1. Prior to a travel shoot, create a daily shot list schedule, based on the subjects’ locations relative to the arc of the sun (compass bearings), such as building facades, etc. Of course, the weather doesn’t always cooperate, so chasing the “Great Light” may involve repeat trips to any one place. Tenacity pays off!
2. Your experience will be far richer if you read up on the culture before you arrive. One’s first impression of an “exotic “ country may be sensory overload, often accompanied by a somewhat indiscriminate photographing of everything that’s new and unfamiliar. For the people who do some advance research, they’ll enjoy the same visual excitement, but will have a broader context for understanding and appreciating these new sights and experiences – historically, philosophically, politically, etc. They will also likely shoot less but make stronger images.
3. Language: the more obscure the language, the more you will be rewarded for any efforts you make to committ a few words and phrases to memory. Buy a phrasebook in advance of the trip, pick the most useful words / phrases, and write them down on index cards – the phoenetic english spelling of the foreign word on one side, the translation on the other. Most people have a much better “visual” than “aural” memory, and within a few days of occasionally looking at the index cards, you’ll be “seeing” these words in your mind’s eye – and on your way!
Learning a bit of the local language is the ultimate gesture of respect for the culture. It also shrinks the gap between photographer and subject, helping to make more relaxed, intimate portraits of virtual strangers.
4. For fill lighting, I much prefer collapsible reflecting hoops to electronic flash. The hoops show you the effect in real-time, and they can be slowly moved around for very nuanced adjustments of direction and intensity. Of course, this requires an assistant – but sometimes enlisting a nearby local just enhances the “interactive” part of the experience, making it more engaging for everyone involved.
5. For those overcrowded, heavily touristed iconic locations: get up early,(or stay late!), beat the crowds, and charm your way in to the ideal vantage point!