Four Tips on Traveling Light as a Photographer

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Before you know it, vacation time will be here. You'll want to capture lots of photos to document your experiences. It’s usually a good idea to have a bag in which to carry your camera and associated gear. But you won't want to pack too much, lest your shoulders and back start to hurt from carrying around lots of gear for long periods.

If you're planning on traveling soon, here are a few tips on how to keep your bag light.

Plan Your Trip with a Bit of Research

Top Left: Spring Sunrise by martijnvdnat, Top Right: Urban Layer Cake by Vivienne Gucwa, Bottom Left: Dreaming of Venice by nina's clicks, Bottom Right: Ready for the Day by Marquisde. All photos from the B&H Photo Flickr Group

There are various factors that you'll want to take into account when you travel, which will help to determine what ends up in your photography bag.

- How is the weather there? If it's rainy, you'll need a weather-sealed camera or a rain cover. If it is cold or super warm, you'll need an extra battery or two, because the extreme temperatures will chew through battery life.

Also, how well is your camera system supported universally?

- Who will be using the camera? Will it be just you, with lots of photography knowledge, or will it also be in the hands of someone traveling with you with less photo knowledge.

- Are you planning to go to any big festivals or events? For example, parades aren't exactly the best place to lug around certain lenses.

- Where are you going? Are you visiting ancient ruins? Are you happier, then, bringing a couple of fast primes, or a fast-aperture zoom lens?

- What situations might you encounter?

Whatever happens, also remember that this is your vacation, so try to keep it all simple so that you can enjoy yourself, and not overthink.

Small Day Bag

Photo via Japan Camera Hunter's Flickr, posted to the B&H Photo Flickr Group. Bellamy Hunt uses the Domke F5 XB

There are a few camera bags to consider when travelling. These can often hold a camera, lens, accessories, and any daily necessities that you may have, and still not be too large to carry around for an entire day.

Some examples are the Think Tank Retrospective 5 and 7, and the Acme Made Union Photo Messenger.

As far as cameras go, DSLRs are preferred by most people. Walk around NYC and you'll see many people carrying them.

If you're travelling, though, a mirrorless camera could prove to be a better option, depending on lenses/accessories available, and for weight considerations.

But don't take our word for it; just ask David Cardinal! He travels often for his job and for his hosted safaris:

"When I’m traveling as a journalist and I need my laptop during the day to file stories, I use my Urban Disguise briefcase as my day bag. It holds my laptop, two DSLRs, my lenses and accessories. Exterior pockets get water bottles and maps. If I don’t need the laptop, it gets locked in the safe in my hotel room, replaced with my printed background material and guide books about the location I’m photographing. All that works fine if not too much hiking is involved. If I need to cover more ground, the briefcase stays behind (unless you get a “backpack” holder for a briefcase, it gets tiresome to carry on your shoulder for long distances) and I travel with a Think Tank Speed Freak hip pack. It can fit one DSLR, a flash, and a couple of lenses."

"My phone or tablet can fit in the side pocket, and it has an expansion pouch for a water bottle. To pack it without it taking up room, I stuff it full with my binoculars, tripod head, and other items I want protected, and throw it into my duffel bag."

Primes or Zooms?

Here's the big one: what lenses to bring? Personally, I'm a prime lens user, and prefer to move around to change my perspective. But many times one can't do that, and it may be much more beneficial to bring a zoom lens instead. One or two zooms can often take the place of 2-3 prime lenses, with no trouble at all. Prime lenses often have a faster aperture, though, letting in more light. That's a major benefit if you don't want to carry a flash with you.

Once again, this all depends on your own perspective. But here is David Cardinal's: "While many purists swear by prime lenses, and they are light and easy to carry, most photographers aren’t willing to live with the shooting discipline they impose, or the need for changing lenses, and will find themselves searching for the ideal travel zoom—something like an 18-200mm for DSLR users, for example. But there is nothing quite like doing a photo walk with a single, fixed lens. It really helps you think about your photography.”

Cut Down on the Accessories

Depending on the subject matter, you should try to cut down on the accessories you bring, or at least try to find a way to make the package slimmer. For example, you can put filters on your lenses instead of putting them in their case (and then in a slot in the bag). You can also opt for a smaller flash, if you choose to bring one at all.

On my last vacation, I brought along a Canon 5D Mk II and 35mm f1.4 L—and that was it.

There are also many smaller alternatives to larger accessories. For example, Gorillapods are small and strong, and due to their design, they can be placed almost anywhere.

Want more? Check out these other resources:

Traveling Light

Tips for Packing Light and Wisely

Filters for Lenses

Extreme Telephoto and Zoom Lens Roundup

Entry-Level Mirrorless Cameras

All-in-One Zooms

Fast Glass

Tripods and Tripod Heads

Entry-Level Consumer DSLRs

Photographing Seascapes

Photo is Osvor by Hlynur.Kr, via the B&H Photo Flickr Group

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When I travel, it's purely for recreation. And I like to take everything and the kitchen sink. However, I do have a strategy...

First I pack everything... Nikon D90 camera body, SB-900 flash, lenses ( 18-200 mm, 50 mm, 70-300 mm), back-up point and shoot, chargers, batteries, memory cards, GPS data logger, netbook, filters, waterproof cases (if necessary), tripod w/ ball head (at least it's carbon fiber), etc. Heck, I've even been known to take a portable printer (though I've only used it once so far). You get the idea - the whole 9 yards. That all goes into a Lowepro Primus backpack with thick padding and waist support. It's a real back-breaker, but...

Then I toss a collapsible Lowepro Passport Sling into my luggage that I can bust out when I reach my destination. That thing will carry the D90 w/ the 18-200 mm lens (or 50 mm lens) along with a second lens or the flash. By doing this, I can take EVERYTHING on the trip and then just customize my kit for any given day before I walk out the door. I only ever have to lug it all at once while I'm in transit. Anything pricey that I leave in the hotel room during the day goes in the safe. And if I find that I need the tripod, then I'll lug the Primus, but empty it of everything I don't need. It's not PARTICULARLY convenient, but I never have those "I wish I had my..." moments.

My wife just carries a Lowepro Flipside 200 with a DSLR and mounted lens along with a small flash and a charger since she knows I'll be lugging everything else. :-P

I use a TAMRAC backpack...I like my hands free for stair railings, etc. when I travel.  Holds my Nikond70s and an Olympus 590UZ...plus I can fit my Nook color in the top section along with a t-shirt and necessary meds.  I have a 70-300mm lens on the Nikon and carry chargers for both cameras (and extra sd cards for both.)  It can get heavy (I'm 76) if you're 'hiking' through Heathrow but it's convenient and holds what I need to survive if luggage goes astray for a day or two....e.g. toothbrush, one clean 'undie', cell phone...lots of stuff fits...just makes it a bit heavy at *****.

Well, as you never really know in advance what situations/subjects you'll have to face during a travel, I'd say that there is a real risk to miss exactly the gear you initially choosed to leave at home... :-( As I do not have redundant gear (I'm not rich enough for that !), I always take my full gear with me when I travel. The only exception is maybe taking a monopod and a pocket tripod (or a "rice bag" if you're used to) instead of the heavy (even carbon fiber made) tripod...

That said, having a "daily bag" where you only put the gear useful for the topic of the day, leaving the rest at the hotel/camping/whatever can be a good idea.

As said in this article, reducing the package is an excellent idea, and I've been doing that for years now. For example putting new flash batteries out of their blister in a tiny ******* bag, or ******** all the same diameter filters together, only protecting the first and last ones; ditto for macro tubes or focal multipliers mounted at the back of a (short) lens (who said 24/50mm ?) can save volume (which is maybe more important than weight) in the bag...

My gear: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1235448443190.37614.1138585008...

what bag is that used in the top image?

what bag is that in the top image?

I did Europe 40 years ago on a 28, 35, 50 1.4, 80-200 and a 500 mirror. 2 bodies. 50 odd rolls of film , color and B&W.

now I'd probably use a fast lens, 28-200, and a long lens. maybe a monopod. lots of digital cards instead of film.

I luckily had 52mm filters for all my lenses and took just a few for B&W. yellow, red, orange. now there is more of a different range of filters for lenses. Still for some stuff film is the way to go. See the Pieta, David, its film.

Oh year and a Domke bag I still use.

I take my 5d as the smallest camera I own that will do everything I want.

Then, with my style of shooting, a picture is either a wide shot or a long shot and anything in between is a wasted lens.  I favour primes for the quality and extra light capabilities so my 24 f1.4 and my 50 f1.2 and I know people will say a 50mm isn't a long lens but shooting at f1.2 it can produce a similar effect.

So fast lenses mean no need for a flash.  One camera, two lenses and I can do just about anything I want.

If I'm being lazy I might just take the 24-70 f2.8...throw it over the shoulder or put it in your day bag and you are good to go but the faster primes have the edge by a long shot.

If I'm not going to be carrying pro gear then the Lumix with the 20mm f 2.0 lens is great but if I'm going down that route why not just use the iPhone?  You can usually fudge a pretty good quality version of what you were looking using it with a bit of imagination...and hey presto...no gear.

Some of my favourite travel pictures are on the iPhone and I take more if that's all I have.  Sure the pro gear is better quality but I find I don't use it as much and the extra quality isn't missed most of the time since I'm seldom looking to publish travel pictures.