How to Prepare for Your Next Photography Adventure

Colby Brown

Guest post by Colby Brown 

As a profession, travel and adventure photography is a highly romanticized career. Ask any up-and-coming travel photographer whom they want to work for, and you will undoubtedly hear “National Geographic” nine times out of 10. In all fairness, we have all been guilty of it at one point or another, myself included. There is a certain draw to the idea of traveling…visiting exotic locations, meeting new people, having an adventure.

While it takes passion, time, dedication and hard work to make a career out of traveling the globe, there is nothing stopping you from heading out on your own adventure this weekend, be that to your local national park, the town next to yours or even in your own backyard. But what do you bring with you? What do you leave behind? How many batteries do you need?

Research Your Destinations

The first step in preparing for a trip of any kind, let alone a photography adventure, comes down to research. What time of year are you going? What is the average rainfall? Do you need cold weather wear? A rain jacket? What is the lunar calendar like? Do you have any locations in particular you want to shoot?

When it boils down to it….EVERYTHING comes back to researching the location(s) you plan on visiting. I recommend checking out Wikipedia entries, Yelp for food options, Travel Advisor for accommodations, Weather Underground for weather projections and Google Image Search or 500px for specific location ideas.

What Clothes to Bring

While this might sound obvious, I am surprised by how many people show up to my workshops around the globe ill prepared, no matter how many emails I sent out with in-depth lists of clothes to bring. When doing your research, the key here comes down to weather and historical weather patterns. Visiting Iceland in September? You will find that the weather is more stormy and hostile than in June based on historical information. In this case, you will not only need cold weather gear, but also a rain jacket and pants plus Gore-Tex shoes to handle those rainstorms. The same goes for tropical climates. What is the terrain like? Do you need hiking shoes or can you get away with Keen sandals that also double as water shoes?

I not only needed cold weather clothes for this trip to Iceland, but a waterproof jacket and shoes as well.

The challenge with packing clothes for an adventure comes down to deciding what to bring and what to leave behind. It’s just as easy to over pack as it is to show up unprepared. It is even worse when you do both!

My rule of thumb comes down to having roughly four to five pairs of clothes/outfits for every two weeks of travel, a mix of pants, shorts, shirts and jackets. In my experience, packing anything more than this is a waste as it never gets worn. Because my focus is on photography, I am not worried about bringing dress shoes or enough jeans; in fact I rarely pack jeans because they are heavy, not very compact for packing and are horrible when they get wet. Usually this all boils down to a single jacket (for cold weather), a few shirts and two pairs of pants and two pairs of shorts (depending on weather). I dress in lightweight layers, giving me better control over how hot or cold I am, which also keeps the bulk of my clothes small in terms of packing them into my bag.

Lastly, you want to maximize the space you have available in your pack, so I recommend rolling your clothes rather than folding them…you will thank me later!

My clothes for a recent trip to Iceland

How Much Camera Gear to Bring

Most photographers, myself included, are guilty of packing way too much photography gear for a trip. For years I was the “kitchen sink” photographer, meaning I brought everything with me all the time. However as I got older and got sick of carrying 40 pounds of gear everywhere, I began to get smarter about figuring out which gear I truly need on a trip.

A full load of gear for a trip to the Himalayas from a few years back

If you don’t plan on shooting any macro images, leave it at home. Do you really need your external flash if you never use it and prefer natural light anyway? Leave it at home. Do you need four bodies and 12 lenses? The easy answer is no…no you don’t.

It is always good to carry a backup camera body, as you never know if your main one will fail. But with mirrorless cameras becoming more and more powerful, you now have the option of carrying a light second body. These days my main landscape camera is actually a 36MP Sony A7R, which is small, lightweight and portable. That has helped me shave some extra weight off my camera backpack.

My Sony A7R on location in the Canadian Rockies

In the end, ask yourself what is most important to you in terms of photography subjects, and make your choices based on that. Can you bring all of your gear? Sure! But if you learn to pack more effectively, your back, your baggage fees and your craft as a photographer will be better.

Staying Powered On

While not every photographer is going to be hiking around the Himalayas or exploring the desolate sand dunes of Namibia in Africa, it’s still important to find ways to keep your electronic devices powered on while traveling.

Occasionally you might find yourself working off the plan accordingly!

The first thing you should do is double check the plugs used where you are going. Do they use U.S. outlets? Are they at a slant like those in Australia? What about the round holes like much of Asia?

Next you have to decide if electricity in general is going to be a scarce commodity. Maybe you are backpacking into a remote location in the Grand Tetons or you are planning a trip to a country that doesn’t have consistent electricity throughout the day to charge your gear. This will help you decide a) how many camera batteries to bring with you and b) if you need to bring alternative power sources.

On any given trip, I usually carry a minimum of four batteries with me for each of my cameras. This allows me to swap them out easily on short trips without worrying about charging them too often, and also allows me to elongate my shooting time for adventures that are far off the grid. When it comes to keeping things powered on when I don’t have access to any juice, I use Goal Zero solar products to keep me going.

A Goal Zero battery used to keep my DJI Phantom 2 drone charged while in Iceland

Always Be Prepared

Most importantly, you need to make sure you are prepared, not only for the elements or the weather, but in case of an emergency. Oftentimes photography takes us far away from the crowds, which means farther away from help if things go wrong. I always bring a first aid kit with me when hiking in the woods. I bring a satellite phone with me if I know that I will be operating in an area without any cell phone coverage, and I always let my wife know where I am going and when I will return…just in case.

An X-ray of two of my broken ribs from a recent ice climbing trip

It is always fun to have an adventure, but it is a much more pleasant experience if you come home in one piece!

What photography adventure are you about to embark on? Tell us in the comments below!

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