Unless you’re a purist, or working for National Geographic, consider leaving your expensive camcorder or SLR camera at home during your next trip. Especially when film or tape is involved, heat, cold, humidity, stray light, and even ambient electromagnetic fields can ruin your media. You will find yourself invariably rationing your limited number of still shots or taped minutes, missing some precious opportunities.
I say: go digital. Now, while cell phone pictures and video are getting better – and you can phone them home at a moment’s notice – they are still relatively low-resolution. Besides, your cellular service may not be available everywhere you travel, and you may prefer leaving the phone home anyway.
I would avoid taking an expensive digital camera or camcorder on a hike over rough terrain, or where local sticky fingers pose a special problem. My preference is a relatively inexpensive pocket-sized multi-purpose camera, what eBay calls a “specialty camera.” For around $100, they shoot still pictures in as high as 12 megapixel resolution, take video with sound, record sound alone, and play MP3s and even video MP4s.
Take thousands of pictures, and hours of audio and video. You are limited only by the capacity of the memory chips you bring along. In fact, if you have computer access on your travels, you can clear out your camera’s contents onto the hard drive, or Zip up to 100 MB at a time and use MediaFire.com to send it home. It sure beats worrying about a suitcase full of film going through airport x-ray machines.
I’ll say this just twice: always use the wrist strap! I lent out my $500 digital Canon for an evening. Less than 24 hours later, the pieces were handed back to me. Only the unused wrist strap was undamaged. “It happened so fast,” they proffered. Yep. 2nd time: Always use the wrist strap!
Oh, and look for a camera that runs on AA batteries. Rechargeable battery packs are fine only if you have access to electricity. Carrying chargers and AC converters is more cumbersome than toting a few extra AA’s, which seem to be available in every souvenir stand in the world.
Now get creative! Remember that the camera will operate even when it’s not pressed against your face, so get some unique shots by holding the camera up and away, or pointed back on yourself. Share the camera so you’re in some shots, narrate while taking videos, and record ambient sounds that you can play back during your slideshows back home.
Remember to adhere to local customs – not to mention local law! Amish shun photo-ops, so try to respect them and any other camera-shy groups. That includes government installations and many entertainment venues, although most theme parks actually encourage photography. Respect personal space, as well; I once took photos at a funeral for a woman who couldn’t be there to send off her late father, and I was careful not to get into attendee faces.