Established 1988

Category: Travel

Planning for your next Photo Vacation

Kevin White has been a member of the Mississauga Camera Club since 2006 and is currently the Team Lead for workshops.KevinWhite

Planning for your next Photo-Vacation.

In this article I’m going to provide a quick checklist of things to think about when you are planning for your next trip.

Research, research, research!

First of all, research your destination(s) from a photography perspective.  Use the web to check the expected weather, openings and closings of events and attractions, upcoming festivals and photographer guides to your destination.   Determine what the golden hours are for the destination.  Does the seaside face west or east for sunsets and sunrises?  What is the timing for the tides if you are shooting an ocean view?

Don’t forget to check local customs – who or what are you allowed to take pictures of and when?  Is paying for pictures customary?   Are permits are required for commercial photography (such as in Banff, Alberta or Uluru, Australia).

Think about what types of shots you may wish to take (or avoid taking!) by performing searches using Flickr, Google Images, etc. to see what other photographers have already captured for your destination.   Don’t feel that you have to repeat what others are taking, but these shots may inspire you and suggest things to see/do while you’re visiting a new locale.

If you’re thinking of taking pictures for stock photography, check for professional travel photographer shots of location(s), (eg.,,,  Make sure you are aware of known image restrictions for places and landmarks (eg. “The Gherkin” building, and royal residences {Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle} and National Trust properties in England, CN Tower in Toronto, Eiffel Tower in Paris and many landmark properties in the U.S.)

Once you’ve done your research, prepare your itinerary by creating a shooting list which includes a list of attractions, events, locations (including times of day) that help you organize your trip.

Keep researching when you arrive at your destination (for example, get brochures, talk to locals, etc.).  Take a tourist bus around the local on the first day to see what you`d like to explore in more detail later.

What to take?

  • Camera Bodies:

Some photographers swear by having a primary camera body and a backup body.  Personally, I prefer to travel light and keep to a single camera body and use my cell phone camera as the backup.  It all depends if you’re shooting commercially or for pleasure.


  • Power:

Don’t forget to bring extra batteries and your charger.  If you’re going overseas, find out what AC power plugs/sockets are in use and if you need an adaptor.  My wife and I buy a single AC adaptor and a power bar and plug all our rechargeable appliances (cell phone, camera batteries, my shaver, etc.) into the power bar.


  • Memory Cards:

Think about how many pictures you expect to take and translate that into the number of memory cards you’ll need to bring.   How many pictures did you take on your last vacation?


As an example, a 32 GB memory card for my Nikon 7100 holds about 596 24MP RAW images.  For some people that’s only a day’s worth of shooting!  Are you planning to shoot video as well?   The same 32 GB card holds only 4 minutes of HD1880p (5 Mbps) video.


A good idea is to spread your images over a number of cards and not to put all your images on a single card, in case it’s lost or damaged.


What about disk backup?  If you’re on a long vacation you may want to backup your files to an external disk drive.  Bob Fowler posted a good article back in January on backing up photos while on vacation see


  • Lenses:

If you’re bringing a DSLR then you have to decide which interchangeable lenses you’ll need.

Lenses present a trade-off between weight and the quality of the shots you’ll get.  After you’ve done your trip planning and created your shooting list, then you can decide on the lenses you need to bring.


For convenience there is the “travel lens” approach – one lens for everything.  These are normally the 18-300 mm (DX) or 18-200 (DX) lenses which do not provide the sharpest quality at any one focal length, but are very convenient to use since you don’t have to change the lens, you have less to carry and you’re always ready for the shot.


On the other hand, for the best quality photos you may wish to take a variety of specialized lenses.  For example, 10 – 28mm for landscapes, 50 – 100mm for portraits and 200 – 500mm lenses for animal safaris.  The tradeoff for better quality photos is the bulk and weight of additional lenses and the need to change lenses to suit the subject matter.


  • Tripod:

Do you need to take a tripod?   Look at your itinerary – are you going to be walking a lot, taking public transit or driving?  If the first two, then you may find the tripod a nuisance.  When flying, a tripod cannot be brought onboard as carry-on luggage, but will have to be checked luggage.


Review your shooting list.  Are you taking a lot of night shots or other pictures where stabilization is required?  If so then you can also look at some compromise solutions such as a “table top” tripod (I keep the Manfrotto 709 in my bag) or “the pod” beanbag from  Note that even table top tripods will not pass through the airport security checks and have to be treated as checked baggage (I also had to check mine for the NY Empire State building observation deck).   Another hint for museum photographers is that while most museums have banned tripods, many will allow you to use a monopod!  This will help you stabilize your shot and reduce your ISO and shutter speed.


  • ND, Polarizer or graduated filters?

Do you intend to take pictures of moving water (tides or waterfalls) for which you’ll need an ND filter, or sunrises and sunsets and aren’t going to use Lightroom/Photoshop to correct via graduated filter?   If you plan on taking multiple lenses, then you can save on the number of filters by just getting ND or graduated filters for your landscape lens, since that is the lens you’ll probably use for these types of shots.


  • Shoulder bag or Knapsack?

A shoulder bag provides easier access to your camera in a hurry, but can be a pain in the neck if you’re carrying it around constantly for 2 hours or more.  On the other hand a knapsack is better ergonomically and often has room for jacket, maps, souvenirs, but is usually slower for you to get camera out and is less secure than a shoulder bag.  The speed with which you can get your camera into action (and back in the bag) and be important not only for you to get the shot as it is unfolding – but also helps you if your spouse or significant other is not a photographer and is losing patience with frequent requests for “just one more shot honey”!   Personally I switched from a knapsack to a shoulder bag that holds a DX body and two additional lenses.


By the way, don’t get a camera bag with your camera brand on it.  You might as well stick a label on it that says “Steal Me”.


A good idea is to also bring Ziplock baggies for rainy days / wet weather, as well as a waterproof cover for your camera, lens(es) and camera bag if you plan on visiting a rainy environment.



It’s wise to practice every shooting situation before you leave.  You should know every button and feature on your camera – if you don’t, bring your camera manual with you.  The time to find out that you accidentally changed a setting and can’t remember how to reset it is at home, not when you’re 2,000 km away from your manual.


Oh yeah, don’t forget your clothes, passport, etc.


Have a great vacation!

Travel Tips for Photographers




Sandra Laurin

Etobicoke Camera Club

Travel Tips for Photographers

“some people photograph their travels, other people travel to photograph”


Whichever group you belong to, there are a few things you should prepare for your trip.


Before you go…

  • research your destination so that you know the best time to travel (arriving in the rainy season can limit your photo-taking opportunities… as well as your patience!)
  • google your destination for tons of current travel info about weather,political situation, currency, festivals, and celebrations
  • guide books provide lots of info that can enhance your trip
  • learn a few key phrases in the language of the country you’re visiting (never underestimate the power of “Good Morning” in the local language)
  • get to know a new camera before your trip
  • make sure your camera is in good working order
  • pack the camera manual in your carry-on backpack so you can spend some time reading on the plane. I find something new every time I consult the manual.
  • take a backup camera if possible
  • take extra batteries, a recharger and electrical converter for the country you’re going to visit
  • have extra memory cards (preferably 2-3 smaller cards rather than one huge card as it could possibly malfunction), so “don’t put all your photos in one basket”
  • it’s a good idea to download photos to a card reader or laptop if you don’t mind the extra weight
  • use a microfibre cloth to keep the lens clean (can also be used for your glasses and sunglasses)
  • a travel tripod or a tabletop mini-tripod to steady your camera in low light or to set a time exposure that allows you to be in the picture
  • photocopies of your passport, tickets, insurance, medication and eye glass prescriptions, travel itinerary, driver’s license, credit cards also leave copies of the above with someone at home
  • a small notebook to record names of places, tips from other travellers or addresses if you promise someone a photo
  • a small flashlight…in some countries the hydro goes off at a certain time of night…also if you’re near the equator you’ll be surprised how darkness comes within minutes after sunset!
  • a nail brush is useful for scrubbing dirty hands and feet as well as hiking boots or dirty clothes
  • a small compass, as it’s often hard to determine direction even in cities and to find north in the rain or after the sun goes down
  • a thermometer, as it’s sometimes interesting to know just how hot or cold it really is!
  • an iPhone has apps that can do many of the above (ie. compass, flashlight, notes, temperature,)


When you arrive..

  • talk to other travelers and locals to find out points of interest
  • pick up a local English newspaper to check out “what’s happening”
  • look at postcards of the area…they usually have good composition and location ideas (it’s OK to copy!)
  • a map of the city or area and be sure to mark your hotel and jot down the address and phone # (take a brochure or card from the hotel as it’s often easier to let a taxi driver read the address)
  • be friendly and interact with people…buying a mango from a market seller can give you the opportunity to ask if you may take a photo (if you promise to send a copy, write down the address and make sure that you follow up)
  • a friendly greeting and a smile will result in more genuine people photos
  • carry small change of the appropriate currency in your pocket ready to buy that mango
  • although there’s much debate on whether or not to pay people for pictures I feel that even a small amount of change can help out a family in a developing country and you will have negotiated for a much better photo than if you had to “steal” it on the sly
  • download images to a card reader every night
  • don’t delete photos on the camera until you see them on a large screen (unless they’re totally horrible!)
  • recharge batteries every night ready for the next day of shooting


On the go…

  • always have your camera ready to go with probable settings (ISO, white balance, aperture or shutter speed) and at arms reach
  • when you first get sight of a subject (especially animals if on safari)…take a shot…you may not get a second chance
  • then move in closer…frame your shot to get the image you really want
  • turn around…often the best shot is behind you!
  • use a fast shutter speed (or sports mode) generally with animals and with active children
  • try using fill flash outdoors especially with subjects in front of water or with strong light from behind
  • get wide angle shots of herds…then zoom in on a specific animal for close-ups
  • zoom in to fill the frame or take a couple of steps closer
  • close-up shots are fantastic but don’t forget to include the surrounding environment or habitat in some shots to give a sense of place
  • think about the direction of the light and if there’s time,move for a better angle
  • in cases where you can’t get out of your vehicle (on safari), a beanbag or rolled clothing resting on a window will give added stability, especially when using zoom lenses
  • “early to bed, early to rise”…you will get wonderful lighting at dawn and dusk (the Golden Hours) especially if on safari at the water hole where all the animals come to drink at that time of day
  • check white balance…often the sunset mode is useful at these times
  • always use the histogram to determine proper exposure…if necessary, change the settings and shoot again
  • don’t hide indoors in the rain..protect your camera with a baggie or even use the shower cap from the hotel


Take time to ENJOY your trip. Take photos that please YOU. They are YOUR memories.