PhotographTo take a camera or not is no doubt a personal choice. Some backpackers consider photographing every new and interesting thing they see as essential to their trip. On the other hand, some backpackers find that the effort it takes to photograph manyS of the things they see and do, as a 'record' for later, ruins the initial experience.

What's the Point?
Take some time to think about why you will be taking pictures. Is it to show your friends and family what you have seen? To look at years later and 're-live' the experience? Perhaps you are a professional photographer (or plan to be) and hope to make a profit by selling your snapshots? Or even all of the above. These are all legitimate reasons to take pictures. But sometimes you have to just travel for the experience and not worry so much about the future. Take pictures, sure, but know when to draw the line and just let the experiences happen.

If your travel experience is being hindered by the constant 'need' to take photographs, you may want to re-evaluate the importance of recording your trip via camera. Don't sacrifice your journey so you can look at the pictures later. Over-use of a camera can take away from your travel experience by removing some of the spontaneity as you continually look for 'the perfect shot'.

What to Spend
Camera prices and quality vary widely. From $5 disposables all the way up to multi-thousand-dollar tools, you can spend as little or as much as you want. Spend too little on a camera and you may be in for a disappointment when you get your pictures back. However, you really don't want to spend too much on a camera either. Expensive cameras will leave you constantly worried about it getting stolen or damaged.

More money does not necessarily buy you better photos however. Find your own happy medium between affordability and paranoia. If price is an issue, you can't really go wrong with something in the $100 range for the average traveler. It should be reliable and offer a few basic features, yet won't leave you in tears if it goes missing. Remember that the pictures you take will be irreplaceable, so do it right the first time by spending a little bit more on a quality camera.

What Kind of Camera
There are generally two types of cameras: point-and-shoot and SLR (single lens reflex). Point-and-shoot cameras are small and easier to use (but may have fewer features) while SLRs, with their interchangeable lens options and the like, are bulkier and require more photo know-how to be used effectively. We'd choose a small point-and-shoot camera with auto focus so you'll be more apt to pull it out and use it. Added features like a zoom lens for improved long-distance photos and a timer to take self-photos of you and your traveling buddies are welcome additions.

Your basic film options include either 35 mm or APS (Advanced Photo System) and will depend on what type of camera you have. 35 mm film is most common and comes in over 120 different formats. APS film is 26mm, smaller than the standard 35 mm, which allows for even smaller and lighter cameras. APS cameras also provide additional features like easier film loading, mid-roll change and date encoding. However, because the APS system is relatively new, film and developing facilities can be difficult to find in less-traveled areas. For detailed advice on film speeds and formats, visit Photosecrets.

Don't underestimate the quality of photos that a disposable camera can take. They are remarkably inexpensive, lightweight, and worry-free and take excellent photographs. I suggest taking your regular camera, plus one of the waterproof 'disposables' made by Kodak or Fuji. This way, you can take photographs while on the river safari or near the waterfall without worrying about destroying your more expensive camera.

Here are some important points to remember when preparing for and taking photographs:

  • take lots of film. Carrying around a couple rolls too many is not that big of a deal. But paying up to $10 for one roll of film when you need it is. Film can be very expensive in developed and less-developed countries. Even in Japan you can expect to pay a lot of money for film (camera prices here are a different story however). If it's your first trip and you like to take pictures, six rolls will suffice for a two month travel adventure. If you have too much, sell it to other travelers for what you paid for it (or be real popular by giving it away).
  • don't take pictures of every mountain and building you see, expecting them to be fabulous photos when you get home. At the very least, get one of your friends or travel companions in there too so it is more memorable. This may be one of those tips that you have to learn for yourself, but when you get home and ask yourself "what building is this?" or "where was this?", you will have learned better. Of course, some things just beg for a photo, like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, but try to keep these shots to a minimum.
  • don't be shy about asking a stranger to take your picture for you. If your are traveling alone, this may be one of your few options. But be careful who you ask. If the person looks like a faster runner than you, don't bother. A quality camera may be worth more than a years wages to people in some countries. You could take self photos by holding your arm straight out in front of you and attempt to get your face in the center, but these usually don't quite turn out as planned.
  • replace your battery with a new one before you go. Buying some batteries abroad (like the new lithium ones) can be difficult and very expensive.
  • get to know your camera before you go. Making sure your new camera works properly and learning how to use its new features is best done at home.
  • 36-exposure rolls save volume and weight, but you're 'putting all you eggs in one basket', so to speak. If something happens to that one roll of film, you loose 36 pictures, not just 24.
  • take a small tripod (about 4. tall) that is made with thick form-able wire legs, available at many outdoor stores. This handy tool screws into the bottom of your camera and, presto, instant studio.
  • rather than carrying around your exposed rolls of film and risk ruining or losing them, mail them home.
  • use anything to prop a camera up to take your picture, from a rock to a box of crackers. Of course, you will need a timer option on your camera to do either of these methods, which is definitely a worthy option to consider when buying a camera.
  • when taking your camera on the airplane, keep it in the day-pack you are carrying on the plane, including all the film you are bringing, instead of keeping it in your check-in bag. You do not want to know what those baggage bashers at the airports do to your bags, and having your expensive camera in your check-in bag is asking for trouble. By keeping it with you in your carry-on bag, you know where it is at all times. Also, you can ensure that your film avoids the X-ray machines, which can damage your film. Ask the security person if film is safe to pass through the machine and/or pass it around the machine in one of those cute little trays.
  • when you are taking pictures of anything that is behind a piece of glass (for example, a painting or a suit of armor), do not stand directly in front of the glass. Instead, stand at a slight angle to the glass. This way you will avoid the reflection of the flash as you take the picture. If you stand directly in front of the glass, you will simply get a picture of your flash and the picture will not turn out.
  • in some countries you may be required to pay extra money to bring your camera into certain buildings or areas. This is true in many places in Egypt for sure. If they see you carrying a camera they will try to charge you extra. To avoid the hassles to begin with, keep your camera in your pocket (if it is small enough) or in your bag and do not make it too noticeable. This is a good opportunity to use your tiny disposable camera. Often there is not a genuine charge but simply a ticket-taker that is looking for more money from you. Do not, however, try to smuggle your camera into churches or places of worship where there are signs asking you not to! You may get your camera taken away permanently and/or offend their culture or rights.

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