International photography- a few guidelines & tips- PART 1

captured during photo shoot for Fashion Destination for FTV production at Thailand

I always heard it’s the same Sun that shines across Earth and same people that inhabit it everywhere. It’s right in a way. And also wrong. The Sun may be the same, but the way lights filters through the skies in different parts of the world, the way similar hand gestures can be interpreted differently across the world, the way words can sound the same and yet mean different-only a traveler can experience and only a photographer or a writer can perhaps capture a small part of it.
Across the borders lies another world. Landscapes and people that may be more, or less, beautiful than our country-but have uniqueness of their own. For a lens man it surely provides ample opportunities to explore, learn and paint with light amazing canvas filled with different emotions, colors n textures.
In spite of sleeping late, I dragged myself out of bed to shoot the beautiful sunrise right from outside my room at super luxurious Hotel Savoy Sharm ( Egypt )

In last six years I had the opportunity to travel to many countries for work that ranged from shooting for various FTV productions to advertising work, for both clients based in India and abroad. And every time I have come back with experiences worth compiling into a book.
The most significant thing I learnt was preparing your self for the worst. The most important plans in life are about backups. It’s great that you are traveling abroad for a photo shoot. You are perhaps amongst those very few who get that kind of opportunity but then are you prepared enough?
It’s better to do your homework before you leave and not just jump on to the next available flight the moment you got an opportunity to shoot. When I first started traveling I searched the entire net but could not find a single detailed article covering the basic issues or problems a photographer could face. Finally, after years of traveling I felt it was the right to share such information with the budding photographers.
This article has also appeared in FRB 2011.
This article is relevant whether you are traveling in a group or alone. I have tried mostly to cover what a photographer traveling from India on a professional assignment might face or ought to keep in mind. It may or may not be true for a few, but for most it would be a great help in understanding a few important do’s n don’ts’
Learn to use Internet well
This might sound like an odd statement at the beginning of an article of this nature, but then whether you are a photographer based in India and traveling outside country for a photo shoot, for a client based in India or abroad, nothing would help you more than spending a few hours on internet and do some research.
Whether you want models in foreign locations or tie ups with different production houses or even need an international agency to represent and market your work- every such information is available on net. You just need to get started. This article covers the most basic problems one could face while leaving for an assignment and doesn’t talk much about ‘how-to-get-work’ abroad…
 Camera, lenses and backup for data :----I have made it a habit to send my camera to a service center before traveling out of country. On top of that I usually carry another body as back up, just in case the one I use malfunctioned. In case I have a tie up with a local production than I always put another camera on standby.The lenses you carry would depend on the assignment you are going for. I usually carry a whole range of them-16-35mm, 24-70mm and 70-200mm are a must in my kit. All Canon 2.8. I don’t want to miss on a great shot just because I forgot to carry that extra lens. If I need to use a medium format than Hasselblad is my favorite and then 35mm, 80mm and 120mm are a must.From lens cleaners to rain protection covers-there is almost everything I pack with me. I travel light and not clutter my bags with unwanted things. There is a baggage limit, on airlines, if that exceeds you might end up paying through your nose. Most international airlines the limit is 20kg-25 kg, but the problem is if you got a connecting flight to another destination within the country where you take the smaller aircrafts, the limit would be only 15 kg in most cases. So, every extra kg in your bag-you would be paying for it. The bottom line is to carry only the essentials and travel light.These are small productions costs that one generally tends to overlook.Do not forget to carry an international adapter and a small extension board along with you to plug in all your chargers.Spare batteries are important. In extreme weather conditions, the batteries die faster. You spend two days in some remote mountains and then wake up to an amazing sunrise, but you can’t shoot since your batteries have died, there is no power point and you, of course forgot to carry spare batteries.

An exotic Cape Town morning ( South Africa). Even if you are shooting for a client, you can still find time to shoot exciting pics for your own self !

  Data back up
Data back up is as important as keeping safe your passport. I usually carry two back up discs and enough space on my laptop while traveling. And while traveling back I keep them all in different bags, just in case I end up losing a bag I can not risk losing those photos for which the client has paid for. In fact, I carry one hard disc and the laptop in my camera bag (it’s a backpack I use) on my shoulder at all times. Also, the important images I select and try to upload on a server.
I shot the Presidential campaign in Sri Lanka and just after two days left for Egypt to shoot for Hotel Savoy. My back up was only on one disc and I had cleaned up my laptop since each trip easily takes about 150-200GB of images. After the shoot at Savoy, one of the models wanted few pictures of her from the shoot. I gave her my disc and she connected to her Mac book that immediately asked for the option of turning it in to a time machine. Even while I watched in utmost horror, within seconds all the data was erased from the disc. Imagine losing 200 GB of data that included not just the raw files of the campaign but many beautiful landscape and street shots of Sri Lanka- all gone in just a click of the mouse.
Lesson learnt-never ever handover your data to anyone! Even if it’s the client, unless you have safe back ups!

Lot of time to get it right but loved it ! Shot at famous Beach Club at Thailand
Customs, Airports & Immigration
International travel makes you humble n polite. If you are not so, then somebody would be kicking your butt in some part of the world.
Don’t brag or boast un –necessarily, no body cares a damn how popular or well connected you are in your country. Unless you are a Shah Rukh Khan or a Brad Pitt…in fact, most places they don’t care about that as well!
Before boarding the flight, read carefully what you can and not carry in the hand baggage. There are new rules and regulations as pat of the security measures. There are whole lots of things you cannot carry in the hand baggage including any kind of liquid more than 100ml, stuff like scissors or even your flash batteries or lighter. It kind of pains when you forgot to remove your rechargeable cells from flashlight and you are carrying in your handbag, they would simply take it out at the security and throw into a dustbin. Put them in your check in baggage.
The airport security will scan you, make you open your bags, take off your shoes n belts…and mostly probably treat you like a terrorist or insignificant human being-but then it doesn’t really matter, they are just doing their job.
Good to have a great sense of humor but at the immigration or customs keep it to your self. A friend of mine was once asked that the picture on the passport didn’t look like hers, she smiled and said –yes it’s fake! The officer wasn’t amused and made her wait for two hours.
Most light bags got steel rods or some kind of metal fitted in for support-there is every possibility they would scan it ten times to figure out some weapon and then eventually you would be asked to put it in the check-in baggage, so its very important to pack your equipment very carefully. Don’t for a moment think they are really bothered about the safety of your luggage, even if they put a ‘fragile’ sticker on the bags. They make you sign a declaration form and then toss around your bags on conveyor belts as if they actually want to break whatever you are carrying.
Get an export certificate from customs, which would have complete details of all the equipment you are carrying along with serial number, date of purchase and estimated value. On your way back you need to cross through the red channel and declare the equipment you are carrying and show them the export certificate. They are very nice while you are boarding from here-once you are back they would be the meanest guys on planet and make your life miserable if you don’t have a proof that equipment was bought in India before you left or that you carried it from India on the trip. It means that if in spite of obtaining the export certificate, do not try to pass through the green channel without declaring your equipment or you might end up being harassed for hours.
Do I need to mention it has happened to me couple of times?
The model relaxes by the sea after campaign shoot is over ! Istanbul !
Permissions n Licenses
Get a work permit to shoot! You are not even allowed to shoot on the streets of Mumbai-how do you expect to shoot anywhere else in the world with out a work permit? Though there are a few countries that are quite flexible in that but better do your complete homework on it. Insist upon it even if the client says its not required. Tell him to give it in writing that the equipment is going to be his responsibility and he will ensure your complete safety in all such matters.
Model Release Forms
Whether you are shooting with professional models or some pretty local girl, if you intend to use that picture for commercial purposes then ensure you get a proper model release form signed. Carry printed copies with you.
I am trying to get a clear shot of the Mosque as we zip through Istanbul city for our shoot !
Food n Health-
You are a vegetarian? Too bad! You are going to come back a few kg less. In many countries even potatoes are served with some non-vegetarian topping. If you are staying in the same hotel for a few days-it’s better to speak with the chef and explain so they can guide you properly what food you can have. Bread n butter of course is the best bet! In fact, you can perhaps make it a habit to carry dry fruits or chana or even packs of peanuts to do the occasional filling for your tummy-rather than buying a KFC burger all the time.
If you are addicted to tea and smoke while shooting-Europe is going to be quite a dent in your pocket. I mean it’s not funny when you end up paying 4 Euros for a cup of tea or a bottle of water. So carry your green tea sashay n get used to black tea or green tea.
Make a complete first aid kit for yourself depending on your history of illness keeping in mind the occupational hazards. Backaches, headaches n muscle spasms are so common in outdoor shoots. Not to mention slips n cuts. My kit usually has medicines for airsickness, cold, allergy, and acidity along with fever. I even carry eye drops, ear drops, nose drops, muscle relaxants, painkillers, hot water bottle and even anti-termite creams. I had gone for White Shark Diving in South Africa to shoot the Great White Shark-when I let the infected water seep through my wet suit and had boils and painful rashes all over my body for next three days.
Medicines abroad may be expensive or may not even suit you at times. So, its ideal to give your self a few minutes and determine what all to carry-however improbable it might sound at that moment. Avoid traveling in case you are already experiencing some kind of allergy or infection. You might spread it to others or just make it worse for yourself.
You can even have injections for flu or available vaccines before you leave. In fact, those who travel very regularly must try and get hepatitis A & B vaccines as well. There are parts of Africa where it’s a must to have yellow fever vaccinations before you leave. Do not decide anything on your own- let your doctor take a call on that. 
Great hospitality is a tradition at Hotel Savoy Sharm. One such moment (Sharm El Sheikh -Egypt)

The views expressed in this article are based on my travel experience and are not in any manner conclusive. Please get your research material right n updated through confirmed sources.
Copyright notice :-The text and images from this blog are copyrighted to the photographer and its respective clients and can not in any manner, in part or whole, be reproduced anywhere, without the prior written permission from 'pravin talan photography'

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Vidur Reddy said…
Thank You very much for writing such a wonderful blog.
Very interesting to read through the blog.
There seems to be lot of ground work and effort behind these great pictures..
Anonymous said…
Thankyou so much for such great thoughtful tips Pravin! Though am not even a pro as of date, but the tips are so vital, usable and useful even for normal traveling! Thanks a lot for sharing sir!
pravin talan said…
Thank you...posted the Part-2 as well- hope you get time to read that as well...:)
Paresh Kale said…
Thats a great post. Well explained tips. TFS !