What is this article about?
Throughout your trip around the world, it’s pretty likely that you’ll go on a boat trip, take a plane, ride a horse, or go on a 4×4 excursion. Here are a few tricks that will help you avoid some mistakes I made.
Check out my other related articles here.
Who is this article for?
This article is not for experts but neither it is for beginners (if you don’t know what exposure, ISO or aperture means, I guess this is not the right article for you). I mainly target enthusiast photographers who wish to hone their skills while travelling for a long time. In other words, those who are willing to invest a lot of time and (unfortunately) money to bring fantastic memories from this once-in-a-lifetime trip.
From a ferry or a large boat
Shoot landscape from the highest deck. If you shoot some landscape at water level, no matter what you do, you’ll often end up with a big rectangle of water at the bottom of your picture. However, if you go to a higher deck you might be able to catch the relief of the shore and achieve a better composition.
Shoot birds from the lowest deck. For birds, it’s the opposite: it’s usually better to shoot them with something else than water as the background, hence the lowest deck.
Find a place on a the deck where you can easily move up and down.
Use a focal length above 400mm for birds, unless you’re very lucky and they happen to fly close to the boat. Don’t get me wrong, this happened to me a few times, but on very rare occasions. For landscape, I mostly used my 70-200 when the boat was more than 200m away from the shore.
There’s as much to capture inside as there is outside. Boats, especially container ships or ferries have plenty of bright colors (green, red, yellow, etc.) making pictures really vivid. There are also plenty of interesting details from the lights to the engine parts. So even if the weather is not good, you have no excuse not to take any shots.
From a Panga (inflatable boat)
Use a 70-200mm. In the Galapagos or Patagonia, I only used my 70-200mm, which is usually enough to get some close ups of birds or other animals. The goal of these rides is usually to get as close as possible to the animals, so don’t worry. The downside is that you won’t be able to get some head shots at 200mm without cropping. I haven’t tried a focal length above 200mm but my gut feeling is that it’ll be hard to keep your camera steady enough, even with a good VR. Since you’re between 8 and 10 people on a boat, it’s really hard and risky to switch lenses.
Always keep the lens hood on to protect your lens from water drops and use a rain cover to protect your gears (see here). You can eventually use your life jacket as a cover (which I sometimes keep unclosed) if there’re big sea sprays.
Bring a microfiber cloth to clean your lens and keep it in a dry pocket.
Sit at the front. You’ll be more likely to be splashed but it’ll be easier for you to move around and almost lie down on the boat to nail your background.
From a horse
I took about 4 lessons before leaving for this trip. Needless to say that I’m not a great rider. For those familiar with horses, these tips won’t come as a surprise.
Don’t bring a backpack (especially if it’s heavy) as it’ll keep hoping, which is very uncomfortable. If you’re lucky, you’ll have some saddlebags on the sides, allowing you to store your camera from time to time.
Use a lightweight lens. When I started to feel more confident on a horse I rid with my 35mm on the blackrapid strap and found it ok. It’s easier in South America as you ride your horse with one hand (contrary to other countries such as France), which allows you to hold/secure your camera with the other hand. Don’t carry a big lens unless you feel really comfortable on a horse, it could be pretty dangerous if you fall.
Put away your gears when it is getting risky. There were a few situations when I had to store my camera (going downhill, inside a dense forest, etc.) and was really happy to have done so…
From a car
If you happen to go on a 4×4 trip to Atacama or Uyuni, you’ll realize that your driver won’t be able to stop every time you wish. In other words, you’ll have to take pictures from an opened window when the car is moving. I must admit that this is very hard to get a good shot when you’re going through a bad dust road or just no road at all.
Use a minimum focal length of 70mm. Anything wider will capture what’s close to the car, which will inevitably get blurry.
Pick a speed of 1/1000 minimum, use dynamic autofocus, and shoot bursts. If you’re lucky you’ll get a few decent shots (but don’t expect a technically perfect picture).
Make sure that your camera is secured around your neck (or use your blackrapid strap): if the car breaks or if you hit a bump, you may hurt yourself or someone else in the car.
From a plane
Sit at the front if you can to avoid getting the wings in your viewfinder. Also look at seats with full or more accessible windows.
Watch out for backlighting: check the direction of the flight and where the sun is located to avoid backlighting. It can also help you choose on which side of the plane you’ll want to sit. For short flights, ask people at the check-in desk where the best view will be.
Be cautious of window reflection. On small aircrafts, this is less of an issue as you don’t have 2 layers of glass. On large commercial airplanes, use magazines, remove your lens hood and ask your companion to help you get rid of reflections. It’s usually easier to take pictures with a compact camera if you can’t easily move around (or are not allowed to carry a large camera).
For Nazca I used my 70-200mm to fill up the frame with the figures. The polariser also helped a bit to get rid of the window reflection. Since the plane is moving, I went with pretty high speed (above 1/1000) and a large aperture, which gave me pretty decent results.