Traveling and photography go hand in hand; the desire to record the places you’ve visited and share your memories with 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 traveling, 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 overpack. 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 is designed to meet the FAA’s maximum carry-on size limits. The copolymer cases are waterproof, crush proof and dustproof, with a retractable extension handle and polyurethane wheels for smooth rolling. They’re perfect for porting 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 may not be 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, lightweight design makes it a viable option for carrying in smaller bags and definitely comes in handy when exposure lengths are too long for handholding.
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 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, several manufacturers offer portable storage devices for offloading images from memory cards. Nexto DI produces a number of handheld storage solutions, in a variety of capacities up to 1TB, including SSD options. 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.
Geo-tagging 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, 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 144' 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, Samsung, 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 a good idea to have 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. Just be sure to fly with it in your checked baggage, not in your carry-on bag.
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 Watson 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 Watson Compact AC/DC Charger. This charger handles only one battery at a time, but also supports 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, lighter, 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? A 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? Will you return to a hotel room each night for a recharge? 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 in which you will be photographing. 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, become a flâneur as a means of experiencing 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 photography, 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.
Gorget the leatherman unless you want to give it to the TSA - it will be confiscared - put it in the hold baggage
True that boogalloo. Thanks for the gomment.
Good advice. I had mine taken from me at the Southwest Florida international airport the Leatherman was at the bottom of my camera bag and I forgot all about it. But they found it. Luckily, I was able to mail it back home, otherwise it would've been gone forever
Thanks John. Lost a Swiss Army knife that way...had just bought it too; however my micro screwdriver set gets through every time. Be sure to pack appropriately. Besides potentially dangerous items, I tend to put non-essential cables, chargers, even hard drives in my checked luggage. Here is a recent article from Susan Seubert on prepping for a travel assignment including a time-lapse of the actual packing.
I am planning a trip out of the country. Do I need to register my equipment? If so where do I do that and when should I do that? thanks JW
JW...I'm not sure what you mean by register the equipment. Are you talking about registering it with the manufacturer for warranty or getting insurance for your gear? Let me know and I'll try to help. For most manufacturers, actually "registering" your gear is not required for their most basic warranty, but be sure to have your receipts and keep your serial numbers noted. Insurance is another question and many photographers look to cover their gear, depending on value and travel destination, of course. Thanks for reading.
I've found that backpacks and other cases are very convenient for carrying equipment to the hotel, but when out and about they're too slow and awkward. I use m4/3 equipment and on a recent trip to Yellowstone, Glacier and Grand Teton national parks, where you don't know when you'll see something for which you'll need a wide, medium or long lens. I had to be ready quickly. So, I carried 2 bodies on a BlackRapid Sling strap. One body had a 24-70 f/2.8 and the other a 70-200 f/2.8. The BlackRapid strap is very well engineered to allow carrying the bodies comfortably and accessing them instantly. On a belt, I carried a small case with a 7-14 f/4 and 150-600. The pockets of my "cargo" pants held a couple of batteries, extra cards and cleaning wipes for the lenses. Because the m4/3 equipment is so light, and I didn't have the extra weight of a backpack, I was able to hike long distances with all of this gear and really never felt the weight. For 90% of my shooting, the lenses already on the bodies were fine. For those occasions when I needed a wider, or longer lens, they were right at hand - no need to fuss with a carrying case. I could literally complete a lens change in the time it would take to access the lens if it were in a backpack.
When back in the hotel, I'd recharge the batteries and backup the cards to a portable drive. The charger that accommodates 2 batteries, as mentioned in this article, is a great idea. The backup system mentioned in the article is a good idea for camping trips where you won't carry a computer. Cards are quite inexpensive these days and since anything can fail, I never erase the cards - just back them up so that I always have each image stored in 2 places. The backup drive and used cards remain in the hotel safe when I'm out of the room.
As for a tripod, I've found that the MeFoto is terrific - very compact and sturdy and not expensive. However, I usually don't carry a tripod when hiking. Nature provides many things to steady your camera for low-light shots: trees, rocks, etc. When in a city, there are usually light poles, mailboxes, etc. that can be used to steady a camera for a longer exposure. But, most of the time, with today's excellent IS and high-ISO capability, a tripod isn't something that's really necessary when hiking.
Thanks Dan. That's is a great set-up and good info for any readers. I tend to agree with you regarding the tripod, especially when hiking or anytime weight is a concern, And yes, Blackrapid straps are great and digging through backpacks when youre rushing to get a shot is frustrating, to say the least. Sounds like you found a system that really works for you. Thanks for the comment.
"So, I carried 2 bodies on a BlackRapid Sling strap. One body had a 24-70 f/2.8 and the other a 70-200 f/2.8. The BlackRapid strap is very well engineered to allow carrying the bodies comfortably and accessing them instantly. "
We are going to another country. I want to take my Canon 5D mark111 and same two lens as above. I also have a 70-200 4.0 which is a lot lighter. I am confused as to how you did not use a backpack or bag when outside? Is there a bag you like that is lightweight? Thanks! I am debating not bringing the longer lens but know I will regret it.
I purchased an "Ape Case" ACPROLC18 Professional Large Lens Case for my 400mm 5.6 L series lens. I have found that I can carry this lens either attached or detached to my Cannon Rebel T5i camera, and to my surprise, I can also fit a 10-18mm wide angle lens, 2x telephoto extender, and a Cannon 320EX speedlite inside the case and my 55-250mm telephoto zoom zens attached to the outside of the case. The case has a handhold strap at the top and an adjustable padded shoulder strap. It measures 15" high and about 8" wide x 8" deep. It will fit as carryon luggage on a plane. It may weigh a little when filled, but don't leave your long lens behind. You will be sorry.
Thanks J. Lurquin for the insight on the Ape Case. Always good to know how people manage their gear...
Using my mindshift rotation 180 pro on a trip through Scandinavia at the moment. Allowed as carry on. For the flight over it had two bodies, 4 lens, 1 gopro hd3, spare batteries for all, sd card case, in the lower camera bag section. Top section had a13inch lap top and two 10 inch tablets with keyboards also gps, usb leads, a 500mm tele lens and two portable HDD. Also had a jacket strapped on and still had room for tripod but it went in checked bag. The mindshift rotation 180 is fantastic for travelling any where with photography gear.I can adjust what carry each day, from full load top small freak bag when working fin s car so day.
Thanks SMc...good recommendation, the MindShift Gear bags/inserts are great.
I have been all about my new Platypod Pro for a travel tripod. It is so stable and small, it even fits in my jean pockets.
Great tip NC. Thanks!