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You'll learn to plan effectively, choose the right gear, interact with the people you meet, take photographs efficiently, and—most importantly—create the mental space and time to actually enjoy your journey. David visits some nearby interesting destinations, proving that a great travel experience is not always about a far-flung destination. Along the way, you'll learn how to "decode" any city as a true traveling photographer.
Ready to explore more exotic locales? Check out The Traveling Photographer: Hong Kong.
- Thinking like a photographer while traveling
- Choosing gear wisely
- Balancing travel with photography
- Taking time to craft an image
- Being a chameleon
- Meeting people
- Managing photos from a trip
Skill Level Intermediate
Okay, another difference between amateurs and pros. As an amateur you may have more gear than I have at any given time. You may have better gear than I have at any given time. You may even have more time in country that I have in any given time. But here's one way that pros will always, outdo amateurs. We will always out-research you before we go some place. This is like your best minute per reward spent.
It's a fantastic value, and you always want to learn how to do the very best research you can before you go some place. And what I want to do is to kind of walk you through my research process before, before I travel, either just for fun or for an assignment, or whatever. And hopefully, you'll get a little sense of what you can accomplish from your desk before you ever get on the plane. And the idea is to get there with a, a much better pre-pack of information to know where you're going to be shooting from, to know when you're going to be shooting. All sorts of things, and there's like basic traveling research.
And then there's photography-oriented research. But the very first place I'm going, and let's just say for the sake of argument that we're searching London, in the UK. The first place I'm going to go is to Wikipedia, and search London. And that's going to give me the typical Wikipedia treasure trove of information. You might not think to go there, but it can give you a really good baseline of info for a city or a country, or really any subject. And right down to you know, just your basic history, but important things like climate, like annual climate.
When are you going to go? I mean that might help you choose the right month. Just basic stuff of tourism. You'll get a really good lay of the land if you go to Wikipedia first and read up on your destination. That's a quick first read. From there I'm going to go to Google. But I'm not going to go to straight Google. I'm going to type in London, and then I'm going to type in and click on images, and that is just going to flood me with a bubble sort of really good London photography. And this is the first thing that I'm going to go to that's really going to be inspiring to me as a photographer. I want to see what the best people have done from London.
Not that I want to copy it, but I'm definitely going to get ideas from it. I may come up with ideas and locations. I mean, like Big Ben is not moving anytime soon. And you’re going to see 20 different ways to shoot him, like, within five minutes. So, this is a fantastic first stop for photo researching, in addition to just basic researching. so, Google is just a treasure trove of information, and, from these pictures, I can now go to Google Maps, for instance, get the lay of the land, and let’s stick with Big Ben for a second. So, zeroing in on Google Maps, I I see that Big Ben, apartment kind of faces north and south.
So that's going to tell me that I'm probably going to get my best shots at sunset rather than sunrise. That's a good thing. I'm not a big fan of sunrise. Much rather shoot after sunset than before sunrise. I can get my orientation. I know which way the light's going to be. I can see that Westminster Bridge is going to be the spot to shoot Big Ben and Parliament. I can see that on the other side of the Thames, if I pop up a little bit to the north, north side on what they call the south bank, that the river takes a turn here. And I know that because I'm at Google Maps, I can shoot past Westminster Bridge to Big Ben and the House of Parliament.
So that's kind of cool. But Google lets me do something even better and even cooler, and that is to go straight to street view. And I can literally wander around the streets I'm going to be photographing at before I get there, before I ever get on the plane. This is something that smart photographers do, all the time. I can walk around. I can find my vantage points. I know where the sun is. I know which way I'm facing. I literally can take a walk around downtown London just by clicking and going down the roads. For a photographer this is a fantastic way to orient yourself, and something that you absolutely should not fail to do if you're going someplace that is, popular enough for Google Street Maps and the Street View to have gotten there.
And pretty much that's going to be any place that you want to travel. Before I leave Google, here's something that you might not of thought of. Google Translate. Like any good travel book is going to have your, your standard phrases like hello, I am an American where is the bathroom kind of stuff. But as photographers, we like to have maybe a little more, like genre specific stuff that we might put in. And I speak UK, I speak English with no problem. I can say schedule and aluminium and all that sort of stuff, but if I go to Google Translate I can make myself sort of a custom, a custom photographer phrase book.
Like I've typed in, Hello, my name is David Hobby, and I'm a photographer from the United States. May I take your portrait? Now just going over to the other window I can click on, if I'm going to, to Spain for instance, I can click on Spanish and that will be printed right, right out in Spanish. I can click on any language and basically build a phrasebook, a photo-specific phrasebook, that I can print out each of those pages and I have English on one side and the target language on the other side. Even if I cannot like, verbalize a target language, like the Mandarin characters and Chinese are not going to help me very much, obviously.
I can at least show them that card. And there's something like, adorably pathetic about a person from another country that doesn't speak your language, literally trying to hack his or her way through it and then just giving and like showing you the card. For instance, if you were on the, the street and someone came up to you and tried to mangle English a little bit and finally they just gave up and you know, you looked at it and it said, hi, I'm a photographer. I've traveled here from Norway, may I take your picture please? You're probably going to let him or her do it because like, that's pretty pathetic, you win, pal.
This is something I use a lot, so, so I will have a list of emergency phrases and just general stuff like hey, I'm from the U.S., you know? I'm on the web, here's my address, that sort of thing. But if I build out a nice phrase book, I go in with some, a nice comfort level. And that's very important and the more comfort you can get from your research, the better. So let's see, where should we go next? What about Flickr? This is one of my favorite ways to research images because not only does it give you a way to sort, you can sort for recency, you can sort for interestingness they call it.
You can sort for all kinds of things. And you're going to see not only a fantastic collection of pictures from London in this case, but you're going to have contact information for every single one that you see. You can click on it. You can set up a free account on Flickr. That's f l i c k r. There is no e in flicker.com. And, you can literally, you can easily write an email to this person. You don't have their email address, but you contact them through the photo. And what I'm seeing here is a lot of pictures by the same person, in London. So he immediately is getting to be my, my maybe point of contact so I can I can email him and say look hi I'm coming to London.
I've never been here before. I saw you had a very, very cool collection of pictures on Flickr. I love your stuff. Is there advice you would give me as a photographer coming to London for the first time? Now, London is not that exotic a destination. It's sort of an entry level foreign European destination for you, but if we're talking Katmandu and Nepal, you know nothing going in. So, being able to find a photographer who kind of like exists, and lives, and works in Katmandu, and Nepal, and having contact information for them? Fantastic benefit.
The other neat things about images on Flickr is if you click on one, it's going to be the date and the time it was taken so, that starts to orientated you in, in terms of whether or not this is your season. Your time of day. What does it look like in the fall? What does it look like in the spring, summer? How late does the sun set? That sort of stuff, so Flickr has become my go to image search, before I leave. I do a lot of research on Flickr. I talk to people through Flickr mail. And I just use it like crazy. so, if you're going some place, you'll probably spend a lot of time like researching your flight, and, and where you're going to stay.
I'd like to have you spend at least this much time researching your photographic options. But speaking about a place to stay, let's pop over and you know, typically you might search a Trip Advisor or Kayak for, for hotel deals. I've kind of gotten away from staying at hotels lately because I discovered the different apartment aggregators on, on the net now. My favorite, rather than staying at hotels, is a site called airbnb.com, and that's a i r b n b .com. And literally, any city in the world, you can search all these different apartments or just room for rent, for rent where you can stay.
You can go by map, you can go, you can look at pictures. You can set price minimums and maximums, fantastic. And especially in a place like London, where just a, a, just a really bare bones hotel room is going to set you up, or set you back like 250 bucks a night. Or just a place like, you would not feel safe leaving your gear is going to be a couple hundred bucks a night for that same money. For significantly less actually, you can rent an entire apartment that comes with a kitchen, and WiFi and is in a residential neighborhood. And you can see exactly where it's at.
And you can see if it is near the places that you want to visit. So, I've become a big fan or Airbnb lately. In fact, my last ten trips, I think I've stayed in hotels, like, once or twice. Typically defaulting to Airbnb. Because when you're in an apartment or a house, or even renting a room with someone, it just feels like you're existing in a space more than staying in a hotel. It helps me relax. I can also feel much more safe in a full apartment with my gear than leaving it in a hotel room. And you're going to have housekeeping coming in. And, maybe you're tempting them with a few thousand dollars worth of camera and computer equipment, so, and it's just a thing with me.
I, I really like this more than hotels. So that's just a really quick look at the way that I research before I go. I have found that there's a direct correlation to the intelligence level of a photographer that I happen to travel with and the amount of pre photo-related research that they do. So, so hopefully this will help you to go into a situation with a lot more confidence and a lot more fore knowledge. And that's going to be very valued, valuable to you, on scene. And you can print a lot of this stuff out and take it with you so you can access it without net if you're not going to have net. If you're not doing the little phone SIM thing and such.
But having this, very valuable. I definitely recommend you spend a lot of time researching before you go. Very easy to take. You can't lose it. You don't have to carry it. No one can steal it, valuable information. You should definitely spend some time doing this.