Tips From A Travel Pro
Research Before You Go

This handsome man was a relative of the owner of my Bora Bora guest house and performed at a nearby hotel's Polynesian culture show. I spent about half an hour photographing him with a 20mm lens. I wanted to show as much boat and background as possible while standing close. Exposure on ISO 100 film was 1/250 at f/11 in late afternoon sun.
Photos © 2000, Susan McCartney, All Rights Reserved

My niece and keen amateur photographer Elizabeth Martin celebrated the coming of the new millennium on a mountainside near Katmandu, Nepal. She carried a backpack containing a Canon EOS Elan, 20 rolls of color print film, three pairs of wool socks, her favorite hiking boots, a weatherproof anorak, a fleece pullover, warm pants, two blouses, two pairs of shorts, spare underwear, Blistex, sunblock, and toiletries. On January 1, 2000, the sun came up on schedule. She had a great day and later a week of trekking, in the company of a small group of Brits and Europeans plus Nepalese guides. She says don't plan on buying film in Nepal. How did she know what to bring? As with any photographic journey these days, doing your research before you go is one of the most important parts of the trip.

I spotted this pretty church on a Saturday, and inquired locally what time services would be held. I got there at 9:30am the next day, and was delighted to find that kissing was part of the pre-service ritual. Some of the worshipers even gave me hugs! A 20mm lens, ISO 100 film, and quite a few exposures resulted in this shot, a favorite of mine.

Get The Lowdown
Talking to people who have been there lately is a great travel research tool. The other is using the Internet. I went to my favorite search engine and typed in Nepal + travel + information. About six sites came up. I learned that Nepal borders India and China, and that 85 percent of Nepalese are Hindu, 8 percent Buddhist, and 3 percent Moslem. There are hotels and lodgings in all price ranges from deluxe to Spartan in Nepal, the gateway to Mount Everest and a popular tourist destination for the adventurous. Much cultural information came from, the publishers of my favorite guidebook series. I then went to some official US government travel sites. For example, gives general and specific information for all foreign countries. Travel advisories and health advice for travelers to exotic places is at

A tropical beach is a travel clich, but one that is appealing to almost everyone. I walked for miles along the reef opposite Bora Bora to find an arrangement of palms that "worked." The scene needed people, so my assistant and his wife posed. I made this shot with a 20mm lens using ISO 100 film.

I researched Nepal for this article. I've always wanted to go there. Alas! Recent advisories made me decide against it at this time.

A lovely place with no current big worries is French Polynesia, a group of islands in the Pacific about 1000 miles from Hawaii, where I spent two weeks recently.

Making A List
My research for getting the pictures in this article followed the Internet and anecdotal trail--it's the same for any destination. I then make an advance shooting list: client, stock, and myself. Often I shoot for all three, with personal and stock pictures made at my own expense of course. My list notes "must have" and "hoped for" pictures. On arrival I go for and check off the musts first, but am open to the unexpected photo opportunity--an invitation to someone's house, a rainbow, or a local festivity.

Markets are great places to get people shots. Just be careful you don't interfere with commerce! I bought a trifle from this charming lady and we talked a while before I asked permission to photograph her. I relied on the matrix setting on my meter (I almost always do) and my flash was set at -.7 TTL fill mode, softened by a StoFen dome. Manually set exposure was 1/15 at f/5.6 with a 28mm f/2.8 lens and ISO 100 film.

Shooting Times & Getting Around
I try to shoot outdoors when the light is at its best, most often from dawn to about 10am, and from 4pm to after sunset. Location scouting, arranging setups, and indoor shooting are for the middle of the day. I usually shoot restaurants and entertainment at night.

Driving is the way to photograph in the country but you must walk a lot in towns and cities. Search especially for places and events where people seem approachable. I almost always ask people's permission before I photograph them, and may make many exposures of a good subject.

Get Close
Pictures of strangers and especially exotic peoples who have been "sniped" from a distance with a long lens are rarely interesting--the effect is about as appealing to me as having a stuffed moose head hanging on the wall.

A specialty of mine is shooting for the tourism industry. French Polynesia is a popular honeymoon destination, so I made pictures of resort hotels. This lagoon is reserved for hotel guests. The afternoon shot was on ISO 100 film with a 20mm lens.

Be brave, get in close when photographing people anywhere, the results are then intimate, as portraits should be. Have patience, stand and wait with camera visible, at a likely place. You can usually gauge when someone is approachable. Then use signs, smiles, and gestures to show you would like to make pictures if you don't speak the local language.

Far away and close to home, ensure good travel coverage by including plenty of people pictures. Don't neglect obvious things either--some may call those pictures clichs, but good clichs can become icons, and travel icons are always in demand.

On arrival in Tahiti, tired from a long flight, I took an exploratory drive out to Papeete, the capital. Of course I carried a camera, but no tripod because I did not expect to find much. On the way back to the hotel an amazing sunset blazed over Moorea to the west. I rested my 80-200mm zoom on the car and made 35 shots at 1/60 at f/4 on the one roll of ISO 1600 film I had with me.

To learn more about Susan McCartney's approach, read her book "Travel Photography," Second Edition, published by Allworth Press. It's available in bookstores and book web sites.