Travel photos are the best souvenirs you can bring home from a trip.
But not filtered iPhone photos uploaded to Instagram. Real photography. The kind that captures emotion, invokes that emotion in others and, if social media is your thing, gets you followed.
To take those types of photos, you need the right gear.
Travel photography gear is different from standard photography gear. Depending on your photography niche, the equipment might need to withstand tough weather conditions, such as high wind speeds or snow. It should be sturdy enough that you can drag it around while you travel and but still expect it to work like new at the end of the day.
Your gear should be lightweight and usually small in size so that it fits into your backpack or carry-on. Most photographers travel light, sacrificing clothing for lens filters and socks for tripod space.
Travel Photography Tips
How you build your kit is crucial. But there are other steps you should take, too. Most of the professional travel photographers I know can agree on the following tips:
Don’t over-pack: One of the biggest mistakes new photographers make is stuffing their bag with gear. You don’t need every lens or a backup tripod. The bare minimum, if chosen correctly, is all you’ll ever need.
Get in shape: This is a step many photographers overlook. Some of the most memorable shots are taken from hard-to-reach places. Will you be hiking to take pictures of the Andes Mountains? Will you be walking long distances in the Sahara Desert?
Learn the language: Every single travel photographer I’ve spoken with has given me this tip. If you can speak the local language, you’ll gain access to the best spots, meet valuable people and eat unique food. It’s hard to argue with the pros!
From Novice to Pro: Must-have Travel Photography Gear
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Necessary Travel Photography Gear
Photographers are verified gearheads, but that doesn’t mean you need to spend thousands of dollars to get a shot you’re happy with.
The vast majority of photographers travel with only the necessary items. And with today’s camera models, there’s so much to learn within the camera itself that you might not need additional items.
That being said, there are a few essentials you can’t go without.
This is an obvious necessity. The question is… which camera?
Most new shooters opt for a Canon EOS, as it combines solid photo quality with a reasonable price tag. The caveat is that the lens that comes with the camera, and although it’s usable, it’s definitely not the best lens out there.
Those looking for a step up (in both price and quality) can look to the Fujifilm X-T2 or Sony Alpha systems. I use the Fuji because it’s weather-sealed.
Zoom or Prime Lens
Which is better, a zoom or prime lens? The argument never ends. Is it better to sacrifice a little sharpness for the ability to zoom? There isn’t one right answer.
Most street photographers will opt for a prime lens, meaning the focal point doesn’t change and is set at 18 mm, 35 mm or, a perennial favorite, the 50 mm. These photographers only need one lens because if they need to move closer to a subject, they just walk forward.
Some wildlife, adventure and sports photographers will need to use a zoom lens, because they often lack the ability to get close to their subject.
Most photographers believe that an obvious camera bag is a no-no because it’s a clear target for thieves while you’re traveling.
Buying a bag that looks like a normal bag (but is tooled for photographers) is a smart move, so consider brands like Bagsmart or Vinta.
Advanced Travel Photography Gear
Mountains and oceans are amazing locations for a photoshoot, but they require gear that’s tougher than the norm. When you want the same photo quality while hiking in the rain as you do sitting at a restaurant, you require better gear.
You don’t necessarily need everything on this list. For example, my friend who’s an accomplished adventure photographer doesn’t use a fancy tripod—she just stabilizes her camera on tree branches! But these items will help you get clearer, better shots no matter where you travel.
When choosing a tripod, you want a mix of heft and stability. You want something that doesn’t poke you through your bag but that you can drop from a cliff and pick it up at the bottom in one piece.
Most people swear by Manfrotto. I’ve heard you should spend one-tenth as much money on your tripod as you do on your camera.
You can thank lens filters for those photos of beautiful, creamy mountains and purple oceans. Filters can be used to block out ultraviolet light, enhance colors or dull reflections.
HOYA is an industry favorite. Cokin also makes good lens filters that aren’t too expensive. But if you’re a photographer on a budget, you can get pretty good results from some Chinese models.
Many photographers don’t realize they need a strap… that is, until they drop their new DSLR into the lake or out of a helicopter.
Buy a good strap. Save your camera. Awesome straps include the Money Maker and Leash.
Multiple SD Cards
Two or three 32-GB cards should do the trick. Those will hold a few thousand low-resolution photos.
Shooting RAW with lots of detail? Best to buy those big data cards.
Professional/Adventure Travel Photography Gear
The following equipment is for professional travel photographers, especially those in the adventure niche. You need gear that can withstand a lot of travel and work in different climates.
Take your time trying different gear to ensure you buy what best suits your needs. And don’t be afraid to spend a little money. If you’re a pro who wants to do this for a living, this is an investment.
It’s not unheard of for professional travel photographers to carry around $5-10 thousand of gear. And that’s just while they’re active. There could be another few thousand dollars worth of equipment back in the hotel room!
There are several reasons professional travel photographers should buy drones. First of all… well, they’re awesome.
The second reason is that you can get shots you wouldn’t be able to take on your feet. The third reason? To get some pictures of yourself doing what you love.
DJI makes a solid unit for travelers.
Portable Hard Drive
As a travel photographer, one of the worst feelings occurs when your cards are full and you have nowhere to dump the RAWs.
Kick your feet up and upload your photos while you have lunch. Then pop in your now-empty card and get back to work.
Power Bank and USB/Camera Adapter
Another terrible feeling? The churning of your stomach when your gear dies on you. Power up whenever you can! Of course, the more power, the better.
If you own every single thing on this list, you’ll have a killer travel photography set. However, you should stick to the things that meet your photography goals.
The gear is important, but you should give just as much consideration to meeting the right people, absorbing the culture and framing the perfect shot.
Mitchell Grant travels the world as his job. Currently in Costa Brava, Mitchell’s preferred workplace is three feet from the ocean with a Clara in one hand, his laptop in the other. Check out his personal website, Income Armada, or follow him on Instagram @mitchell.grant.nani.
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