One of the most common questions that I get asked by amateur photographers is what lens or lenses they should take away with them on their trips. Whilst we all can be guilty of overpacking our camera gear, the reality is that most of the time you only need a few basic equipment to be able to get the shot you want. Taking a whole load of camera gear does not only mean more questions being asked if you’re going through airports but also the added weight that you have to carry around. There are also more things that can be lost or even stolen. When I tell people what I carry with me on any trip or assignments they are often surprised. So if you are guilty of overpacking your bags with lenses, here are the only three lenses that you will need for travel photography.
Do this quick test
Before we get started on the lenses that you should take with you here is a quick test that you can do to prove to yourself that you don’t need all those Lenses. Look at all the photos that you’ve taken from the recent trip and count how many photos have been taken with each lens that you took with you. Unless you are photographing something very unique that requires specialist equipment, the vast majority of photos you would take would be with what I would call your workhorse lens. Often this is something like a 24 – 70 mm lens. So you can hopefully see that all those lenses you took with you weren’t actually needed.
The ultra-wide-angle zoom lens
Ultra-wide-angle lenses are an essential part of a travel photographers kit. Whether you are photographing cityscapes or landscapes or even just photographing in tight spaces these ultra-wide-angle lenses can be very useful. The other benefit of using ultra-wide-angle lenses is that you can also subsequently turn your photos into a panoramic by cropping the top and bottom. Yes, you will be able to do this with any other lens but the extra width that you get will with ultra-wide-lenses mean that you can get a much wider view of that amazing vista that you are looking at.
Keep in mind that most of the time when you are going to be photographing in these sort of scenarios you’ll be using a tripod. So you don’t necessarily need to purchase the fastest lens (i.e. f/2.8 or faster) as these can be very expensive. Clearly if money is no object then go for it but otherwise, something like an f/4 will do the job.
Your workhorse lens
As discussed above every photographer will have one lens which does the vast majority of their photography. For me, this is my Canon 24 – 70 mm lens. Pretty much every manufacturer has a lens around these focal lengths and it’s the sort of the “Swiss Army knife” of lenses. This is often the first lens that you will need to buy so it’s definitely worth spending the money to buy the best possible lens that you can afford. In fact, I would advise anyone to buy the best quality 24 – 70 mm lens instead of forking out on two or three different lenses. These lenses offer a wide enough angle to be able to shoot landscapes while still being able to zoom in close enough for portraits. So even if you didn’t have any other lenses you will be able to capture the photos you want most of the time.
The telephoto lens
The only other lens that you will need is a telephoto lens. Most photographers will complete their kit with something like a 70 – 200 mm telephoto lens. These lenses are big, heavy and expensive for a good quality one. But they are also incredibly useful for a travel photographer. Most people think that these telephoto lenses are only for photographing wildlife. But actually you might be surprised to hear that even landscapes and portraits are wonderful subjects to photograph with these lenses. If you have never taken a landscape photo with a telephoto lens then try it next time you are out and about. These lenses will compress the space between various elements in the landscape and make the whole scene seem much more compact. This can look very pleasing in photos.
As for portraits, there is probably no better lens to photograph people with than these. A good telephoto lens is going to be very expensive but it will definitely be worth the investment in the long run.
Of course, if you are going to be photographing a lot of wildlife you may need a longer lens. For example, some people choose something like 100 – 400 mm lens which will allow you to capture wildlife shots from further away. But keep in mind that these lenses get heavier the longer the focal range is.
These three lenses should be able to cover almost every scenario that you come across in travel photography. But of course, there will be times when you may need more specialist equipment. For example, you may need a macro lens for photographing insects. Or a tilt and shift lens for photographing architecture. The thing to keep in mind is that you can always rent further equipment as and when you need it. So instead of spending a whole load of money on lots of different lenses that you may not use, spend your money on buying the best quality lenses above. If you want to shoot simply and travel without a heavy backpack then these lenses are all you need.
Photo credits: Kav Dadfar – All rights reserved. No usage without permission. Dreamstime.