Step 1 Research – read the guide books ( Find out what are the main attractions and photo-opportunities, but …


Step 1
Research – read the guide books ( Find out what are the main attractions and photo-opportunities, but be aware of other possibilities that will arise when you’re out there. If you buy a new camera for the trip, familiarise yourself with its operation thoroughly before you leave.
Step 2
Prioritise – in the context of the trip, how important is the photography? On a lightweight backpacking trip, you’re probably be carrying minimal gear, so a compact camera and spare batteries are all you’ll want to carry, but this will limit the type of pictures you’re likely to take to a record of the trip, which can make great photo-journals or travelogues. If you expect to return home with stunning shots which capture the essence of your travels, then you’re going to need more gear, maybe even a back-up camera in case anything goes wrong.

Step 3
Gear – you’re going to need a good quality digital compact, or preferably SLR with zoom lens to produce more than snapshots. Memory cards are easy to carry, so take plenty, and relatively inexpensive if bought before you leave. Cameras need batteries, so take spares. You can guarantee they will fail at the most inconvenient point of your journey. Other useful items include zip-lock bags to keep out dust, and silica gel or uncooked rice to avoid problems caused by condensation if conditions are very humid. A UV filter is always useful, both to remove unwanted ultra-violet radiation, and to protect the lens. A Polarising filter always comes in hand where un-wanted reflections appear or when denser or more contrasty lighting is necessary. A raincoat and a plastic bag always help in wet weather.

Step 4
X-rays: Digital memory cards can be happily scanned without any worries, and you should always carry your camera bag into the aircraft cabin to avoid the possibility of accidental damage caused by careless baggage handling. Always check how much you are allowed for hand carry. If you are carrying very new equipment it is wise to get documentation prior to departure from your customs agent. Customs inspectors at your return airport may think you are importing new gear, and hit you with import duty.

Step 5
Safety & security – keep the cameras and memory cards out of the sun as much as possible, and in sealed zip-lock bags if it is dusty or humid. Many cameras will not work in very cold conditions, so keep them inside your clothing, where body heat will stop them freezing up. Taking very cold cameras into a warm humid atmosphere will cause condensation to form on the glass surfaces of the lens elements, and also inside on metal and electrical contacts, so this should be avoided also. Robust camera cases like Crumpler ( backpacks offer the best from protection from knocks, and are less distinctive than conventional camera cases. It’s a fact of life that the value of your camera gear represents the equivalent of about a year’s wages in third-world countries, so it’s not a good idea to wave them around too much. Only pull out your camera when you are ready to shoot. Work like a quick draw gun-slinger. See your target clearly before you shoot.

Step 6
Don’t be over-ambitious – be realistic about what you can achieve. Travelling through different places means you’re on the move, with little time or opportunities to wait for the light to improve, or return at a different time of day to get the shot. Only pull out your camera when you are ready to shoot.

Step 7
People Not Places – pictures with people invariably work better than empty views, but make sure you ask permission first. Don’t just stick your camera in their face and click away. In some countries, people can react quite aggressively if they spot western tourists pointing cameras in their direction. Far better to speak to them first, and interact – once the ice is broken, people react naturally, and you will get better images as a result. If you feel any hostility just walk away. Some tourists pay for a portrait, but it does not seem unreasonable to be asked to pay a few cents to an impoverished person who will have a starring role in your travel memoir. Where possible get their home address and mail them a photo.

Step 8
Think about the Image – don’t just point and click, remember to think about the image. Try to get as close as possible to the subject, and fill the frame. Photography is the art of subtraction. Don’t forget to shoot close-ups as well as general views – often, the details will tell you as much about a place as the big picture. Always look at the background and see if it compliments your subject or distracts your outcome.

Step 9
In most foreign countries it’s simply forbidden to take photographs of military installations and personnel, the police and security forces, and even government buildings. If you disregard this you face the very real prospect of arrest and imprisonment, or at the very least confiscation of your camera, and a very unpleasant experience to remember.

Step 10
Get Involved – the best pictures are produced when you immerse yourself in the places you visit. Spend some time engaging with local people, taking part in normal life, and try to capture the essence of a place photographically. When you get back, your pictures will form an indelible record of your trip of a lifetime – who knows, you may even interest a magazine or local newspaper.
Compliments of Alfonso Calero at
Alfonso Calero runs photography workshops in Sydney and Melbourne.
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