Jay Sousa: Start thinking about summer travel plans

May 25, 2013 

With the Memorial Day weekend now upon us, many of us start thinking about that summer vacation trip.

Whether planning a camping trip to the Sierra or an epic vacation abroad, your preparations should include planning to make a lot of great photos.

Great vacation photography takes a little advanced preparation in determining the equipment you will need and researching the locations that you will photograph.

Today's column will help you to come home with more than just photograph memories of your trip — you might well have some award-winning images.

Packing for the big trip is always hard, especially if you are flying, as space is at a premium on an airliner or in your car.

If flying, make sure to pack your camera equipment in a good camera bag as a carry on. Most airlines allow one carry-on bag and another bag that could be a camera case. Remember to take everything that you may need for the type of photography that you are planning to do, including a tripod if you are going to be photographing in low-light situations.

Packing a tripod can be tricky, as most are bulky. My Bogen Manfrotto tripod, while a bit heavy, comes apart. That allows me to pack it in different bags. There are some excellent, small, lightweight tripods on the market, but they can be expensive.

Make sure that you have plenty of camera batteries and your battery charger with you. Pack lots of memory cards, especially if you do not have any way to download your pictures.

It's a good idea to bring a couple of large Ziploc bags and of soft towels to help keep your camera dry if it rains.

Remember that the light during rainy conditions is usually very good, so keep shooting in inclement conditions.

Being unfamiliar with good places and conditions for shooting in an area can be a deal breaker when it comes to making amazing images. Try to find out as much as possible about the area that you will be visiting. This includes sunrise and sunset times.

There are several good apps for your smart phone that will have this information. One of my favorites is The Photographer's Ephemeris. I also like to use Google Earth to scout photo locations before I venture into a new area.

Look for shots that capture something of the local ambience and culture. Try to make pictures that do something more than just make a visual record of what an area looks like. I see too many vacation photographs that are just snapshots crowded with other tourists.

Say that you were fortunate enough to make a trip to one of the most beautiful photographic cities on earth — Venice, Italy — and you made some mid-day images of St. Mark's Square crowded with hundreds of other tourists. More than likely, you would be a little disappointed with the pictures.

Instead, go to the same location at sunrise, before the crowds, and you will be amazed at how much better your pictures will be.

Check calendars ahead of time for festivals and other special events you can shoot. Check out harbor areas and amusement parks. Shoot farmer's markets early in the morning when locals are shopping.

If traveling to a foreign country, learn a few words of the language, especially the phrase "may I take your picture, please." Always ask people before taking their pictures.

My wife Diane just returned from a trip to Washington, D.C., where she attended the graduation of a niece. While there, she did some sightseeing and took some photos. Now, my wife is a great accountant, but not a very experienced photographer.

After reviewing her images I decided that a little photography must have rubbed off after 33 years of marriage as she had a few good images. One of her images was borderline genius and she did not even know it.

While touring the Vietnam Memorial, she took a close-up photograph of the wall with all of the names on it. In the reflection on the highly polished surface was the image of two veterans adorned with medals, one pushing the other in a wheelchair.

Unfortunately, she did not see this and just caught them by accident as they were entering the frame. If she had waited another second, this would have been a great travel image.

So my last bit of advice is to pay attention to everything going on in and around your image before pushing that shutter release button.

Have a great vacation and happy shooting.

Jay Sousa, a former Sun-Star photographer, has a photography business in Merced, conducts private classes and teaches photography at Merced College.

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