Ah, the jet-setting traveling life. I didn’t grow up on airplanes or fancy family vacations. In fact, I think we were the only family in Maine who would still go further north for school breaks. It wasn’t until college that I flew for the first time- to California- and shortly after found myself flying overseas to Hong Kong. I guess you can say I quickly got a taste of what was beyond my borders!
I am used to flying now, but it wasn’t always that way. Navigating the rules of an airport security line used to cause me great panic and fear that something would go terribly wrong, arriving at least four hours early and packing days in advance. (Goodness now I am unfortunately the opposite!) However when I began to fly beyond pleasure, and actually began traveling on a regular basis for my family clients, I started to get into a groove of what works and what doesn’t work as a traveling-single-most often on a budget-photographer.
First of all, for flying, photographers should get extra carry ons in my opinion. I mean, we have to keep our gear on us at all times, making it so unfair that we have to choose between an extra lens or a banana for our 6 hour flight. If you’re not a photographer, you have it so easy!! Unless you have babies with you. Then you definitely win.
In the world of excruciatingly overpriced bottles of water and $13 stale airport breakfast sandwiches, I have quite honestly found the traveling life to not always be so glamorous. I have learned much the hard way, and still return from each trip having at least one idea on how to do something better or easier the next time around. But I thought that today I would not only share my top tips and resources I have found for traveling, but also my favorite images from my summer trip to Iceland!! I photographed these here on medium format film with my Hasselblad. (Oh Iceland…take me back!!)
By far one of my favorite locations that we stopped at was this black sand beach. It was so cold and rainy, but I could have stayed there forever! The tones and textures were out of this world, and the sea seemed to reach out to the farthest horizon. And those colors! I’ve never been a golden hour girl, instead give me those gorgeous muted tones of blue and grey. It was one of the most beautiful coastlines I had ever seen!
So many snow capped mountains! We pulled our tiny European rental car over so many times, just photographing like crazy tourists on the side of the road.
I can’t wait to finally get some of these professionally framed for my house!
The water that would rush down in streams and waterfalls was the brightest turquoise water I had ever seen! This was one of my favorite stops as well, I took this right before I met a wonderful couple for a maternity session. Talk about an insanely dreamy backdrop!
Iceland is already back at the top of my list to return to and photograph in. I really hope it can happen again next year. I realized that it takes me the same flight time to get to Iceland as it does California, and the flight was actually cheaper! I am most definitely bringing twice as much film next time too. Portraits in Iceland anyone?
I never thought I would ever travel as much as I do, and in the past two years I have learned so much through experience.
As a portrait photographer, most usually on a pretty strict budget, here are some of my top traveling tips:
GEAR- If there’s one thing I have learned over the past couple years of a lot of traveling, it would be that convenient and useful travel gear can be worth it’s weight in gold! Now keep in mind that I am a portrait, not wedding photographer, and I personally photograph with minimal camera gear, making a smaller case/bag ideal. I currently most often fly with either a Kelly Moore Libby or the ONA Chelsea Bag for my camera gear, depending on what I am needing to bring. When I was first looking at the Kelly Moore Libby, I was disappointed that it wasn’t real leather and kept looking online for something of superior quality. However I am SO glad that I bought it because this bag is a BEAST. It holds up to an incredible amount of weight that I stuff inside, and has been through endless dirty security conveyors, stuffed under airplane seats, and even strapped to the back of an old bicycle in Copenhagen. I’ve had mine for years now and she still holds up to my adventures! I also use the ONA Chelsea Bag. I don’t use this when I fly as often, since I need all the space I can get in a “personal item”- but when I travel by train into NYC or travel on the smaller scale, this chic bag makes me feel pulled together, even if I don’t feel like it! I actually love this bag so much that I often use it as a regular purse when I am home!
I honestly try to avoid checking baggage when I fly whenever possible. It not only saves both time and money, but I have to remember that I am usually traveling by myself, so being able to easily carry whatever I pack is really important! I would love to have a Think Tank Roller Bag someday, but it’s still on the wish list. I do use (thanks to the recommendation of Mary Marantz) the Think Tank Laptop Case though. It keeps my laptop safe, and the shoulder strap is it’s best feature. When I go to the airport, I usually slide this case and all in the front pocket of my roller board carry on. When I walk onto the plane, or if the plane is too small and they insist my bag get checked, I just reach in, take it out, and swing it over my shoulder. This helps with making sure I comply with the annoying luggage rules, but keeps things convenient and hands free when I use my laptop on flights. My laptop is my BABY and I never let it out of my sight!
My other go to gear is my This is Ground iPad travel case. This item was definitely a splurge for me, purchased in years past, but I have used it every time I fly. It holds my iPad, chargers, headphones, Passport, chapstick- pretty much all those little flight essentials that I want in one easy to find place. It slides right into either one of my camera bags, and is just fantastic for a quick retrieval for items on a crowded plane. I usually take it out as soon as I get to my seat and slide it into the seat pocket in front of me. That way when I put my bags under my seat, I won’t have to reach down and dig for things so often. You can also keep your printed boarding passes safe inside, but I also use mobile passes that I access quickly in my Passbook app on my iPhone. (My Starbucks reward card also sits in my Passbook app for quick coffee on the go so I don’t have to dig out my wallet!)
Speaking of iPhone, by far one of the BEST investments I have ever made is my Mophie Charging Case. Last fall, I was flying back home from Sacramento, and had a late night connection in Newark. (Newark is the worst airport in the world and I now do everything in my power to now avoid it!!) Long story short, United cancelled our flight, refused to keep their help desk open despite a long line of weary and confused travelers, and I was literally stuck. They had forced me to check my bag due to the plane size, so I had next to none of my personal things, (only my cameras!) I needed to find a local hotel, but my phone was dead. I was in tears waiting for it to charge long enough to call a nearby place to stay for the short night before my early morning flight. That was all the motivation I needed to buy one of these charging cases. I now can charge my phone while I sleep at night, fly across the country, use my phone all day, and I’ve never needed to frantically find a crowded outlet. It stays charged ALL day! That peace of mind was worth every cent.
UBER- I remember the first time I was headed into NYC by myself. I frantically texted my much city savvier friend Hannah Brencher the question, “How does one even get a taxi? Like do you have to whistle like the movies?” I grew up on a farm in Maine, and so I had only seen taxis on the television! I had heard friends mention Uber and how cool it was, but I had never really understood what it was, or how easy it was to use until this summer. It was been a life saver for me! You simply download the app to your phone, (even just doing that with iTunes gives you a $10 ride credit!), quickly set up your account, and when you need a ride somewhere, just open the app and request a ride! Your payment method is all set up in your account, so it’s one less thing to worry about. It tells you who your driver is, what kind of car they drive, and their license plate. I have used Uber numerous times now and have had a great experience. There are so many times that it has saved me from having to rent a car when I travel for sessions, because Uber was available in that city and was much cheaper to use! Use the code “tiffanyf899ue” to try your first ride for free!
AIRBNB- I am at a place in my life and business where I want to travel. The first time a family asked to fly me across the country to photograph their family, I had no idea what to charge. Would I charge a big travel fee? What if they still didn’t want to bring me out if it was too much? I asked my friend Alicia Daw, a well traveled destination wedding photographer what she thought I should consider, and her response completely changed my perspective. She simply asked me, “Well, do you WANT to travel? Because if you WANT to travel, you should make it as easy as possible. If traveling is a hassle to you and you would rather not fly as often, than you should charge enough to make it definitely worth it to you.” I have smart friends. Of course, the answer was that Yes I want to travel a lot right now! I am single, have no children, so there’s no better time for me to be able to see new places. This means I don’t charge a ton when I travel, so that it’s as easy as possible for families to bring me to them for their portrait sessions no matter where they live. Hotel costs can get super pricey, so I started using AirBnb this year. There are options to have a house that no one is staying in, in-law apartment type set ups, or even just extra bedrooms in the homes of others. I always look for spaces with really great reviews, and have had good experiences so far.
Things that are on my todo list to make traveling easier:
- My friend Alicia Sturdy, a Chicago portrait photographer mentioned Hertz Gold to me the last time I saw her and I have been meaning to check it out. From what I understand, it’s completely free to sign up, and it just makes retrieving your rental car much faster, without having to wait in line, which sometimes takes forever at busy airports!
- I also have been meaning to look into Frequent Flyer Credit Card, entirely for the perks of priority boarding and often one checked bag for free, saving $50. One of my biggest fears of getting a roller bag for my camera gear is how often I find myself on a small plane and boarding group 3, which means they would want to check my roller bag. So I have resorted to carrying my camera gear via shoulder bags just to keep this from happening- but my poor back has different things to say about this system! Do you use a frequent flyer card? Which one do you love?
I hope this small list of tips based on my personal experience is helpful for you if traveling as a photographer is on your horizon! I know I always have more to learn from others though, so I want to hear your best travel tips and resources in the comments!
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Tiffany Farley is local to Portland Maine and frequently travels for maternity, newborn, and family portrait sessions- with clients from Bar Harbor to San Francisco. To find out details regarding her upcoming travel dates to a city near you– or to book a custom travel session, please contact for more information.