Art Wolfe and I are currently traveling throughout China on a 14 day workshop with a group of 10 photographers. While on the flight from Seattle to Shanghai we brainstormed a few ideas to help you prepare for an international trip. These are by no means everything you need to think about but it is a great start. If you have others feel free to add a comment so others can benefit.
- Two Months Prior to your trip visit your local health department/travel clinic and figure out what vaccines (if any) you are going to need for your upcoming travel destination. They will pull the list of current diseases affecting people from the CDC’s website and provide sound advice as to which vaccines you absolutely need and which you can make an educated decision on. Be prepared to pay for all the necessary vaccines because most health insurance providers do not cover travel shots.
- Ask you tour leader for or create a packing list of all the things you are going to need to bring with you. I have a list on my website that is modified and downloadable for each of the destinations I am leading groups to. Obviously, make judgement calls on items that you may or may not use in your daily life.
- Research your destination. Not only for what you can expect photographically, but also to learn about when is the best time to see specific events. This could include the best times for the great migration across the Serengeti, when autumn comes to Patagonia, or what time of year you can expect fog in the hills of Huang Shan, China. If there are photos online, use these images as starting points, then try to push your photography beyond those images, and create something that is unique and stands out.
- If you are traveling to a destination that you have never been to create a list of things and places that you want to photograph. This list can be reviewed throughout the trip to help you decide whether or not you are getting what you want. In addition, be open for anything, these are the photos that inevitably turn out to be the best.
- If you decide that you are going to travel on your own, finding a local guide that speaks english is a great way to monopolize your time. Typically, Art and I will just complete a Google search for photography guides in whatever region we are looking to travel. In the age of the internet, people in remote areas that have a website, are probably organized enough to lead you into great locations for the specifics that you might be looking to photograph. Once we locate a prospect, then the dialog begins with a simple e-mail.
- Be judicious about camera equipment selection. There is absolutely no reason to travel with a 600mm to a location where there is no wildlife. Both my and Art’s basic travel kit of cameras and lenses contains at least one body, a 16-35mm zoom, a 24-105 or a 24-70mm zoom, a 70-200mm zoom, Gitzo carbon fiber tripod with a Kirk ballhead attached, filters, flash cards and cable release. It is super light and effective for moving fast throughout the course of an international trip. If we are going to a place where wildlife is going to be prevalent, then we choose a telephoto based on how approachable that wildlife is going to be.
- Check the weather of your upcoming destinations multiple times before the departure dates. This will give you a rolling history of what is going on there. For example, this is a La Nina year in the U.S., which has effects all over the world. Ski areas like Mount Baker in Washington have been receiving huge storm cycles where weekly amounts of snow have been totaling in the hundreds of inches. This kind of cooling trend affects other world locations too. Right now, while we are in Shanghai, China the temperature is about 10 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than normal for this time of year.
- Prepare for your long plane ride. I add/rent multiple movies on my iPhone, bring books that I have been meaning to read, and add all my computer work files to my laptop. I also bring my working list of to-dos. This all adds up to keeping my mind active during a 12 hour or long flight. Usually, before I know it, the plane is landing and there is still much left for the plane ride home. I also try to sleep if it is going to help me with jet-lag for my arrival time, although this usually doesn’t work for me. I can however, suffer through a solid 24 hour period without sleep, everyone is different though.
Don’t forget that Art and I are leading a small group of photographers to a remote location in Alaska in July to photograph brown bears, sea birds, and many other subjects. We would love to have you join us.