Photography and videography in Mongolia
Mongolia by many standards is a very interesting and beautiful destination. It provides many photographic opportunities for the ones who are all about getting the picture of the moment and iconic places. Some major landscapes, wonderful encounters with local people, and amazing and preserved wildlife are all about the identity of Mongolia. Here are some of the most valuable advices and pieces of information we could gather to make the most of your stay in Mongolia - for photography and videos.
It starts with the gear...Nowadays it is possible to enjoy your passion and bring thousands of pictures and videos. With the digital age, we are telling our stories by the Gigabyte of datas on our SD cards. So why not bring home all of your memories and feelings about Mongolia? Also, all the newer camera sensors and lenses allow for greater dynamic range, better color rendition and bring closer than ever all sorts of subjects such like people for portraits or wildlife for the lovers of nature.
Everyone has his own style and preferences for photography or doing videos. And it would be an impossible task to list everything that is possible to bring for such travel to Mongolia, but here are some of the most useful advices you can apply for our destination:
- Spare batteries (and do not forget their charger): better bring spares, being double or triple, especially of your journey lasts longer than 1 week! This is a crucial piece of equipment, knowing that in the great steppes, deserts or while in the mountains, it is easier than you think to run out of energy! Do not forget also, that especially with colder temperatures, the batteries die pretty quickly. For example during the harsh winters of Mongolia with temperatures well below 0 degrees celsius (down to -45 degrees celsius between January-February), it is almost impossible to shoot constantly throughout the day without changing the batteries.
- A cleaning kit for your camera/lens. One of the most valuable tip: because Mongolia is a very dusty place to be! And we all know that electronics do not like dust nor water.. Prefer in this case 2 types of equipment: a microfiber cleaning cloth and a dust blower, type rocket blower. This will cover 99% of your needs to take good care of your camera sensor and lens.
- A good carry bag for your camera. To protect it from shocks, and transport all your items safely throughout your stay. As a general rule, try to have the best quality bag (handbag, or backpack) you can afford: it will usually last several years.
- Something to "stabilize" your shots: wether it can be a monopod, a small tripod, a full-size tripod or even a bean bag! It is always recommended while travelling since you will never know what type of photography you can do at various locations. This will for example allow for a very interesting type of photography/videography during lowlight and especially at night! No technical advice here, but with the help of a tripod you can get crisp details out of most lenses especially for landscapes.
- And of course, do not forget to bring your camera and its compatible/selection lenses! (yes, it happened to one of our tourists!)
But what if you run out of SD cards, or batteries? Better be safe than sorry, here you can find some of our top places to find what you need at the capital city Ulan Bator (of course BEFORE your trip starts!):
Where to buy in Ulan Bator?
- Tuna Electronics, located just at the East of the State Department Store (on Peace Avenue): this shop is a very welcomed place for both beginners and pro photographers. Here various items can be purchased from SD cards, cameras, plenty of accessories (flashes, tripods, even softboxes and reflectors .... Alright the salesman there is not the best in the world but at least you can find most of your needs in this shop. That's my pick in Ulan Bator :)
- at the State Department Store itself: the former Mongolian State major store of the capital city have a dedicated floor for electronics (5th floor). Some little choice are available for Nikon and Canons cameras mostly (sorry Sony, Pentax or Fuji fans... not really your place here) and few accessories.
- Now if you are more adventurous: there is the Computer Land center, that hosts several small booths with electronics and photo gear. BE AWARE of your surroundings because some pickpockets are operating in the are. You can find this center on the West of the State Department Store on Peace Avenue again, about 2-3 minutes walking. It is just behind the Golomt Bank, and the red bricks building with a huge sign « Canon ».
- Newly arrived, the DJI/hobby zone store. Specialized in drone products (from DJI), this one can definitely be of interest for those who need aerial shots. Just in front of the South gate of the State Department Store, on the Beatle street. Stay on the right side of the street and you will find it very easily! To note: this shop does not seem to be opened everyday!
Some more advices while you are in Mongolia...
- When on the vehicle, be aware of the dust! It is very likely that if you keep you camera and other gear out of their bags they will collect a huge amount of dust. Be sure to keep your gear cool and dry, not under the direct sunlight or out in the cold. Especially in some locations (like the Gobi Desert) temperatures can really vary from -40 degrees celsius to +40 degrees celsius! The best practice once again is to keep your gear safe and protected from the elements (in its dedicated bag or under a layer of clothes for some) to avoid any overheating or on contrary that your lens freezes! Same goes for your batteries: it can be damaged by too much heat, and loose its all power if they stay in a cold environment.
- Nothing is really waterproof either (well, except the Gopros or action cams..). Common sense will dictate your ways to shoot if it rains or in some specific locations (around lakes, waterfalls..).
- In some trips recharging your batteries can be really hard. It is usually only possible if you are at a touristic yurt camp (they have dedicated wall plugs in their restaurant). Also it is best practice to bring a USB charge or cable since most compatible devices can be charged by the electricity of the vehicle. Lastly, if you do a more adventurous trip involving trekking or horse riding without access to a vehicle, then better start packing some extra batteries!
- Please note that in Ulan Bator, some shops propose to print out your photos. Quality is not ensured though. Usually possible around the city center. The State Department Store provides this at the ground level for example.
- Theft is common at the main touristic locations in the capital city: around the State Department Store, the museums, and even at the Gandan Monastery! The best advice is to put your cameras and expensive accessories back in their bags when not in use, and be aware of your belongings. Please try to avoid flashy brand names like Canon and Nikon on your camera straps or bags: it is the best way to be tagged as a potential target...
It is forbidden to take pictures of videos while inside of the temples and monasteries. No restrictions outside. In some places you can take pictures against a small donation to the temple. In many museums you have to pay an important tax (and usually double that amount for videos). It is best to first have a quick look over the place before committing with such payment.
Please do remember monks and nomads are not professional models, and if they refuse to be taken in pictures or videos, to remain polite and stop any shooting. It is always appreciated if you ask before pressing the shutter. Always remember you have a person in front of you, and if you start some sort of communication first you can be well rewarded!
Lastly, some sensitive locations (airports, border crossing points....) forbid to take pictures.