Five “Not So Common” Tips for Photographers Who Travel
Joey L. has done a lot of traveling over the last seven years on commercial assignments and collected bits of wisdom along the way for other traveling photographers he shared on his blog. While reading through it I immediately picked up some useful tips that I plan on implementing on my upcoming trip to Honduras.
Joey L is a commercial photographer out of Canada that has traveled the world documenting different endangered cultures bringing photojournalism to the fine art arena. His images are simply breathtaking. Here is a summary of Joey L’s blog post. To read his article in detail you can check it out by visiting his blog.
Tip 1) Make Your Camera Look Like a Heap of Trash
My first tip for traveling photographers is to protect your gear from theft. There are thieves in every part of the world, not just developing countries. They know how much your pretty camera can fetch for on a black market, and they will risk a lot to steal your gear. When traveling, I make it a point to make my camera look crappy and old. I cover it with duct tape, carry it in a normal, dirty backpack, and make sure all recognizable logos such as “Canon” or “Phase One” are hidden. A nice looking camera case is also a red flag. I prefer typical “consumer” travel packs or using older weathered bags that have seen better days.
W hen I travel with ugly photography equipment, attention is diverted away from my stuff. A potential theif may determine that stealing my camera is not worth the risk of being caught. After all, they can’t sell an old hunk of junk for the price of a “new camera.” Let the thief go after the next unlucky traveler.
Tip 2) Don’t Put Photographer on Customs Forms
Disclaimer: When traveling for jobs, I always have the right working permits and carnets in order and I write “photographer” as my occupation on customs forms. I don’t mess around with this because it could jepardize the shoot and a large production. Getting a carnet (a temporary passport for your equpiment) is easier than you think, this website is a great resource. However, for personal trips creating my own photo series without a client other than myself, I don’t bother. I often won’t say I’m a photographer on my customs forms.
Okay, I may be suggesting you break the law here, however, I don’t feel bad in doing so. In my experience, customs officers waste their time singling out professional photographers above many actual potential threats to their counties. They are often uninformed, and uneducated about what we do. Unfortunately, they lump every photographer into one category- “EVIL-DOER”. If you are respectful and educated about your subjects and doing good in the world with your work… great, follow my advice. If you are not, then my advice is not for you.
Tip 3) Keep At Least Two Hard Drives Safe
When I travel for photography, I know that the most valuable things I have are not my cameras or equipment. The most valuable thing I carry are the images I am creating. Gear can be replaced, (get it insured worldwide), but the photographs can not.
I have a very simple formula. I travel with a laptop, and dump my images to two different hard drives. Each drive is an exact replica of the other. I then always keep those two hard drives in different places. For example, one is in my pocket at all times and the other is left at the Indian guesthouse. Or, perhaps one drive is in a piece of checked baggage being chucked in the bottom of the plane, and the other is safe with me in a carry-on bag. With this system, it is very hard for both drives to go missing.
Tip 4) Stay In Touch With The People You Photograph
For all the countries and places I’ve traveled to in the world, I could have actually gone to triple the amount of locations. But to me, that’s not as important as maintaining an in-depth relationship with the select places I choose to visit, and re-visit again and again. You can have more “authentic” cultural experiences as people warm to you and share their knowledge and lifestyle with you, and also create much better photographs when people trust you.
Tip 5) Hire Locals
I realize that not everyone has months to spend when traveling getting to know people, so I always suggest involving the locals as much as you can in your work. Hire a local guide and fixer from the same area or culture as you are photographing. (I wrote an entire blog post about finding a local guide here, which falls under this principal.) If you require a crew or a little extra help, hire locals as workers and involve them in your productions.
Other Random Do-dads + Gadgets I Find Useful When Traveling
Wifi Signal Boosting Antenna: I use this little gadget in places with dodgy wifi, such as a hotel or guesthouse. After plugging this antenna into my laptop, I can often get a much stronger signal, or I can punk someone else’s better signal far away. “Hey- I’m not stealing your wifi… Your wifi signal is trespassing into my room.”
Hyperjuice 100Wh Battery: Flights and long car rides are where I get a lot of my work done, but my Macbook Air battery only lasts a couple hours… Plugging your laptop into one of these external batteries can extend its life up to 26 hours.
220 Voltage Converter with Fuse : Most standard travel converters don’t have a fuse, and simply just re-route the power from a foreign plug. For those of us North Americans using electronics with 110V plugs, this can be dangerous. If you plug a North American electronic rated at 110V into a foreign outlet rated at 220/240V, there’s a good chance you’ll blow it up. This little box converts the power.
Credit Card Sock: While this is extremely dorky, I find this is the perfect size to hide compact flash cards, money, or my passport.
If you would like to read more check out 5 Critical Tips for Traveling Photographers on Joey L’s blog. Also if you want to check out some truly awesome work be sure to visit Joey L’s website and spend some time looking through his galleries. The guy is incredibly talented.