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General photo and camera tips

A pro take photographs at Stonehenge (Photo by Reid Bramblett)
A pro take photographs at Stonehenge

General tips, hints, and recomended photo and video gear

What kind of camera to bring

Photo professionals will tell you: The absolute best camera you will ever own is the one you can grab quickly to make the shot. That means if you can whip out your phone to snap that picture of Prince William strolling down Oxford Street, it is far better than digging around in your backpack for your expensive SLR and missing it. 

That said, unless you’re a professional or a real heavy-duty amateur, the fanciest camera you need is a basic Digital SLR (Single Lens Reflex) and the kit lens it comes with (though do look for deals that include two lenses, one wide-angle—say an 18–55mm—and a second lens for telephoto—perhaps 55–200mm). Get a lens cap with a little string to dangle it from the lens so you don’t lose it.

This should cost you no more than $700—unless you want it to. Sure, you could easily spend $5,000 on a good digital camera, but the "prosumer" models all clock in at $449 to $1,200 (largely depending on the kind of lens you spring for).

Of course, you can also get by perfectly well with a pocket point-and-shoot digital camera. These days you can get quality digital cameras that shoot 10 megapixels, remain waterproof up to 10 feet underwater, and come with all the bell-and-whistle features for well under $350.

Invest in at least a low-end pocket camera; don’t bother with a disposable camera, which take, at best, passable pictures and even then only under full, bright sunlight. The only useful disposable cameras are, if you think you’ll need one, the ones that work underwater.

Before you leave home: Know thy camera

Practice with your camera before you leave the States, especially if it’s a new one and you’re not sure how it behaves. Visit the sights of your home city, pretend you’re in London, and snap away. Get to know the camera. Shoot indoors and outdoors. Bracket your shots by shooting the same thing several times using different settings, with and without flash, and so on. Write down carefully exactly what you did or varied in each shot so that, later, you'll know which ones worked best.

Sure, you’ll waste half a day doing all this, but it’s better to know how the camera handles with different films and in different situations before you go off and miss that perfect shot on vacation.

Don’t leave home without them: Buying batteries and memory cards

Buy all the memory cards you'll need for your digital camera in the United States. It’s cheaper, and you can be sure it hasn’t been sitting on the shelf since 2003. 

I'd suggest bringing a bare minimum of 4 gigs (gigabyte) of memory for every two days on of your trip. Myself, I routinely shoot about a gig a day (more if a festival breaks out), so I travel with enough chips to total about 8 gigs per day to be safe.

Tips

  • Make your memory cards last longer by performing imagery triage as you go, deleting extraneous images each evening—those too blurry, underexposed, or poorly framed to be worth keeping—so as to free up more room on the chip for the next day. I tend to do this at dinner table after I've ordered (and taken my notes on the restaurant) and am awaiting my food.
  • Bring several spare batteries (if you're using rechargables, you must pack these in your carry-on bag due to new TSA rules as of 2008). 
  • Use a UV filter on the lens to protect it from scratches (not a polarizing filter, which messes up more shots than it helps if you don’t use it correctly).
  • If you do have to buy photo supplies or memory cards abroad, go to a camera shop or department store. Never buy film from a souvenir stand near a tourist sight. The markup is almost criminal.
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