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Travel Photography: How to Prepare for Your Trip

Preparing for Travel Photography

Colosseum, Rome, Italy

Colosseum, Rome, Italy

Going on a trip where you'll be taking photos can be one of the most exciting photography experiences you can have. Whether it's simply going on vacation, or a dedicated trip specifically for travel photography, you’ll want to be prepared. This guide will help you get there and highlight some of the things you need to think about.

So let’s get started!


You should always bring all the photography gear you’ll need with you. Assume that you won’t be able to acquire any photo equipment at your destination. While it may turn out that there is a photography shop nearby, it’s better to play it safe. I suggest making a list of all your gear on your computer. Then before every trip you can print it out and check that each item is packed. I go the extra step and actually set everything up, power on the camera, put it on the tripod, etc. This way nothing can be forgotten. (For example, one time I almost left without the quick-release plate for my tripod, something that would have been easy to miss had I not actually tried to mount the camera).

Here is a simple list to get you started:

* Camera
* Camera Battery in the camera + extra batteries
* Battery charger
* Memory Card in the camera + extra memory cards
* Tripod and tripod attachments (e.g. Quick release plates, heads, etc.)
* Remote control for shutter
* Filters + filter holders
* Flash + flash batteries
* Ziploc bag (quick rain protection)
* Cable to connect camera to computer
* Electric plug adapters (for international travel)
* Backup point-and-shoot camera with battery, charger, and memory cards

Take special note of that last item. Cameras can fail, break, or get lost. You don’t want to be on the trip of a lifetime and have your only camera fail, leaving you with no other option to take photos. Always bring a backup camera, even if it’s an inexpensive point-and-shoot. You may not get the highest-quality photos, but at least you’ll have something.

Positano, Italy

Positano, Italy


Photo locations

Now for the fun part -- figuring out what you want to photograph at your destination!

There are many ways to determine some of the key "must have" photos from any particular location. I usually use three ways:

First, I’ll simply do some Google searches about the destination to see what comes up. In addition to researching the destination in general, I’ll usually search for something like “Where to photograph in [insert destination]” as well.

Secondly, I’ll buy guide book or two. These are great not only to highlight the key places to see, but are also super helpful overall for things like hotels, restaurants, etc. The popular ones are usually very good, such as Fodor’s, Frommer's, and Lonely Planet.

Lastly, I’ll go to a photo sharing site like Flickr or Google+ and search on the destination to see what’s popular to photograph.

When I get to the destination, I’ll look at the postcard rack to see what else looks interesting, and of course I'll talk to locals to get their input as well.

If you use the methods above, you’ll have a good chance of getting to all the key photo opps.

Once you've identified where you want to photograph, it's time to create the “plan” to get all the photos.

The first thing to do is figure out how many sunrises and sunsets you’ll have, since many of your photographs will likely occur at that time. You’ll get a sunrise & sunset for each full day you’re there, and depending on what time of day you’re traveling, maybe a sunset on the day you arrive, and a sunrise on the day you leave. Subtract out any sunrises / sunsets where you’re doing something besides photography (you might want to have a nice meal along the beach at sunset, y’know!)

Costa Rica Sunset, Mal Pais

Costa Rica Sunset, Mal Pais

Once you know how many sunrises / sunsets you have, just look at your list of photo locations and assign them to the days of your trip. Do the important ones first -- this way if the weather is bad and you don’t get a shot the first day, you can go back the next day and try again. The photos you don’t get to will be the least priority ones.

Especially for the sunrise / sunset photos, I recommend scouting the location in advance during the day. The window for photography at sunrise / sunset is very small. You don’t want to find out on the morning of the shoot that you don’t know where to park, that there’s a huge construction site in front of the location, or any host of other things. Go to the site during the day, confirm you know how to get there, exactly where you’re going to shoot from, etc. Then you can just go to the spot the next day, worry-free, and take the shot.

Use a sunrise / sunset calculator to determine your shooting times. I like the one below -- it also shows “civil twilight” which loosely translates to blue hour.  Enter the location and dates you'll be traveling:

Sunrise / Sunset calculator

Determine if there is a particular direction you need to be facing. For example, the Grand Teton mountains are generally photographed when facing straight west, so they are usually photographed at sunrise when the sun is behind you and shining on the mountains. If you’re trying to get the NYC skyline with the sun rising behind it, you’ll want to be facing east and take the photo from the New Jersey side of the river. If you want the sun setting over the skyline, you need to face west and take the photo from Queens / Brooklyn. These are the types of things to think about.

NYC Skyline

NYC Skyline

Whether it’s a sunrise / sunset photo, day photo, or night photo, group the locations together so you can shoot the ones that are close together on the same day if possible.

Bring a paper map just in case GPS navigation doesn't work. Once I have my photo plan, I’ll use Google maps to get directions from one place to another, and I’ll print those directions to bring with me. Then I don’t have to worry if I don’t get a good GPS signal.

Also put some thought into what locations might be OK to shoot even if the weather is bad. You might not think of a gray rainy day as a worthwhile day for photography, but maybe the location lends itself to black & white photography, so getting warm light isn't necessary.

Don't forget there is more than one way to shoot a popular location, as illustrated below in two very different takes on the Eiffel Tower:

Eiffel Tower, Paris

Eiffel Tower, Paris


Eiffel Tower, Paris

Eiffel Tower, Paris


Traveling with your gear

Once you've identified everything you’re bringing and you've got your photography plan, it’s time to pack and travel. Traveling with your gear can present its own set of challenges. Firstly, if you’re flying, you must take your camera, memory cards, and accessories with you on the plane as a carry-on. It’s not wise to check your expensive and fragile equipment, that could get lost or damaged. Either put it in your luggage that can go in the overhead bin, or use a photo backpack that you can put under the seat. You can use a compact tripod with four-segment legs that will fit in many carry-on sized pieces of luggage. My four-segment compact tripod is my only tripod and it works great.

Be sure to use a foam-padded backpack or case, or at least wrap your camera in towels or clothes to protect it from the bumps of travels. Put in the center of your luggage, not near the edges where impacts can damage it.

If you’re traveling internationally, be aware of customs rules. There are some rules regarding purchasing equipment in other countries and returning with it, so if possible have a receipt or just some way of explaining that the gear is yours and was not purchased on the trip.

When you get to your destination, always be aware of your camera equipment. Never leave it unattended. If you’re going out on the town without your D-SLR and it fits in the hotel safe, then put it in the safe along with the memory cards.


OK, so you got to your destination, executed your plan, and you captured some amazing photos. Congratulations! Now it’s time to back everything up. It’s incredibly important to backup your images while you’re traveling, as soon as you possibly can after taking them.

The simplest and most familiar way is to bring a laptop and transfer the images to the hard drive. You can also buy a portable memory card backup device with a hard drive, but the laptop has a significant advantage: You can email the photos to yourself, upload to “the cloud”, or burn CDs from a laptop. This is important because if at all possible you should try to have backups that are not with you physically. If all of your backups are in your bag and it gets lost, you’ve lost everything. With a laptop, you can (and should) upload important photos to “the cloud” (a dropbox, your own server, etc.) or at the very least email a few photos to yourself. You can also burn a CD and mail it to yourself if necessary. This way, if something happens to your gear, you’ll still have the images in the cloud, your email, or waiting at home in your mailbox. I also connect an additional portable hard drive to the laptop via USB to create a second copy while I'm there.

Don't plan on using a "public" computer at your destination, such as in the hotel business center or Internet cafe. Often public computers have safeguards that will prevent you from plugging in your camera and/or hard drives.

South Street Seaport, NYC

South Street Seaport, NYC



Travelphotography can be one of the most rewarding types of photography. Not only do you capture memories to last a lifetime, but you get to share those beautiful locations with everyone. Perhaps you might even inspire someone to travel there too.

My last point in this guide is probably the most important: Remember that you’re traveling and experiencing amazing things. Don’t get lost in the photography while forgetting to experience the moment. If there is a stunning sunrise, photograph it, but remember to put the camera down for a few minutes, forget about the photography, and enjoy life.



I've also created an app for iPhone, Android, and iPod Touch which teaches you photography -- more info can be found here:

Photography Trainer for iPhone and Android

Photography Trainer iPhone app

Photography Trainer iPhone app

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Copyright 2014, Paul Timpa

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