One of the questions that I get asked most often is what exactly do I carry with me on a trip. Often people are surprised with how little I do take with me. I must confess that when I started out, I carried a lot more than I do now. Over the years I have come to realise how little you can actually get away with. So here is what I carry in my camera bag.
Carry less, plan more
Before going into what I carry, my first bit of advice is to only carry what you need. Travel photography typically involves being outdoors and walking around for long periods of time. Do you really want to be doing that with a heavy backpack all day? There is a fine balance between taking what you have to and getting caught short because you haven’t taken packed something you may actually need.
So, before any trip, you should be writing a shot list and then using that to determine what equipment you will need.
You won’t get to do much without a camera… My camera is a Canon 5D MK IV and I always carry a back up which is a Canon 5D MK II. They are both fantastic cameras that produce stunning images. I tend to leave my back-up camera in the hotel safe unless I’m going to be in a situation where I might need to be using two lenses. For example, if I’m photographing a festival where I will need to be capturing photos at different focal ranges, I would use both cameras. I would have a wide-angle lens on one and telephoto on another.
Lenses: Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II USM zoom lens
The vast majority of my photos are taken with this lens. In fact, I could probably get away with doing an entire shoot just with this lens. The focal range means that you can take landscape shots as well as portraits. Of course, sometimes you will need to get closer to your subject to be able to capture candid shots, but that’s a good thing. At f/2.8, it is also fast enough to use in low light conditions like markets or indoors.
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens
This pricey telephoto lens is one of the best around. Fantastic for portraits and close-ups but also a good option for landscape or cityscape shots when you want to isolate a small part of the scene. It’s big and heavy to carry but this is one that I usually keep with me.
The two above are my main lenses. This is what I use most of the time. But of course, from time to time depending on the shoot I may need to take other more specialist lenses with me. I would assess what the requirements are before each shoot and pack any of these lenses if needed.
For example, something like a Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens. This prime lens is superb and is really useful when photographing in low light conditions as it means you don’t have to raise your ISO too much. But the shallow depth of field does mean that you need to be careful when focusing.
Canon Speedlite 580EX II
I’m not a big fan of using a flash and will try to avoid it wherever possible. The problem with using a flash is that unless it is used subtly, it kills the ambience of the scene. It also usually gets unwanted attention. But having said that sometimes there is no other choice but to use one, so I do always carry one with me.
But rather than using it in low light settings, I usually use a flash most often to fill in shadows. This is called a fill flash where for example you are taking a portrait of someone in harsh lighting conditions which causes shadows on their face. A flash can help eliminate the shadows. So I always carry one with me but actually very rarely use it.
This is one accessory that I simply have to have with me for sunrise or sunset shots even if it means carrying it around all day. Anytime that you will need to capture photos in low light conditions a tripod becomes a must. My Manfrotto 055CXPRO3 is almost 10 years old but is still as good as ever. It 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 against scratches. Remember that it is much cheaper and less of an inconvenience to change a filter than fix a lens. I also carry a range of Cokin Neutral Density filters and Graduated Neutral Density filters which are extremely useful for landscape photography. Lastly, I also have a Hoya polarizing filter as well which helps avoid unwanted reflections.
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. But even with all the memory cards, I still back up my photos on 3 passport size external hard drives each day. This way if anything happens to one then I have spares.
Lens and camera cleaning kit, spare batteries and chargers – You will always end up getting dust or dirt on your lens at some point on a trip. So you will have to clean your lens, your camera and even your sensor (although be very careful doing this). I also carry some spare batteries as I don’t want to ever end up being in a situation where I run out.
These are the 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 for wildlife photography a 400mm lens. But remember try to only take what you are going to need. Don’t take equipment just for the sake of it.
Photo credits: Kav Dadfar – All rights reserved. No usage without permission.