4.6 Travel Writing & Photography

A personal note from an amateur to amateurs: Concentrate on enjoying your trip, writing about it for your personal memories, and letting your photos complement this. Write about and photograph what you are interested in, and the people you meet, instead of creating another documentary, which the net is already full of. Write what isn't in the guidebooks. Don't see the world through the camera lens, spending all your time trying to capture it.

For those who want to go beyond amateur-level, submitting short articles or photos to a newspaper or magazine is very competitive, but it is an excellent way to make your trip a tax write-off. However, the paperwork and tax rules can get complicated, and makes you a likely candidate to enjoy an audit.

Digital Camera Considerations

If you haven't bought the camera yet, borrow one and take a basic photography course before making a decision. Buy your camera many months in advance, so you have time to get used to it, and ensure that it works properly.

Point-and-Shoot Cameras
Small point-and-shoot cameras are adequate for most travellers needs. They are getting to be good for most situations, and the price, size, and weight are hard to beat.

The biggest frustration with smaller cameras is the noticeable shutter delay, since the subject will have moved by the time the image is captured. This is improving, so there is hope.

Some manufacturers have quality lenses with a wide focal range. A range of 35-200mm covers most situations, and prevents having to buy attachment lenses, with their inherent complications, to achieve the same range. However, do look for the ability to attach a polarizer; it isn't a critical component, but helps greatly; otherwise, avoid including the sky in shots where it will be blown-out to white.

A lens feature worth getting is vibration reduction technology. The image stabilization gives sharper photos, and the ability to shoot in lower light conditions without a flash or tripod; or before increasing the ISO sensitivity, which leads to graininess. A large-aperture lens is another thing to look for, as it has the same effect.

Megapixels are a hot debate. Two MP is adequate for most small cameras, and 6 MP is plenty if you want to crop the photos, or make large prints. After 6 MP, the quality doesn't keep climbing as fast.

All-in-One DSLRs

The newer all-in-one digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras have a good intermediate price and weight, and some impressive features common to full DSLRs. The built-in lens is average quality, and often as big as removable lenses. They are a good starting point to learn about cameras before investing in the bigger rigs.

Full DSLRs
The large DSLRs have removable lenses. The camera body is sold without a lens, or with a lens as a kit. The kit lenses are normally 18-55mm.

A 55-200mm or 70-300mm is the longest lens you usually need, unless on safari, since the current small-frame sensors make these perform like a 300mm or 450mm lens. There are also all-in-one lenses that cover the whole gamut, such as 18-200mm. If you expect to shoot many flowers or insects, you will want to look at macro lens.

Prime lenses, which have a fixed focal length instead of a zoomable range, have the best sharpness and performance, but then you have to change lenses or walk to change the framing, which isn't convenient or possible in many situations.

Every time you change a lens, you expose the interior to dust and moisture, which is big trouble for the sensor. However, this issue may not be so critical now that there are built-in auto-cleaning systems. Having a shop clean the sensor isn't cheap, and there is the risk of them damaging it.

Use a circular polarizer. It helps greatly with blue skies, and reduces the reflections on leaves, water, rocks, and glass, as well as cutting haze. It can stay on until overall light conditions become so low that you need to resort to a flash, tripod, or increasing the ISO, but then you don't usually need the polarizer. There are a range of qualities and prices; visit a shop that will let you take them outside and see the difference. Putting a $40 filter on a $1000 lens is not a savings.

Carry multiple cards instead of one large one, so if one fails, you can use the others. Most people underestimate the amount of space they need. If you take 50 shots a day, and won't be able to burn a CD or DVD for a week, then you need at least the capacity for 350 photos. Then there are special events, such as festivals, where you might take 350 photos in one day, or in my case, many more.

Carry two Li-ion batteries, since they don't last forever, and aren't easy to find when you need them. If you will be using the flash, or away from electricity for a while, such as a multiple-day hike, then two batteries are a minimum.

Carry a dust blower to remove debris from the sensor area and the lens. If you have to clean the lens, use a micro-fiber cloth, and maybe a little water, unless you have a stubborn spot or residue, then head for the chemicals and cleaning paper.

Leave the lens hood on, to prevent fingers from touching the lens or filter, and dust-off whenever needed; this also means you can leave the lens cover off in most situations. When I am not using the hood or polarizer on an expensive lens, I protect it with a clear UV skylight filter. Cooking grease in markets, and salt spray at the ocean are just two sources of frustration.

Invest in a remote shutter release if you will be carrying a tripod.

If you want to take it to the beach, on small boats, out in the rain, in a pool, or get close to a waterfall, there are waterproof vinyl bags with clear lenses.

If the manual is available online from the manufacturer's website, then you can leave the booklet at home.

Camera bags are a personal decision based on your needs and preferences. Some people just put the lens cap on and toss it in their daybag, with the rest of the accessories. Others might bring a separate camera bag to keep it more accessible, while still being protected from impact, weather, and the environment.

Reliability is an important factor to me, since the electronics keep failing. Walking, or bouncing down bumpy roads on buses and in the back of pickup trucks, is not the best thing for a camera. Repairs in developing countries usually have to wait until you get to a major city. Look closely at the warranty, as well as their list of overseas repair facilities; some manufacturers restrict it to a country or region. For expensive cameras, you might want to look into extended warranties that are valid globally.

Taking the Show on the Road

If you want to upload photos to your homepage as you travel, you will have no problem finding Internet Cafes in most places. Your main concern will be getting viruses on your memory cards. If you need special software to process your photos, the cafe may not allow you to install it on their system, since they don't want viruses.

Burning CDs and DVDs at the Internet shops is not always reliable, since they occasionally make mistakes, including loss of your photos. They also use cheap CDs, and their computers have a high risk of virus contamination, so always burn two copies, and verify they are readable. Even better, consider bringing a memory stick or portable hard drive. Uploading to a server is usually too slow, but speeds are improving, sometimes surprisingly in remote place.

If you will be travelling a long time, and taking many photos, you may want to bring a laptop with photo editing software. This allows you to adjust exposure, reduce filesizes, crop images, and create thumbnail images. Adobe's Photoshop is expensive, and more than most road warriors need, but there are plenty of other packages available, and many are free.

You can create your own webpages using word processors, or one of the many packages available for those who want the coding done for them. If you are new to building webpages, keep them simple; concentrate on editing the images, and creating small but clean thumbnail images. Get completely familiar with the system you plan to use long before you travel.

Even easier, you can upload the photos to photo-sharing community sites that have automated the layout, and make life very easy. A few to look at are Flickr, Zenfolio, and Shutterfly. For more info, PhotoSecrets has a good article.

As for showing photos, our solution in the past was to enlarge our best to 8x12 (A4), mount them in a large scrapbook, then write a caption paragraph under each. Now, we use slideshow software on computers to walk through them, if the webpages aren't already built.

It isn't long before you want to print photos as gifts for the people you meet. To assess the quality of processing and printing of photos overseas (and back home), always ask to look at their other customers' photos (which are waiting to be picked up), not the prefab samples from Kodak or Fuji, or the ones the shop printed on good paper with good ink. If they won't allow you to see their real work, move on.

Photo Links
PhotoSecrets: Travel Guides for Travel Photography
Photo.net by Philip Greenspun
Getty Images Lonely PLanet Images
Travel & Outdoor Photography Tips
Publish Your Travelogue and Photographs
Travel Photographers Online Magazine

Writing Links
Diary or Blog? How to Decide Whether to Make Your Travels Private or Public
Rolf Potts' Writing Craft
Global Travel Writers' Syndicate
Society of American Travel Writers
British Guild of Travel Writers
Travel Guidebook Writing
"Great Travel Photography" by Cliff & Nancy Hollenbeck

"A Guide to Travel Writing and Photography" by Ann & Carl Purcell (1991).

"How to Make Living As a Travel Writer" by Susan Farewell (1997).

"How to Make Money from Travel Writing" by Curtis Casewit (1991).

"Teach Yourself Travel Writing" by Cynthia Dial

"They Went: The Art and Craft of Travel Writing" by William Zinsser.

"Travel Photography" by Roger Hicks and Frances Schultz.

"Travel Photography: A Complete Guide to How to Shoot & Sell" by Susan McCartney (1992).

"Travel Photography: A Guide to Taking Better Pictures" by Richard I'Anson

"Travel Writer's Guide: How to Earn At Least Twice What You Spend on Travel By Writing Newspaper and Magazine Articles" by Gordon Burgett (1991).

"Travel Writer's Handbook: How to Write and Sell Your Own Travel Experiences" by Louise Purwin Zobel (1992).

"Travel Writer's Markets: Where to Sell Your Travel Articles and Place Press Releases" by O'Gara.

"Travel Writing" by Louisa Peat O'Neil

"Travel Writing for Profit and Pleasure" by Perry Garfinkel (1989).

"Writing Travel Books & Articles" by Susan Boyce.

"Writing About Travel" by Campbell.

"Writing About Travel" by L. O'Neil.

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