What I pack for travel photography when backpacking
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Want to make the most out of your camera on your next backpacking trip but not sure what to pack for travel photography? Aside from being quality, travel photography equipment needs to be as light and versatile as possible. If you’re not careful, the bills to fill your camera bag can start to really rack up, but the good news is that you don’t have to go out and buy the best lens for travel photography in order to get excellent results from your gear. Today, we’re going to be taking a look at what’s in my camera bag when I pack for travel photography – although this post will also reveal that I don’t technically have a camera bag at all, so…
It’s worth saying that while I did have a small photography business back home (for portraiture, events & corporate sessions), my photography right now generally revolves around turning my travel photography into stock images for tiny amounts of cash, selling prints and filling my social feeds and of course this blog with content. This post is written for people who are hobbyists or semi-pros who don’t have all the money in the world but would like to invest in some quality gear and useful accessories to get the best shots possible when travelling.
I do also travel with a reflector and speedlight in case I get some non-travel-related work when on the road, but those aren’t necessary for normal travel photography.
Other travel photography posts you may be interested in:
12 things I pack for travel photography when backpacking:
1. Koolertron bag insert with partitions
When you’re travelling with your large backpack on the back and small(er) rucksack on your front, ain’t nobody got time – or space – for lugging around an additional camera bag. Instead, I use a padded camera insert to put into my front rucksack, essentially turning a normal rucksack into a camera bag with more space for other personal items, such as laptop, books and documents. It also means that I can use this as a day-bag without looking like I’ve got an expensive camera on board (those little strap-over camera bags are like a bullseye target). My Koolertron insert is well-padded, lightweight, large enough to fit a camera and two lenses, and has kept its shape very well over the last year. Plus, it makes it easy to transfer your gear to a dorm locker, and it won’t cost you the world!
The piece of equipment I never knew I needed. Far cheaper than getting a specialist waterproof camera case or underwater dome, this Ocean Pack bag allows me to carry my camera to places that involve getting wet but that I’d still kill to get a picture of (for example, swimming to a new island in San Blas, or hiking behind a waterfall in Baños). Also a nice way to keep your cash dry!
Confession: I used this as a handbag to go partying in Panama City. Not proud.
Though admittedly I always end up forgetting or not bothering to bring my GorillaPod and therefore having to create composite shots on Photoshop to get both Andy and I into the same photo, when I do remember to bring it, the GorillaPod always comes through. This flexible tripod is a great alternative to one of those heavy metal chunks that other travel photographers heave around. While it may not reach the same lofty heights, the fully malleable legs mean it can find balance on any surface at almost any angle, including being wrapped around a water pipe. And even if you don’t want it to take 10-second timer shots, you will need some sort of tripod if you plan on doing any long exposure pics – for stars, waterfalls, etc. May as well keep things small and light.
This should really go without saying. You’re not always going to have access to a good place to charge, and your battery is always going to die at the time when you’ve just climbed a mountain to see the best view of your entire life. I make sure I always have 3 batteries with me so I can rotate them. The charger that this particular pack by Neewer comes with is actually preferable to the original Canon one, because it charges via USB cable, so I can stick it in our multi-USB converter plug and not take up a valuable mains space.
Ever wondered how photographers get those beautiful long-exposure shots of waterfalls in the daytime without blowing out the exposure? Cue neutral density filters. These babies screw onto your lens (check the mm diameter!) and restrict the amount of light getting in. You can also use coloured filters to give your images a split-toned effect. Make sure you buy a pack that comes with a proper casing for them – no point in having a clean lens if your filter is smudged! Which leads me to my next item…
How many hours have I spent digitally correcting the dust on my lens and sensor in Lightroom?! The fact of travel is, you’re going to get dirty. You’re going to put your camera through mud splatters, sand storms, wind and rain. If you don’t maintain your equipment, it’s going to keel over and beg to be replaced. I spent the best part of 6 months searching to no avail for a camera shop in every major city in South America that offered a legit sensor cleaning service. In the end, I gave up and decided to do the job myself. A little risky, but with a careful hand and the right kit, the dust on my sensor and lens is much reduced. This cleaning kit had everything I needed – just be super careful and follow some YouTube vids!
As a travel photographer, having a hard drive that won’t let you down is critical. In fact, most photographers who are dealing with client sessions will advise that you also have a hard drive to back up your hard drive, so I currently have 3 of these – 2 for the road and one for home that I update when visitors come out. I haven’t had much luck over the years, though; before buying my Transcends, I lost my first two hard drives to being shaken around too much during travel (one within the first week – would absolutely not recommend Seagate), so for my next back-up I was taking no chances and opted for the Transcend military-grade shockproof hard drive. I’ve done my best not to look after them and they’re still going perfectly strong. After a year, 1TB is enough to hold all my RAW files; all JPGs go into the cloud at Google Photos.
Okaaaay so this isn’t physically in my camera bag, but learning to use Lightroom (and to some extent, Photoshop) has been the number one factor in taking my photography to the next level. I’ve never experienced such a growth curve as when I first started using Lightroom, and I still continue to learn something new every day. This is where I turn my images into my art, and I spend hours every week working away on perfecting my shots. For any photographer, this is worth every penny!
If money were not an object, I’d take a stab that the best lens for travel photography is the super-versatile, tack-sharp 24-70mm. However, money is an object, so the lenses I use for travel photography tend to be under £500. My old 28-80mm (which has since the time of originally writing been killed off by the extreme wear and tear of taking it on too many adventure tours, RIP) may not be the most extravagant lens, nor the most razor sharp, but it makes up for this when travelling in the fact is that as a zoom it’s versatile, it’s light – a mere 330g – and nicely, it zooms internally, so none of those awkward dad moments when everyone turns round to see your lens extending like Pinocchio’s nose. Though there have been many iterations of this lens, I deliberately opted to find a Mark I on eBay because it was the only version with metal mount and USM. When buying, this article sealed the deal for me. https://contrastly.com/old-inexpensive-sharp-canon/
A nifty fifty is still an absolute must for any budding photographer, whether using it for travel photography or other styles such as portraiture and events. It’s cray-cray sharp. As a prime lens, it can’t zoom, which might make it sound like it’s not the best lens for travel photography, but the lower f-stop can help improve low-light photography and portraits. If you think you’ll be doing a lot of campfire shots or snapping pics of your dinner, take a look at getting something with an f-stop of 1.8 or below to let more light in, and just remember to stand back if it’s 50mm or more!
11. Canon 24mm 2.8 (my best lens for travel photography!)
The newest addition to my gear, I bought the 24mm when my 28-80mm became too damaged to get satisfactory results anymore, and I decided I wanted a slightly wider prime to replace it. Lenses tend to be sharpest at their widest focal length, so to keep images technically-sound I wasn’t using the versatility of a zoom lens anyhoo. The 24mm has been an absolute joy to shoot with for travel photography. The wideness of my shots is perfect to get everything in but not so wide that it starts to distort in a major way, and the 2.8 aperture gives it an edge over kit lenses like 18-55mm. I’d say this is the best lens for travel photography that I’ve had in my arsenal. I’m in love!
This lens has sadly been discontinued by Canon this year (why?!) but you can still find it second-hand.
12. Canon 6D
My baby. The Canon 6D is often thought of as Canon’s introduction into the world of professional full-frame cameras. At home, I use a 5D mark iii, but the 6D will continue to be my travel camera for how much lighter it is. Other than having a full-frame sensor (which literally means the view you see is not cropped, so your shot is able to get in more of what you see with human eyes and you allow more light in), the most important factor for me was that it’s a top performer for low-light, high-ISO conditions. If you have a crop-sensor camera, you’ll know that even at f1.8 you can barely see through the grain beyond 6pm on an English summer’s day, and any on-camera flash is horrendous and should never, ever be touched.
Recommended camera alternatives for travel photography
The only problem with full-frames is that they’re generally quite heavy. A more light-weight (but still full-framed) alternative to the norm is the mirrorless Sony Alpha 7 Compact which is top-notch for features and also does very well in low light.
If you’re looking at buying your first ever DSLR but aren’t sure where to go, the Canon 1300D with the 18-55 kit lens is a fantastic place to start – it was my first camera, and I found it really easy to learn the ins and outs of photography on. If you want to take it up a step, the Canon 80D is definitely worth looking at, and the pull-out LCD screen makes it a great option for vlogging.
When should you upgrade your camera?
One thing to note though, investing in a big-boy camera is not the answer to taking better travel photos. If your photos are shit on Auto using a crop-sensor camera, they will still be shit on Auto using a full-frame camera. Take the time to learn about composition and how to use your camera in Manual to get everything you can out of it. Once you’re actually happy with how your photos are coming out but feel you understand and have outgrown your camera’s technical limits, that is the time to upgrade. When that happens, you’ll never look back!
So that’s what I pack for travel photography! If you’d like to see examples of my work, head over to my website, @cuppa.to.copa.travels, or my stock portfolio. If you have any questions, please feel free to drop an email or comment!
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