travel photography

Travel is, for most people, one of the greatest stimuli for photography. Seeing everything fresh and new makes it much easier to take good or even great photographs. Of course there are plenty of practical considerations, and they are what we look at in this module. You may also care to get a copy of our Focal Press book on Travel Photography for more information than we can fit into this module.


As you may have gathered from the rest of the site, we travel a lot, by air, car (including Land Rover), motorcycle and train, each of which imposes its own constraints. We rely on our travel to supply pictures for our books, magazine articles and of course this web site.



Lhamo dancer, Tibetan Institute for Performing Arts

Travel isn't just about places: it is about people too. Because of Frances's interest in theatre, one of our first ports of call when we went to Dharamsala was the Tibetan Institute for Performing Arts (TIPA), where we soon became friends with the then director, Jamyang Norbu.

Lhamo, or Tibetan opera, is a fascinating art-form and the costumes are extremely colourful. Roger took this with a Linhof Technika 70 on 6x7cm Kodak Ektachrome 64; the lighting was from a door to the left (it was raining hard outside) and Frances held a Lastolite reflector to the right.

don't overload yourself

The first and most fundamental rule is this: do not carry too much equipment. There are many reasons for this. You'll get tired. You may well injure your ack: we know a lot of photographers who developed bad backs in middle age from carrying too much kit, too far, for too long. You run the risk of spending so much time choosing which camera or lens to use that you miss quite a lot of pictures. You'll be laying yourself open to security problems of several kinds: you may have to check part of your equipment for airline travel, you may be faced with the choice of overloading yourself or leaving part of the kit in an hotel room or in the car, and you will be an easier target for the street-thief or pickpocket.

Increasingly we travel with only 35mm equipment, though sometimes -- less often nowadays -- we carry medium format and even 4x5 inch equipment.


Couple with cart, market, Maramures

The Maramures area of Transylvania in Romania is one of the safest and most honest places you could hope to visit, but crowded market-places have always attracted pickpockets and cutpurses, so the less you are carrying, the less you have to keep track of and the less likely you are to have your equipment stolen.

For this kind of candid shot, fast-handling cameras are essential. Roger used a Leica MP with 75/2 Summicron and Kodak EBX ISO 100.

do your research

Find out as much as you reasonably can about a place before you leave. Check costs, attitudes, and weather: India is not much fun in either the hot season or the monsoon, though travel agents will often merrily sell packages for these periods. Consider obvious factors such as altitude: in Darjeeling we met a rather dim couple whose travel agent had told them that they wouldn't need warm clothing because Darjeeling wasn't that far from Calcutta, for which he did have climatic data. But Darjeeling is at 2265 metres, abut a mile and a half higher above sea level than Calcutta. The couple in question were comfortable enough in Calcutta (for which they had packed) but pretty chilly in Darjeeling in February.

Apart from practical information, one of the main things you are looking for is visual inspiration. If somewhere sounds interesting but you cannot find any good pictures of it, ask yourself what the problems are.


Carved wooden gate and church, Maramures, Transylvania

Maramures is famed for its elaborate wooden carvings, building and gates, so it makes sense to shoot them -- but to be honest, we found the people and their daily life to be a lot more interesting. Roger used a Leica MP with 35/1.4 Summilux for this shot on Kodak Elite Chrome EBX 100, trueing up the verticals in Adobe Photoshop.


Books and magazines are obviously useful -- you can borrow books if you don't want to buy them, though obviously we'd prefer it if you bought ours -- and so are tourist offices: they will often send you remarkable amounts of stuff, just for the asking.

The value of the internet is much more variable. Government sites vary from the excellent to the abysmal. If you can find private sites with free pictures -- like ours -- you can learn a certain amount. There's some good paid information on the internet: for obvious reasons we'd recommend our own Motorcycle Touring in Europe site (which also includes India and California). We hope that what you are reading at the moment is useful, and it's free.

Then there are forums and chat rooms, where the big problem lies in separating the wheat from the chaff -- and there is usually an awful lot of chaff. The people who know the least are often the most willing and emphatic donors of information, and besides, who is to say that your interests are the same as theirs? Or that their information is up to date? Treat anything you read on the internet with suspicion, unless you have other reasons for believing it to be true.


Also, beware of either making a fool of yourself on the internet, or inviting the company of fools. One of our favourite questions was "Are English pubs safe?"  The person asking the question, an American, was apparently concerned that he might be robbed, beaten senseless and left naked in the gutter if he went into the Dog and Duck for a half. Another (American again) was worried about taking his Leica to Bombay: should he buy another camera to take with him in case the Leica made him a target for thieves? Yet another wondered if he should send his camera in for an overhaul after dropping it on the beach. It hadn't been open and there was no sign of damage, but he was worried. And to show that the English can be just as silly, there was the man who was afraid of taking his SLR into the English countryside in case it got rained on: a risk, sure, but how hard is it to guard against? If you are this frightened, stay home: travel, with or without photography, isn't for you.

Possibly the greatest use of the internet is to get to actually meet fellow enthusiasts who can give you pointers and maybe even invitations. When we say "meet" we mean it in the traditional sense of 'be in the same place as', rather than in the computer sense of 'exchange views via the internet'. You need not confine yourself to photographers: we, for example, might seek out fellow motorcyclists or Land Rover lovers.


Queen's Head, Ramsgate

You may sometimes be surprised if your preconceptions were formed by reading, or by looking at old pictures. This is a classic English pub, with superb Victorian ornamentation -- but it has tables on the pavement (sidewalk) which is very un-traditional; the umbrellas over the table advertise one American beer and one French (using the term 'beer' loosely); and on the blackboards are advertisements for football on a big-screen TV, a St. Patrick's Day disco, and half a gallon of beer in a jug. This is not the sort of pub that is patronized by old men playing dominos. Roger used a Voigtländer Bessa-R and 35/1.7 Voigtländer Ultron, correcting the verticals in Adobe Photoshop.

accommodation and travel

The big question here is whether photography is the principal aim of the trip (or at least one of the principal aims) or whether it is incidental. In the former case you will often do well to spend extra money, here and there, on things that make your photography easier. For example, take a hotel room that is nearer the subject you want to photograph, so you can get there earlier and stay later. If it means getting a better night's sleep, again, spend the extra money on a better hotel.

To take an extreme example, you might get more pictures, and better, in a week of spending money faster, perhaps hiring a car, than you would get in two weeks of economizing and travelling by bus and rail. You might well spend less too. If your main purpose is shooting, the week is better value. If your main purpose is to take a holiday, or to get to know the country and experience its culture, the two weeks may be a better bet.

Of course there is a cross-over point on this, and it depends on what sort of pictures you are after: again to take an extreme example, are you shooting the tourist sights and hotels for a brochure, or making an in-depth study of refugees. Sooner or later, more time spent in a place is likely to result in better pictures, but until you reach that point -- which may be weeks or months -- you may be better with a quick in-and-out shooting trip.

Saint Basilius, Moscow

Shooting the grand Set Pieces, the establishing shots that are shorthand for where you are, can be unexpectedly difficult. We shot this in the early morning to get the clear, warm light and also as little traffic as possible. A street-cleaning lorry parked in shot, to the left, then saw that we were taking pictures and moved -- the driver was a kind and generous man, a Muscovite justly proud of his city. This was in the early 1990s, though: you might have difficulty in getting as clear a shot today. Because we were staying some way away, we had to leave really early in order to get to Red Square early enough to shoot this picture. We used a Nikon F with 35/2.8 PC-Nikkor, shooting on Fuji RF ISO 50.;


It is possible to over-shoot. We have done this in two ways. Some things are so visually wonderful that you can't stop, so you end up with far too many near-identical shots. This happened to us on the Ganges and with Tibetan opera performances. All you can do is console yourself with the thought that film and processing aren't all that expensive.

The other kind of over-shooting is when you exhaust the possibilities of a place. This has happened to us in Mertola in Portugal. We have now been there so often that we have exhausted most of the possible pictures that we are likely to take with 35mm -- though if we went back with our Alpas or with large-format cameras it might be different. It's a lovely place for a holiday but not so much for shooting any more. But we have yet to begin to exhaust Malta.

Hagia Sophia, Constantinople

Our trip to Turkey was not enjoyable. It began with a corrupt immigration official stealing money from us (see below) and went on to embrace bad weather on all but two days, a disappointing hotel and a very limited range of admittedly very good food. We had to force ourselves to keep shooting and at first we thought we had overshot in a sort of compensation. To our surprise we found we hadn't: we got far more good pictures than we had thought at the time. Roger shot this with a Leica M4P and 35/1.4 Summilux, trueing up the verticals in Adobe Photoshop.


travelling with a non-photographer

If you are travelling with someone who is not a photographer, remember their needs too. Taking pictures can often take more time than many people want to spend looking at one thing or being in one place. During this time, your companion has three choices. Be elsewhere (sometimes hard to arrange -- it may be easier to have parallel schedules for the whole day, meeting again at night); be bored; or take up photography. The last was how Frances started.

cameras and lenses

A great deal depends on how you are travelling. You have the maximum possible flexibility if you are in your own car: a hired car can be nearly as good, though this usually implies some other form of transport (for us, normally air) at either end of the trip. This is why we have pared our equipment to the minimum necessary to get decent pictures.

Even in a car with no air travel, you still have the issues of security and an excess of choice. Security can be a major consideration. Most of our cars in the last 15 years have been estate-car types without a lockable boot (trunk). Not only does this leave camera cases invitingly on display: many insurance companies refuse to pay out if the gear is not locked away. An excellent idea in such cases is a lockable 'strong box' , preferably bolted to the floor of the vehicle.

Tibetan refugee woman, Dharamsala

Roger has been using Leicas since the early 1970s and is much more comfortable with them than with reflexes, though he also uses Nikon Fs for longer lenses and (now) a Nikon D70. But for classical reportage photography like this he finds a Leica and just two lenses, 35/1.4 and 75/2, to be quickest, easiest and most convenient to use.


avoiding unfamiliar equipment

It is foolish in the extreme to rely on unfamiliar or untried equipment when travelling. If you buy a new camera or lens for a major trip you should at the very least try a roll or two of film before you leave. Better still, do not take anything unless you have already owned and used it for several months.


film versus digital

We have yet to rely solely on digital for travel shooting. There are many reasons for this. The quality available from film is still vastly superior to our 6-megapixel Nikon D70, and we also like black and white, where film has it all. We do not care to rely on batteries, especially as there have been times when the power has failed for days at a time in some of the more remote areas we have visited. We prefer rangefinder cameras.

Also, we have only the one digital camera and it would be foolish to rely on one camera, no matter how good, when you are far from home. Our rangefinder cameras are all mechanical (except the Voigtländer Bessa R3A) and of the ultimate quality: if they do fail, they are for the most part easily reparable. The D70, when all is said and done, is a camera that is not designed to take the beating of high-end pro gear. Although a half-gig card can hold up to about 100 high-quality JPEGS, we'd need a lot of cards to accommodate the 1000-2000 images we normally shoot on a trip. Of course we could buy a 'digital wallet' but the idea of putting all one's photographic eggs into a single such basket makes our blood run cold.

We do however use the Nikon for all kinds of shots where speed and convenience rather than quality are the principal concerns, including happy-snaps, but for material we'd hate to lose we use film as backup as well.


Romanian roads

This is the sort of picture for which we increasingly use the D70: the sort of 'on the road' shot where you often need to take a lot of pictures in order to get one or two that capture the subject. A newly-loaded 256Mb card holds over 70 images. We don't use the camera in the shoot-review, shoot-review style of most amateurs; rather, we shoot as many pictures as we reasonably can and save only the best ones. Also, of course, we can re-shoot immediately if we find we've nothing that really says what we wanted to say. Roger was driving; Frances took the picture.

formats and outfits

We generally find it best to plan on using a single format -- 35mm, roll-film or large format -- for the vast majority of the 'serious' photography, though we may carry other cameras as backups or for happy snaps. Otherwise, as already noted, there is always the question of which format and camera to use.

Exactly which cameras and lenses you carry will depend on your personal preferences, what you are photographing and what you have got. Going on the internet to ask others what they would use is a bit like asking them what food they prefer: your tastes may be completely different. You can get a pretty good idea of what we shoot, and how, from the pictures on this web site so it may be of interest if we list our typical outfits.

If we are shooting 35mm we will normally carry one rangefinder body each (Leica or Voigtländer) plus one spare: typically, Roger will carry the Leica MP and Frances the Voigtländer Bessa-R3A or R2, with either the Voigtländer Bessa-T or more usually the Leica M4-P as a spare. Roger's lenses (in order of preference) will be 35/1.4 Summilux, 75/2 Summicron, 21/4 Voigtlander while Frances usually goes for either the 50/2.5 Color-Skopar or 50/1.5 Nokton as her main lens with a 28/1.9 Voigtländer as a backup. We'll normally carry the 15/4.5 Voigtländer as well because it's so small and light, and we may add the 90/2 Summicron as well, though we use the 75 more and more and the 90 less and less. In addition to the rangefinder bodies we normally carry a single Nikon F body with at least a 200mm lens and sometimes others; rangefinders are of limited use beyond 90mm.



Domes of Ss. Peter and Paul, St. Petersburg

Sometimes, if we don't know what to expect, we carry 'trick' lenses such as the old 600/8 Vivitar Series 1 'Solid Cat' that Roger used (on a Nikon F) for this picture; the film was the old Ferrania 1000D daylight ISO 1000 material. Old, relatively inexpensive lenses on elderly reflexes can have two big advantages. First, they are not very valuable, so you do not need to worry too much about leaving them in an hotel room or in the boot (trunk) of a car. Second, many have a unique 'look' of their own -- though any long-focus mirror lens is going to share the flat contrast of the 600/8, simply because of atmospheric degradation.

With roll-film Roger usually carries just his Alpa 12 WA with 38/4.5 Biogon and 44x66mm back while Frances carries her Alpa 12 S/WA with 35/5.6 Rodenstock Apo-Grandagon and 6x9cm back. Then we'll also carry another camera for longer lenses, usually our heavily modified Linhof Technika 70 with 100/5.6 Apo-Symmar and maybe 150/5.6 Apo-Lanthar. Normally we carry just one 6x7cm back though we sometimes carry two. Otherwise we may carry either our Graflex XL for which we have only the 80/2.8 lens or our Polaroid 600 with 75mm and 127mm lenses, and 6x7 and 6x9 backs.

In 4x5 inch our usual choice is the ultra-light Toho FC45X with 110/5.6 Schneider Super-Symmar-XL and 210/5.6 Rodenstock Apo-Sironar-S. We used to have a 47/5.6 Schneider Super Angulon but it was a hassle to focus and compose on the ground glass so we now rely on other formats for ultra-wides. Someday we may take out the Linhof Technika 5x7 with the same two lenses as the 4x5.

Of course there are times when we shoot 'funnies' as well such as 6x17cm but these are usually secondary to the main format.



As with equipment, so with film. Shooting unfamiliar film-stocks is rash in the extreme. Again, if you decide to try something new, shoot a few rolls before you go. We do not always follow our own advice on this but there are two reasons for this. One is that we often have a few rolls of a new film to try, and after we have done the initial resolution, speed and development tests we might as well try it somewhere new as somewhere familiar. The other is that very occasionally we run out of film, though this has not happened for years.

Although we know good places to buy film in both the United States and Britain, and some that are not too bad elsewhere, we always prefer to buy all our film before we leave. We do this no matter what country we are living in. This way we can buy from our usual suppliers; we know that the film has been well stored; and we know that there will be no unexpected shortages of the film we want. Buying on the road often means paying premium prices for film that has been stored in less than excellent conditions, and you can't be sure of getting what you want, in the quantities you want. The only exceptions are when we know we shall be visiting one of our favourite shops such as Freestyle in Los Angeles in the course of a trip.


Men at market, Maramures, Transylvania

At any one time we have a few favourite films, and use no others unless we have to. Our all-time favourite colour slide film was Fuji RF/RFP ISO 50; since that was discontinued we spent a year or two with Agfa before going on to our current Kodak EBX Elite Chrome ISO 100. We know how it will render various colours and tones; we know how and when to give a little more or a little less exposure; in short, we are comfortable with it. Roger used his Leica MP and 35/1.4 Summilux for this shot.


We have never encountered an authenticated instance of airport X-rays for carry-on baggage causing any detectable damage. This includes deliberately putting fast film such as Kodak TMZ and Ilford Delta 3200 through X-ray machines several times, which we have done. Like most photographers we insist on a hand search if we can get it, on the grounds that you can't be too careful, but if it goes through, we don't worry.

You will increase your chances of a hand search if you put all your film in plastic bags that can be removed from your baggage, which can then be X-rayed; insisting on a hand search of the whole bag can cause serious delays and ill-will. You can also sort your film by speed and type; if life looks like getting difficult, ask for a hand search only of the fastest stuff.

Checked baggage is another matter. Increasing numbers of airports use X-rays that can fog paper, never mind film. NEVER put film in checked baggage. Beware of certain sloppy airlines, especially in the US, who impose no real control on carry-on baggage for the first half of their passengers, and then refuse to accept even legitimate carry-on baggage when they suddenly realize that the baggage racks are full. This is why it is always worth trying to get onto the aircraft as early as possible.

processing on the road

The idea of having some or all of your film processed while you are travelling is attractive: there can be no latent image regression, and the processed film is indifferent to both light and X-rays. On the other hand, it can be very hard indeed to find a good lab when you are travelling and having film processed can swallow the best part of a day. You need to locate a good lab; go there to drop the film off; and then pick it up again. We have used this approach in the past but we emphatically do not recommend it any longer. If you want to know more about finding reputable labs when you are on the road, buy our book on travel photography!

Another possibility is processing your films yourself, carrying a changing bag, tank, chemicals, etc. This is possible -- we've done it -- but the problem tends to be drying. You need a dust-free environment (over the bath or in a shower enclosure is usually best) and if the film is not fully dry by the time you leave you will have problems. You are also likely to have problems if your room is cleaned while the films are hanging up, dry or not.

If you are paranoid and want to test your equipment, it is not a bad idea to expose the occasional roll of colour film and have that processed at a mini-lab; at least it will tell you whether your camera(s) and lens(es) are working properly. There is nothing to stop you putting a 36-exposure roll in one camera; shooting a few frames; rewinding (leaving the leader out, obviously); then shooting the rest of the film in one or more other cameras. The lab may cut through some of your negatives but the film should not be of anything important anyway.

Or of course there are always Polaroid backs for those cameras that accept interchangeable backs.

posting film home

This is another idea that some people find attractive, but we cannot bring ourselves to do it: we do not trust any post office or courier company that well. For the same reason we avoid postal processing. It is true that films are very rarely lost but it does happen.


Choerten and prayer flags, Thekchen Choeling, Dharamasala

Last time we were in Dharamsala we did in fact shoot some colour negative film, but we can't show it here. We were shooting at the reception centre for newly arrived refugees, so that they could have pictures of themselves as souvenirs. Many will return to Tibet after acquiring an education in India, and if they are recognized by the occupying Chinese authorities as having been to India they risk imprisonment or torture. We gave them the prints and destroyed the negatives in their presence.

On a mundane note, although some places in Dharamsala offered slide processing, it appeared that the slides were sent down to Delhi. We found it much preferable to bring the film home with us. This is Kodak E100VS exposed by Frances in a Contax Rx with 100/2.8 Makro lens.


Lens shades (hoods) are taken for granted, though we don't normally use them on our Alpas because the angle of view is too wide.

It is possible to get overly excited about filters: not about using them, which is often an excellent idea, but about their quality. We have conducted on-the-film tests which show conclusively that it is quite hard to wreck the definition of a lens by putting a filter on the front: the only detectable degradation came from 2mm window glass. Ctein, a better experimentalist than either of us, found exactly the same thing. We normally use light yellow (2x), deep yellow (2.8x) or light orange (2.8x) filters in monochrome, but we no longer use polarizers because they are very inconvenient with rangefinder cameras. In any case, the lenses tend to be so much contrastier that there is less need.

Because of the cameras we prefer to use, we always carry separate hand-held meters. Roger normally carries an incident light meter (Gossen) which is best for slides while Frances carries a spot meter (Pentax digital) which is ideal for black and white: check the paid modules on exposure determination for slides and exposure determination for negatives to learn more.

Place des Vosges, Paris

There's no-one large enough to be easily recognizable, which can be important in France, as noted below under 'Dealing with People'. On the other hand, the two girls in the red dresses in front of the statue really 'make' the picture. Roger shot this freehand with Frances's Bessa R3A because Frances normally uses a tripod as noted in the next paragraph. The lens was a 50/2.5 Color Skopar, with lens shade; the film, Kodak EBX Elite Chrome 100. Exposure determination was via an incident-light reading.

Frances almost invariably uses a tripod because she suffers from a 'benign essential tremor' which is medicalese for 'shaky hands, but don't worry about it'. With 35mm we find that very light tripods (1 kg, a couple of pounds) are perfectly adequate, though if you are going to take the ultra-light route the tripods must be of very high quality (we use Slik and Velbon) and you don't want the centre column extended when you are using long lenses.

With medium format and 4x5 inch we use either mid-weight Gitzo (2 kg or just over 4 lb) or a very light (2.3 kg, under 3 lb), old, wooden MPP tripod that has no centre column: centre columns are heavy and a fruitful source of vibration, because the camera is on the end of a pendulum arm. Even with 5x7 inch and 8x10 inch we use a relatively light (4 kg, under 9 lb) wooden tripod, again saving weight by omitting the centre column.

Other things being equal, the heavier the tripod, the better the stability. On the other hand, if your tripod is so heavy that you either leave it behind or suffer unduly carrying it, it's not much use either. A lot of people who advocate very heavy tripods do so on theoretical grounds; or have 'tested' lighter tripods under unrealistic conditions (centre column at full extension) or simply enjoy suffering for their art.

For that matter, do not neglect table-top tripods, which can also be pressed against walls or even windows: there is more about this in the (paid) module on low-light shooting.

There are alternatives to tripods, too. Most people find that a monopod allows them to hold a camera for one or two shutter-speeds longer, e.g. 1/8 second instead of 1/30; 'bean bags' (or just a rolled-up coat or a pair of gloves) are useful to adjust the camera on a wall or tree-branch without scratching it and with more stable positioning.


Red Square and St. Basilius in the mist

On a day like this, a tripod can be useful even if you don't have a 'benign essential tremor' above): Frances mounted a Nikon F on a tripod, shooting on Fuji RFP ISO 50 with a 90/2.5 Vivitar Series 1. With relatively slow colour film and a modest aperture to ensure good depth of field, shutter speeds can become inconveniently long.

Tripods also make it easier to get the same shot in both mono and colour: you simply switch cameras on the tripod. Frances also shot this in mono. Yet another advantage of a tripod is that you can set up the camera and just wait until the right moment: you don't have to hold it to your eye, with your arms getting more and more tired and therefore shakier. Monopods are ideal for this application, too, even on bright, sunny days.

packing and bags

You need to protect your equipment from two things: blows and vibration. Vibration can be a significant problem with many forms of transport, especially motorcycling or any vehicle with jolting suspension such as a Land Rover or an Indian bus. We have had internal lens elements unscrew and a Hasselblad back fall in half under the influence of single-cylinder motorcycles.

Unexpectedly, well-made soft-side cases may often offer better protection against blows than hard-sides for a given size of case. This is because a lot of energy is dissipated as the case deforms and absorbs the blow and the equipment inside the case moves around. We use Billinghams. Hard-sides need a lot of foam inside to give the same level of protection.

A useful rule of thumb is that high-density foam (or equivalent materials) protects best against knocks while low density foam (or equivalent materials) protects best against vibration. The back seat of a car is generally a good protection against vibration, though you may be well advised to close the windows and lock the doors in some cities: an arm through the window, or a hastily opened door, are not unknown.


Western Enclosure, Khajuraho

The temples at Khajuraho are most famous for their erotic carvings, but they are also very fine examples of Hindu architecture. Roger shot this in the early 1980s with (as far as we recall) a Linhof Technika 70; certainly, it is on 6x7cm Ektachrome 64, so it can't have been the Hasselblad.

The big drawback to using medium format for travel is that unless you use specialist cameras such as Alpas, you soon end up with a very big, heavy camera bag, which you have to put on the ground while you are working. If there are two of you working together, one can watch over the gear while the other shoots, but if you are on your own, you have to close the bag carefully and stand with one foot through the shoulder-strap. Also, carrying a big, heavy bag in tropical heat is even less fun than carrying it any other time -- except possibly snow-shoeing...

For motorcycling, the harshest environment of all, we use a tank bag with a fairly thick layer of foam (3-4 cm, over an inch) under the camera equipment. Socks, T-shirts, etc. absorb vibration reasonably well unless they are compressed but they also give off dust and lint.

For dust protection generally, Zip-Loc or similar sealable plastic bags are ideal. They are also very handy for holding film, whether exposed or unexposed. Under very humid conditions such as the Indian monsoon consider Zip-Locs with silica gel.

A useful trick with 35mm film is to strip the tubs out of the box and tape the box-end to the tub. The box-end is is not only a reminder of what is in there, but when you expose the film, you remove the box-end. That way, exposed and unexposed films are easily distinguished. Having the film tubs in clear bags is also handy for X-ray security (above) and customs (below).


dealing with customs

Before you go anywhere, check whether there are restrictions on how many cameras you can carry, or how much film. These are rarely enforced but we have on a number of occasions had serial numbers listed in our passports as we entered India. The main thing is to be aware of potential problems.

As a general rule no-one is worried about two or three cameras each, and we have never so far had a problem with film, even where there are limits such as 'three rolls' or 'a dozen rolls'. Explaining that theirs is such a beautiful country that you could not possibly work with less film is always a good ploy. Also, stripping the 35mm out of tubs shows that it is not for re-sale, something to which India used to be particularly sensitive.

Interior, Hagia Sophia

It was a terrible shame that the very first Turk we met was an immigration official who stole ten pounds (UK, not Turkish) from Roger when he handed over the passport with the money in it, ten pounds being the visa fee. The official dipped his hands below the window, concealed the money, and then said, "Ten pounds, please." All the other Turkish officials we met -- customs, security guards, and everyone else -- were genuinely helpful and friendly. But we have long counted ourselves lucky he was not in the customs service... Roger shot this, hand-held because tripods are not allowed inside Hagia Sophia, using a 35/1.4 Summilux on his Leica M4P and shooting on Fuji RSP rated at EI 2,500.

dealing with people

Most people the world over are perfectly willing and indeed pleased to be photographed, though there are plenty of exceptions and obviously you don't want to be boorish.

The main exceptions in our experience are seriously Islamic cultures (remember, the making of likenesses is prohibited by many sects) and those with an exaggerated idea of personal property -- and remember that in some cultures, women and children are treated as property rather than as human beings.

For property-based restrictions, Britain and the United States are particularly bad: self-important security guards try to stop people taking pictures in all sorts of places, completely ignoring the fact that the ill-intentioned could take clandestine pictures with the greatest of ease. In Britain, pointing a camera at anyone under the age of 16 is an invitation to be hauled in by the police as a potential paedophile.


Sacred spring, Zagorsk monastery, near Moscow

Russians are great one for filling water-bottles at springs, sometimes just because the water tastes good but also because the water is supposed to have special properties, whether medical, religious or (as here, if we understood correctly) religio-medical.

Roger (who took this picture with a Nikon F and 17mm Tamron lens, using Fuji RFP ISO 50 film) was however told by an unusually religious old woman that he would burn in hell for the sacrilege of taking pictures here. She was the only one who made any objection, though, so it is fair to assume that she was merely one of those who are 'touched by God' and are found throughout the world.


France is odd: no-one seems to worry about having their picture taken, but there have been all kinds of high-profile cases of people suing when their pictures (or even pictures of their property) have been published. But as they say in our part of rural France, "Oh, that's just Paris and the big cities. Out here in the real France, nobody minds." And indeed, when we have asked permission to publish pictures of people, we have usually been greeted with astonishment. Our favourite reaction was "Why not? They're your pictures!"

As for being boorish, all you need to do is to put yourself in your subject's place. Would you object if someone shoved a camera in your face, or photographed you looking silly, or interrupted at a particularly tender moment? A photo of a couple embracing or kissing is one thing if they don't know the picture is being taken; but to have a romantic moment shattered by an intrusive photographer is quite another. The same would be true at the funeral of an old friend, or if someone leaned over your garden wall and started photographing you in your deck-chair. If you can imagine yourself being short-tempered or upset, consider that the other person might feel the same way.

the bottom line

Travel photography isn't difficult. If it were, we wouldn't do it because we wouldn't enjoy it. On the other hand, you have to be serious about it: you have to plan, and make time for taking pictures. Even then, some of your best shots may come about by chance. If somewhere doesn't work for you visually, then go somewhere else. It's often worked for us...

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last updated: 15/09/05

© 2005 Roger W. Hicks