General photo and camera tips

 (Photo by Bill Gracey)

General tips, hints, and recommended photo and video gear

What kind of camera to bring

Photo professionals will tell you: The absolute best camera you will ever own is the one you can grab quickly to make the shot. That means if you can whip out your phone to snap that picture of nuns on a scooter, it is far better than digging around in your backpack for your expensive SLR and missing it. 

That said, unless you’re a professional or a real heavy-duty amateur, the fanciest camera you need is a basic Digital SLR (Single Lens Reflex) and the kit lens it comes with (though do look for deals that include two lenses, one wide-angle—say an 18–55mm—and a second lens for telephoto—perhaps 55–200mm). Get a lens cap with a little string to dangle it from the lens so you don’t lose it.

This should cost you no more than $700—unless you want it to. Sure, you could easily spend $5,000 on a good digital camera, but the "prosumer" models all clock in at $449 to $1,200 (largely depending on the kind of lens you spring for).

Of course, you can also get by perfectly well with a pocket point-and-shoot digital camera. These days you can get quality digital cameras that shoot 10 megapixels, remain waterproof up to 10 feet underwater, and come with all the bell-and-whistle features for well under $350.

Invest in at least a low-end pocket camera; don’t bother with a disposable camera, which take, at best, passable pictures and even then only under full, bright sunlight. The only useful disposable cameras are, if you think you’ll need one, the ones that work underwater.

Before you leave home: Know thy camera

Practice with your camera before you leave the States, especially if it’s a new one and you’re not sure how it behaves. Visit the sights of your home city, pretend you’re in TK, and snap away.

  • Get to know the camera.
  • Shoot indoors and outdoors.
  • Bracket your shots by shooting the same thing several times using different settings, with and without flash, and so on.
  • Write down carefully exactly what you did or varied in each shot so that, later, you'll know which ones worked best.

Sure, you’ll waste half a day doing all this, but it’s better to know how the camera handles with different films and in different situations before you go off and miss that perfect shot on vacation.

Don’t leave home without them: Buying batteries and memory cards

Buy all the memory cards you'll need for your digital camera in the United States. It’s cheaper, and you can be sure it hasn’t been sitting on the shelf since 2003. 

I'd suggest bringing a bare minimum of 4 gigs (gigabyte) of memory for every two days on of your trip. Myself, I routinely shoot about a gig a day (more if a festival breaks out), so I travel with enough chips to total about 8 gigs per day to be safe.


  • Make your memory cards last longer by performing imagery triage as you go, deleting extraneous images each evening—those too blurry, underexposed, or poorly framed to be worth keeping—so as to free up more room on the chip for the next day. I tend to do this at dinner table after I've ordered (and taken my notes on the restaurant) and am awaiting my food.
  • Bring several spare batteries (if you're using rechargables, you must pack these in your carry-on bag due to new TSA rules as of 2008). 
  • Use a UV filter on the lens to protect it from scratches (not a polarizing filter, which messes up more shots than it helps if you don’t use it correctly).
  • If you do have to buy photo supplies or memory cards abroad, go to a camera shop or department store. Never buy film from a souvenir stand near a tourist sight. The markup is almost criminal.
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Useful French phrases

Useful French for sightseeing

English (anglais) French (français) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is?... Où est? ou eh
...the museum le musee luh moo-ZAY
...the church l'eglise leh-GLEEZ
...the cathedral le cathédrale luh ka-teh-DRAHL
When is it open? Quand est-il ouvert?  coan eh-TEEL oo-VAIR
When does it close? A quelle heure est-ce que cela ferme? ah kell eur es kuh suhla fair-MAY
ticket billet d'entrée bee-YAY dahn-TRAY
two adults deux adultes dooz ah-DOOLT
one child un enfant ehn ahn-FAHN
one student un étudiant uh-NETOO-dee-YON

Basic phrases in French

English (anglais) French (français) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you merci mair-SEE
please s'il vous plaît seel-vou-PLAY
yes oui wee
no non no
Do you speak English? Parlez-vous anglais? par-lay-VOU on-GLAY
I don't understand Je ne comprende pas zhuh nuh COHM-prohnd pah
I'm sorry Je suis desolée zhuh swee day-zoh-LAY
How much does it cost? Combien coute? coam-bee-YEHN koot
That's too much C'est trop say troh
Good day Bonjour bohn-SZOURH
Good evening Bon soir bohn SWAH
Good night Bon nuit  bohn NWEE
Goodbye Au revoir oh-ruh-VWAH
Excuse me (to get attention) Excusez-moi eh-skooze-ay-MWA
Excuse me (to get past someone) Pardon pah-rRDOHN
Where is? Où est? ou eh
...the bathroom la toilette lah twah-LET
...train station la gare lah gahr

Days, months, and other calendar items in French

English (anglais) French (français) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quand est-il ouvert? coan eh-TEEL oo-VAIR
When does it close? Quand est l'heure de fermeture?   coan eh lure duh fair-mah-TOUR
At what time... à quelle heure... ah kell uhre
Yesterday hier ee-AIR
Today aujoud'hui ow-zhuhr-DWEE
Tomorrow demain duh-MEHN
Day after tomorrow après demain ah-PRAY duh-MEHN
a day un jour ooun zhuhr
Monday Lundí luhn-DEE
Tuesday Maredí mar-DEE
Wednesday Mercredi mair-cray-DEE
Thursday Jeudi zhuh-DEE
Friday Vendredi vawn-druh-DEE
Saturday Samedi saam-DEE
Sunday Dimanche DEE-maansh
a month un mois ooun mwa
January janvier zhan-vee-YAIR
February février feh-vree-YAIR
March mars mahr
April avril ah-VREEL
May mai may
June juin zhuh-WAH
July juillet zhuh-LYAY
August août ah-WOOT
September septembre sep-TUHM-bruh
October octobre ok-TOE-bruh
November novembre noh-VAUM-bruh
December décembre day-SAHM-bruh

Numbers in French

English (anglais) French (français) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 un ehn
2 deux douh
3 trois twa
4 quatre KAH-truh
5 cinq sank
6 six sees
7 sept sehp
8 huit hwhee
9 neuf nuhf
10 dix dees
11 onze ownz
12 douze dooz
13 treize trehz
14 quatorze kah-TOHRZ
15 quinze cans
16 seize sez
17 dix-sept dee-SEP
18 dix-huit dee-SWEE
19 dix-neuf dee-SNEUHF
20 vingt vahn
21* vingt et un * vahnt eh UHN
22* vingt deux * vahn douh
23* vingt trois * vahn twa
30 trente truhnt
40 quarante kah-RAHNT
50 cinquante sahn-KAHNT
60 soixante swaa-SAHNT
70 soixante-dix swa-sahnt-DEES
80 quatre-vents  kat-tra-VAHN
90 quatre-vents-dix  kat-tra-vanht-DEES
100 cent sant
1,000 mille meel
5,000 cinq mille sank meel
10,000 dix mille dees meel

* You can form any number between 20 and 99 just like the examples for 21, 22, and 23. For x2–x9, just say the tens-place number (trente for 30, quarante for 40, etc.), then the ones-place number (35 is trente cinq; 66 is soixsante six). The only excpetion is for 21, 31, 41, etc. For x1, say the tens-place number followed by " un" (trente et un, quarante et un, etc.).

‡ Yes, the French count very strangely once they get past 69. Rather than some version of "seventy,' they instead say "sixy-ten" (followed by "sixty-eleven," "sixty-twelve,' etc. up to "sixty-nineteen.") And then, just to keep things interesting, they chenge it up again and, for 80, say 'four twenties"—which always make me thinks of blackbirds baked in a pie for some reason. Ninety becomes "four-twenties-ten" and so on up to "four-nineties-ninteen" for 99, which is quite a mouthful: quartre-vingts-dix-neuf.