you for confirming the process your company uses, and I appreciate that you are indeed making sure that no packages are a security issue.

Thanks again, Jay Hargett

--So, now we know. And, it appears that getting film stock to and from your destination without it being damaged by X-rays is a bit more dificult than we may have thought. Mr Puddifoot's recommendation that we buy film there and develope it there, my not be far off the mark on this issue.

Ever forward, Jay Hargett 01/15/04

Jeroen Wenting , July 11, 2004; 08:43 A.M.

You have to put the influence on film from airport X-ray machines into perspective, something many people forget in their zeal to get around X-ray machines.

The radiation reaching your film from a typical X-ray machine used for carryon luggage is less than the amount of radiation (cosmic radiation) reaching your film during a 2-3 hour flight at the cruise altitude of a typical jetliner.

Of course when travelling many legs with film wanting to reduce the total exposure is worth the while but the effect of a few passes through MODERN X-ray machines won't do any harm.

In contrast the large machines in the luggage and cargo areas of airports put out far more radiation which WILL damage film easily.

That exposure to cosmic radiation (which to give an indication of its strength means flight crew typically receive 200-500 mrem a year which is about 50% of the maximum exposure set for people in radiation labs) is the reason to use leadlined bags or containers when flying long distance regularly, not the airport machines.

Jay Hargett , July 29, 2004; 01:57 P.M.

Very good point, Jeroen. On a related topic, I just got this from Henry Posner, at B&H:

At 10:06 AM 7/29/2004 -0500, Hargett, Jay wrote: >I'd like to know if any of your film that is shipped from your >warehouse >is then X-Ray'd en route to your customers. According to UPS, it is.

I know what UPS says. It's their stock post-9/11 reply written by their lawyers and PR people to assuage the concerns of the casually interested. The fact is that no parcel shipped from B&H is x-rayed or irradiated and since we've been shipping film daily for 31 years, before and after 9/11, without incident I think you can order without worry.

Also, it's worth noting that generally package scanners are not producing an amount of x-rays equal to <a gate scanner.> You may find <http://home.kc.rr.com/aaronphoto/xray.html> of interest.

-- -

regards, Henry Posner Director of Corporate Communications B&H Photo-Video, and Pro-Audio Inc. http://www.bhphotovideo.com

Both are great comments, and I do appreiate the both.

Jay Hargett

Han Kim , August 30, 2004; 05:19 P.M.


I recently spent a month in Thailand with a public health education program, and I was able to see things way off the tourist's well beaten tracks. I realized that for travel abroad, digital is indeed a godsend. No more fretting about ISO settings or local processing or x-ray machines. Plus you can post photos right away on a weblog from any local web cafe (and there are a lot of them all over Thailand). The only problem with digital, especially with a digital SLR set to RAW mode, is storage. Luckily, I had a laptop with me in my hotel room, and about 2 GB of compact flash cards, which was (barely) sufficient for all the photos I took on a daily basis. I tried a Belkin compact flash reader for my iPod, thinking this would be the perfect photo storage device, but for that much data, battery life for the iPod is limiting. And it's sloooow.

One thing that I noticed was that many people, at least in the rural areas, were more than willing to have their photos taken. When they saw me with my Canon 300D, many people, especially ones with kids, waved me over to have their photo taken. What really impressed them was when I showed them the photo on my LCD display afterwards. I never failed to generate a huge smile. Later in the trip, I took it a step further and bought a Canon CP-330 with a battery pack. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this printer, it is a 4x6 dye-sub printer that is the size of a paperback novel; easy to fit into a backpack. Plus it's cordless. It supports direct printing from any digital camera supporting pictBridge. All you need is a USB cable to connect the camera to the printer. It was perfect for sharing photos right away. And for Burmese refugee families fleeing with very little in material possessions, the photos of their children were a priceless gift; they were typically the only photos that they had of them. It is highly recommended if you want to take photos of people and want to share them with them.

Waqas Farid , December 21, 2005; 05:19 P.M.

So no one would suggest placing film in a lead lined bag and then in your suitcase?

Donald Brown , November 12, 2006; 02:41 A.M.

ARGENTINA AIRPORTS= MANDATORY X-RAY... just returned from 21 days in Argentina, I went through 7 x-ray screenings with my slide film. Unlike the USA, you cannot get a hand inspection of your film, no exceptions. Believe me I tried, including showing them a printed copy of the TSA website page which describes the potential for harm if film is x-rayed 5 or more times. They stonewalled me every time.

Will send it off to Fuji and cross my fingers. If the film shows obvious signs of damage I will post again here.

Film photographers should be aware of this policy if you are planning a trip there.

fayek helmi , February 27, 2007; 05:13 P.M.

hey there, i live in cairo egypt and am a begining photographer...i dont really have anything to say, this article was really informative, i was looking for tips on carying film through security checks at airports coz i'm going to budapest in a couple of months.

anyways hope you had a pleasent trip in egypt.

Tom Yin , June 13, 2007; 03:16 A.M.

Jay, I found most of your article interesting, if not useful, but I have to disagree strongly with one of your statements: "After all, most of the touring you will do, initially, will be with an organized tour group, and time is often of the essence." I think the last thing that you want to do when exploring a city, country, area, etc. with the goal of taking photographs is to take a tour, unless your intent is to take pictures of tour groups inspecting touristy sites....

My advice is 'don't take a tour': go off on your own and off the beaten track for those memorable pictures and experiences.

Matthew Johnson , June 19, 2007; 11:03 A.M.

Donald, thanks for the tip on Argentina. Looks like its on the list of places to visit soon. For my film I use a Sima Filmshield XPF-20 and the TSA guys confirm that they can't see through it. When I travel with film I put it into ziplock bags with the following phrase in the local language of everywhere (if possible) I'm visiting:

"Professional Photographic Film, Please do not X-Ray as damage will occur."

I put the ziplock in the lead bag and send it through the gate scanner. This forces a hand inspection for the most part. I've never had an airport screener send the film through separately, although I've had to politely point to the note on the bag a few times to get them to understand.

Efrat Nakash , June 29, 2007; 07:21 A.M.

Please find more usefull tips in my website

Tommy Huynh , July 05, 2007; 04:51 A.M.

I write out all the EXIF information for my photos on my website which may be useful in trying to dissect how I got the shots.

J Easter , July 13, 2007; 10:15 P.M.

A couple of you mentioned taking along a polaroid-type camera? Perhaps this is not the correct place for this question, but, which ones would you recommend?

Peter Miller , August 29, 2007; 10:03 A.M.

If you like taking photos of places, few places will be so neatly arranged at first glance, so your main chore is finding a vantage point that translates to the viewer what it was that attracted your eye to the scene, You job is to get this on your photo, so take you time to analyse before taking photos

Laurent Vuillard , September 26, 2007; 05:17 P.M.

I used to shoot with such a worn out Leica M4 that I felt safe anywhere as it really looked like a Daddy's camera of no value. One day when I bought a film in Italy the assisatnt even offered to load the camera for me , that was my master piece of looking amateurish and poorly equipped! I like Leica as your face is not covered by the camera when you shoot (as it is with an SLR) so you can maintain eye contact with the subject, this may look silly but is a great help to be accepted as someone TAKING pictures.

Michael Borland , October 01, 2007; 07:40 P.M.

I have been traveling overseas on photo trips for a decade and have never obtained a customs form ahead of time. I've never even been asked about my equipment when entering or leaving any country.

Does anyone really bother with this?

I used to carry a notarized list of all my equipment and serial numbers. I don't even bother with that anymore.

Andrew Prokos , October 16, 2007; 08:28 A.M.

Here's a tip I learned from another photographer who used to shoot a lot of New York City street photography back in the days when it was a lot less safe. He told me to buy black masking tape and cover the brand names (i.e. Nikon) with the tape...you are a lot more likely to get mugged if people know what brand the camera is and therefore how much it costs. When I am shooting in the streets I also carry my equipment in a fairly beat up looking backpack to avoid attention.

Qadir Sherif , November 06, 2007; 10:24 P.M.

It is really an irony of fate with the art of photography that in most sites and forums the art of photography, under its own caption, is replaced by a debate on camera thus becomes a commercial for different brands of camera. Camera is a tool not the tale.   The man behind the camera and the skill that he/she creates the image with is basically ignored.   No doubt that a good tool is of paramount importance in delivery yet the person behind it is even more important.  When it comes to Mona Lisa it implies the skill and virtue of Leonardo nor the brush and the material he used.  When it comes to the camera, I understand, any camera that may have the mechanism to deliver more bit depth is the better.   The quality of image, I believe, depends upon the bit depth of the image that comes from a camera in-put that supports more than 8 bits (1 byte) in single channel and more than 24 bits (3 bytes) in three channels of RGB.   Even if we calculate 256 shade of different colours in three channels, it equals (256x256x256=16 777216 ) or say 16.77 million colours as normally we hear.   In resolution we normally get bigger dimension not depth.  Commonly we take the resolution as depth not dimension.   Is it not so? Which camera can deliver more than 8 bits in single channel and more than 24 bits in 3 channels (RGB) is the question deserving appropriate answer? It would be nice if some one add more information on it as the best tool.  

Nevertheless the art of photography, in my opinion, should be discussed in the perspective of art itself not the camera. The camera should be placed in its own forum especially under the Title of learning Photography. Hope it may make a sense. I would like to add a portrait which was taken with a common Camera in B/W but I added colour in post processing of changing the background alone as a demonstration of skill.

Michael Seewald , December 12, 2007; 12:44 P.M.


Cefalu, Sicily

Lots of good info. Some points on getting through security...

I usually travel for a month at a time creating, checking one small suitcase and carry on: 1. A backback/bag filled with Hassey and Canon equipment; 2. Wear my photo vest filled to the hilt; 3. Sling a bagged tripod/ golf umbrella combo over my back with the backpack; 4. Carry a large plastic bag with separate Ziplocs of my 50 - 2 1/4 roll films and separate 15-20 rolls of slide film for my 35 'snaps/stock'.

With over 50 trips around the world, with some having 3 or 4 legs to get there, I can say that 99 out of a hundred times I don't get bothered about all of the gear as I 'look like a professional photographer', act like one and am one. I think attitude helps and I'm always very thankful for the folks that work the gates. With even a hint of concern about anything I'm carrying on I start thanking them profusely for helping me in advance and for letting me take 'it' (whatever item is of concern) on as "everything is very fragile", etc.. It usually works.

All that being said I just got back from working in Italy two weeks ago and it was one of the few times I've ever been 'forced' to check my tripod (the golf umbrella stuffed into the tripod bag gets flagged more, about one in 10 times, you never know). Luckily, after having to go back to check-in, the airline came up with a large box we put it in- it's a carbon fiber and I'm nervous about folks throwing it around, I heard they are not as 'sturdy' as aluminum ones.

For those still shooting films:

I throw in some 3200 ISO 2 1/4 film and some high speed 35 and ask for hand check (not necessary in the U.S., they always accommodate you). I work one of the 3200 films to the side of the plastic bag and say 'special film'- it worked two weeks ago in Italy (usually they NEVER hand check, no matter how much pleading) but not always. Of course, as a 'believer' I do believe it helped to start praying the day before too, T.U.L.. I've had them go through and take out the 3200 and scan the rest, ouch! (I will be glad when I can afford the 20 grand for the Hassey back). I've got what looked like light leak from the scans sometimes.

As I think about it, I think I just may overwhelm the folks at the x-ray gate a wee bit and they don't know what to think. All the stuff I take off and send through the machines, all the while crying out for 'hand check please, special film' etc.. It's kinda fun actually, a challenge to see if I can it get all through just one more time!

Putting it in lead bags diminishes the x-rays effect to some extent, just in case the hand check is not allowed.

Safe travels. MS

Jonny Platt , April 17, 2008; 04:14 P.M.

I found a great way to get good photos while travelling is to make sure you have good transport. During my travels in vietnam once i'd arrived in a new town I'd hire a motorbike to get the lay of the land (i was too chicken to drive long distances on the highways!) which lead me to find some great spots for taking photogreaphs

Rolf Hicker , August 13, 2008; 03:25 P.M.

We were just came back from a photo production which took us across Canada in the last 1 1/2 years. We traveled in a Camper equipped with a satellite dish so we can make sure to bring our images up to our agencies as well as to our websites.

The idea of the dish was great, but also very costly. We spent almost CDN$ 14,000 on the complete setup, plus a monthly fee of about 90. Unfortunately mobile internet is not working that great yet. It is very unreliable. I would say, and this is not an calculated number, but I guess we were not able to connect to the satellite in about 50% of our locations. Although we had a clear view to the sky, we were way inside the footprint of the satellite but still no connection.

When we had internet then it was usually very slow which created a big problem for our production on travel photography. We had publishers waiting for images which took us sometimes hours and hours till all images were uploaded.

Bottom line: We CAN NOT recommend mobile internet at this stage - it is too expensive, not reliable and still way to expensive.
If you interested in some of our pictures please visit our website and our travel blog

Julie Roggow , January 08, 2009; 09:03 A.M.

I read a tip in a photo magazine I'd like to pass along... (sorry, I can't remember the person that posted the tip or I'd give that person credit). If you carry a camera around your neck, attach a caribeaner to connect the camera strap (behind your neck) to the top of your backpack. This not only takes some of the weight of a camera loaded down with a heavy lens but also makes it a little bit more secure when traveling in more risky places.

Angel Houghton , April 04, 2009; 11:43 P.M.

Hooray!!! TSA regulations now allow one bag of photographic equipment in addition to one carryon and one personal item.

http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/assistant/editorial_1248.shtm

Gone are the days of having to check the suitcase on short trips in order to carry on the camera bag. You still have to know whether your airline will allow the "extra" bag....but in my experience the airlines are less concerned about what you carry on as long as you got it through security and can actually carry it. Just be prepared to have it gate checked if the flight is particularly full and there isn't enough space.

Angel Houghton , April 04, 2009; 11:53 P.M.

Oh, and about the mobile phone....I have traveled to Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, Trinidad, Barbados and Costa Rica with my AT&T phone and leave my phone on all the time. I have only been charged for calls I initiated or answered. You do need to call AT&T before leaving to make sure you don't have international roaming blocked if you plan to use the phone while outside of the country.

The iPhone just needs to have data roaming turned off the avoid the data charges from the phone automatically checking for service (which is something most ppl do at home anyway to avoid charges when they roam through gaps in the AT&T service)....as a failsafe I also deactivate the 3G altogether when I leave the country....you can still use it in a (free) WiFi hotspot without incurring any charges.

Robert Burns , December 10, 2009; 01:06 P.M.

Going to El Salvador on a mission trip. Any warnings or suggestions about taking camera equipment? Thought about taking 5D and 40D. 70-200Lis and 28-70L and 15mm fisheye.I don't think I will need flash. I mostly shoot at high iso's. Would 17-40L be more useful than 28-70?

Alice Vu , January 28, 2010; 08:31 A.M.

Thanks to the open travel policy of Vietnam, visitors now can apply for a so-called visa on arrival (VOA). Travellers can apply for their entry visa online and pick up their visas at Vietnam international airports. After checking through travel forums to find out a good service provider for this type of visa, we found http://vietnamvisa-online a reliable agent to start with.

Mohamed Elsayyed , February 22, 2011; 10:11 P.M.

Great detailed information for travel photographers. But I'd like not to recommend processing your film before going back home. I sometime find a great clean fantastic store with a big sign "Fuji" on the front and a polite classy saleswoman inside tries to convince me to put my soul in her hands and to make sure that my little baby film will be OK and safe, and once I have my film developed back, and here we go the surprise, the result is totally frustrating, if I gave out my film to a developer monkey I'd have gotten better results.

Just don't be fooled with clean and good looking people in the Middle-east countries and viceversa, like you could find a dirty dull little store but the developer inside is a one true professional. This is my experience in the Middle-east region, especially in Egypt where I was born and raised.

Finally, you gotta make a test film just to examine the developer skills first and if things work alright, go back and ask for the same person who processed your test film and ask them to do the next one themselves.

Brian Duncan , March 11, 2014; 02:13 P.M.

I always pack my gear in a bag that doesn't look like a camera bag.  It honestly looks like a fat man-purse, but at least people ignore me most of the time.    


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