Tips for a great photo finish

Times Staff Writer

In these times of tougher security screenings at airports and tourist sites, the film in your camera will be X-rayed as many as 10 times on a typical vacation. Five or more passes through X-ray machines will damage even exposed film, Eastman Kodak says, and your photos may end up streaked, fogged or worse. Here are some tips to protect your camera, film and irreplaceable photos:

•  Hand-carry all film. Never pack film in checked luggage. The machines used to scan luggage will damage undeveloped film, the Transportation Security Administration says, and it advises that you ask for hand checks of high-speed or specialty film. In the United States you can request a hand check of your film at airport screening gates, but it's not guaranteed abroad. And storing your film in protective lead bags won't help because of the strength of the scanners.

•  Open film packs and store rolls in clear plastic bags so security agents can easily view them. Putting some high-speed rolls of film, say ASA 1600 or 3200, with your low-speed rolls may increase the chances that security agents will decide to hand-check your film.

•  Avoid sending your film through X-ray machines at museums, landmark buildings and other tourist sites. Leave your exposed rolls in your hotel room.

•  Get your film developed before you head home. To make it easy to pack the negatives in your carry-on bag, don't have prints made. You can ask a good one-hour photo lab to process your film into negatives but tell the lab not to cut them into strips. Then you can roll them up and store them in plastic film canisters for the journey home.

•  Digital cameras eliminate the worry of film damaged by scanners, which will not harm digital cameras or digital memory cards. If you are using a digital camera, pack extra memory cards. Or download the digital images on your cards or camera onto CDs at photo labs when traveling, freeing up the cards for more images.

•  Carry your camera and lenses in belt pouches or a photo vest and enclose everything in pockets balanced over different parts of your body. You'll be less fatigued than if you carry a single large camera bag over one shoulder. The more you display and carry, the more you become a target for a thief. Or you may be tempted to set down your heavy bag for a moment, giving a thief an opportunity to steal your extra lenses.

•  Travel light. Even a photo fanatic doesn't need much more than a wide-angle lens, a telephoto zoom lens, a small flash or small collapsible reflector and film. Many of the best images are taken with simple equipment. Location, quality of light and an interesting moment in time are the elements of a memorable photograph.

•  Keep your gear out of sight in your room. Some hotels offer small safes in rooms or at the front desk. I often place mine in a locked suitcase in a closet or in some corner of the room and then put some worn clothes on top. Or I buy a couple of cheap, disposable cameras. Open one, expose a few frames and leave it on the dresser. Put the other disposable in a nearby drawer. If a burglar visits the room, he or she may think you're a novice photographer without expensive equipment.

•  If your camera uses a specialty battery, take some extras along. If you use rechargeable batteries, you will need to take a voltage regulator overseas. And remember: Even if your charger has a switch for different voltages, you will need plug adapters to accommodate wall sockets in foreign countries.

•  Check the age of the film and batteries before you buy them. Beware of shops that may have film and batteries aging on shelves or baking in heat.

•  Most important, have fun. Searching for different photo angles or overviews can enhance your vacation experience.


Richard Derk is photo editor for The Times' Travel section.

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