Tips and Solutions for Travel Photography
Traveling and photography go hand in hand; the desire to record the places you’ve visited and show them to others is an endless fascination that never gets old. The main problem with travel photography is that it’s impractical, if not impossible, to bring all your gear with you, especially if air travel is involved. Most airlines now charge extra to check bags and they typically allow only one carry-on bag. It makes sense to pack as lightly as possible when travelling, but be sure you have just what you can’t do without. Take all the pictures you like, and try not to fret over the fact that some shots might have come out better if only you had all of your gear with you. Just do the best you can with what you have, and try to enjoy your trip.
B&H carries hundreds of cases, bags, backpacks, rolling trunks and more, all designed to help transport your gear easily, affordably and safely. Let’s take a look at some popular items.
Working backward in terms of what to bring, if you constrain your equipment to the size of your chosen camera bag, you won’t be able to over-pack. Select a modestly sized camera bag and put your equipment into it. Modesty is in the eye of the beholder; however, backpacks and shoulder bags tend to provide you with the most flexibility for travel applications. Having a bag that you can carry and shoot with at the same time is important, and having a bag that is easily accessible is just as crucial.
Porta Brace makes a wide variety of luggage in almost any configuration you could desire. Its line of shoulder bags is ideal for traveling, while the backpacks allow you to carry more gear. Porta Brace bags are made from highly durable 1000-denier Cordura nylon with genuine suede leather on the straps and handles. Every bag is hand-crafted and inspected for the highest quality, enabling you to concentrate more on image making and less on the safety of your equipment.
For simple setups, the Lowepro Event Messenger series of bags offers a great deal of efficiency in the way you can access your equipment on the go. These bags are all capable of holding a professional DSLR with additional lenses, and two of the bags can also hold a 13” laptop computer. The Event Messenger bags feature a closure flap that can be flipped out of the way for unobstructed access to the top of the bag, perfect for day trips and sightseeing.
For those times when you need to carry a bit more equipment than a backpack or shoulder bag will allow, Pelican’s line of 1510 Carry On Cases are designed to meet the FAA’s maximum carry-on size limits. The copolymer cases are waterproof, crushproof and dustproof, with a retractable extension handle and polyurethane wheels for smooth rolling. They’re perfect for porting all of your equipment to your destination, at which point you can dole out gear into smaller bags for day-to-day use.
Compact Support Systems
Carrying a full-size tripod while traveling often isn’t highly desirable; however, there are a number of smaller support systems to help you steady a camera while minimizing weight and space for greater portability.
Joby’s Gorrillapods offer a tremendous range of uses, considering their compact stature. These support systems can function like a traditional tabletop tripod or you can make use of their flexible, rubberized design to wrap around various objects including light poles, trees, furniture and so on. The Gorillapod’s compact and lightweight design makes it a viable option for carrying in smaller bags and definitely comes in handy when exposure lengths are too long for hand-holding.
An even more compact solution for stabilizing your camera is the Novoflex Bean Bag. This bean bag comes empty for maximum portability, allowing you to fill it with available materials. A waterproof inner lining allows it to be filled with wet sand or dirt if necessary. The leather exterior is durable and provides friction to prevent your camera from slipping or moving if used on angled surfaces.
When you need a full-size tripod, Gitzo’s Traveler Tripod series offers models that are compact when folded with lightweight carbon fiber construction. The smallest of these tripods, the GK1580TQR5, folds down to only 13.8 inches while providing a maximum height of 58.7 inches (including the tripod head). It supports loads up to 12.1 pounds and weighs only about 2.5 pounds itself.
Portable Backup Solutions
Since traveling with a computer is not always possible, or desirable, Nexto DI produces a number of solutions for offloading images from memory cards. These handheld devices come in a variety of capacities, up to 750GB, including a 128GB SSD option. They accept CompactFlash and SD memory cards and they’re powered by a rechargeable battery. Another stand-out feature on the Nexto DI series is the inclusion of an LCD monitor for reviewing your images, deleting individual images and selecting specific images to back up to other devices. For offloading images from the device itself, there are FireWire and USB ports for connection to a computer or external hard drive.
Geotagging is a system that uses GPS to record the locations of origin of photographs and embed that information into the metadata of the digital files. This is especially useful when traveling so you can reflect on your images after your trip and remember exactly where each image was made. You can even plot out the points onto maps to share the course of your journey with others. Foolography offers a number of modules for embedding the GPS information into the metadata, and several kits are bundled with Holux receivers for a complete setup in one package. The receivers capture the GPS data, which is then sent to the camera-mounted module via a Bluetooth connection.
The use of filters is a largely outdated method of image modification, displaced almost entirely by digital-image editing. But filters can still provide a number of enhancements that are not achievable in post processing. The other issue with traveling with filters is the amount of space they can take up, depending on how many you bring with you. But Hitech’s Multistop and Warm2Cool filters can take the place of multiple individual filters, conserving space in your bag and saving you money. The Multistop filter is a fader filter, which simulates a neutral density filter and provides a range of exposure reduction from 1 to 6 stops, dialed in by turning the front filter ring. Similarly, the Warm2Cool filter is a variable color filter that allows you to alter the color hues of a scene by turning the front filter ring. Depending on the direction and degree to which you turn, the scene transforms from a cool blue to a vibrant, glowing yellow.
Shoe mount electronic flashes are typically not very large, but anything that can save room in your bag can be very beneficial when traveling. Best suited for those who only plan to use a flash as a small fill light, indoors or in closer surroundings, the Sunpak RD2000 Digital TTL Low-Profile Flash definitely has a wider range of functions than your built-in flash and is incredibly compact. For stowing, you can fold the hot-shoe connector into the body, a feature that also allows 90° of vertical bounce. The flash is available in a Canon or Nikon version, supporting each TTL system respectively, but either flash will work on any camera in manual mode. For more power and more distant applications, the Metz 44 AF-1 mecablitz is a larger option, but still small enough for easy portability. This flash adds 300° of swivel to the 90° of bounce and has a higher maximum guide number of 44 at ISO 100. The 44 AF-1 also has greater compatibility among various TTL systems, including specific flashes for Canon, Nikon, Olympus/Panasonic/Leica, Pentax, and Sony.
Smaller accessories are always good to have on hand when you’re traveling. Since you are essentially preparing for what’s to come, you might as well prepare for certain unavoidable circumstances. A flashlight is always a practical tool to have available; the Fenix E15 LED Flashlight is an extremely compact option, measuring only 2.3” in length and weighing less than an ounce. In addition to a flashlight, another utilitarian instrument that is more often a good idea to have than not is the Leatherman Wave Tool. This multi-tool is tricked out for 17 different functions, ranging from a pair of scissors to a variety of screw and bit drivers.
In addition to some general tools, general upkeep of your camera gear can be necessary during travel. The last place you would want to end up during your trip is shopping at a camera store instead of spending time taking pictures. The Photographic Solutions Sensor Swabs are a quick and easy solution for removing dust particles and keeping your digital camera’s sensor clean, and they are small enough to pack with you.
The best option for the peripatetic photographer is to travel with a few spare camera batteries (and some spare AA or AAA batteries, if your accessories require them). However, for extended trips you will inevitably have to charge your batteries. A unique option for photographers who need to charge a couple of batteries at once or an ideal option for photographers who travel with more than one camera and have different battery types is the Pearstone Duo Battery Charger. This device charges two batteries simultaneously and can be configured to accept two different battery types at the same time with optional interchangeable battery plates. An aptly named and more compact charging solution is the Pearstone Compact AC/DC Charger. This charger handles only one battery at a time, but does also support the interchangeable plate design, allowing you to charge different types of batteries with one charger.
General Tips for Traveling
As already established, the most important aspect of traveling and photography is how you pack. A good amount of planning should go into what you do and don’t bring. Make sure to consider what you’ll really use and what you really need, and try to forgo any items that could be classified as excessive.
By asking yourself the following questions, you should be able to pare down the list of items that you need to pack. First, do you need multiple lenses or will one lens suffice? Don’t automatically assume that your widest ranging zoom lens is the best single lens option. Prime lenses tend to be smaller and of better quality, and they force you to interact more with the scenery you’re photographing (an ideal consequence for travel photography).
Second, do you need a computer or can you just transfer images from your memory cards to a portable device for safekeeping? Something like a Nexto DI portable storage unit can free up a lot of room in your bag.
Third, how many spare batteries do you need and when will you have the opportunity to recharge batteries? It’s always better to have more batteries than you need, rather than not enough of them.
Fourth, will you be working in conditions or using equipment that requires a full-size tripod or can you get by with smaller, more portable options like the Gitzo GK1580TQR5?
Fifth, can you fit all of your required equipment into a single, portable bag? You might need more than one bag.
And sixth, will you be moving around a lot or should you pack in regard to a more stationary style of photographing? You might want to bring everything to your location in one large bag and then pack a smaller bag for day trips.
As previously emphasized, the true key to successfully enjoying the combination of your travels and photography is efficiency. Allow for the most pleasant time possible by eliminating as many variables as possible and building a kit that you feel comfortable using and one that includes all the essentials. Make sure to pack according to the environment in which you will be working; consider the weather, time of year and the light you will be photographing in. Take into account how long you will be traveling and try to estimate how much you really will be shooting. All of these elements greatly matter and should be mindfully approached. Not every trip you go on will require the same gear; vary what you bring with you accordingly.
When approaching the general idea of travel photography, consider the concept of flâneur as a means of how to experience your surroundings. This term simply implies the desire to peregrinate or to stroll freely from place to place. With cultural and societal connotations aside, the simplicity of wandering and exploring as you wish permits a more genuine form of interaction, one that is without hindrances. When combined with photographing, this can be as simple as minimizing what you bring in order to maximize your experience; necessities are named as such for a reason, whereas luxuries can be overbearing.