It has been a while since my last post, but I had a very good reason for it. I have spent together with my wife great holidays in the USA. We were travelling through South Western USA for three weeks, admiring magnificent landscapes and the nature of this area. During preparations and actual trip I have collected (or learned hard way, more on that later) some simple, yet efficient tips on how to organize a photo equipment, shooting sessions, preparing for unexpected situations, etc.
1. Take a tripod with you
Doesn't matter which camera you have, using tripod is invaluable especially when shooting in early morning and early evening. Tripod makes possible to use longer exposure times while using low ISO values and small apertures. It results in turn in more sharp pictures. If one plans to create HDR images in post processing, tripod is actually a must have.
2. Never, ever leave your photo camera on a tripod unattended
This is a lesson I have learned rather hard way. After a shooting session of the Horseshoe Bend in the morning I put my camera (mounted on the tripod) aside and walked several steps to get my bag. At this moment a sudden blast of wind put my camera down, which hit the rocky ground. After all I had a lot of luck, since camera and lens were operational, so I could make use of the set. But the autofocus system was at least partially damaged (only a few out of 51 autofocus points were working correctly). So the camera needed to be repaired after the holidays. Which brings me to next 2 tips.
3. Get your equipment insured
There are different forms of financial insurance. Either you can buy a separate insurance for the camera body (or even lenses), or choose a travel insurance which covers the photo equipment. In case of theft or damage it will save a lot of money. Since my camera is still in reparation, I don't know how much the reparation will cost. But since I have insured my equipment, I don't bother that much.
4. Bring a reserve photo set with you
If something really bad happens with the camera you still want to be able to take the photos, don't you? That is why it is very convenient to have a backup. During my holidays I had actually 3 cameras with me: 2 DSLRs and one compact camera. Next to that I had 11-16, 24-70, 70-200 mm lenses and as a backup the 18-200 mm lens with me 'just in case'. The 2nd DSLR body and 18-200mm lens I have hardly used, but at least I was prepared for unexpected.
5. Scout the place to visit in advance
By scouting I mean actually studying the locations to be visited before the trip, via Internet. Use Google Maps, Street View, discussion forums, travel blogs, and of course books. This is necessary, in my opinion, for two reasons: first, a holiday travel is packed with a lot of places and activities and typically planned to see as much as possible. And it means that the time spent on location has to be used optimally. Second, scouting location in advance increases the chance of finding an unique place to photograph that is not noticed in the first instance by the rest of the crowd. Sure, if it is a really iconic spot, it will probably be photographed by some other people, but still it is worth looking for it.
6. Start your visit in a local gift or post card shop
Sounds maybe strange, but visiting a local post card shop will give some inspirations on what to photograph. It can be invaluable especially in the less known places where you don't even have an idea how it would look like. To give an example: we have been confronted with the U.S. government shutdown during our holidays, so most of the iconic places located in National Parks were unaccessible for us. The first closed park on our way was Arches. While looking for alternatives we have seen a postcard of Corona Arch, being located outside the park, so available to public. So we knew immediately where to go the next day and what to photograph.
7. Talk to the "locals"
One one hand people living at the place have the knowledge that they absorbed over the years. They can tell about the places in their neighbourhood a lot of interesting stuff. On the other hand they have the most actual information about the location; something that often obsoletes the information in travel guides, or even on Internet. Many of them are also hobby or even professional photographers and (at least it is my experience so far) they eagerly share their experiences.
8. Have your equipment prepared for the next shot
This is important in the situations when the equipment is twisted a lot: lenses are changed frequently, filters are placed, camera settings are manipulated. So, suppose you are photographing a close-up of the beautiful granite mountain with 70-200 mm lens, to reduce the reflections you have placed a polarizing filter in front of your lens, set your camera in bracketing mode to capture different exposures. Then you are done, pack the camera back in the bag, move on. Few kilometers further you have a different scenery, changing very quickly. You grab the camera to capture the moment, and... oh, filter has to be dismounted, bracketing switched off. Seconds are elapsed, scene is gone.
To deal with that I have developed a discipline to always bring my camera and lens to a kind of 'default' state after I am done with a certain composition or location. So after shooting I take some time to put the filters back in the bag, restore camera settings to those that I use as a starting point. With some cameras it can be done very quickly. Default settings and setup cause that I don't need to think about a starting point while preparing for next shot and reduce the time needed for adjustments.
9. Plan your day with photography in mind
To take a nice photo you have to be on location when the light is nice. Being ready for shooting at sunrise or at sunset increases the chances for good lighting. Which means that it is good to know the times of local sunrise or sunset. Those two periods of the day definitely determined our daily rhythm during this holidays. Another aspect worth close observation is weather. Clouds during the day can create beautiful, interesting scenery and lighting conditions. So checking weather reports for an area to be visited is also my habit during the photo travel.