Earlier this year I was trekking through South America, in the Brazilian Pantanal; a massive inland swamp nearly half the size of France. Teeming with life, birds, jaguars, 10 million caiman (relative to the crocodile), and hundreds of other animals inhabit the area. On our third day the local guide spotted a giant anteater grazing along a golden grassy plain; he suggested we get a closer look. Eager for a good photo I grabbed my camera and was first on the ground, quickly making my way. We walked through the field, along the forests edge, stepping lightly over fallen limbs and decaying brush; all the while I watched the anteater through the cameras viewfinder. We quietly encroached, single file, one by one, arriving to be only 50 meters from this unusual beast. Cameras all aimed and firing, click, click, click; we quietly stood in awe. The silence was broken by a scream, then a gasp from behind. A caiman, sprawled across our trail, amongst the branches and bush, lay as still as a statue, white teeth glistening wide, seemingly smiling from our fright. It was just a foot away, the closest any of us would want to be to an animal like this. I must have stepped right over it, leading the other passengers to follow the same path. With luck the creature did nothing, presumably out of its own fear of our strange figures. By this time the anteater was running full speed to the opposite end of the grassland. We counted our lucky stars and walked back to the truck, carefully surveying the ground en route.
The moral of the story, don’t view your trip through your lens; at minimum it distracts from you immediate surroundings, or worst case you could be the guy hurt or killed for that last photo. When planning for a trip its fundamental to ask yourself why you’re taking the photo, to understand some basics of photography, and know what gear you’ll need.
Inevitably while traveling you will see a wealth of tourists, cameras big and small, clicking away at all that surrounds them. This seems to be essential to ones trip, little instants of important moments along the journey. With these photos your travels can be replayed for family and friends on the return home. The reality is a majority of these photos you will look through once, twice maybe; you’ll pick a few of the best to share a third time and rarely look at any of them again. While you are snapping away, ask yourself, why you are taking these photos? Who will see them? I will tell you it is hardly fun looking through 43 photos of a blurry hummingbird or the little black spot in the tree that you swear is a monkey! It can be a real drag sorting through so much of nothing; and you may spend valuable holiday time doing it. Having patience and shooting sparingly are important lessons to learn. Finding your photo and making it into something more than just a snapshot is really the key.
When taking photos obviously focus your subject, but also the background; what will place your subject in the proper context? Find bright, contrasting colors, watch the sun, watch for shadows and overly bleached backgrounds; and adjust your body for that. Use the zoom to focus more on your subject to give your photo a sharper frame. Photo your interests; art, architecture, landscapes, people, animals, and food. There are so many Internet resources written by professional photographers that can give you creative ways of capturing a photo. Spend some time beforehand taking advice from experts willing to share their knowledge. When capturing all these photos, besides training your eye, your equipment will be the next determining factor.
So you’re preparing to leave for your Tucan tour in some far off land, browsing Google images on the net, wanting to have some quality pics of your own. What to bring? You’ll find cameras on smart phones, tablets, and self-contained bodies ranging from the smallest to absolutely massive. The smart phone is really the super tool for travel, can be used for all the basic needs that will record your trip and keep you connected back home. I have finally fallen for these devices as valuable tools for those quick snapshots in the moments you don’t have your camera with you. For better quality go with a waterproof point and shoot, made by Lumix or Olympus. Waterproof because there will inevitably be a snorkel trip or misty waterfall that just has to be photoed. With higher quality comes more weight, SLR (single lens reflex) cameras are great, but can have a huge impact on your pack’s weight. Mid size Canon Rebel or the slightly bulkier 60D, or Nikon equivalent, will produce good results without too much extra weight. If your are walking around with full frame 5 or 7ds we’ll assume you either know what you’re doing or have something to prove. Lenses will be big factors as, again, with quality comes a real weight; but this really only concerns the SLRs. Bottom line, it’s most important to understand what level you’re at and bring a camera for that.
While on the road don’t forget you own security, at night especially or anytime when you are alone. Watch your surroundings for geographical obstacles, moving vehicles, shady characters…and the occasional caiman. The number one rule when traveling is to back up, back up and back up again your photos. You may be out a bit of money if your camera is stolen, but will be heartbroken to have lost an entire trip’s worth of pictures. Follow a few guidelines, have the right equipment, snap wisely; and you’ll capture your adventure of a lifetime!