get smart

Photo and post by Rick Sammon

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In my travels around the world, I’ve gained a few “travel smarts” the hard way – usually by making mistakes. Getting sick, not having the right gear, displaying poor manners, wearing the wrong clothes all can ruin any photographic adventure.

So, you can learn from some of my mistakes, and realize that being prepared makes your venture more pleasant and more productive. These “travel smarts” have helped me to come back from a trip with a high percentage of good pictures from fairly exotic locations.

Get smart – and follow these tips while traveling. You’ll come back with great shots, and you’ll have more fun, too.

Be Flexible When Traveling
Traveling is a great experience and a wonderful education. Visiting and photographing new places, such as Monument Valley, Arizona (top photo), is invigorating. However, unexpected bad weather, airport delays and other travel-related challenges can arise. When traveling, the key to maintaining a good attitude is to be flexible. Also, looking at unexpected situations as opportunities, rather than as problems, will help you maintain a positive attitude.

Choose Your Shoes
If you plan to take pictures in Buddhist temples, you’ll want sandals or shoes that slip on and off very easily, so you don’t have to lose time untying and tying shoelaces for each temple you visit. I learned this tip is one I learned from photographer Lou “Boston” Jones. Footwear is also important when shooting in the field and in the city. For example, if you’re shooing in the rainforest, waterproof hiking boots will help keep your feet dry and comfortable. When you are photographing in the mountains and canyons, hiking boots will supply sure footing. If you plan to shoot in the water – at a lake or river or by the shore – consider fisherman’s waders or scuba diver’s booties.

Do It When You Can
My dad has a great philosophy: “When traveling, eat when you have the opportunity.” That’s pretty good advice for on-the-go photographers. My friend Pat Stevens adds to my dad’s suggestions. She says, “Shop when you can.” I have one of my own: “pee when you can.”

Dress for Success
What’s wrong with the bottom picture, which I took in Exeter National Park, South Africa? As I am sure you noticed, the woman in pink has not dressed for a photo safari, where green, tan and brown colored clothes are recommend to provide some camouflage from wildlife. What’s more, the woman is wearing sneakers, which don’t protect your feet from sharp thorns that can poke through the soles of soft shoes. (Our safari guide is trying to remove a thorn from her sneaker.) If you go on a safari, dress for success, and for protection from the animals. Speaking of dressing, photo vests and jackets not only make us look like professional travel photographers, but they are practical. All those pockets are great for giving us fast access to photo accessories, such as filters, memory cards, a flash unit and even lenses. In addition, photo vests and jackets can act as an extra “carry on” bag, letting us take extra gear on a flight. Wide brim hats are important too, shading face, neck and ears from the bright sunlight that can cause sunburn. In my opinion, sunglasses are a must.

Get a Good Guide
Guides and translators are most helpful when traveling into foreign counties. Not only can they actually save you time in searching for a particular photograph, but they also may be able to help you see places and people you normally would not have the opportunity to see. If you don’t arrange a guide through a travel agent, you can usually get one through your lodge or hotel. A good guide is worth what is often the least expensive part of a trip.

Keep on Searching
Perhaps the best source of information for travelers is the World Wide Web. Well in advance of leaving home, do a Google search on your destination. Check for weather, sites, photo restrictions, religion, special events, festivals, holidays, local currency, local power (AC) and so on. The more you know about a destination, the better prepared you’ll be photographically. If you plan a driving trip in the United States, join the AAA (American Automobile Association). That organization offers detailed maps and other useful information for “road warriors.” The AAA “Trip Tiks” was very helpful for me when I was driving throughout the American Southwest. For international travel, I rely on the Lonely Planet (www.lonelyplanet.com) travel guidebooks. They contain honest and practical advice on destinations.

Make a Donation if Possible
When I travel, I often pay adults a small fee ($1 – $5) in exchange for taking their picture. I feel that if I’m getting something out of the photo session, so should the subject. However, when photographing a child or a group of children, I try to find out if I can make a donation to a local school or charity, rather than pay the kids. I recommend this later approach especially when traveling in countries such as India, where poverty is rampant, and you could get mobbed if you take out your wallet on a crowded street.

Sign ‘em Up – A signed model release is required if you plan to use a photograph of a person for commercial purposes. The release has to say that the person gives you the right to use the picture for commercial purposes. It should have space for the person to print his or her name, be signed by the person and include the date. You may also need a release for a building if you plan to use the picture commercially. I once lost a commercial photo sale because I did not have a release from an art deco building in Miami’s South Beach.

Shooting Above Sea Level
When I was in Bryce Canyon, Utah, I was about 8,000 feet above sea level, where the air is much thinner than it is at my home in New York, which is just about at sea level. A short hike into the canyon this morning took my breath away, and I’m in fairly good shape.

When traveling, shooting and hiking at high altitudes, take it easy. Take rests and don’t push yourself. If you are very serious about getting good pictures at high altitudes, arrive a couple of days early and get accustomed to the thin air, especially if you will be hiking with a backpack filled with camera gear. A “baby” aspirin a day will help prevent altitude headaches for some people.

Stay Healthy
A visit to your doctor before a trip can help you stay healthy when traveling. He or she can recommend medicines and remedies when traveling to exotic locations. You can also do a search on your destination on the Web site for the Center for Disease Control: http://www.cdc.gov. That will give you an idea in advance of what potential health problems you may run into in an area.

Take Notes
Take notes (or use a digital camera’s voice recording capabilities) when traveling to help you remember facts when sharing your pictures. Speaking of keeping a record, if you plan to write-off all or part of your trip (if you are or plan to be a professional travel photographer), you’ll need to keep all receipts for Uncle Sam.

Tourist or Traveler?
My guess is that you are a traveler, rather than a tourist. The difference is that tourists follow the group. Travelers go out and find their own photography opportunities. If you have the option, get out on your own. Out on your own, you’ll find unusual photo ops. With a group, you’ll probably get the same old shots, riding from site to site in a bus. What’s worse, you’ll spend a portion of the tour at pre-determined shopping stops. Finally, you’ll probably end up with a group that will not be as serious about photography as you. You’ll quickly learn why a tour is called a sightseeing tour and not a photography tour. Yet, traveling with a group in a foreign destination does offer a feeling of comfort. Doing so for a day can give you a good overview of the location, giving you ideas for return visits.

Work Hard, Get Lucky
When some people see a photograph of mine that they like, they say that I’m lucky to get to do what I do. I usually respond, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” So, work hard at your photography and your travels and you might get lucky, too!

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This post sponsored by the Digital SLR Store