After having spent the last year in various stages of lockdown due to the pandemic, most of us have grown accustomed to social distancing, wearing masks in public, and washing/sanitizing our hands and the surfaces we touch more regularly. While the pandemic is not behind us and could possibly surge again, the world has started to open up, however slowly. As we begin to step out into the new normal, we must do our due diligence to better navigate the changes we encounter along the way. This is particularly true for those who travel, including our community of roving photographers.
In photography, it has long been best practice to scout locations in advance to familiarize oneself with the area. In a semi-post-pandemic world, researching destinations in advance is an absolute must, especially when traveling. To help, we’ve mapped out a list of pandemic-era travel tips for photographers. Below, you’ll find a mix of general and photography-specific tips that should make your next destination shoot run smoothly and safely.
Semi-Post-Pandemic Travel Tips for Photographers
- Double Check Quarantine and COVID Regulations
- Confirm Baggage Allowances to Avoid Surprise Fees
- Research Photography and/or Drone Restrictions in the Destination City
- Travel Early to the Destination in Case of Issues
- Share Multiple Points of Contact in Advance
- Use a VPN for All Online Activity
- Monitor Crime Rates in the New Destination
- Use Apps to Help Scout Locations
- Check In with Potential Shoot Locations for Reservations or Permits
- Follow Up with CDC Health Recommendations After Traveling
Travel Tip #1: Double Check Quarantine and COVID Regulations
Before undertaking any air travel, you’ll need to take a COVID-19 test to ensure that you are healthy and not contagious, regardless of whether or not you’ve had the vaccine. The Department of Health & Human Services has listed free community-based testing sites for COVID-19. Once you are cleared to travel, be sure to check the CDC’s list of COVID-19 Travel Recommendations by Destination before attempting to book your flight. You can use the map to quickly locate your destination and check its risk assessment level. The CDC regularly updates the list, so the information you find will be current.
It’s worth noting that “all air passengers coming to the United States, including U.S. citizens, are required to have a negative COVID-19 test result or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 before they board a flight to the United States,” according to the CDC. In other words, you can expect to get tested again before flying home if you travel outside of the country. You can find additional arrival restrictions for your return flight from countries like China, Iran, countries of the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom or the Republic of Ireland here.
Travel Tip #2: Confirm Baggage Allowances to Avoid Surprise Fees
When traveling by air, our capacity to pack gear and clothing is limited. Baggage allowances on flights vary and continually evolve, but most airlines allow for one checked bag with a 50 lb. weight limit and one carry-on bag, both limited to specific sizes, as well as one personal item. Every square inch and ounce of weight that we pack matters. Considering the cost of our camera gear, it makes sense to pack as much of it as possible in your carry-on bag, especially must-have tools like your camera body, batteries (do not leave these in checked luggage bags), memory cards, lenses, and a laptop, not to mention the clothes you plan to wear for the shoot (in case there’s an issue with lost or damaged luggage).
Most camera bags are designed to meet carry-on requirements and are marketed as such, but there are occasions when airlines might ask you to check your carry-on bag at the gate, even if it meets the requirements. If this happens to you, there’s really not much you can do other than make sure your gear is insured. Check out our photographer insurance guide for more information.
It’s also important to know what you can or cannot legally pack in advance, which leads to our next tip.
[Related Reading: 15 Travel Photography Tips from Destination Photographers]
Travel Tip #3: Research Photography and/or Drone Restrictions in the Destination City
This tip really falls into two sections: Traveling Restrictions and Local/Destination Restrictions.
First, given the scarcity of space we have to carry the gear we need on airplanes (as noted above), the last thing we want to do is load up our luggage only to find that we can’t take it on the plane. In October 2020, for example, the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) stated that drones cannot be carried in cabin baggage on board flights in India. In fact, all drones, remotely-piloted aircraft systems, and unmanned aircraft were placed on the restricted list. For now, it is recommended to store the batteries and propellers in your carry-on and place the drone and other components in your checked luggage. The policy for taking drones on planes varies by country, so be sure to search online for any travel restrictions for taking your gear.
Once you’ve arrived at your destination, you need to understand the local photography and drone restrictions to avoid any fines. Regarding drones, most places require licenses and drone registration (some are more stringent with enforcement), and there are a number of common no-fly zones. Using Los Angeles as an example for drone usage, current restrictions will not allow you to fly your drone:
- Within a 5-mile radius of any airport
- Above 400 feet
- At night
- Over a crowded public space.
Other restrictions are in place for trespassing and harassment as well.
Regarding photography in your destination city, some destinations may require a work permit to work as a hired professional in the area, although getting the permit is easier said than done. And just like local weddings and events, it’s important to know if the venues you’re shooting at require permits or even allow photography at all. We’ll dive deeper into this in tip #9 below.
Travel Tip #4: Travel Early to the Destination in Case of Issues
When we purchase tickets to travel, we expect the trip to go as scheduled. Of course, things don’t always go according to plan. While a delay can be inconvenient when traveling for leisure, the stakes go up when traveling to photograph an event, especially if the venues and calendar of events have already been locked in for specific dates and times. For this reason, we recommend traveling early to the destination to avoid any issues that may arise from unexpected delays. An early arrival also buys you more time to scout the locations in advance.
For destination weddings and/or engagement sessions, it might be ideal to try and book the same flight as your couple if you’re flying out from the same location. Afterall, everything hinges on the couple’s arrival. I’m not suggesting that you try to sit next to the couple on the plane, but rather make an effort to show up together.
Travel Tip #5: Share Multiple Points of Contact in Advance
This is a must, regardless of your travel arrangements. If your phone dies or your service is interrupted, you still need to be able to contact your clients. Some information you should have ahead of time includes the phone number and physical address of your hotel, your client’s hotel, the car rental service, and the event space (if relevant). You should also have contact information for the couple and others involved in the shoot (wedding planner, family and friends, etc.), including phone numbers, email addresses, and social media accounts.
Travel Tip #6: Use a VPN for All Online Activity
We usually focus on keeping our camera gear secure when traveling, but we also need to watch how we access the internet. Public Wi-Fi is almost unavoidable when you’re away from home, but these networks frequently have weak protection standards, whether you’re in an airport or elsewhere.
To avoid falling victim to cybercrime, we suggest using a VPN, or a Virtual Private Network. A VPN is a privacy protection oriented cybersecurity software that reroutes all of your data-flow through one of its secured servers and applies additional encryption. Rerouting ensures that your data is traveling through a secure server and can’t be monitored by any third-party network you’re using for travels.
VPNs made by companies like NordVPN can also help you bypass geographical restrictions, such as those limiting your access to social media. You can use it to change your IP address to the country of your choosing and pick a server in the country where the service you want to access is available.
Travel Tip #7: Monitor Crime Rates in New Destination
You might be familiar with the higher crime areas in your own area, but you won’t know such information without research when visiting from out of town. Also, don’t assume that crime is low when traveling to an affluent area. If an area is known for heavy tourism, chances are the area has been targeted by would-be thieves. I would also recommend getting insurance before traveling if you don’t already have it, and make sure it’s up-to-date if you do, regardless of the destination’s crime rate. Even if you have insurance, many Liability and Equipment Insurance policies only cover your photography gear domestically, so check your coverage and extend it to cover you internationally, if necessary.
Here are some additional safety tips to follow to help minimize the risk of having your gear stolen while shooting a destination event:
- Do not leave your gear unattended in the car
- Keep your memory cards on your person at all times during the shoot
- Backup your images regularly and share them to a cloud service
[Related Reading: What Insurance Should You Have as a Photographer?]
Travel Tip #8: Use Apps to Help Scout Locations
Take advantage of apps whenever possible to help plan your photography sessions. There are a ton of photography apps available for this purpose with everything from photography tips to real-time lighting conditions and weather updates. The best of them share accurate, detailed information to ensure you can safely (and legally) get the shots you’re after.
If you’re not opposed to paying for an app to get premium access to its tools, I recommend checking out Explorest and Sun Surveyor before booking your next destination shoot. Both apps are available for Android and iPhone users. Explorest is an influencer-based app that features incredible location photos from around the globe and shares information on how the shot was captured, where it was taken (down to exact GPS coordinates), ways to get to the location, as well as nearby locations for more stellar photos. Sun Surveyor, as its tagline notes, serves as a personal sun and moon guide with interactive maps, augmented reality projections for pinpointing the exact time the sun or moon will be at a particular location in the sky, and more. You can also save and load coordinates in advance and use the app offline with no data connection or GPS available.
Short of having a personal guide to take you around the destination, apps can really come in handy and help you take advantage of all the great spots that the destination has to offer.
[Related Reading: Photography Apps for Pros on the Go (2021 Update)]
Travel Tip #9: Check In with Potential Shoot Locations for Reservations or Permits
Whether you’re shooting locally or abroad, it’s important to make sure you’re covered in terms of reservations or permits before showing up for a session. You don’t want to go through the hassle of prep and travel only to get turned away at the gates. It is not only inconvenient but also unprofessional. While this has always been an important part of any location shoot, it is especially crucial since the pandemic began as public access to many venues may have become less available.
It’s also important to note that some locations require liability insurance in addition to shooting permits. I have come across this while getting permits for beaches and hotels in Southern California.
Travel Tip #10: Follow Up with CDC Health Recommendations After Travelling
We already mentioned that you’ll need to take a COVID-19 test before catching a return flight home from out of the country. After you arrive, however, there are additional recommended guidelines to follow. They are as follows:
- Get tested at 3-5 days
- Stay home for 7 days (or 10 days if you don’t get tested)
- Watch your health
At the end of the day, the goal is to keep yourself and others safe when you travel. It’s great that more opportunities to shoot and travel are opening up, but it’s on us to follow recommended safety guidelines to minimize the risks. This includes securing our online access as well. Even without the pandemic, traveling for a photoshoot requires a significant amount of planning and preparation, so we hope you found these tips helpful. We’re excited to get back out there and pick up where we left off, even if our journey forward looks a little different.
What other travel tips can you add to this list to help ensure safe & productive travels? Please share your thoughts in the comments.