A Travel Photography Gear Guide
- By professional photographer Ricardo Braz
Ricardo here sharing a few tips on how to choose and a few tips for choosing the the best photography kit for your travels and how to make the best use of them. First of all, you have to think about the results you want with your photos: do you want to share with only friends and family on social media or do you want to create something business-related (now or in the future) or even print them. Second, how much weight you are willing to carry during your trip, and how much space you have in your bag. These questions will define what you need in your kit. Defining a travel kit is very personal and I hope my insights will help you a little bit.
We all know that mobile phones today can take amazing pictures but trust me, they will never be as good as a camera. Not only for the image quality, but for the pleasure of photography. The act of pressing the shutter button is addicting and makes the whole experience much more enjoyable. In spite of that, if you don’t care at all about photography, carrying a camera can be just an extra weight in your bag, so stick with your phone. If you enjoy photography, it’s absolutely worth it to carry a camera. The feeling of taking your camera out of the bag already makes you want to take a better shot just for the effort – it’s just too easy with the phone.
Considering that you already have or want to get a camera, what is necessary to take with you when traveling? Always remember that skills + persistence > equipment!
Camera Gear for Travel:
Camera: First of all, a camera body. They can range from $300 to $4,000usd, so it’s hard for me to recommend one. My advice is to do a lot of research and, according to your skills and goals in the area, choose the camera that best suits you. A few things to keep in mind: it’s hard and expensive to change camera systems (for example, changing all your Nikon gear to Canon), so before investing in new lenses and bodies make sure that’s the system you want to stick to; Mirrorless systems are normally smaller and lighter then DSLR, which can be very convenient for traveling, but batteries tend to drain faster and they’re more fragile; interchangeable lenses are great for those who want to upgrade and develop their skills.
Lenses: If I can recommend only one lens it has to be a “standard 24-70”. This focal length covers almost everything you need on your daily basis and it’s a great lens to start or if you just want to invest in one, that’s the one to go. It’s the lens I have on my camera for 75% of the time. For landscape photographers, I really recommend going beyond that and investing in new lenses that will spark your creativity, if you already feel confident with your skills. A wide-angle (16-35mm) and a telephoto (any lens longer than 100mm) can really step up your game, bringing new perspectives to your everyday shooting. If you like taking portraits, having a prime lens (35mm or 50mm) can be really good too.
Camera Bag: It is very important to carry your gear safely and comfortably. The size of the bag will vary depending on your kit. If you have just a few items (let’s say a camera and 1 or 2 lenses), a full-sized bag might be too much for you – maybe invest in a messenger bag. If you have a bigger kit, a camera bag is definitely necessary to protect your items. A few brands I can recommend and their pros and cons:
- LowePro – very sturdy bags, but lack on the design and are not very comfortable.
- InCase – their fabric is not as resistant as others brands, but they’re very light, intelligently build with many accessible pockets, have space for extra items and have a great design.
- Peak Design – very good design but I don’t find them very practical.
- Wandrd – Never used myself, but only read good reviews about it – it’s supposed to be the best one in the market, but it comes with a higher price tag.
- F-Stop – These bags are quite specific as they’re a mix between a camera bag and a normal travel backpack. They’re big, sturdy, and can bit both your camera equipment and a lot of clothes/accessories.
Tripod: I use my tripod only for night photography. Honestly, I hate using a tripod, I think it slows down the creative process and takes away the flexibility I like to have when shooting. Unfortunately, you can’t shoot astrophotography – something I really enjoy – without a tripod, so I make an extra effort to carry it with me. There are tons of options in the market and the most important thing to have in mind when choosing one is the ratio between weight vs. sturdiness. It can’t be too heavy, but it should support your camera well. The one I use is a Manfrotto BeFree (aluminum, not carbon fiber) and I’m super happy with it. If you don’t shoot astro or long exposures, I advise not to carry a tripod.
Storage: At least one hard drive is essential to keep your photos safe. Everyday after shooting I back up my photos to both an SDD and a hard drive. The difference between them is that SDDs are way faster reading and writing images videos than a normal hard drive, which speed up a lot the workflow when you have a lot of images and video to edit – but hard drives work fine too. The brands I use are Lacie and Sandisk. I’ve already lost footage and it’s horrible. If you shoot with a camera, this process can be exhausting to do everyday but its worth it. If you only use your mobile, you can either transfer to your computer or invest in a cloud.
- Filters: There are a few filters you can have in your lens. The one I recommend to have all the time is a UV filter – it doesn’t distort the final image and protect your lens from elements such as scratches and falls. Polarizers are only useful when shooting next to the water or shiny objects (building, cars, etc) as it reduces the flare in these situations. ND’s are mostly used in photography for slow shutter, which is not very common, so it’s not essential in my kit.
- A small bag to keep your cables organized
- Extra batteries + USB chargers – essential for longer trips, especially when somewhere remote.
Camera Gear for Hiking:
The first advice I can give you when hiking is to travel as light as possible. Normally photographers tend to carry a bunch of lenses, camera bodies, tripods and accessories but when you’re walking uphill for a couple days straight, that might not be the best option as fatigue will eventually hit you sooner or later, which can turn your wonderful hiking experience into a nightmare.
This said, let’s jump straight to the point. What do I carry when going on big hikes?
- Two bodies: if you’re shooting for a campaign, for a brand or anything else work-related, having 2 bodies is essential. You never know when your camera will fail and if you’re doing it professionally, that’s something you can’t afford. If it’s just a hobby for you, one camera body is fine.
- 3 lenses:
An all-around lens which is attached to the camera during 80% of the time – something similar to a 24-70 or a 24-105. If I had to take only one, that’d be the one I’d choose.
A lightweight (as light as possible as they’re normally heavier than other lenses) telephoto to get some compression shots. These photos normally turn out to be my favorites, so I really like having this lens in my kit. I carry an 85-300 with a variable aperture.
A fast and wide prime to shoot during sunrise, sunset blue hour and astrophotography. These lenses are normally lightweight, yet super useful for shooting in low light conditions – a must have for the mountains! Mine is a 18mm f2.
Note: a fast mid-range prime, like a 35 or 50mm, works great in the mountain too to take some portraits – both environmental and half body – but as it doesn’t fit my photography style, I’d rather not to take it.
- Drone – Mine is a DJI Mavic 2 Pro, one of the best portable drones in the market nowadays. If you don’t shoot professionally, the DJI Mavic Air is a great and more affordable option. Make sure to check the laws of the area your hiking to see if it’s allowed to fly a drone
- Tripod – I carry my tripod just for astrophotography. Otherwise I wouldn’t carry it.
- Batteries – especially if you’re hiking in cold weather, battery can drain pretty fast in the mountains. These will depend on how much you shoot and how long is your hike, but don’t spare batteries! I take at least 3 and for longer hikes I count 1 per day.
- Backpack – This will depend on many factors. The main ones are the duration of the hike, the weather conditions, the sleeping infrastructure and if you’re going to have support to help carrying your stuff. For day hikes and everyday shooting/traveling, I’ve been using an Incase Pro DSLR for a couple years and I love it. It has enough space to fit all my camera gear, laptop, a few accessories and some clothes/extra layers. If I’m hiking for more than a day, that bad will probably be small. For hikes up to 4 days I use a 40L Osprey. It’s not a camera bag, but it’s great for short multiday hikes. If you’re going for longer hikes and also wants to protect your camera gear, I highly recommend F-Stop bags – they’re incredibly well-built and perfect for photographers. All these bags should be great if you don’t need to carry a tent, a sleeping bag and a mattress – then you would probably need something bigger.
- Laptop – I’ve never carry mine in hikes, even long ones. They’re heavy and difficult to charge, so editing has to wait a little bit. I personally don’t think they’re useful when you’re out in nature, unless you have to deliver files in real time for a company.
- Hard drives and SD cards – I carry a device that transfer photos from SD cards to USB drives (pen drives, SSDs or HDs) without the need of a computer.
It’s incredibly handy for backing up your photos. Everyday I offload my files to a hard drive (Lacie Rugged 2TB) and do not delete them for the SD. Therefore, I have my files in 2 different places when hiking (I’m a backup freak since I’ve lost a month worth of files in 2018). I carry also many spare SD cards so I don’t end up without storage. When I get back to civilization, I just double check if all the files are already backed-up in the computer and transfer them to an SDD (Sandisk 500GB) to start working on the files.
Accessories to consider:
- Cross-shot shoulder strap by BlackRapid – can’t recommend it enough as it is so much better than a standart neck strap. It balances the camera weight perfectly on your body and it doesn’t force your back even if you carry for many hours straight.
- Power banks – I carry 2 of them (both by RavPower) to charge my phone and camera batteries.
- Usb camera charger – Probably the most important item in my bag. Being able to charge your camera on the go is priceless! This can be a simple adaptor or a cable depending on the brand and camera model. You can use your power bank to charge it.
- Polarizer and UV filters – Essential for both protection and flare reduction on sunny days. Mine are both PolarPro and K&F and I really recommend them.
- Lens compartments – Not only to protect, these compartments are very useful when they can be attached to you bag if you need to change your lens quickly.
This kit might sound too big for many of you, but it’s only the essential for me. I can’t afford to run out of battery or storage during a hike, so I carry a little bit of extra weight to make sure everything runs smoothly. Also, it doesn’t mean that this kit will work for you too. I know people that carry only one body and one lens (or even a phone!) and take fantastic shots and also people that carry their whole kit and in the end don’t have good results. It’s all about being practical and knowing what kind of results you want for those photos. If you have the possibility of hiring a porter to carry your stuff, it definitely pays off. It might sound brutal for them to carry loads of weight, but it’s their job and how they make a living, so you’re actually helping the local community when doing this.
A few general tips on how to take better photos:
- Look for good light – normally sunrise and sunset are the best times of the day to photograph, as the light is softer, creating a beautiful atmosphere in the mountains. If there’s a special spot you’d like to photograph, make a little extra effort to go for sunrise.
- Shoot manual – understand your camera settings to make the most of your equipment. It makes a huge different on the final results!
- Use different focal lengths – it allows you to have different perspectives on the same scenery. Wide shots are normally better to show many subjects on a vast landscape, and as you narrow down your point of view you get more details, textures and shapes.
- Add a human element – adding a person to your image, especially if the person is far away, will add a sense of scale and it will be easier for the viewer to picture itself in that place and then connecting to your image.
- Search for different angles – sometimes just a few steps back or front will make a massive difference in your final image. Besides that, shooting from lower or higher angles can be a game changer too!
- Improve your storytelling – The best images are the ones that tell a story without the need of words. Capturing emotions on landscapes is a hard task, but so worth when you do it!
- Before going trekking, get some inspiration on the internet/social media of other photographers to have some nice composition ideas.
- Invest time- If you’re really into photography and want to improve, you’ll have to study hard as you would do with any other subject from school. From composition to post-production, it takes a long time to master some techniques. I’ve learned everything I know in Youtube and I truly believe that is a great platform to learn for free. If you’re really committed and willing to spend money, take a course or a workshop with people you connect with and believe in their work. But, as I said, there are many free options in the internet that can really help you.
- Find other angles - Straight up, get down low, diagonally, trough the crowd. There’s no limit for imagination - try the unusual! After defining a subject, force yourself to shoot it from at least 4 angles besides the first one you imagined: up close, from the bottom, from the top, from the sides, from the back, from far away, etc. For sure it will help you find the angle you like the most. Another good option is to shoot with different focal lengths if you’re using an interchangeable lens camera or a zoom lens. All of the photos below were taken at the same spot, yet they are so different!
Written by Ricardo Braz, a 25 years old travel photographer from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Follow Richardo on instagram - @ricardobrazb