How to Prepare for an International Photo Trip
Traveling internationally can be one of the most exciting and nerve wracking events for any photographer. On one hand, there will be the opportunity to photograph new and often exotic locales and sights. On the other hand, trucking around all (or most) of your camera gear can be a bit intimidating.
Photo Of Your Info
This simple trick could, possibly, reunite you with your gear. If you put luggage tags on the outside of your checked bags, then consider taking a photo of your contact information on each of your memory cards. It only takes 10 minutes, if that, before a trip to perform this step and it has the potential to turn an accident (leaving your bag behind) or an incident (theft of your gear) into a happy ending.
The idea is if your gear is found, the information on the first photo will help good natured citizens find you.
I believe the world contains more people that do the right thing than the bad thing, and the odds are in favor of one of those people finding your gear. Be sure to include a local contact point (a friend's phone number or the number of a hotel) and to take the photo in JPEG mode so it will be easily readable by any computer.
Know Your Rights
Knowing your rights as a photographer can be a tricky situation while traveling abroad. Unfortunately there is no master repository of photographers' rights around the world, so some sleuth work will be needed on your part. Where I live in the USA, there are often many misconceptions, passed around by pop culture and word of mouth, and it takes an investigative photographer to find the truth about what is and isn't allowed.
Can you shoot photos of buildings from a public location? What about photos of royalty abroad? Do you need permission to photograph people in public places? What about kids? Or street performers?
These questions and more are best discovered before leaving home. As a head start, here are a few links to resources for photographers' rights in the USA, Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand (links courtesy of Photojojo.com).
If your gear goes missing, you are best served with having serial number information handy to fill out a police report. It can also prove ownership in a disputed instance. I usually create a couple of mini-cards, just 3"x3" pieces of paper with a size 6 font, which contain all of my vital information including the serial numbers. I then print out two or three of these cards and place them in different spots. This helps me rest easy should the worst happen.
Chargers & Converters & Adapters
Copyright Iain Watson
In these modern days, the odds are in your favor that your camera battery charger will work almost anywhere in the world. Take a look at your charger, on the back, and see if it says something like “50-60Hz 100-240V". If that appears, if means your charger is safe to use between those ranges.
Now take that information and head over to one of the world power site, such as Electric Power Around The World. Find your country(ies) of choice and find out what the hertz(Hz) and volts(V) are for that location. If it fits in the range of your device you are half way there. If it does not fit, you will need a converter. A converter will change the power coming out of the wall in a foreign country to match the current your device is requiring. This is very important: failure to match the current can cause explosions or battery leaks. Both of which are bad things to happen on any trip.
If the current fits within your device's range, then you will only need to adapt the plug of your device to the country you will be visiting. Again, reference the above site to find which style of plug you will need. I prefer to travel with a multi plug set such as the Targus World Power Travel Adapters if I am visiting more than one country. This set covers most of the world. Otherwise, if I am traveling to Europe for instance, I would buy a couple of the single, small adapters rather than a bulky solution.
Extend Your Power
Now that you have your power adapted to the right current and plug choice, grab a power strip to make life easier. One power strip, with the right adapter at the end, means you don't need an adapter for each device. This makes life more simple. I travel with a Monster Outlets To Go power strip (there is a six outlet version available for the supergeeks out there with a lot of devices). It folds into itself and is very handy when you find everyone in the airport is already using an outlet. Just point to the device and ask if you can share. It makes for instant friends too when you plug it in at crowded sources.
The age old question: How many cards should I bring? Ok, maybe not age old, before digital cameras it was: How many rolls of film should I bring? If travel is not your normal gig, it's hard to guess how much space you may need. Use the following rule of thumb as a starting point.
Copyright Danny Nicholson
If this is a place you have never been to and likely will not visit ever again, assume 300-500 images a day if you are a happy snapper. That's a starting point. If you have another trip's worth of images on your computer, take the number of images and divide by the number of days. With this number in hand, multiply by the average file size for your camera. For my Canon 7D I know it is around 20MB. You can find this information by browsing your images and making an informal observation of the average.
With that number in mind, remember cards have some overhead for cataloging where all the information goes. I just popped a brand new 32GB compact flash card in my camera and it shows 29.8GB available. That's 7% lost to overhead. When in doubt, grab just one more card.
To contain and organize all these cards, I would suggest something along the lines of the LowePro Deluxe Media Case.
This section is optional for some and vital to others. When you shoot your images, they are written to a memory card. All your eggs are now in one basket, so to speak. And cards fail, they're not perfect. Plus cards also get smashed, stolen or lost. It's important to think of a backup plan if your images are important to you.
The easiest way to backup your images is with a dedicated device. Something like the Digital Foci Picture Porter works without a computer, yet, when home, can be plugged into one as if it were just another external disk. It also works on battery power making it great for the road (although charging while traveling is often needed, but that's why you have the power strip). Now you can have your images on the original card and a second copy on this device. As a helpful hint, store this drive away from your camera in another piece of luggage, incase your camera bag goes missing.
You may also bring a laptop to serve as your backup, or go a step further (read; semi-paranoid like me) and copy the images to your laptop as well as a cheaper USB harddrive, like the Western Digital My Passport. Now there are three copies. This works well if you already planned on bringing a laptop and it allows you to buy less cards as they can be recycled when full, because you will have a copy on the laptop and on the external drive.
Keeping gear clean while on the road is a challenge. It needn't be impossible though. With a bulb blower and some lint-free cloth, keeping clean can be managed. Check your camera's sensor daily for dust, at the beginning of the day, by taking a shot of something bright and a single color. Like the sky. Look for dust on the sensor and run your camera's self cleaning mode if it has it.
If not, use the blower to remove dust. Do this with the camera facing down so the dust will (hopefully) fall out when blown. Do not attempt to blow on the sensor with your mouth as the natural moisture present might get blown onto the sensor, causing a whole new problem. Use the lint-free cloths to wipe off the contact points on the lens and camera body as well as the eyepiece and lenses.
If you are near the ocean or any salty or extra dusty area, give your camera a wipe down with a damp cloth. You won't see the salt forming, as in the wheel wells of a car driven over salted roads, but it is there and can corrode just the same, over time (and with multiple exposures).
Copyright Steve Jurvetson
Now to fit all of this stuff in something to carry around the world. Roller bag? Backpack? Shoulder bag? The choices are many and I can't list every situation here. What I can suggest is laying out all of your gear in front of you to help make this decision clear. So many times I've seen this decision made emotionally by what looks cool or what sounded good from the salesman. Only to hear about regret after the trip when it was too big, or too small, or too hard to find things in those 1,000 pockets.
Realize that weight on the road is more than it is at home. By that I mean, it may not seem like your camera and lenses weigh much when you take them to the local park and shoot for 30 minutes or even an hour. But when you have to haul them around for five hours, as well as other items (water bottle, guide book, rain jacket, phrase book, souvenirs, etc...), the weight can seem extreme. Make sure you give yourself time practicing with the bag of your choice well before the trips starts. Just as you shouldn't buy new boots before a 20 mile hike, don't buy a new bag the night before a trip.
If you find there is too much space in your bag, or your lenses are a bit small, consider wrapping them in socks to help pad movement. The same can be done with your camera body and one of the lint-free cloths. Consider using a memory wallet for your memory cards so they aren't loose and flopping around. The same can be done for your filters.
Traveling internationally need not be stressful with just a bit of preparation. Upon return from my last trip to Bhutan I made some comments on my standard packing list (which is free to borrow and includes both photography and non-photography items) and you can find it here.