There’s a lot to consider when prepping for a photo trip, most important of which is your gear. There’s nothing worse than realizing you’re missing something when you’re faced with a tremendous once-in-a-lifetime shot. It’s best to research your locations, weather patterns, best times to shoot, and if there’s a lens or specific body you don’t have but need, you can always borrow gear. Below are a few tips on what type of gear works best, camera settings, and traveling with your gear.
1. Be Prepared with Your Gear
Here are some things that should be in your bag:
- DSLR camera body
- A wide angle lens, like a 10-24mm
- A Telephoto lens, maybe a 24-70mm
- A variable ND filter for bright conditions
- A lightweight travel tripod or monopod
- Multiple memory cards
- Spare batteries and chargers
Travel Insurance is Part of Being Prepared
Making sure you have the proper insurance when traveling with your photography gear will save you a lot of heartache in the long run. Often this is a simple matter of getting travel insurance for your trip and you can typically do this through your existing coverage under your other insurance policies. When renting or leasing gear you should always opt in to the damage insurance the renter offers. Be sure that your insurance covers, lost equipment, damage and theft. Some insurance can have specific clauses that don’t cover theft during travel or even in general, so make sure you understand exactly what is covered.
Photography associations and memberships sometimes offer insurance and special discounts to their members so this might be worth looking into. You can also register your gear and it’s serial number with LensTag as a free service. As an added precaution make sure you’re using proper travel bags that have the appropriate amount of padding and secure them with TSA approved combination locks.
2. Getting the Right Camera Settings
As a general rule, shooting in RAW will help you save images that came out less than perfect. When shooting landscapes you will want as much depth of field as possible. Even if you’re an experienced photographer, consider shooting in aperture priority mode. This will allow you to focus on creating the look you want for your landscape images without having o spend a lot of time on your settings.
Shooting in RAW will allow you to compensate for incorrect white balancing later if you haven’t adjusted it in camera. However if you’re shooting JPEG for whatever reason, having correct white balancing is going to be essential to producing the best shot possible. You’ll also want to make sure you have a good understanding of metering modes.
3. Travel as Light As Possible
Avoid the overwhelming temptation to bring all of your best gear. When traveling, being able to move quickly and not have to keep track too many things are going to allow to focus on the moment and enjoy shooting. Traveling light is also going to mean you are less exhausted if a lot of walking and sightseeing is going to take place.
Consider taking a Mirrorless Camera like the Sony A6000. Part of the focus of the Mirrorless Camera debate specifically revolves around the fact they are so light weight. When traveling to exotic locations this is a major factor in the ability to shoot as much as possible. Heavy DSLR cameras with heavy zoom lenses are going to mean moving slower and capturing less shots.
By using a Mirrorless Camera, you’re more likely to be able to pace your shooting. Even a full frame Mirrorless Camera like the Sony A7 R II weighs about 1/3 less than the Canon 5D Mark III.
You should also try to minimize the amount of overall weight of your travel bag whenever possible by limiting the amount of accessories you bring. For travel photography, your memory cards, filters and backup batteries are typically enough.
4. Getting Through the Airport with Photo Gear
When traveling through the airport with your gear, I recommend that your carry on bags be your laptop bag if you have one, and your camera bag as a separate bag as possible. With your laptop bag as a backpack it is often possible to have your travel tripod attached to it. If this isn’t possible then I recommend placing it in the luggage with your primary clothing when traveling. Make sure your carry on bags meat the TSA requirements are the right size for the overhead compartment area.
Typically I will check a luggage that has my stabilization gear and clothing, while my laptop and camera travel with me. The TSA will ask you to take your laptop out of the bag and place it in a plastic bin when you pass through security. Typically they allow your camera gear to stay in its camera bag when going through the x-ray scan, but if they have to inspect, it politely make them aware of the fact it is sensitive and expensive equipment and to treat it with care.
5. Shooting and Traveling With Drones
Drones are great for getting unique shots, particularly when you have the opportunity to shoot landscapes of exotic locations. However there are several places where they are prohibited, even within the United States.
Currently you cannot shoot with drones in National Parks and on Government Property with drones, and will be subject to fines if you attempt to do so. There are certain areas of the Grand Canyon that are private property and within permission you can use drones for photography and video, but you cannot fly them over or within the canyon itself, for example.
When traveling abroad with drones it is important to adhere to proper storage and safety. You should have a carry case for your drones and consider taking them as carry-on luggage. The batteries should be expended to 40-50% for safety to avoid a fire hazard during long term storage and for travel. Several countries have their own rules concerning drones, so it is important to do your research and make sure you are complying with their laws.
Here are some locations you may have issues shooting with or traveling with drones:
- You cannot fly drones in Washington D.C.
- You cannot fly drones over or within stadiums with a capacity of over 30,000
- National Parks in the United States prohibit the use of drones
- You are not allowed to fly drones on or around military bases and government property.
- Several States within the U.S. having pending legislation outlawing drones.
- In Italy you cannot fly a drone without a special certification
- Germany has some drone restrictions but does not require a certification for drones under 50kg
- France does not require a drone certification but requires you to keep them a safe distance from people
- Norway requires a special permit for drone usage and you must read a 72 page manual
- Poland’s only drone restriction is that they must fly below 500 meters
- Spain does not allow for the usage of drones unless it is in a designated area just for their usage
- Australian law is very restrictive of drone usage
- The UK requires a relatively expensive certification for flying drones
6. Backup Your Photos on the Road
Whether you’re going to use DropBox or some type of external drive, you should be backing up your photography while you’re traveling. Memory cards can get lost and unexpected things can happen. Being able to backup your shots is one of the most important things you can do. I use a Western Digital My Passport Wireless to copy my photography and video directly from SD card after a shoot.
7. Plan Your Shooting Schedule and Locations to Get Stunning HDR Landscapes
When traveling there will be a lot of different things you want to shoot, but if you don’t organize your schedule or plan, you can end up easily missing out. If you want to get great HDR Landscapes timing is everything. In many cases you’ll be shooting with a tripod or a mono pod, so you will need to account for the time it will take to get to your shooting site and setup.
Put together a schedule for your travel photography and be sure to check the weather conditions to ensure that you will have good lighting, access and the other conditions you need to get the shots that you really want.
Some Tips for Getting Amazing HDR Shots
Often photographers will try to let their software do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to HDR images. While this can work, in the long run the best methods involve taking multiple shots in RAW with different exposure settings. While it’s true you can manipulate the exposure in post production, you’re really just manipulating and interpretation of the data.
Taking multiple shots with different exposures means that you have the much more data to work with and can get true detail for highlights and shadows. This is going to produce the best overall HDR photography shots in the long run.
In order to get stunning HDR shots, make sure you’re using either a tripod or monopod. Take 3-5 shots in the same position with different Exposure Values while shooting in RAW. If you intend to do HDR Panorama stitching, then I would recommend bringing gaffing tape to be able to set markers for your tripod and line up your shots properly. This one little trick and make all the difference in the world for your images.
For landscape shots, consider shooting with a 14-24mm lens or a similar range. Due to the amount of detail you’ll usually want to capture, shooting at F/8 or higher is usually recommended and a Full Frame camera body that has a lot of flexibility. Full Frame DSLR Cameras and Mirroless Cameras will give you the ability to shoot with a higher ISO if necessary without introducing additional noise/grain and will also allow you to take advantage of true focal lengths for your lenses instead of magnifying them by the crop factor or entry level crop censor cameras.