10 Tips To Prepare For A Once-In-A-Lifetime Photo Opportunity

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It may be a tremendous opportunity that just arose or it may be a trip you’ve planned for years. It may be a trip to Moscow (not the one in Idaho) to see and photograph the people and magnificent architecture or a photo safari to the Serengeti to witness and photograph the semi-annual mammal migration. Regardless, you know it’s a once in a lifetime trip and because it is you want to do everything possible before you leave to enhance the photography portion of the trip. This article, and a later one on the same subject by Tiffany, provides a few tips to help make the experience a success.

1. Study – It’s somewhat difficult finding a starting place for tips, but one of the most important is to learn as much as you can about the place you’re visiting. Resources abound, but if it’s truly a once in a lifetime opportunity, not studying about your destination as much as you can would be like not studying before taking a final exam in your major subject.

2. Make a list – Or make lots of lists of what you want to see, do and photograph and take them with you. If you’re going on a guided tour, you will, of course, have a guide with you that will help you find the things you want to photograph. Still, if it’s the Serengeti or a similar location where you’ll be photographing animals you’re not completely familiar with, you might want to study their behavior before you go. If you’re going to visit some exotic place as a tourist on your own, make a list of the people, places and things you want to see and photograph.

3. Don’t forget to photograph the commonplace – There are people that would go to Paris and not photograph the Eiffel Tower or Rio de Janeiro and not photograph Sugar Loaf Mountain. They would say that the Eiffel Tower has been photographed billions of times they don’t want to do what every other tourist in the world has done. Do yourself a favor and don’t fall into this trap. You don’t have to spend hours and days trying to get that one perfect shot of Big Ben in London or the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, but years later you will regret having not taken advantage of the opportunity while you were there.

4. Become very familiar with the laws and customs of the place you’re visiting – Keep in mind that the place you’re visiting is not your home country. The laws and customs could be very, very different. In some cultures it may be considered rude to photograph people without their permission. Don’t walk down the streets of Singapore while chewing gum. Behavior we don’t even think about where we live could cause great difficulty in other parts of the world. Respect and follow the laws and customs of the country you’re visiting. It’ll make your trip much more enjoyable.

If you’re going someplace like the Galapagos, for example, leave no footprints. Show respect for the place and the natural history. Don’t be the ugly photographer and plop down your gear and tripod any old place.

5. Take lots of memory—My cameras (Canon) utilize Compact Flash (CF) memory cards and to be honest, I like to use the largest cards I can afford. For example, I have two 32 gig, four 16 gig and four 8 gig cards. However, on a once in a lifetime trip I would load up on 4 gig cards. If you lose a card or if a card fails and can’t be recovered, you only lose 4 gigabytes, not 32. If you accidently re-format a memory card that you haven’t downloaded yet, you only lose 4 gigabytes, not 32. All of these things have happened to photographers, even the pros. Recently, Scott Kelby posted a story on his blog about how he thought he had lost a card full of images. His story had a happy ending but most of the stories similar in nature don’t.

6. Take a laptop – I know it’s more weight and you probably won’t have an internet connection. I’m not suggesting that you take the laptop to surf the net. Use it to download your images every day whether you take 50 photos or a thousand. Also, take an external hard drive and back-up the hard drive on your laptop every day. I know it’s a lot of trouble, but it is a once in a lifetime trip and you don’t want to lose any photos.

7. Take two camera bodies – Even if you don’t own two camera bodies, rent one and take two with you. That way if one breaks you still have another. There aren’t many Nikon repair shops on the plains of the Serengeti.

8. Make another list – I’m really terrible about this one. Make a list of all the photography gear you want to take with you and check off each item as you pack it. Take the list with you and repeat every time you unpack and pack your gear. I’d much rather have to replace a toothbrush or pair of socks I forgot to pack than a lens or flash.

9. Memory is cheap – Take lots of photos. A number of years ago I was driving from Merida across the Yucatan Peninsula to Playa del Carmen in Mexico. As we were driving through a small village I saw a group of young girls standing near the highway. One of the girls who looked about 5 or 6 years old was holding an armadillo like she might a cat or a small dog – arms around the animal just under the front legs with the rest of the body hanging down. It was as if the armadillo was a pet. I didn’t stop to photograph the scene. We’d had car trouble and I was in a hurry to get to Chitzen Itza where we were spending the night. Not stopping to photograph the girl, her friends and the armadillo still haunts me. Don’t let this happen to you.

10. Take photos but also enjoy the experience – Don’t forget to stop and smell the roses, so to speak. Your eyes and brain see things differently than the camera. Enjoy the trip, the location, the sights, sounds, smells, people and animals. Once in a lifetime means you may never get a second chance. Bring home memories as well as photos.

Some of these tips may seem a little over the top obsessive compulsive. So be it. It’s important. I hope you get to take your once in a lifetime trip and these tips are helpful. Stay tuned for Tiffany’s list of tips as well.

Photo Credits:

Kremlin by vinci71 on Flickr Creative Commons
Serengeti Lions by tshantz on Flickr Creative Commons
Serengeti Migration by yoyo on Flickr Creative Commons
Eiffel Tower by inga-anger on Flickr Creative Commons
Sugar Loaf Mountain by Xavier Donat on Flickr Creative Commons
Big Ben by jessicamulley on Flickr Creative Commons
Brandenburg Gate by rickz on Flickr Creative Commons
Galapagos Tortoise by godutchbaby on Flickr Creative Commons

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