I just came back from a trip to Moscow, it's an amazing place full of photographic opprtunities as well a rewarding cultural experience. Luckily I had a Russian-speaking Ukrainian friend along who managed to keep me out of trouble, even as I was wondering around disreputable areas clutching my tripod and looking very much the tourist.
Red Square and the Kremlin are definite must-see sites. Red Square at night is lit up beautifully. The city is a street photographer's dream, with many interesting characters. Ironically, photographic hysteria seems to be absent, I was not stopped once and questioned by police, something which is unfortunately becoming increasingly likely in the UK (a supposedly free and open society). Russia has as great a terrorist threat as the UK and has a totalitarian legacy to boot yet photography is tolerated to a much greater degree and photographers are not instantly branded as terrorists to be feared and hounded.
Moscow, and Russia in general, is not an easy place to visit compared to Western Europe but is well worth the effort. They have a long and proud history which is being restored since the fall of Communism and the place is full of an optimism for the future (despite their problems) balanced with their rich past.
- Moscow is a dusty city. Bring a blower, lens cloth and brush to clean your equipment. Check your sensor for dust spots regularly.
- Go in a group. Like any large city, Moscow has its fair share of petty crime to contend with. When photographing, it is advisable to have a spotter alert to other people in your immediate vicinity and to keep an eye on your equipment at all times.
- Tourist areas are generally safe, however on the underground (Metro) and less tourist friendly areas, it is best to be discrete and keep equipment out of sight. It is a legal requirement for visitors to carry their passports at all time, photocopies are not acceptable. Hence, you need to securely carry your valuables.
- Be aware of photography restrictions. The Kremlin has strict security, no large bags are allowed within the walls (there is a bag check for you to deposit items). Lenses with a diameter of more than 70mm are not allowed, nor are tripods. In some churches, photography is prohibited. Otherwise, photography seems to be tolerated to a greater degree than in the UK. I was happily wandering all over Red Square with a tripod, A700 and panohead with not a glance from the numerous police patrolling the area.
- English is not commonly spoken. Having a Russian speaker is invaluable, though you may be able to get by with a phrase book and lots of hand gestures. Take the time to become familiar with the Cyrillic alphabet since most signs are written in the local script. An up-to-date guidebook is a must as Moscow is a rapidly changing city.
General Travel Tips:
- Have a photo-storage plan. Even on a comparatively short trip of one week, I kept over 1500 cRAW photos totalling nearly 20GB. Every night I would download photos to my laptop, and would burn a DVD every 4GB. I would not delete a memory card until I had a copy on the laptop and on DVD. I gave the DVDs to another person to carry them out of the country separately.
- Consider bringing along laptop to review your photos every day, as well as to check for dust spots and log into wireless internet to check email. The smaller the laptop, the better. I use a Fujitsu-Siemens P1510 tablet PC which weighs 1.1kg with the extended battery which lasts 5-6 hours and which is slightly bigger than an A5 piece of paper. An external DVD burner can be left at your accommodation.
- Bring along an electrical adapter, multi-plug adapter, and a sufficient number of power cords. Have at least one spare battery which is recharged at every available opportunity. Bring along lots of spare memory cards, consider getting large capacity cards which will minimise card changing. I have an emergency 4GB memory stick pro duo in my A700, as well as several 4GB Sandisk Extreme II/IV CF cards. I also have a few 1GB Lexar cards as backup. Faster cards allow faster review and deletion of missed shots.
- Insure your equipment. Have some peace of mind will allow you the freedom to take out your equipment and take photos. Make sure your policy covers your trip and read the fine print.
- Travel light. After a few hours, your shoulders and back will protest against any extraneous piece of equipment in your bag. Bring the minimum of lenses to cover the photography you want to do. I travel with three lenses, the Tamron 17-50mm/2.8 zoom as a general walk-about lens, the Minolta 100mm/2 for detail and portrait shots, and the Peleng 8mm fisheye lens for taking spherical panoramics. A tripod is a must, especially for night shots of landmarks, group shots and in low light. Be prepared to invest in a good tripod, the better ones are made of carbon fibre which is light and strong. Unless you are using long heavy lenses, a small 4 or 5-section leg tripod will be adequately stable, fit into your luggage more conveniently, but still provide reasonable height. Reverse the centre column for greater compactness. A Nodal Ninja 3 panohead completes my equipment list.