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Lonely Planet Images on the road: a travel photographer’s guide to gear

May 10, 2011

- by Kylie McLaughlin

 Having freshly returned from a five week stint overseas, an LPI team member thought they’d share their experiences using photography gear on the road.  Here’s their list of must-haves to help you decide what to pack for your next trip.

1.       Tripod

Whatever you do, no matter what sort of corners you think you’re going to cut, don’t forget to bring a tripod. Plenty of fold-up, lightweight tripods that won’t cut into your budget are available with their own carry bags that make them easy to attach to your backpack or swing over your shoulder. Tripods get you those super-fantastic shots no-one without can achieve: a little bit of effort for a much better result.  They’ll help you capture those amazing shots at night; you’ll also be able to capture the movement of traffic, people and water. Also, while setting up a tripod might get you some attention, it’s nothing compared to what you will receive with a pesky flash: you won’t need to bring any of those along.

Manfrotto produce a range of lighter on weight and price tripods such as the 190X that are good for travel. Take your camera into a shop before you leave and test out which best holds the weight of your camera.

The city centre skyline and Singapore River as seen from Marina Promenade at night. (Kimberley Coole)

2.  Filters

You can’t be sure of anything when you are travelling, especially the preservation of your glass! That’s why a UV filter whacked onto the front of every lens you bring is essential. But don’t forget to bring a polarizing filter aswell; polarisers can give your landscape images deep blue skies and seas, removing nasty glare from the water. They can also eliminate pesky overexposure on bright days. You don’t need them for every lens, but definitely bring one for the lens that you will use the most.     

A polarising filter was used in this shot to avoid overexposure in the snow and to enhance the colour of the sky. (Christian Aslund)

3. Bags

Camera bags can be cumbersome and expensive. Save your backpack for the majority of your luggage, and bring a simple, over-the-shoulder job with loads of pads and pockets for your camera. Why? Because if you’re walking around the streets and come across the perfect photo opportunity, you don’t want to be messing around, removing and unzipping , while that opportunity passes you by. Keep your camera around your neck and your camera bag positioned towards your front – you can also use it to take the weight of the camera off your shoulders. It’s also much easier to access other lenses, and you can typically fit a small water bottle, guidebook and a map in there as well.

A good choice is Crumpler’s Million Dollar Home; they come in sizes ranging from 1-8. The 6 Million isn’t too hefty and manages to hold an SLR body, three lenses, a guidebook, a small water bottle, a filter and some memory cards. They’re also very easy to rest on your lap in public transport, and can fit under the seat of a motorbike. Oh, and you can generally get away with one as carry-on for flying – mine certainly weighed over 7kgs but there was never an issue getting it on board.

Use a tripod, not a flash, and decrease your shutter speed to give the shot a long exposure and let as much light in as possible. (Tony Burns)

4.  Lens

Obviously, this will largely depend on what body you are carrying but the best walk-around lenses are lightweight and broad-ranged. As a Canon user, I found the best lens for my 7D was the 15-85mm USM which is fantastically wide for indoor and outdoor shots. No kit is complete without a zoom, and Canon’s new 70-300L series lens allows you to get those sneaky close-ups without being noticed. Also handy, and tiny, is the 50mm F.1.8, which captures detail with impeccable depth-of-field. Those with full frame sensors won’t get past the 24-70mm as a walk-around lens, with a possible third option of an ultra-wide 10-22mm.

Our photo editor recommends the 16-85mm VR and the 70-300mm VR for Nikon cropped frame users. Our full-frame Nikon-using pros tend to prefer the 24-70mm and the 70-200mm, both f2.8.

With the aid of a 70-300mm lens, I was able to capture these girls who were dressed in hilltribe costume in Chiang Mai at Doi Suthep temple for Songkran.

5. A second camera?

I was at a cafe and decided to pull out my SLR to check through a few photos when I heard a massive groan come from the table opposite me. The groaner was a lady who’d dropped her SLR a few days ago and was bemoaning the fact she hadn’t bought a second camera – so much so she was going to cut short her trip in Luang Prabang and head to Thailand to replace it!

A second camera is a hairy issue. With a kit such as a Canon 7d with a 15-85mm lens attached, is it really necessary? In places where you feel less than comfortable sporting a few thousand dollars worth of equipment over your shoulders, then yes. Also, with a festival that prides itself on how soaking wet you can get yourself and anyone that gets in your way, I deemed it was.

There’s two directions you could swing: Expensive, or cheap. Being a cheapskate I opted for a compact Canon G12, for the following additional reasons: it was cheaper (in Thailand, anyway) than in Australia; you can shoot in RAW, it had a swivelling screen and a viewfinder, and some nifty effects such as fisheye. If you’ve got cash to burn, a more attractive option is to get a second SLR body so you can take a wider variety of pictures with different lenses attached to each. Next trip, I’ll be looking at something like Fuji’s new X100 as a second camera with a fixed 35mm lens.  It has managed to fit a APS-C sensor into a compact body with some remarkable results, and it’s always a challenge being restricted to a fixed-size lens.

Having a second camera alleviates the concern about damaging a valuable SLR and allows you to get in close to the action.

Miniature must-haves and dos:

  • Don’t forget to bring equipment to clean your lenses! This includes lens cleaning fluid, a blower, a cloth, and cleaning tissue. No matter how hard you try, you’ll always invariably smear your screen with a fingerprint or get dust and worse, sand on your lenses.
  • Keep your maps. It will help with captioning later.

For the hard-core photographers:

  • A MacBook with Lightroom installed and a couple of back-up hard drives to help knock your image editing and production down as you go. Try and pin captions and locations on the road as you’re bound to forget a couple of months down the track.

Don’t bother:

  • Remote control. Just set the timer on your camera instead.

Read Richard I’Anson’s guide to taking photos of festivals.

How to edit your images in Lightroom (on the road, or otherwise).

Tips for taking photos of iconic images.

Do you have any suggestions for gear on the road?

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. May 10, 2011 12:33 am

    I agree with the Crumpler 6 Million Dollar Home recommendation. On travel assignments, I pack one gripped EOS 5D Mark II, 70-200mm f/2.8, 24-70mm, 17-40mm, 270EX flash including a mandatory Powershot G11. I clip a small Lowepro pouch effectively adding another pocket to the bag with a small footprint increase. I use this pouch for either a 17-40mm or G11 that I can reach in very quickly.

    http://shimworld.wordpress.com/2010/07/13/canon-crumpler-6-million-dollar-home/

  2. May 10, 2011 2:43 pm

    Most of the article describes what I think about travel gear but I would pack slightly differently

    – I’d use a slingshot back bag with enough room for non-photography stuff
    – Canon 70-300 non-L lens instead of the L. Smaller, not white and cheaper
    – Canon S95 instead of G12, more practical size and faster lens
    – I’d take remote control with me. Small, sometimes timing matters
    – I no longer carry 50 f/1.8 because I didn’t use it

    Additionally

    – tiny pocket size tripod for the compact camera can be valuable
    – power plug adapter for the charger (bought before the trip)
    – camera/flash manuals if you don’t fully master them

    Storing all photos to both hard disk and memory cards allows you to store photos in two different locations (e.g. hotel room and with you). Memory cards also survive accidents that hard drives don’t.

    Lot’s of this is about personal preference.

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