Photographing Abroad Part One


Hooray! You have been hired for a commercial job or are ready to start on a self funded photo project in a foreign country. Now what? Regardless what type of photography you are going to do. There are few things you need to do to prepare so you can maximize your time there and have a successful shoot.

This by no means a definitive list, but hopefully it will help put things in perspective. Being able to execute a project is as important as the photography aspect of the project. As a matter of fact sometimes just getting to a the point where the camera is in your hand to photograph 75% of the effort maybe more.

Do your research! It can save you headaches at the airport, time and most of all money. 

  • Is your passport valid, has at least 6 months before expiring, and have enough pages.
  • Look at maps of where you are going. So you have a sense of distance and time.
  • Bring paper maps with you. Your phone will most likely not work where you are going or it will cost a small fortune (literally) So do your self a favor either buy a data roaming plan which will not be enough for what you need or shut off data roaming on your phone, and be a slave to wifi.
  • Visa requirements, check them and apply early.
  • Need shots? malaria meds? going to Africa then you need a yellow fever vaccine, it is not a regular immunization. Check with a travel doctor at least six weeks in advance and make sure you are up to date on your shots.
  • Are you going to be staying at high altitudes then make sure you build in time to acclimate, and investigate other ways to stay healthy at high altitude. Otherwise you will be hating life, at best you will feel ill at worst you will need to be evacuated.
  • GET TRAVELERS MEDICAL INSURANCE. I cant stress this enough. Also make sure its has emergency evacuation coverage. So if you are hospitalized you will be picked up and taken to a hospital of your choosing in the USA. Otherwise you may be stuck at a hospital where you are and they wont take care of you until you give them cash (not a good place to be)
  • Items that are prohibited to bring into the country (ie satellite phones into India, handheld GPS devices to Cuba)
  • Customs, do you need paperwork for your gear, a carnet, how much gear can you bring etc.
  • Find out what the exchange rate is and the best way to change money. Many places don't have ATMs. At the end of the day cash is king have enough to pay for hotels, food and transport, and then some more. If banks are readily available get travelers checks. If you have to bring cash bring the newest $100 bills because if they are the older versions, beat up or have a small tear they wont exchange it. Bring small bills if you are going to tip people with it. I usually tip in the local currency.
  • I do not recommend bribing anyone. That is a sure way to get into trouble.
  • Ask your friends, or anyone who can give you first hand information of where you are going. When I went to Afghanistan in 2006 I joined a bunch of Yahoo news groups so I could get information from people on the ground
  • Go to the websites of the countries you are going to they are full of information.
  • Find local connections, producer or fixers. A good fixer will be able to point you in the right direction, save you money, negotiate in your behalf, and keep you out of trouble (literally)
  • For Gods sake, check the weather for the time you will be there. There is nothing worse than bringing the wrong clothes for the weather. We will go into clothes in the next installment

When in Rome do as the Romans do. Words to live by while on the road.

  • How to dress. For example not to wear shorts or if female wear tight clothing.
  • Are they a conservative country
  • This will help you in selecting clothing to wear.
  • Do the different sexes shake hands in any way or touch each other. I am latino so I am a kisser and a hugger. In some places that is a big no no.
  • Are certain hand gestures offensive
  • Taking off your shoes when entering someones home.
  • Learn a few words like hello and thank you.
  • Bringing gifts to your hosts or people you are working with is a great way to show appreciation and they are more willing to make things happen for you. They don't have to be expensive. Its not about the money its about respecting others and their abilities.
  • At the end of the day just observing and taking cues from what other are doing is the best way to get a handle on local customs.


  • Get a travel agent. Complex travel is best handled by a professional.
  • Travel with airlines where you can earn points, but at the end of the day routes and cost dictate what airline you will travel one.
  • For simple travel in the US or point to point easy. I sometimes use the travel sites like Expedia. Although the problem with those sites is if you run into problems on the road its hard to get in touch with them to solve them. Like for example your stranded in Shengyang airport in China due to a snow storm and you need to arrange for a hotel. That is why a good travel agent is key. They can help you make the most efficient travel arrangements and also be there for you when you run into a issue. Its worth it. Even if tit costs a little more.
  • When going to South East Asia I recommend EmiratesEthiad, and Qatar. Good airlines with a great economy class and surprisingly cost effective.
  • Avoid long layovers unless you want to spend some time in the city. At the end of the day though that is tough to do. You have just been on a 14 hour flight and your connection is in 17 hours. Now you are getting on a bus to go sight seeing.....Short layovers are the way to go because airports suck.
  • Avoid more than one stop or connection. That is where bad things happen. Missed connections, lost luggage and it makes the total travel time longer. You want to get where you are going so you can get to work.
  • Give yourself at least an extra day before you start working. I know that you want to get started right away on your project, but jet lag is real and makes you useless so you might as well rest.


  • When going through customs make sure you have your paperwork in order, and be prepared to answer questions. If you are working with a government office or an NGO a letter from them is helpful. paperwork is very good to have.
  • When asked questions. Don't volunteer answers just answer the question and not more.
  • Be nice! and don't get stressed. If you are relaxed you don't get harassed as much.
  • If you did your homework, passing immigration and customs should be a breeze.
  • If you lie about something be prepared to accept the results. Things like, they wont believe you when you tell the truth or you just sent home on your dime. So in other words be careful about what your answers to questions are.
  • Some places don't want you working in their countries. So if you say you are a professional photographer they automatically assume you are working. So unless you are on a big job with a lot of moving parts and cant afford delays and problems go through the proper channels and get your paperwork. If on a a self funded trip just say you are an enthusiast. Saves hassles.

I started this post just to be a short thing to talk about traveling then it became a monster, so I am splitting it up into three parts. Comments, questions, or suggestions are welcome. Also these are just my experiences and suggestions. So its up to you to use your own judgement in any situation.

Part two "Gear on the road, and everything else you need to take."

Part three "Your there, getting it done"

william vazquezComment