A travel photographer's life during Covid 19 - John Kincaid
October 22, 2020
~Originally published Oct 22nd, 2020~
Like many others at the start of 2020 I was hopeful for the upcoming year, with plans to grow my business, travel, and expand my portfolio. I remember hearing about Covid 19 on the news and not thinking much of it but then really out of nowhere, things came to a crashing halt. I was preparing for a trip to my gallery in the French Polynesia and received notice from my friends at the St. Regis Bora Bora that the resort was sending guests home because the French Polynesian government was closing the borders. That’s when it all started to sink in.
I work full time as a photographer and I have my own galleries in Bora Bora and Vietnam. The success of my business relies completely on tourism, so it was a nervous time for me. When the French Polynesia opened again some months later, I had to make the decision to go back to reopen the gallery, capture new content, and to install my new touchscreen kiosk (the kiosk allows people to contact me directly no matter where I am in the world). So then the very long process of booking and organising my trip back to the French Polynesia began.
One of the big hurdles was complying with the travel requirements from the French Polynesia which consisted of: - Proof of a negative RT-PCR test 72 hours prior to boarding - Health registration on their government website - Self-test 4 days after arrival in The Islands of Tahiti.
I scheduled an appointment with my local physician for the COVID test 45 days in advance of my departure but was never guaranteed the result would be back within 72 hours. It actually took a considerable amount of work just to schedule the test because I didn’t have any symptoms. Since I couldn’t afford to miss the trip I scheduled a backup test that had guaranteed results but was a 2 hour drive. I thought I had everything set … I was wrong.
Two weeks prior to departure my Wednesday international flight was rescheduled to a Thursday. Unfortunately for me that then involved changing my domestic flight to Los Angeles, my flight from Tahiti to Bora Bora, and rescheduling both my Covid tests. I successfully completed those steps and 3 days later my flight was changed again from Thursday to Friday. At this point I’m asking myself if I really want to be a photographer. As I calm down I move my flights and tests but again, I get yet another flight update! Thankfully this time nothing had to be changed but it now meant I have to spend almost 11 hours in LAX airport. It sucks but I guess this is the reality of travelling in these times and I’ll take it.
On the day of my Covid tests things finally seemed to be coming together. I arrive at my primary physician, the nurses come into the room with the test kit and outfits like I’ve been exposed to radiation. Everything seems ok, but due to a processing issue they inform me that it will take 10-14 days to receive results. WHAT? Given what I had already gone through with the flights and the fact I already have a backup planned I simply declined this useless test and left. But because I wanted to be absolutely certain I received the test back in time I went to my local drive-in testing center which claims results in 3 days, but again no guarantee. While not painful, there is certainly a lot of pressure in your nasal cavity as far up as they stick the test and mine wasn’t without some eye-watering. I left the facility and drove to my secondary test site that guaranteed results and went through the process again. The next day, to my surprise, I had both results back and was ready to go!
To my amazement I was finally at the airport. I was checked in, and at my gate within minutes. I’ve never seen it so empty in all my years of traveling. The flights were just as empty and selfishly I was loving traveling during the pandemic because I didn’t have anyone next to me on any of the flights and travel was a breeze. I’ve never had to wear a mask for an extended period of time before and I really didn’t mind doing so.
Landing in the French Polynesia makes everything worth it. My flights could have been modified 30 more times and that would have all been OK after you see the crystal clear blue water and are greeted with the sounds of ukuleles and Tahitian singers. Tahiti and the surrounding islands are truly a paradise on earth and it's a place I believe everyone needs to visit as it has no equal.
This was my first time shooting with the AquaTech housing and I wanted to make sure I had enough time in the water, so I scheduled trips with two of my favorite guides in Bora Bora. The first was a shark and ray excursion with Lagoon Service which is known for its singing and ukulele playing drivers. We had to go out twice because on the first trip a rain cloud snuck up on us but the second time was absolutely perfect.
The second excursion was diving with Bora Ocean Adventures which specializes in Scuba and whale watching. I desperately wanted to get some shots of whales but unfortunately there were none spotted the week I was there. Next time, perhaps.
I can’t say enough about the AquaTech equipment. I researched different systems heavily before deciding on the Elite II for my Sony a7r IV. I knew what I didn’t like from my previous housing so I really wanted to give the pistol grip a try and this was life-changing for me. Using it was so much more natural in the water and I could use my other hand for stabilizing and swimming rather than holding the camera to get a steady shot. I had access to all the controls I needed and came away with a lot of great underwater content and at least one new print.
In addition to the Elite II Housing I also ordered the AxisGO with the dome port for my iPhone. I’m able to get content from my phone on social media much faster than editing with my good cameras and I had an amazing tool for behind-the-scenes shots. Everyone knows how to shoot with an iPhone and when you add a pistol grip to that system it's an instant favorite as well.
Overall my trip was a huge success! The gallery looks amazing, the touchscreen kiosk that allows video conferencing directly with me when I’m not at the resort with a single press is installed, and I have a ton of new content and prints to add to the collection.
Freediver and 2018 Hasselblad Master Karim Iliyaventured underwater with the AquaTech REFLEX Water Housing for the Hasselblad X1D II 50C, capturing serene imagery of whales and turtles in their natural worlds around the French Polynesian island of Moorea and Maui, Hawaii