Is there anything more exciting than a big road trip for those of us into landscape photography? Seeking out new destinations to photograph and visiting amazing places for the first time is something that gets most photographers excited. Chasing amazing compositions in beautiful locations with awesome light is what landscape photographers do. To do so quite often involves a lot of travel, and particularly driving long distances to get to wherever we may be going.
While you are out travelling there are a lot of things that could potentially go wrong with your camera gear, but with a little bit of planning a lot of things can also be easily avoided. So let’s take a good look at some basic things that can be done to prepare your camera and other photography equipment for your next big road trip. These tips will hopefully allow you to focus on capturing great images, rather than worrying about the performance of your equipment.
Clean your camera sensor
What landscape photographer hasn’t experienced dust spots on their camera sensor at some stage? It is so easy to get dust inside your camera and have it settle on top of the sensor, leaving noticeable spots in your images. There is a belief amongst beginner photographers that cleaning your camera sensor is a complex task. It really doesn’t need to be. For those that are less technologically inclined, they can easily take it to a reputable camera store and get the sensor cleaned for anywhere between $60 – $100 depending on the store of choice. But if you have a little bit of patience, learning to clean your own sensor will save you a lot of money over the course of your photography life.
Sensor cleaning kits are available for anywhere between $15 – $60 and many kits will provide the products needed to do up to 10 individual sensor cleans. It literally takes 10 minutes to do the job from start to finish, and having the ability to do it yourself means you will be able to perform a clean when you are out on a trip if required.
Clean your tripod
Tripods are an often overlooked part of the landscape photography toolkit. But without your tripod you will most likely struggle to take any shots that require your camera to be stable. Tripods are just as important, if not more important than any other piece of equipment you will own. Taking care of your tripod is not hard at all. Most quality tripods can be easily disassembled and cleaned with little effort. Keeping those legs lubricated will ensure smooth movement when you need to set the tripod up. Keeping salt and sand out of it will help maximise the lifespan of what can be a very expensive item.
Just as the tripod legs themselves are important, the tripod head is also something you should look after. If you are using a ball head, you may need to lubricate and clean the actual ball joint itself. If you are using a fluid or three way tripod head, ensure that the screws and bolts are regularly tightened and that they move in the smooth way they are designed too.
Here is a great article on how to clean your tripod – Click here.
Clean your lenses and filters
The glass on your lenses and filters is one of the most important factors when producing photographs. If the light cannot travel unhindered through the lens elements and onto the sensor without dust, grease, and other things preventing it from doing so, your image quality cannot possibly be at its best. Take some time to clean your lenses and filters prior to leaving for your next trip. Do so with lens cloths and / or lens tissues and some sort of lens fluid. Keep that glass nice and clean and you will maximise your chances of producing top quality images.
Charge all of the required batteries
Just about every electronic device a landscape photographer could use on a road trip will require a battery to power it. Your cameras, drones, remotes, laptops, mobile phones, tablets and whatever else you could add to this list will be reliant on that juice to ensure it can actually turn on and be used whenever you need it. Charging your batteries out on a trip can often be an issue, especially if you are in a remote location or possibly even camping. Take the time before you leave to charge every battery to its full capacity. If your device has removable batteries, take plenty of spares so you limit the need to have them plugged into a charger of any kind.
Just as you should charge all of your batteries before you embark on your road trip, taking chargers for each of the types of batteries and devices you carry is just as important. In a perfect world we would have a single system or type of plug for charging all of our devices, but device manufacturers have resisted this more for years as their own proprietary charging systems makes them a lot of money with accessory sales. Before you leave home double check to ensure you have the correct chargers and cables for every device you are carrying. If you can also take a wall socket power board that allows multiple chargers to be plugged into the wall at once. For whatever reason hotel rooms always have a very limited amount of wall sockets in them. So the power board will come in handy for charing multiple devices simultaneously. Maybe even consider taking a solar panel and a inverter of some sort.
Take plenty of lens cloths
This one is less about preparing your gear than being prepared to clean your gear when you are out on the road. There are so many different reasons your lenses, neutral density filters, mobile phone screens, camera LCD screens, laptop screens and many other things could become dirty, dusty, wet, covered in salt spray and could do with a simple wipe down. Take plenty of lens cloths. It is easy to go through them very quickly.
While you are at it, pack some lens tissues and Kimtech wipes. They have no weight and are extremely useful when it comes time to cleaning your lenses and filters.
Format your memory cards
Have you ever gone out to a location, starting taking shots and them realised that your SD cards already have images on them? It can be quite annoying to need to go through and manually delete images from SD cards to make room for a fresh batch of images. Before you leave home, ensure that the images on your SD cards are already backed up and you have freshly formatted them. Take multiple spare SD cards so you have plenty of space for your entire trip.
External storage devices / backup drives
Here is a tip – you can never have enough backup storage space! Until you lose images through equipment failure or loss, you may never understand just how important this is. When you are out travelling so many things can go wrong. Being able to backup your RAW or processed images, the videos from your drone or whatever other media files you are producing can potentially save you a lot of heartache in any unfortunate events. Hard drive storage is quite cheap these days. USB thumb drives can act as a great secondary backup for those valuable media files. At the end of each day of shooting, take a few minutes to back up the images or video you have captured from the day in multiple places. If you don’t, it is inevitable that one day you will lose your files.
Check camera settings
Before you leave home, check to make sure your camera is set up and ready to shoot! Having the camera shooting in JPG only rather than RAW has probably happened to the most experienced photographers all around the world. The dials on the top of the camera can very easily rotate and be in manual mode rather than aperture priority. You may have your ISO set for an astro shoot rather than the type of shooting you would do most of the time. Taking a few moments to check your camera settings could mean the difference between capturing a shot and missing it. Going out and shooting in low quality JPG for some reason rather than RAW is very easily avoidable.
So you have a car load of expensive camera gear that you are carrying on your cross country journey. There are too many things that could possibly go wrong to even begin to list them all here. We discussed camera insurance in episode 16 of the Project RAWcast podcast. And even though @tassiegrammer and Kieran Stone may have had different opinions, it is still a good idea to ensure your insurance policy covers the trip you are going on. And if you don’t have an insurance policy, perhaps it is time to assess whether there is value in one for your own personal situation.
Pack well and stay organised
Keeping your camera gear organised can be difficult once you start pulling your camera gear in and out of your bag, or in and out of your car over and over again. But knowing where each piece of equipment is and staying organised throughout the entire trip can help maximise the chances of capturing that special moment, and also help you to know you haven’t lost or misplaced any gear. If you carry a camera backpack, pack it well before you leave home and put all of your gear back in the exact same spots throughout the trip. Write down exactly what you have packed and ensure it is all accounted for each time you put your gear back into your bag. Being organised can make a huge difference when you are carrying a lot of expensive equipment. Look after it and pack it well. Not only will you have the piece of mind in knowing where whatever piece of equipment is when it is needed, but you can also help ensure the life of your equipment by looking after how it is packed.