It’s that time of the year again – you just booked your vacation – for relaxing’s sake! Where are you headed? Off to explore a new city, a new country, or even a new continent? Wherever you end up travelling, chances are, you will want to take some photographs. Be it documenting your trip or working on your portfolio on the side, there are some things to be taken into consideration. The vacation you have been looking forward to first and foremost is about relaxing and discovering a new place. The tips below serve as a guideline to successfully incorporating photography into such a trip:
Decide on sights you want to see
You are most likely visiting the location for a reason, be it museums, the rich history of the place, or the nearby beautiful landscape. It is important that you know what sites you want to visit and what activities to pursue before arriving at your destination. Actually, this is valid for any kind of trip as otherwise you waste a lot of your precious time off thinking of what to do. While you’re at it, also look up some restaurants; I find TripAdvisor to be an invaluable resource.
Get inspired, choose and research shooting locations
Now, to the photography part. You will want to have some inspiration of what you could possibly shoot during your stay. Websites like Flickr or 500px are some of the best places to find that inspiration. Just search for your destination and check out what others have done; maybe (most likely) some subjects appeal to you and you would like to shoot at the same location, creating your version of it. If your list happens to include some areas which require special access, book tickets ahead of time, and most importantly, research whether photography is even allowed, and if yes, whether you will be able to take the needed equipment. Unfortunately tripods are not welcome in many areas, so being aware of that helps dampen some disappointment when being turned away.
The title says it all: Balance. Balance between sightseeing and photography is incredibly important, even more so if you are not traveling alone, and is the single most important thing when planning your trip. What I like to do is mark the chosen sites on a map in one color, and photography locations in another. Unless you are really unlucky, you will notice some clusters forming. Maybe that hill overlooking the city to shoot some cityscapes is close to a recreational park you planned to stroll through. That pier where you want to shoot long exposures during sunset – I am confident there must be a good restaurant close by to visit before or after. Check TripAdvisor. Try to fit the attractions in to the times you don’t plan to shoot, like the middle of the day, so that you have the morning and evening for making use of the great light! I think you get the drift. Also, never neglect your companion. Inform them early on that you want to spend some time photographing, but that you want to build it around your vacation together. Most certainly you will find a compromise which benefits the both of you. The perfect example is the above image: I knew ahead of time that I would want to shoot the Manhattan skyline from the Brooklyn Bridge Park. Luckily, my mom, sister and I agreed to visit that park anyway. Since I wanted to shoot at sunset and they didn’t care too much about the time, we settled on the early evening, just before sunset. While they were having their girl talk I was filling up my memory card with pure gold.
Be smart about what gear you take
Let’s be honest – we all love our gear, more than we should. Therefore, we’ll want to take every last bit of it for that one eventuality of needing that special lens. No. While out and about, you will spend a great deal of time walking or standing. Having all your gear in your backpack will undoubtedly ruin your experience as you will hardly be able to move from sore muscles on day two. So be smart. Go back to point #2 and study your locations once more. What focal range will you need to get the shots you want? Again, Flickr or 500px can be immensely useful here: Check the EXIF data on some shots that appeal to you, and see what focal length was used. I, for example, was really unsure of whether to bring my 70-200mm f/2.8 to NYC. I checked all the locations again, and once I saw that 70mm was enough to get the kind of shots I wanted from across the river, I felt quite confident in leaving the 70-200mm f/2.8 at home. I recommend taking one, if really necessary, two lenses with you. Unless you are shooting to pay your bills, you should prioritize versatility over that little bit of improved image quality you would get from carrying only primes. I took the 24-70mm f/2.8 and a 20mm f/1.8 in case I wanted a wider shot. I used the zoom lens 98% of the time. There will undoubtedly be times where you would want a lens you left home, but if you followed my advice and did your homework, this will only occur two to three times, and in my book having 2 kg less to lug around all day beats not having that special lens for the two to three shots you would have used it for. Lastly, make sure that everything fits in your backpack, along with a good supply of water, space for a rain jacket or umbrella and maybe some snacks for while you are out and about. Traveling by plane? Check with the airline about luggage restrictions and tripod allowance (mostly this shouldn’t be a problem unless you bring a 5 kg monster).
Don’t be afraid to improvise or skip things
Having a plan is good; it eliminates that feeling of not knowing what to do and thereby missing most of the attractions. Having a plan is good, knowing when to deviate from it is better. Don’t be afraid of skipping something on your list or reshuffling if it doesn’t fit your current mind-set. You spent some more time in that beautiful park? Don’t get all stressed out and sit down with your companion to decide what to skip. You will probably find yourself with time to spare once an attraction doesn’t live up to its potential and you end up being done with it way before you anticipated. Also, while walking around and taking in the surroundings, don’t be afraid to follow spur-of-the-moment desires. Give in to some of them, rewarding yourself with a culinary treat, a rest on a bench or a visit to a small museum which you stumbled upon. In Peterhof, Russia, I was taking the most romantic walk through a beautiful park in the early evening with my girl. I hadn’t planned on shooting at all, but when we stumbled upon that pond with the house (see picture) I just couldn’t help it. Since I had told her early on that I also wanted to shoot some image from time to time, she was absolutely cool with stopping for 10-15 minutes, allowing me to get what is still my favourite image today. It’s all about communication.
Balancing your photography with a vacation isn’t easy, but I hope with these five tips I helped you make it more manageable. It is important that at no point you forget that you are on vacation, and therefore should enjoy it. Listen to your companion, listen to your desires, and make the most of it – together. Have you ever had to balance photography with a trip? If yes, where was it, how did it go, what advice would you give to someone? Let’s hear it in the comments!