Travel photography – equipment and tips
It is finally happening. After months of saving, planning and searching you have decided to travel to Asia for 4 weeks. Because photography is your biggest hobby, you want to make sure you take the best pictures possible and that you visit all the great sites a country has to offer. After you finished packing your suitcase, it is time to charge your batteries, clean your lenses and pack your camera bag. That’s when you ask yourself: what do I take with me? Or maybe even more important: What do I leave behind?
My girlfriend and me just came back from a four week trip to Asia. Our trip started in Cambodia (Siem Reap), then we travelled to Laos (Luang Prabang) and our trip ended in Vietnam, where we visited Sapa and Halong Bay. In this blog, I would like to share with you my experiences of this trip in regards to what equipment to take and how to take home the above average photographs that we all so desire. I will start with the equipment that I carried with me.
The first thing you have to make sure is that you are carrying a comfortable and reliable camera bag. I myself have a Click Elite Pro Express. This bag has a “lock” systems for the zippers, that clamps your zipper to your bag. If anybody tries to open your bag, he will swing it left and right and you will notice. So no sneaky lens stealing! To protect your equipment during changing weather, it is also advised to have a bag with a build in rain sleeve, or to carry one separately. The following equipment I took with me on my trip:
- Canon EOS 5D Mark II with battery grip
- Canon EF 135mm F2.0 L USM
- Canon EF 24-105 F4.0 L USM
- Sigma 35mm F1.4 Art DG HSM
- Cleaning gear (lenspen, bellows, microfiber cloth)
- 3 CF cards of 8 gb (16gb in the camera)
- Redged TSC-424 Ultimate Travel Tripod Carbon Gold Edition
Since this camera bag was my hand luggage, it had to stay under 7 kilograms. Sadly it didn’t, so I had to put the tripod in my suitcase. Don’t forget to weigh before you check in at the airport! To save some weight, your can of course take one lens that covers a large range i.e. 18-200. This however, has a negative effect on image quality, as can be read here.
It is always wise to take a standard zoom lens with you. This lens will stay on your body for 90% of the time. The other two lenses I carried are fast. This comes in handy when you want to shoot some photographs at night and don’t want to up your ISO too much or if you want to work with shallow depth of field (DoF).
During the day I carried my Canon EF 24-105 F4 L with me. This lens allowed me to shoot landscapes (24mm) and portraits (105mm) and still maintain good image quality. The only time I brought my 135mm during the day was when I was absolutely sure that I was going to shoot portraits. I could’ve done this with my 24-105, but I prefer the 135mm for portraits. In fact, the 135mm is my favourite portrait lens! I did not take my tripod during the day because I did not need it.
Figure 1: Canon 24-105 op 100mm F8 Luang Prabang, Laos
Figure 2: Canon 24-105 op 24mm F8 Sapa, Vietnam
In the evenings, I left my standard lens in my hotel and put the 35mm prime on my camera. The 135mm I took with me as well. Because these lenses are “fast”, it will enable the user to shoot some handheld photographs during low light without raising the ISO too much.
Figure 3: Sigma 35mm nightmarket in Siem Reap, Cambodia
Figure 4: Canon 135mm old woman op de night market. Luang Prabang, Laos
How do I bring good photographs back home?
If you are going on a trip if this magnitude (any trip really), you want to take home the best photographs possible. What makes this hard is that your can mostly visit every site only once. Often, there is no chance to visit the same place twice, especially in the middle of the jungle, to retake a photograph. Add to this the fact that, especially during group travels, you often don’t get to choose where you will be on what time of day, so you cannot wait for the perfect light. Luckily, there are some things you can do in preparation, to make sure you have the best chance at getting those beautiful photographs.
The tip I want to give: Make sure you know your camera by heart. I lost count of how many photographers I have seen, missing great moments, like the playing children on the cart, because they were fumbling around in the menus of their cameras. You don’t want to stand there twisting dials for ten minutes. Not only does this make you miss some moments, it might make you miss the entire scene if the guide or the other group members want to move on to the next spot. So before you go on a trip, find out how to change ISO value and what value is acceptable for you (or when your camera starts to produce too much noise). Find out how to change the aperture and at what aperture your lens gives the sharpest images etc.
Figure 5: playing children in Sapa, Vietnam
The second tip: prepare. Read information about the countries you are visiting. Google is your friend. The internet is full of blogs and stories like this one, make them work to your advantage. Preparation is of course finding out what country you go to, what language do they speak, what defines their culture. More importantly though, make sure your know where you are at what time of day and what kind of pictures you want to take (to match your equipment).
For example, for landscape photography you need beautiful light. This light is available during sunrise and sunset and approximately one hour before and after these events. However, you don’t get to choose where you are at that time, given you travel in a group and have a set schedule. So you should take this into account when preparing.
When you want to do landscape photography (example again), make sure you bring a polarising filter and a graduated filter. This somewhat helps preventing colour cast and blown out skies.
Figure 6: landscape photograph, middle of the day
If you want to shoot portraits (one jungle tour took us to some remote villages of the Hmong people), bring your portrait lens etc.
The people in Asia sometimes expect you to pay them for a photograph, or that you buy something off of them. Don’t be fooled by giving them large amounts of money, most people settle for about 20 dollar cents. The old lady in figure 7 insisted that we buy something from her which, given the quality of her posing skills, seemed very reasonable.
Figure 7: An old woman in a remote village in Sapa, Vietnam. Luckily I brought my portrait lens!
Don’t be afraid of taking loads of photographs. Bring enough memory cards and fill them if you have to. Normally I prefer quality over quantity but, because you can visit most sites only once, it is better to take 100 photographs too much then 1 too few! Be sure to get some knowledge of the subjects you want to shoot, this being portrait, landscapes, streets or whatever. This helps taking good photographs faster and more efficient.
The third and final tip: don’t forget to enjoy yourself! Of course it is very tempting to practice photography every single minute of the day. Maybe you feel ambitions hot breath in your neck, or perhaps you see the shining glory of a National Geographic Magazine cover photo, but the most important thing is that you experience and enjoy the surroundings and people. Don’t be afraid to lay down your camera once in a while, hang it around your neck or just leave it at the hotel. Photography is about observing and that doesn’t always have to be done looking through a lens.
I hope you enjoyed this blog as much as I had writing it. I had an amazing trip through Asia and, in my eyes, brought back some really good and special photographs. If you have any questions, or if you want to follow my work, you can find me at Facebook, Twitter or email. See you next blog!
I added some more photographs of my fantastic trip!
Figure 8 Sapa, Vietnam
Figure 9 Kuang Si waterfalls, Laos
Figure 10: swimming in paradise, Laos
Figure 11: Street image, Laos
|Figure 12: boy with chicken
|Figure 13: child of the Hmong
|Figure 14: Children in Laos
|Figure 15: Child with puppy