To capture amazing travel photography, you need the right gear, and the right techniques. With these best-in-class cameras, lenses, tripods and accessories, you can capture amazing images, wherever life takes you.
There are pros who take high-quality travel pictures with an iPhone. If you want professional-quality images, with fine detail and low levels of noise in all settings, though, you’ll need a DSLR or mirrorless camera. The larger the sensor, the better the image quality, generally speaking. For all-around photography, take a look at the (full-frame) Canon 5D Mark IV, the Nikon D750, the Sony a7R II and a99 II, Pentax K-1, (APS-C) Fujifilm X-T2 and Sony a6500. If you’re looking to do some street photography, the Olympus O-MD E-M1 Mark II is a superstar. The Olympus PEN-F and Panasonic Micro Four Thirds are excellent, as well. The teeny Sony RX1R II is the best compact on the market.
I travel with only the lenses I think I’ll need on location—usually three, but never any more than five choices. I’m a zoom-lens shooter because I like to travel light, and I like the versatility that zoom lenses offer. Prime lenses often have the best available image quality but are less versatile. As a result, I tend to bring just the prime lenses I suspect I’ll need—like a portrait lens if I’m going to be photographing a lot of people. Here are the typical lenses found in a travel photographer’s kit: Telephoto zooms for distance and close-up shots, semi-wide angle and short telephoto lenses are always in my kit. To add extra reach to my telephoto zooms, I use a 1.4x converter. My go-to kit includes a 70-200mm zoom, 100-400mm zoom and 24-105mm or 24-70mm zoom. Similar-range lenses are available from every manufacturer. Sometimes I’ll add a super-wide telephoto and a macro lens. Good specialty lenses are a 100mm macro lens and a full-frame fisheye lens.
SpeedliGHT And Remote Trigger
You never know what photo opportunities will present themselves to you when traveling. Packing a speedlight will help you get low-light photographs as well as daylight fill-in flash photos on location.
I always pack way more memory cards than I think I’ll need, and I save all images on the cards until I get home, where I can back up my photos. I use Lexar and SanDisk CompactFlash and SD cards. Some newer cameras are coming with next-gen CFast 2 and XQD cards, and they’re worth the investment for their performance.
I have a mountain of camera bags, each for a different set of needs. Mostly, I use a backpack when in the field. For city shooting, I use a shoulder bag. I always select the smallest bag for the least amount of equipment. I use Think Tank, Tamrac and Lowepro bags, though there are many super-reliable bags on the market and listing them would take up more than a few pages in this magazine. My advice: Take your time and check out all the camera bag options. Try them on; if possible, try them loaded with gear. I’ve often used my camera bags as a suitcase on a short trip, bringing a bag large enough to accommodate my gear, plus some clothes. You can pack a whole change of clothing in the space for a 300mm lens. Considerations include:
- Size. You want to make sure your bag will fit in the overhead compartment on even the smallest plane.
- Weatherproof. Even if you don’t anticipate rain, sleet or snow, you want a bag with a rain cover.
- Adjustability. You’ll want fast-and-easy access to your lenses, filters, etc.
Although I use many digital filters when editing, I still always pack a polarizing filter and an ND (neutral density) filter in my bag. A polarizing filter can help reduce glare on water/foliage/glass and make a blue sky appear darker and white clouds appear whiter. The ND filter is a must for blurring water and clouds. Here, too, get the best you can afford. I use Hoya, B+W, Tiffen and Lee filters.
I use Black Rapid straps—singles and doubles. The main reason is that they can’t fall off your shoulder, as can happen with standard camera straps. Another popular brand for the travel shooter is the UPstrap-Pro straps because the thick padding provides cushioning while the textured design prevents cameras from slipping. Peak Designs makes some great straps, too, including their Slide camera strap, which uses a quick-release system to remove the main strap—handy if you’re going to be shooting on a tripod and don’t want the camera strap in the way. Spider holsters are also a popular choice for photographers on the move.
Tripod, Ballhead And L Bracket
Many first-time travel photographers buy cheap tripods only to replace them when they break on their trip. I use Really Right Stuff tripods, ballheads, and L brackets. Manfrotto, Slik, Gitzo, Induro, Benro and others also make some great tripods and heads. Tripod considerations include:
- Height. It’s good to get a tripod that extends over your head—useful with a fence or wall. Low-level shooting is important, too.
- Weight. Carbon fiber tripods are light but can be costly. The consideration here is you want a tripod light enough that you’ll always have it with you—a heavy tripod in your hotel room does you no good.
Reflectors And Diffusers
Reflectors and diffusers help modify light without adding a lot of weight to your pack. I use a Westcott 5-in-1 reflector/ diffuser kit to control the light for my portraitures when traveling, and it fits comfortably in my bag. Any brand that folds quickly and compactly will work.
To find out more about creating memorable travel photography, no matter your subject, our guide to the Fine Art of Travel Photography will help you create memorable images, with tips on capturing different subjects, using tripods and flashes, shooting at night, creating environmental portraits and more.