Travel Photography Essential Equipment

My essential gear and accessories for travel photography need to fit into one backpack that I can carry on to the plane.

Red Sky over Dubai

This image embodies what travel photography means to me. I planned and booked the hotel for this view, stayed on the roof for 2 hours during the sunset and used a tripod, polariser, remote-release, tilt-shift lens and bracketed to get the right shot.

Travel Photographers Life
Travel photography is not really a holiday, well, not if your primary purpose is to take great images. It sounds romantic and fun, but it soon wears off. It can be time consuming, unsociable and pretty lonely. No person, who is not a very keen photographer, wants to have to get up at 3am in the morning to catch the sunrise over [insert location name here]. People and culture photography though can be very rewarding, you get to meet new people and you don’t have to be up at unreasonable times of the day.

Give and Take
I like to travel and I can take a decent image so travel photography suits me. I’m unlucky in love, but if you are lucky enough to have a partner then compromise. That is what being in a relationship is about. If you like to capture lifestyle, culture and portraits then that is great. You can capture the images at any time as you both enjoy your holiday. If you like scenics, architecture and landscapes then you’ll probably want to take them in the golden hours at sunrise and sunset. Let your partner sleep whilst you get up early for sunrise, then you can both have breakfast together when you get back. Have a conversation about the evening sunset time; you would want to plan the locations per day and 1-2 hours for the duration. The rest of the day is quality bonding and romancing time.

The Gear
Now that I’ve set the scene, I hope you are still keen :-), back to the matter in hand, gear! The equipment that I take is suited to what I like to capture, which is architecture and landscapes. Other types of travel photography include people and culture, which I don’t find as fascinating, photography wise. Don’t get me wrong though, I enjoy immersing myself in the local culture in-between the golden photography moments. The gear that I use is optimal for vista’s and details.

The main gear and accessories I take need to fit into my backpack, which is the “Lowepro Mini Trekker AW”.

Backpack: Lowepro Mini Trekker AW
This is a very capable backpack and fits all my main gear as well as the accessories. It also has a pull down flap on the front to attach the tripod but I don’t use it on the plane. They won’t let you strap the tripod on and carry it in to the cabin.

Its size fits the cabin baggage size restrictions however many of the European carriers have introduced a smaller maximum size, which we apparently asked for. Really? We asked for smaller cabin baggage sizes? I think not, more like another money making scheme to force you to check-in your baggage.

Lowepro don’t make this bag any more, the nearest equivalent is the “Pro Trekker 300 AW“.

Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark III

Any DSLR can be used for travel photography. Lenses are always more important than the camera, if you had not picked up on that yet. The requirement in a camera body that I look for is primarily the performance at high ISO. Auto focus speed and accuracy and bracketing are also important to me.

A good photographer can use any camera to take amazing images, it is the composition and quality of light that makes the image, not the gear.

Main Lens: Canon EF24-105mm F4L IS

I hope Canon bring out a Mark II version of this lens; a sharper version with less distortion and vignetting.

I use this lens for two main reasons, the IS (Image Stabilisation) and the focal lengths. It is a great walk-around lens (that means general purpose) for a full frame sensor camera. This is because it is relatively wide at 24mm and a good standard at 105mm. The “IS” is key for me too in that I can use the lens in low light areas where using a tripod is not allowed, such as an interior.

Most people think that 50mm is the focal length that matches our eyes, it’s not. Around 100mm is. The field of view is different at 105mm compared to our vision, but the “magnification” at 105mm is spot on. Zoom or magnification of a lens is from the change in Field Of View, not that the lens enlarges the scene or reduces the scene.

Other lenses:
Canon EF17-40mm F4L

A wide angle (wide field of view) lens is important for capturing a big vista in one shot. It also helps if you are too close to a building or a scene and cannot back up. The max wide aperture is not important for me as I always stop down to F8 – F11 to get the depth of field. I don’t like fisheye lenses, the distortion puts me off.

Canon TS-E 24mm F3.5L II

I recently bought this tilt-shift and I have to say that I am very impressed with it. I use it primarily to retain straight vertices and for greater depth of field. For architecture photography, it is a must in my opinion. You can certainly correct the vertices in post, but then you lose image quality.

Canon EF50mm F1.2L

And then there is the detail. The shallow DOF and performance of this lens is beautiful. I also have the EF 85mm F1.2L but that is a little too long on a full frame. I use the 50 to capture details and beautifully bokeh out the background.

Tripod: Gitzo G1157 Carbon Fibre Tripod with Gitzo GH1780QR Ballhead


The tripod gets packed into the check-in baggage. It is a must for low light photography. Having a carbon fibre tripod means that it is light so I can strap it to the backpack and walk around all day with it. This one is not as tall as I would like, but the 3 section legs make it very sturdy. The ball head is annoying in that when tilting the camera to get a portrait composition, it is not sturdy enough for me. I might get an adaptor so that I can keep the ball head up and just rotate the camera around.

Accessories
Memory Cards - I take 128GB in memory cards. All SanDisk Extreme’s at 8GB and 16GB sizes.
Hyperdrive ColorSPACE UDMA2 – I backup the memory cards each night, just in case.
Batteries - I have 5 Canon batteries, all fully charged. I also take the charger with me.
Lee Big Stopper – This 10 stop ND is perfect for smoothing out water and making people disappear in long exposure shots.
Polariser - For those sunny days and also to reduce reflections, remember to take a polariser. I use the B+W KSM screw on polariser filters.
Remote Release – Essential for taking shake free shots when tripod mounted. Recently though, I have started to use the 2 second timer setting in the camera.
Smart Tablet & Phone – For planning, ward off boredom and mapping purposes. I use an iPad to keep me entertained at the hotel and the iPhone which I load on my itinerary, sample views and maps of locations I want to go to. I may do a planning post in the future as I do spend a great deal of time preparing for the trips.
Rocket Blower – Changing lenses during the day will inevitably introduce sensor dust. So each evening I manually clean the sensor.

Stuff that I don’t take (but you probably thought I might)
Flash - The 5D does not have an on-camera flash and neither do I take an external one with me. As I take scenics, there is no need for a flash. I have a very fast lens, the 50mm F1.2L if I do want to take a photo of a person. I am all about the natural/ambient light really.
Backups – I’m not doing this professionally so I do not need to take backups of my equipment.

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