Some Holiday Photography Tips for you. I thought I would write a few words on an upcoming holiday – the way I am planning it, and what I hope to get out of it. The main thing to note as I plan is that it will be a holiday to Hawaii with Good Lady Wife. So I need to balance the time taking ‘proper’ photographs with the traditional holiday times.
I will indeed be taking my camera stuff. But what landscape photographs will I take? How will I approach it? How quickly will I get to ‘think Hawaiian’? What and how will I pack? Will it actually end up being a holiday or another landscape photo-shoot? I thought it would be a good idea to write – now, before I go – and again after I come back, what is going through my mind.
Before I go – Four weeks out
Planning – Locations
We are off to Hawaii – three islands, fourteen days. So that’s at least three local areas I need to get to know a little bit about before I land. Three lots of outlooks, three lots of terrain to understand, three lots of ‘must sees’. I need to know these because it’s likely I will be taking potentially my best photos at dawn and dusk. And local to accommodation is where I will likely be at those times, unless I drive out to specific sunset and sunrise locations. Which I won’t be doing every day, as it’s a holiday.
Right now I wonder – when I look through the viewfinder over there – how different it will be to doing the Australian photography I am used to doing, and Australian landscape photography in particular. So I have: –
- Bought and devoured many Lonely Planet guides
- Used Google Images to get an idea of the ‘Picture Postcard’ shots in each location
- Checked Sunrise and Sunset times – around 6:10am and 6:30 pm
- Worked general sunrise and sunset angles – I already know Molokai won’t really work for either sunrise or sunset where we are staying
- Checked driving distances to a few choice locations from where we are staying
- Looked at PhotoPills for Astro options
Planning – Gear
It’s time to pack a suitcase and a camera backpack. And seriously some gear is going to have to stay at home! Landscape photography, panoramic photography, and all things nature photography demand good heavy tripods but sadly I will not be able to take my main Manfrotto 055 tripod – it’s simply too big and heavy. In addition, my camera bag weighs 8-9 kgs when laden, and that is too heavy to be throwing around airports and planes for me, my back won’t take it. So some photo gear has to go into the suitcase as well. The heavy items are tripod, camera bodies, and lenses. Filters are lighter.
To read my thoughts on travel tripods – please read here.
To read about what is in my bag, day in, day out, read more
My biggest risk is I have only one camera body – my back-up camera body is very old. I will take it but it’s not a good situation. Do I also pack a laptop to see how I go – I have never done so before but have also not been away for a full two weeks recently.
How many memory cards will I need? I won’t want to be deleting images off them for fun in the evenings to pass the time 😊 I have worked out I have enough for 4,000 images across 14 days. It will be enough – unless – one of the cards has a failure.
Planning – Actual Photo Approach and Expectations
Whilst planning – I am really looking forward to seeing the following:-
- Volcanoes – great for astro but a loooong way from where we are staying
- Lava flows (!)
- Black sands – could be really different
- Wonderful sea cliffs – but nigh-on impossible to get to
I actually don’t expect I will take more than one or two ‘great’ photographs in the time I am away. The reason? Great Photos need
- Great Light or Great Colour
- Local knowledge and insights
- Being in the Right Place at the Right Time
My portfolio is largely full of (locally taken) images where all three of the above have been met, Whilst on Holidays in the past I have indeed fulfilled (1) and (2) as I witnessed a mind-blowing sunset over the peak of Mount Cook. However, I was enjoying dessert in an up-market restaurant whilst I was looking at it! On holidays, in general, you miss out on one or more of the above.
However! – there’s the Picture Postcards, and then there’s the stuff you should be interested in. I will likely take a couple of postcard ‘clean’ images then work out the varying angles. We all know that the light is best early morning and late afternoon/early evening, and that pretty much applies to everything – landscapes, architecture, you name it, it looks better with gentle light. I have checked my decades old Hawaii snaps and the local weather is noticeably full of fluffy white clouds, but they are all low clouds – with a few grey cloudy days as well! Could be a challenge!
And a last minute update – the lava has stopped flowing! And the Hurricane has just passed by!
Before I go – a week out
The ‘have I remembered everything panic has now set in.. it’s time to start packing with a suitcase on a bed in the spare room
Batteries, battery chargers, memory cards are Number 1. Lens cleaning cloths are a close Number 2. Leads for everything are Number 3. All the stuff you always know you have hanging around at home, including the backup camera body. So that means endless lists. But, if you write a list you can then check your gear inventory against it when you pack – that’s double safety. As suspected, the tripod takes a lot of room in the suitcase but that can’t be helped.
So…. my Holiday Photography Tips In Conclusion – it’s all about the planning –
- especially to remember all the little things (leads, chargers, tools, tripod plates etc) you have on-hand at home but don’t when you are on the road
- and do as much reading to understand the place you will be visiting as you can (or want to)
time to go …
I’m now back
So – how did it go? Maui was all golf courses, designer resorts, badly planned urban sprawl and no heart, Kona was a wonderful seaside town with a genuine vibe, and Molokai was – well – can I go back tomorrow?
It takes a while to island hop, and when you add that on to a SYD <-> HON leg, you could get to LAX in the same time, but Hawai’i is, well, it’s Hawai’i, isn’t it?
What went right and wrong
Lots went right! I got lots of great images. The area planning worked, I had access to all the gear I needed, I didn’t need to use any backup gear. I got on increasingly well with my travel tripod as well.
Yay! – very little went wrong. My ageing Canon EOS 5D Mk III performed really well. Toward the end of a very (!) cold night on Haleakala the shutter stayed open when in bulb mode, and the camera pretty much seized. So I called it quits on the shoot and was unsure if I had fried the SD card as the camera would not play back any images. All sorted when back at sea level though and the images displayed themselves again – phew!
Interesting as well – the 110 volts meant that charging both camera batteries and also iPhones seemed to take a lot longer than at 240V. Power supply was also very variable across the islands. Some chargers and some car chargers just plain didn’t. Charge, that is.
My Holiday Photography Tips Number One thing for next time – I need a way to back-up with SD cards, that way I can always leave the backup in the hotel room if I take my camera out for the day. Conversely, if I leave my camera in the room, I take the backup out with me. Toward the end of the holiday I got a really horrible realisation of what I would lose if someone stole my camera gear (fully insured) but that would include all my SD cards – irreplaceable.
I enjoyed my downtime in the evenings – the jury is still out whether taking a PC would have worked – don’t think it would have helped have a true holiday.
And erm, we were there in Hurricane season.
What were the surprises?
A Big Surprise – How Fast the Light Fades
The light was the biggest surprise. Sunsets came and went – Boom! Lots of light, lots of colour then almost no afterglow. I packed up regularly within 15 minutes of the sun going down. In Australia that could be up to 45 minutes quite often.
- The weather also. Very regimented – clear mornings, cloudy afternoons. No clear blue skies after about 9am, and very very little high cloud. Clouds that clung to the top of all the high ground. Permanently.
- I wasn’t expecting that to drive anywhere/everywhere took so much longer than I expected. I think a lot of that has to do with converting miles to kilometres mentally, however, there is a lot of lengthy drawn-out town sprawl to get through (apart from Molokai!), a lot of road works, narrow (and single lane) roads, and the Big Island is actually quite big. Funny that.
- Foreground. The Big Island of Hawai’i especially – but all the islands in general – has a lot of black land (think foreground) from the lava flows, recent or otherwise. That made for a very different metering experience.
I did some beautiful landscape photography. I did balance the holiday and photo aspects. Some days out I just took my phone and left the camera in the room.
The planning worked, but I was still caught by surprise by the completely different quality of light. I would have needed a lot longer in each location to scout for good shots, and then to have actually executed those shots in the much shorter time-frame than I had prepared for.
You can plan all you like, and maybe I over-planned, but that won’t stop you from having to think and learn on your feet when you are there. And you won’t have the time to learn that fast, as it will take one or two sunrise/sunset shoots to learn, and that is maybe all the time you have in one location.
Thanks for reading this far – I hope these Holiday Photography Tips were useful to you when you plan your next trip.
The Landscape Photographer