The question that I get asked the most is what camera equipment I carry with me when I go on an assignment. My first bit of advice to anyone is to only carry what you need. After all, who wants to walk around all day with an extra 10kg on their back? But at the same time, you don’t want to be caught short, so as always, planning carefully and creating a shot list before you travel can be invaluable. The second bit of advice is not to get too concerned about your actual equipment. A great photo will look great whether it’s taken with a smart phone or the latest DSLR. Composition, lighting and creativity are far more important than how much your camera cost.
When starting out you should try and get together a basic set of equipment that will cover you for most situations. You can then add more specialized equipment depending on the nature of your shoots and your experience.
I have always used Canon cameras and my camera of choice at the moment is a Canon 5D MK III. It is an exceptional camera that won’t let you down and stands up very well at high ISO settings. Whenever possible I try to carry an extra body with me that I leave in my hotel room just in case anything happens to my main camera. This is especially valuable in remote places where you won’t be able to find a spare. The last thing you need when you have limited time at a place is to have to run around to try and find another camera or even worst be without one, so a spare can be indispensable.
Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II USM zoom lens
This lens is my workhorse and what I use the majority of the time. I love this lens because the focal range means it is perfect for landscapes as well as a wonderful lens to take portraits with. The great thing about this lens is that you have to get close to your subject. It is also fast enough to use in low light conditions, so ideal for places such as markets.
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens
This Canon telephoto lens, which comes with a hefty price tag, is an outstanding lens and definitely worth the cost. Great for portraits and close-ups, but also fantastic for landscapes if you want to isolate a small section of the scene.
Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens
If I could carry one lens with me, it would be this lens. My head would say my 24-70mm Canon lens but my heart would go for this. The great thing about prime lenses such as this are that as a photographer, you have to move and get up close to what you are photographing. This becomes especially powerful when photographing people as it helps build a connection with your subject. Photographer Robert Capa once said “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough”. This is where prime lenses can really help you. This lens is also fast enough to mean that you can photograph in low light conditions without having to bump up your ISO too high.
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM
For anyone interested in travel photography, one of the most important parts of a destination is the local food. Although not essential, macro lenses are great for photographing food as they allow you to get really close and pick up the beautiful details of what is on the dish.
One of the common misconceptions of flashes is that they should only be used in low light settings, but this is probably the worst time to use a flash as it can wash out the subject if not used correctly. Flashes are extremely useful when you need some fill flash (for example, if you are taking a portrait of someone in intense light which is causing harsh shadows on their face, a flash can help eliminate the shadows). For this reason, I always carry my Canon Speedlite 580EX II flash with me.
Most photographers will probably tell you that their tripod is the one essential accessory that they can’t live without. A tripod is essential if you are planning any shots which require long shutter speeds as you simply will not be able to keep the camera steady enough by hand.
But a tripod is also what’s going to support all your expensive camera equipment so you should choose it wisely. The Manfrotto 055CXPRO3 is a sturdy carbon fibre tripod which is lightweight to carry. I also use a Manfrotto 327RC2 light duty grip ball head to connect my camera to the tripod.
All of my lenses are fitted with a Hoya Pro 1 Digital UV filter. This helps protect the lens glass, especially in very harsh conditions such as the desert. I also carry a range of Cokin Neutral Density filters and Graduated Neutral Density filters which are extremely beneficial for landscape photography. The only other filter I carry is a Cokin polarizing filter which is very useful for eliminate reflections and boost blues and greens.
Memory cards, hard drives and laptop – I take enough memory cards with me so that I can cover each day I’m away on a separate card. I also take a few additional ones in case I need more than one in a day. However, at the end of each day, I still back up my card on two separate 250GB hard drives so that all my photos from that day are saved in 3 different places.
Lens and camera cleaning kit, spare batteries and chargers – You should get into the habit of giving your camera and lenses a wipe at the end of each day and charging your batteries so that everything is ready for the next day. I have seen so many newbie photographers turn up somewhere only for their battery to run out with no spare, so make sure you are prepared.
This is a basic set of equipment that I carry with me wherever I travel to and I add to these as I see fit. For example, architectural photographers might want to take a tilt and shift lens or wildlife photography a 400mm lens. But remember try to only take what you are going to need.