While anyone can be a travel photographer with a little practice and some investment in equipment and study, the truly professional travel photographers are always searching for new subjects and themes and new ways to portray those places that everyone knows. While travel photography is often a lot of fun in comparison with other genres, there is also one big problem. When it comes to packing equipment for traveling, photographers always have the same question, what to take and what to leave behind? How do you pack light for travel photography?
With several camera bodies, a selection of lenses, tripods and other accessories, bags can end up weighting more than one could carry around safely or comfortably.
One skill that every travel photographer needs to master fast is packing light and knowing what to pack. For those who are beginning this type of photography or still struggling with such problems, here are several ideas on how to pack light for travel photography:
- Make a list of all the equipment you have. First of all, you have to know everything you can take with you on a trip to be able to know what is essential and what you can do without. List every piece of equipment you have or what you need to buy and then start choosing what you could not do without. Often you take a lot of things that you never use during your travels and then wish you would have left it at home. The stuff you actually need depends on what type of things you will photograph.
- Choose the lightest and smallest cameras. Whether you shoot with DSLR, compact or something in between, there are bigger and heavier models, there are also smaller and lighter ones. While usually the bigger ones are better, this is not always the case and thinking about how much you travel and what you really need for what you photograph might make you choose a smaller, but equally good camera model. Many professionals these days are going mirror less simply for the weight savings.
- Choose all-around lenses. Unless you are a professional travel photographer that takes on grand projects and needs specific lenses for their purpose, one or two lenses are usually enough. You might choose a standard zoom lens and a telephoto or a wide lens, depending on the environment and your preferred subject.
- Pack batteries and cards. If there is something you should never leave behind or think about weight when traveling, these are extra batteries and memory cards. You will never know when you might end up in the middle of a busy day of photography with a low battery, no replacement and no way to quickly charge it.
- Considering these items are usually light and small, you should always pack more.
- Choose a light tripod. These are some of the most useful accessories in travel photography, whether you wish to photograph a night scene, a beautiful sunset or a waterfall. Tripods are usually very cumbersome, but there are also some that are made specifically for travel, being significantly smaller and lighter. Although these are usually a little more expensive, the several kilograms gained will pay off on the long run.
- Exclude as much as you can. Some people think that if they have something, they might need it at one point, but the truth is that much of what you pack will never serve a purpose. Depending on your travel photography subjects, you might not need an external flash or more than two lenses.
- Choose a good backpack. This is often under-appreciated by many but actually having a good, comfortable backpack to carry your photography equipment can allow you to carry more too.
The Essentials of Travel Photography Packing
In the simplest scenario, the shortest list of equipment for travel photography would include a compact camera with an extra battery and several memory cards. As one becomes more advanced, a mirrorless or entry DSLR camera with an all-around zoom lens, a battery, several cards and a small tripod would be the ideal pack.
Advancing from the Essentials
What you will find as you advance from the essentials is that each addition to your pack will probably have a very specific purpose. Maybe you couldn't get close enough to the subjects in the shot during your first trip, so you will pack a zoom lens for the second trip. Maybe you were taking a lot of landscape shots, so you will add a wide angle lens with some filters and a tripod. But each addition for an experiences travel photographer will usually be considered and deliberate.
If you are truly passionate about travel photography, a moderately light pack could include a good DSLR and a back-up compact camera, a zoom, a telephoto and a wide lens, a good tripod and extra batteries, cards and filters for example – simple gear that will open up additional shooting options over a basic kit.
In the end, it all depends on many variables, but the key is to keep it simple and only add gear as you have specific needs for it.