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Traveling with your Camera Gear
Best practices and things to think about

Travel Photography Considerations
(updated January, 2016)
I'm about to embark on a trip. It's something I've done MANY times before, yet, I continue to be conflicted by the question of what to bring - I always want to bring more than I know I should, yet I know that travel photography requires a different strategy than photography at home. Compromises are required.

There are different considerations based on the gear you own, what subjects you expect to encounter and what you plan to do with your pictures upon return. And let's not forget security - a major concern when traveling with expensive gear!

Travel Photography
What Camera to Bring
Although becoming very popular, we’re purposely leaving cell/smart phones out of this discussion – you can always bring a smart phone with you, in addition to a camera.

If you own two cameras - possibly a DSLR and a smaller camera, such as a point-and-shoot, mirrorless, etc., you may struggle before a trip deciding which camera to bring. The joy of having your camera in your shirt-pocket is truly wonderful. The flexibility to have a DSLR and multiple lenses, and get higher-quality images, is also wonderful.

There is a pretty-firm rule in digital photography: the larger the sensor, the higher-quality the images will be. Point-and-shoot cameras tend to have very small sensors – thus the quality is lower than that of a camera with a larger sensor. But, "quality" is somewhat subjective. If you only view images on a computer monitor, you may not need the same quality than you would if you want to print your images. Mirrorless cameras can be a compromise between the two.

So, you have to match your image quality expectations with that of your gear. Typically, taking a DSLR, means you have a lot more gear to take with you as well.

Your Needs
A lot of your decision will depend on your personal requirements. Personally, I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and "need" high-quality images. For me, there’s no decision: I always bring (at least one) DSLR camera and several lenses. If I expect to shoot a variety of subjects, which I do on this trip, I bring a lot - on this trip, the camera bag I'm bringing on the airplane with me weighs a hefty 22 pounds - but I also bring a "day bag" (the PacSafe V18) which will carry just what I need when going out to shoot each day.

When being "Reasonable" becomes "Difficult"
But, you may have more reasonable expectations, which makes your decision more difficult. You have to balance which of the following is most important to you:
  • Convenience;
  • Quality; and/or
  • Flexibility.


After the trip ends
A vacation only lasts for a short time. Whether it be a weekend or a month, it’s still a very short time in the scheme of things. A week, month or decade after you return, it’s wonderful to see pictures of where you’ve been. In the old-days, it meant dragging out the photo album or slide projector. Today, however, most of us have a desktop-computer, laptop, tablet and/or cell-phone. These devices are wonderful at displaying whatever images we ask them to. Or you can print your images at home or bring them to a local store to have them printed. There are lots of options. What you do with your images when you return impacts your decision on what to bring.

Viewing images on a computer screen requires relatively low resolution images. If you make large prints, you will need high-quality images.

Storing Images
Do you store your images online (in the "cloud") or on your own computer or both? Do you back-up your images? If so, where?

In the old days, there were photo albums. Pictures went in the albums and the album became a chronological record. I'll bet you can drag out an old family album with great pictures in it. But, today, our images tend to be splattered across different computers, phones, and on-line repositories. Unfortunately, ALL of these are susceptible to disaster in the blink of an eye.

Sure, the photo album of old could be destroyed in a fire, but that rarely happened. Hard drives crash every day. Cell phones are destroyed on a regular basis. DVDs become unreadable for no particular reason. Online sites have crashes and aren’t always backed up. Sometimes they go "belly-up" and all is lost. Who hasn't lost images in the digital age?

Backup Strategies
Nothing is going to bring back the old photo album, so you need a strategy for storing your images. The first rule is: NEVER, but NEVER store all your images in one place. Keep multiple copies, and have a strategy for categorizing your images. On-line services are great, and most will provide you with a LOT of storage. You may have to pay a few dollars a month, but, believe me, it’s worth it. Keeping your images on somebody-else’s computer (as well as your own) provides an important step in backing-up: off-site storage.

Every time you take pictures, copy them from your camera to your primary desktop computer or laptop. This is your first backup location. Backing-up to the on-line service can be automatic, as long as you identify what folders to backup and you store all your images under that folder. Make sure you have ONE folder on your primary computer, and that ALL pictures are stored in folders under that folder. This will make it easier to automatically backup all of your images.

Next, buy an external hard drive that’s at least 2 terabytes each – you may not need 2 terabytes now, but, they’re not very expensive, and you should always buy more storage than you think you need! Only attach these drives to your computer when you plan on doing a backup – which should be at least 4 times a year – schedule it in your email or calendar program. If an external drive is connected to your computer, there are a myriad of things that could go wrong and fry BOTH your computer’s drive(s) and any external drives attached to it. So, don’t attach it until you need it.

Backing-up to the external drive is nothing more than copying (drag-n-drop) the root image folder from your computer hard drive to the external hard drive.

There are many programs that will facilitate storing and categorizing images.

Prague, Czech Republic

Tucson, AZ
Picture use
When you get back from traveling, there are several options on what you’ll do with your pictures:
  1. You can prepare your images for viewing on a computer (email, on-line photo service, computer slide show, etc.);
  2. You can print a selected group of images in small photos (4"x5", etc.);
  3. You can print a selected group of images in larger photos (8"x10", etc.); or
  4. You can print a few for framing.

The first option requires the lowest resolution images. Options 2 & 3 require higher resolution images and the last option requires the highest resolution.

We always recommend shooting at the highest resolution your camera supports and then, if you need to reduce the resolution for computer viewing, to use a desktop-computer to do that. Many desktop-computer programs allow you to do this very simply. Shooting at the highest resolution allows you to support all of the options above. Even if you don’t think you’ll be printing images, you may get a once-in-a-lifetime shot that you didn’t expect. It’s always nice to have that hi-res image. Memory is cheap.

Image Size and Storage
Let’s say that your camera’s images are 12 megapixels each. That means that the images are roughly 4,000 pixels by 3,000 pixels. The ideal resolution for printing on an inkjet printer is 240 pixels per inch. That means, your images will print to about 12.5 inches by 16 inches, assuming no cropping.

But, displaying it on a monitor, which displays at 72 dpi, would require a monitor about 55 inches wide by 41 inches high for an image that size! A JPEG image that size is approximately 1.2 megabytes in size. Although you could email an image that size, you wouldn’t want to – it just takes up too much room on the recipient's computer. The image would have to be reduced in size (called re-sampling), usually by a browser or other viewing program in order for it to be viewed. So, before emailing images to be viewed on a monitor, you might consider down-sizing it yourself to about 1000 pixels by 800 pixels. Almost any image editing or viewing program can do this. The resulting image will only be about 174 KB (kilobytes) – 85% smaller – and will fit nicely on most monitors. It’s the courteous thing to do! Generally, if you copy your images to an on-line image viewing site, they will do this for you.

It’s also a good idea to re-sample your images to about 1000 pixels on the long dimension before uploading to a "cloud" service. If you do use a service on the Internet, we HIGHLY recommend you keep a local copy as well. There has been more than one case where an Internet service has deleted images.

And remember, larger image sizes (i.e, more megapixels) often means lower quality (see this eTip).

What Gear to Bring
If you have a camera with interchangeable lenses, you may have 2 or more lenses, plus filters, maybe an external flash unit, batteries, memory cards, etc., etc. It’s always a challenge to decide what to bring, especially if you’re flying to your destination.

For me, it's often a challenge deciding what to bring. Sometimes I pack relatively light - other times I don't.

I often bring 2 camera bags with me - a "primary" and a "day" bag. The "primary" bag is the one that carries all my gear. The "day" bag is the one that I take with me when shooting once I'm where I'm going.

When shooting demands are lighter, I only bring a "day" bag. My "day" bag is a Pacsafe V18.

A Lesson Learned
I took a trip to Paris a few years ago, and intended to bring the following lenses: 20mm/f2.8 and 28-300/f3.5-5.6 to use with my full-frame DSLR. I figured that just these two lenses would cover everything I needed. But, due to a careless mistake, I took a 105mm/f2.8 lens instead of the 28-300 zoom – the two lenses are almost exactly the same size!

It turned out to be a wonderful mistake. These were the only two lenses I needed. The 20mm gave me wonderful wide-angle shots – which is what most of what travel photography is about. The 105mm lens gave me short telephoto capability, which is also the ideal focal length for "people" pictures. And since these were "prime" lenses, they were much sharper than the zoom lens I intended to bring.

You might ask, what did I do when I needed an "in-between" focal length – say 50mm or 85mm. Well, that didn’t happen very often, but when it did, I used the 105 to create a "panorama" image. I would take two or 3 images that I overlapped. I would do this hand-held. I then used "stitching" software when I got home to "stitch" the images together. Not only did this emulate a wider focal length, but it allowed me to create higher-resolution images than the camera was capable of. The image of the Eiffel Tower is made up of 6 images stitched together.

Since then, I've often traveled with just these two lenses. It’s something I wouldn’t have thought of before, but through a lucky accident, I learned a valuable lesson: I don’t need a lot of equipment, nor do I need to be prepared for EVERY POSSIBLE circumstance!

The advantage of "Prime" lenses
Prime lenses take MUCH better pictures than zoom lenses - I’ve owned some of the highest-quality zoom lenses made, and have experienced the difference first-hand! Some people will tell you that "today's zoom lenses" are just as sharp as a "prime" (non-zoom) lens - while there may be one or two that are, most aren't even close (the only zoom that comes to mind that is as sharp as a prime lens, is the Nikon 14-24mm/f2.8). Prime lenses are less expensive, lighter and MUCH sharper than zooms, but obviously, you give up convenience.

Travel Photography
This is a panorama shot taken with a 105mm lens - 6 images were stiched together to create this image
Nix the Telephoto!
I see a lot of people who want a long telephoto lens on vacation. Unless you're shooting wildlife, this is almost NEVER needed - and these lenses, unless very high quality (translated big and expensive), will almost always degrade your images significantly, due to optical quality and camera movement.

Travel photography is different than other types of photography. The most important lens in travel photography is the wide-angle lens. There’s no better way to get the "flavor" of a locale, than to capture a large swath of scenery in an image. Unless you’re traveling to a location to photograph wildlife, I wouldn’t ever consider taking a telephoto (200mm or up) lens.

Most travel pictures are outdoors. I would love to bring an external flash, but, space is limited. So, I only rely on the flash built into my camera when I need one, which isn't often. It’s not as good as an external flash, but, travel photography often requires compromises.

I would love to bring a tripod with me, but it’s not always practical. Depending on where I’m going, I do sometimes bring the Sirui travel tripod. It fits easily in my suitcase. If I don’t want to bring a tripod, I always bring both the Green Pod and SteadePod. The SteadePod can stay attached to my camera all of the time, so I can use it whenever I want. I leave the Green Pod in my camera bag - it’s great cushioning for my camera - and use it whenever I have a solid surface to rest it on.

There’s nothing like a tripod or Green Pod for existing-light night pictures.

Other Gear
Other gear and considerations are:
  1. Power adapter(s) for the countries you’ll be visiting so you’ll be able to plug in your charger(s);
  2. Make sure your chargers will work with the power in the country you're visiting – if not, make sure you have the appropriate power converter.
  3. Laptop, card reader and USB cables – if you plan on backing-up your images from your camera – a real good idea!
  4. I bring two filters with me: a circular polarizing filter and a graduated Neutral Density filter. Both filters are essential for certain images. I don’t use a 1A, Skylight or other filter for "protection".
  5. Lens cleaner – you want to keep your lenses and filters clean as they tend to get very dirty when traveling. I use ROR and a microfiber cloth to clean my optics. There’s nothing like it – and the 1-ounce bottle can go in your TSA "liquids" bag without a problem.

Here's what's in my bag

My Camera bag is packed and ready to go. On this trip, I will be doing a wide range of photography. I will be doing scenic photography, thus I need a wide-angle lens. I will also be shooting birds during their migration - this will require a telephoto lens. Shooting wildlife adds a lot of weight to my bag, but here's what's in it right now:
  • My "Primary" bag is a Billingham Hadley Large Pro Shoulder Bag - it holds a LOT and is VERY durable - ideal for taking on airplanes as a "carry-on".
  • My "day" bag is the Venture V18 - a safe bag with plenty of room, but not physically large;
  • Two DSLRs - Nikon D810 and Nikon D750 with the Carrysafe 100 camera straps;
  • Nikon 14-24mm/f2.8 lens;
  • Nikon 105mm/f2.8 micro lens (great for macro and shot telephoto shots);
  • Nikon 300mm/f4 lens (for bird photography);
  • Nikon 28-85mm/f4-5.6 lens - a great all-around lens.
  • Graduated Neutral Density filters (Cokin P size and 2 very large filters for the 14-24mm lens. These are for high-contrast landscapes, sunrise and sunset;
  • Circular polarizing filter - great to enhance skies and color;
  • 3 extra camera batteries;
  • 3 extra memory cards;
  • 1 bottle of ROR lens cleaner and a microfiber cloth - for lens and filter cleaning; and
  • A Green Pod (small, but can take the place of a tripod!);
  • A few travel Sensor Swabs (individually wrapped with Eclipse fluid) - for sensor cleaning (rarely used, but good to have with you).

Although not in my camera bag, I'm also taking a Sirui tripod and head in my luggage.

A major consideration when traveling with camera gear is protecting it from being stolen. Some places are worse than others, but there are some basic steps you should do to protect your gear and valuables while traveling.

Here are some steps that will help you keep safe with your gear:
  1. Don’t ever check your camera gear as luggage.
  2. Travel with a travel-safe camera bag. We travel with the PacSafe Venture V18 camera bag – it has slash-proof straps, has pick-pocket safety features and is one of the best camera bags that I’ve ever used. It’s expandable, so you can bring a little gear – or a lot. And it doesn’t shout "camera bag" – there’s no markings on it like "Nikon", "Canon" or one of the known camera bag manufacturers that identifies what’s in it.
  3. Travel with a travel-safe camera strap. We use the PacSafe Carrysafe 100 camera strap – it’s slash proof and the connections to your camera are hidden and secure.
  4. Always keep your camera bag on YOU. Don’t leave it on a seat, even if you’re sitting next to it. Have a healthy respect for the skillfulness of thieves – they ARE professionals, and they are better than you think they are! Stay alert, and watch out for "distractions".
  5. Get insurance for your gear – adding it to your homeowners or renter's insurance is relatively inexpensive. Most insurance covers theft and damage. I knocked over a tripod once with my camera and a 300mm/f4 lens. Both the camera and lens were damaged so they couldn’t be used. Insurance paid for the entire bill!
  6. Make a list of all of your gear that includes serial numbers. Keep a copy home as well as with you when you’re traveling. If you can, bring digital copies of the receipts for your gear.
  7. Don’t take foolish chances to get a shot that you’ll probably end up deleting anyway. Stay safe –don’t go to the edge of a cliff – it may turn out tragic!
  8. Do your research – some people don’t like having their picture taken (many religions, Native-Americans, etc.). Respect the people you’re photographing.
  9. Image safety: Backup your images. I always bring a small laptop with me, as well as an external hard drive. Flash-drives can also be a very good backup medium.
  10. If you need to leave your gear in a car, put it in the trunk. But NEVER park your car and then put your gear in the trunk. Always put your gear in the trunk BEFORE you get to your destination, so nobody sees you doing it where you park.
  11. Although it has nothing to do with photography directly, consider the safety of your location. In some locations, especially Europe, NEVER keep a wallet in an unsecured place. Never keep it in a back pocket – it doesn’t matter if it has a button, Velcro or a zipper. Never keep it in a front-pocket unless the front-pocket has a hidden zippered pocket. Keep your valuables (passport, money, credit cards, etc.) in a money belt or "neck wallet" (a small pouch that has a strap that goes around your neck and the pouch stays under your shirt).

    We always travel with Pick-pocket-proof pants!

    Ladies – NEVER carry a purse or pocket book – thieves LOVE to steal them by slashing the strap with a razor and running off with the bag! And consider RFID-safe pouches for your passport and credit cards with a chip.

    When traveling to Europe, we now wear "pickpocket-proof" pants and carry the RFID-tec 100 Bi-fold wallet.


Travel Photography

Travel Photography

Travel Photography
A Horror Story - something to think about
I have to relate a story that one of our customers reported. He was walking with a Canon body and a 70-200mm/f2.8 lens – a lens that sells for close to $2,000. The thief walked up to him and just pressed the lens release button on the camera, twisted the lens and was off in a flash. He was left with the camera, but without the $2,000 lens. Something to think about when you’re walking around with your camera around your neck.

Happy & safe shooting!!

Related products to help you take better pictures:

The Green Pod
THE GREEN POD is a product I've used for several years now that can be used as an alternative to a tripod to get really sharp pictures.  I find it to be one of the BEST inexpensive ...

Small Neoprene Lens Pouch
SMALL Lens Pouch - These Neoprene Lens Pouches are very lightweight and well padded. They help protect your valuable lenses..

Medium Neoprene Lens Pouch
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Large Neoprene Lens Pouch
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X-Large Neoprene Lens Pouch
X-LARGE Lens Pouch - These Neoprene Lens Pouches are very lightweight and well padded. They help protect your valuable lenses..

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