Photography & Optics

Photography on Tours

Like you, we travel a lot. We love to take pictures, and we work with photographers who range from leisure tourists to professional crews hauling hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of gear. So we know as well as anyone that photography is a big part of visiting far flung corners of the world!

We know you’re a pro; nonetheless, we’d like to humbly offer a few practical ideas based on our observations over the years. Hopefully you’ll find something useful here, whether you’re toting an iphone in your pocket or lugging around a shiny new D4s or EOS 1Dx.

General Tips

Five Senses – No matter what kind of photographer or nature spotter you might be, don’t forget to put the kit down, close your eyes, take some deep breaths, and give your other senses a chance to soak in the place. Not everything worth remembering can be caught on an SD card.

Watch out for that DEET – Because you will likely be using sunblock and DEET products, take care to clean your hands before handling your electronic/optical equipment. DEET is notorious for leaving stains and permanent discoloration on plastics. It happens to the best of us.

You’re visiting the tropics: you and your gear will get wet – Bring some waterproof dry bags to stash your gear on boat trips and during the inevitable downpour. 

Don’t underestimate how many pictures you might take – Bring ample quantities of storage cards and batteries with you… double what you think you’ll need, and then add a little more.

Back up your pictures – If you care about your photos, offload your memory card to at least two other devices or locations that won’t be impacted if your gear is lost, stolen, or otherwise disabled. If you are one of the growing armies of iPhone or Galaxy photographers, have a plan to offload images (and movies) from your device, because that 16GB of storage will fill up fast!

Smartphone camera users – We are seeing more and more folks happily relying on the surprisingly capable cameras on their smartphones… indeed, we count ourselves among that crowd. However, based on some personal experience, we recommend caution since there is a hefty list of consequences with the loss of a camera that is also your (contract tethered) phone, address book, digital wallet, and internet device. At the very least, indulge in an extra-rugged case for your phone and be sure that screen is protected. And bear in mind that you may fill your phone up with images on day 1 and lack an internet connection fast enough to offload those images to a remote storage service.

Destination Specific Tips

Binoculars

Perhaps more than any other destination we can think of, a good pair of binoculars is absolutely essential for a visit to the Guiana Shield. A body harness will make it possible to keep them at the ready on a moment’s notice: after all, there’s nothing worse than missing a glimpse of an ocelot, puma, or jaguar around a bend in the trail because you were busy fishing gear out of a day pack!

Spotting Scopes

Nature lovers – especially birders – will be amply rewarded for the extra effort of carrying a spotting scope and tripod. The birding in this part of the world is remarkable, but even this diverse and abundant avian population does not feature a species inclined to voluntarily approach humans at close range.

Zoom

A decent point-and-shoot digital camera will capture some rewarding memories, especially of the people you meet and places you stay. But – and we say this because we do this day-in and day-out – catching nature at its finest demands at least a 200mm telephoto lens. Many amateur photographers who want a good zoom lens but don’t want the heft and complexity of a full-size SLR camera find the new breed of compact “mega zoom” digital cameras to be a good compromise. You don’t have to spend a fortune: we’ve seen some absolutely stunning images coming from cameras that cost under $200US/150 euro. Look for glass components to minimize purple banding on high-contrast shots (such as a bird on a branch against a bright sky). Quick refresh and ‘burst’ features will permit you to capture fast-moving creatures.

Permission to Photograph is an Aboslute MUST in Suriname

Photographers know – and often roll their eyes at – the old drill: “always seek the permission of a person before taking their photograph.” But Suriname is a special case: your humble author – a veteran traveller and avid photographer himself – has encountered few locations in the world where a population is as sensitive (and sometimes hostile) towards personal photography.

In Paramaribo, a good tele lens and an out-of-sight perch are your best bets to capture shots of the local population. The moment someone notices you taking their picture, you’re in for a stern talking-to. A lack of fluency in Dutch will not obscure the meaning of your new friend’s opinion of your action. Buildings and other inanimate objects are, of course, fair game, and there are almost no ‘sensitive’ installations to worry about. Just take it easy on the human subjects you haven’t spoken to first.

When you’re visiting an Amerindian or Maroon village, you absolutely must, without exception, obtain permission to take photographs of villagers, their homes, their religious items, or community scenes. Know this going in and attempt to capture the scene in your mind rather than relying on your lens, and you’ll be less frustrated at the restriction. Maroon villages view outsiders with a healthy dose of justified skepticism, and we are extraordinarily lucky to have a chance to glimpse their lifestyles. Don’t blow it for future guests by failing to respect the clearly stated wishes of these communities

Divers, snorkelers, hikers, birders, and casual visitors will all find interesting scenes on the island… above and below the water.

Birders of course will be bringing along their long lenses, scopes, and binoculars. Remember the elements: it’s going to rain on you.

You scuba photographers don’t need advice from us, but snorkelers who are new to underwater photography may want to look into a waterproof housing for your point-and-shoot camera. Visibility is usually excellent and marine life abundant, even at shallow depths. Then there are the ridiculous scenes of the bubbles at Champagne Reef which your friends back home are simply NOT going to believe. Even if you don’t plan to swim (??) consider a heavy duty plastic bag-like enclosure for your camera for time when you find yourself in the damp fog, near a waterfall, or occasionally splashed on the whale watching boat.

Remember that May and June are the best months to see Sea Turtles. An external flash kit might be a good idea