One of my favorite genres of photography is travel. Seeing wonderful new places and bringing back memories in great photos is very rewarding. But too often, photographers compromise the adventure by taking too much gear. Travel photography is, first and foremost about being there. It’s hard to enjoy a new locale if you are lugging a lot of equipment, particularly if it’s equipment that you don’t use.

Here are some ideas for making your next travel photography adventure more enjoyable and rewarding.

One Lens

One of the biggest mistakes people make in travel photography is taking along an assortment of lenses. Not only do you have to carry that weight around, but the reality is that, in most instances, you won’t use most of them. And one of the banes of the travel photographer who carries a variety of lenses is that no matter what lens is on your camera, you probably need a different lens for that special shot that’s right in front of you.

nikon 24-200
Nikon Z 24-200mm

The best alternative is to take a good quality single lens that covers a reasonably full range. Fortunately, all of the major lens manufacturers make such a lens. They are all in the 24-200mm range, which covers wide-angle to telephoto.

As a Nikon mirrorless shooter, my choice is the Z-mount 24-200mm f/4-6.3. While not truly ‘wide-angle’, 24mm is wide enough for all but the most sweeping panoramic shots. It is also much lighter than my 70-200mm f/2.8, so, unlike with the 70-200mm, I don’t need a support for long-term shooting. And rarely in travel photography do I want the shallow depth of field that I like in sports photos. I want to remember the whole scene.

Both Canon and Sony make a similar lens. They are both 24-240mm which gives slightly more zoom capability.

Some people may also wish to take a second lens, usually more of a true wide angle in the 14-16mm range. However, one needs to weigh the actual amount of time they will be taking those kinds of shots1.

I took the photo below in the Cathedral of St. John in Savannah, Georgia, using the Nikon Z 24-200mm at 24mm and f/7.1.

Interior of the Cathedral of St. John

Camera Cards

I find it amazing that people will invest hundreds or thousands of dollars in camera equipment, and then trust their photos to bargain-basement memory cards. Yes, the SD cards that were purchased in a package of ten for $5.00 will probably work – for a while. But do you really want to trust the memories of your special trip to such a card? I know I don’t.

There are certainly numerous choices in camera cards and I don’t profess to know about all of them. However, I personally will only trust my photos to cards from three manufacturers: Sandisk, Sony, or Lexar. My choice is Sandisk, but the others are rated equally well2.

My camera has two card slots and uses XQD or CFExpress cards in its primary slot. These are more expensive than comparable SD cards, but are much more durable. They also have much faster read/write speeds. Speed isn’t usually significant for travel, but it is important to me when I’m shooting action sports. And I like the durability for all applications.

The camera’s secondary slot takes a standard SD card, which I can use as the primary if I choose. I normally configure my camera to use the secondary card to act as an overflow or, in some instances, to record the jpg version of a shot while the main card records a RAW version of the same shot. For travel, I usually configure the secondary card to make a second copy of every image. Most travel photography does not require the higher read/writer speeds that sports shooting does, and this way, I don’t risk losing a special shot if a card fails.

Whatever your choice, you should have several cards available. While it is possible today to get memory cards that hold as much as two terabytes, that is not the best choice, in my opinion. You are betting everything on that single card not failing – and yes, even cards from the top manufacturers do fail on occasion.

It is far better to have several cards. That way, if you have a card failure, you don’t lose your entire trip’s photos. I recommend either 64GB or 128GB cards (I use both).

Card Storage

The next question is where do your store your cards? I use a card wallet from Think Tank called the Pocket Rocket. It is available in several configurations for XQD/CFExpress cards, SD cards, or both. The wallet rolls up into a small packet about two by four inches, which easily fits in a pocket. I also has a loop which you can use with a lanyard of some type.

When I’m traveling, I only carry unused cards with me. I leave my used cards3 hidden in my luggage or other secure place in my hotel room.

Another method, advocated by Scott Kelby, is to put used cards into the wallet with the label facing away from you. That way, you can easily identify new vs. used cards.

Backups

There’s an old saying that if things can go wrong, they will. And that adage can be all too true with precious memories captured on our camera cards. It’s even worse when we’re far from home with no opportunity to retake a lost photo of a special place. That’s why backing up our cards is so important when traveling.

While the likelihood of a card going bad is there, it’s extremely slim if we are using good-quality cards. However, there is also the possibility that cards could be lost or stolen. That’s why I strongly recommend backing up your photos every day while on a trip.

As I mentioned earlier, the first ‘backup’ is the camera card itself. I never reformat a card while I’m traveling. When a card is close to being full (I consider a card with about 1/3 of its space left to be ‘full’), I switch to another card4.

Overall, I concur with the advice of many trainers that at the end of each day, you should have three complete copies of your photos. At least one of those copies should be in cloud storage. The three most recommended are:

An external SSD Drive such as the Crucial 2TB drive is an excellent backup choice
  • the original on the camera card
  • a backup copy on a laptop, tablet, or external drive
  • a backup copy in cloud storage

The copy on the original camera card is obvious – just don’t erase a card until you get home and safely have all of your photos copied to your main storage location.

My preference is to back up to a file on my iPad, which has 256GB of storage. I have the added bonus of that folder being stored locally on the iPad and also backed up to iCloud.

For the third option, I use Lightroom Mobile. I upload the photos there, in part so I can edit them. Part of that process is that the photos are automatically uploaded to Adobe Cloud5.

Another option would be to attach an external drive, preferably an SSD, to your tablet or laptop, and store a copy there. You can then detach the external drive and store is in a separate secure location. Some people also use Dropbox for their cloud storage of photos.

Charger

Most of our equipment relies on battery power to function. Whether it’s our camera or our tablet or laptop which we use for editing, we need to keep batteries charged.

The Anker 735 Charger GaNPrime 65W features three USB charging outlets and a collar that helps hold the unit securely in a wall outlet (inset)

I recently became aware of a compact but heavy duty charger which converts standard 120v AC power to charge anything that can be charged through a USB port. But this unit, the Anker 735 Charger GaNPrime not only has a robust 65W output, but it also has three output ports. With two USB-C ports and one USB-A port, it accepts most charging cables, including those for laptops.

When I first heard about this charger, the one negative attributed to it is that it is rather long (2½ inches) in relation to the wall connection. That led to some reviews stating that the unit would sometimes become disconnected if the outlet had loose connectors. However, Anker solved this problem by including a rubberized ring which fits around the end of the charger. The ring has several suction cups which attach to the outlet’s wall plate, thus maintaining a grip which helps preclude unintended disconnection.

The suction is not so strong, however, that is might be an issue when you intend to disconnect the unit from the wall. In my tests, I found it to be useful and not a problem to disconnect when I was ready.

Camera Strap

Let’s face it, that camera and its lens represent a significant investment, one that thieves everywhere covet. Sadly, many travelers continue to use the strap that comes with the camera. While it’s easy to sling your camera over your shoulder while you take in the sights, that arrangement makes it easy for a thief to jerk the camera off your shoulder and run off. Putting the camera strap around your neck offers a little more theft protection, although if the theft pulls hard enough, they can get the strap over your head – with potential injury to your neck.

A better choice – and my full-time carry choice for several years – is a cross-body strap. This strap is worn over the shoulder opposite of your camera and then under your arm, making it far more difficult for the grab-and-go thief to get. Additionally, the arrangement keeps your camera at your side, rather than banging against the front of your body, and the camera easily slides up the strap for that quick shot.

My current preference is the BlackRapid 10-Year Anniversary Edition Classic Retro RS-4 Camera Strap. The camera attaches to the strap with a swivel connector which screws into the camera’s tripod mount. The camera hangs upside-down at your waist, and the swivel connector slides up the strap when you are ready to shoot. The strap itself does not move across your body.

Additionally, the wide shoulder strap contains two pockets, great for holding a battery and additional memory cards.

There is also a small braided strap that attaches to the regular strap ring on your camera. This is a safety device since it is possible for the main screw mount to loosen with use. I have a habit of checking the mount for tightness every 30 minutes or so during a long shoot.

Zomei Z669c Travel Tripod

Tripod

One of the challenges of most types of photography is making sure the camera remains steady during the shot, especially indoors or in other areas of reduced lighting. There are many great tripods available, but a travel tripod also needs to be light and compact enough to be carried for several hours.

Ideally, a carbon fiber tripod is best for travel due to its superior strength and lightweight. However, some aluminum travel tripods also fit the bill very well.

My choice for travel is the Zomei Z669c. The Zomei name isn’t as well known as other great manufacturers of tripods, but I’ve found that the Z669c is a great combination of lightweight and acceptable sturdiness at a very reasonable price. It is constructed of carbon fiber, something unusual for a tripod in its price range.

Tripod Alternative

no tripods allowed
No Tripods Allowed

More and more often, we’re seeing signs warning that tripods are prohibited in certain areas. Although usually indoors, such prohibitions might also be posted at outdoor scenic locations. The usual reasoning is a fear that someone might trip over one of the legs of a tripod.

But there is a way to get the stability of a tripod without ‘three legs.’ The device, called a Platypod, is a small plate made of aircraft aluminum. It has a standard 3/8 bolt – made of titanium – which accepts most ball heads. There are also numerous other holes and cutouts for attaching screw-in adjustable legs or for anchoring the Platypod to a surface using available straps.

Platypod Ultra

The Platypod comes is two sizes, the Ultra and the Extreme. The Ultra, the smaller of the two, easily fits in a shirt pocket or small purse and will support smaller DSLRs and mirrorless cameras with prime and medium telephoto lenses. The Extreme is larger and has many new innovations, including leveling legs that simply twist down. My Extreme easily holds my Nikon Z6 with a 70-200 f/2.8 lens attached.

I haven’t even bothered to take a tripod on my last two trips. The Platypod served all my needs for a stable platform for my camera. Certainly, if your plans include sweeping landscapes, a tripod may be in order. But for uses in urban areas, I find that it’s easier to simply leave the tripod in the hotel room.

And the nice thing is that the ‘tripod police’ rarely even question a flat metal plate. “No legs for people to trip over? – go right on.”

Camera Bag

Choosing a camera bag is, for some, like choosing a lover. It requires careful thought and trying to muddle through the choices. Therefore, I can’t tell you what type of bag to get for your travel gear. I can only suggest to you what I use.

One of the benefits of the ‘one lens’ idea of travel photography is that you don’t need a large backpack or wheeled bag. Since you’ll have your camera out and by your side to be ready for those special shots when they present themselves, you only need a small bag to carry accessories and, maybe, that one extra lens.

Scott Kelby convinced me to try the ThinkTank Turnstile 10 v.2 sling bag. The advantage of a sling-style bag is that it is difficult for would-be thieves to grab your bag and run off.

This bag is designed to be carried on your back but then easily rotates to provide a horizontal bag in front of the body for easy access. While slightly more expensive than the Caden bag below, it has some features not available from Caden. I’m come to like it because it almost provides a ‘table’ in front of you to assist in changing lenses6.

The only downside I’ve found with this bag is that it doesn’t have a pocket or straps for a tripod/monopod. So while this is my go-to bag for travel (when I rarely carry a tripod for the reasons listed above) or sports, I sometimes revert to the Caden bag below if I want to have a tripod in my kit.

Another Option

Caden sling bag

My choice for several years was the Caden Camera Sling Bag. This is a small triangle-shaped bag that also slings across your body. The center pocket can be easily divided with enclosed velcro dividers to separate your larger items, and the zippered front pocket is just right for extra cards, batteries, and small accessories (I carry my ND filters there as well). As I noted, this is still my choice if I want to have a tripod available for a shoot but don’t want to carry my full backpack. There are two straps across the bottom of the bag which allow easy mounting and access to a tripod.

Best of all, it’s relatively inexpensive – $55 from Amazon at the time of this writing.

Location Tracking

“That’s a great shot! Where did you take it?” Too often, after we’ve been back from a trip for a few months – or years – the answer to that question eludes us. A standard part of the metadata for every picture includes location information. We just have to know how to take advantage of it.

There are a couple of ways to approach this. While few DSLR or mirrorless cameras have built-in GPS, one camera which we always have with us does – our phone. So if you are only interested in a general location, you can take a quick shot of the scene with your phone before (or after) taking more composed shots with your main camera. Then in post-processing, you can copy the phone photo’s GPS location and altitude and paste that information into the appropriate metadata location for the other photos taken in that area.

However, if you want a more precise location for each photo, or you don’t want to have to correlate a bunch of phone photos with other photos shot over the course of a day, you will need something which tags your photos with GPS information in something close to real-time. All of the principal camera manufacturers made a companion app for their cameras. Nikon calls this SnapBridge. For Canon, it’s called Camera Connect.

These apps connect to your camera through Bluetooth and then transfer GPS information from your phone (iPhone or Android) to the camera metadata. The downside is that they only transmit information at certain intervals. My experience is that it is also sometimes difficult to make and maintain the connection to the camera. However, the apps will give you an approximation of your location for the shot.

My preference is an app called MyTracks. I’ve detailed the app’s usage more fully in my article on my favorite photography apps. But in short, it’s a standalone app that creates a standard GPX log file at regular intervals – as short as a few seconds. Then in post-processing, you add GPS information to your photos by automatically correlating the GPX file’s time and location stamps with the photo time stamps made while you are shooting.

A Useful but Optional Accessory

This item, a photo vest, is certainly optional for travel photography. You may not want to look like a ‘professional’ photographer when on vacation in a foreign land. But it is something to consider as a way to carry a lot of gear easily.

My choice is the Humvee Safari Photo Vest by CampCo. It has 21 pockets, ranging from one for a pen or pencil to a pocket large enough for a 70-200mm or even slightly larger lens. There are even a couple of ‘hidden’ inside pockets. It’s an easy way to carry extra batteries, camera cards, and accessories such as a Platypod or filters.

I sometimes use this vest during sports shoots if I don’t want to carry my Turnstile bag. I’ve also taken it on a couple of trips in the US – mostly involving more outdoor-related shoots and activities.

Footnotes

  1. Scott Kelby talks about a recent trip to Tuscany where he took Canon 24-240mm and 14-35mm lenses. He reported that, in the course of nine days photographing in the region, he used the 14-35mm only one time – but carried it for nine days.
  2. Hoodman also makes camera cards, and I understand from some experts that they are excellent. But they are also priced significantly higher than comparable cards from the three manufacturers I listed.
  3. I never format a card until I get home. If one gets full, I just switch to another card because the card itself is one form of backup.
  4. When I’m traveling, I always set my camera to create a duplicate photo on the secondary card, but not all cameras have the luxury of this feature.
  5. For this option to be feasible, you really need to have the Adobe Photography plan which includes 1TB of storage. The basic photography plan, while ½ the price, only includes 20GB of storage, not enough for the average travel photo shoot.
  6. Besides travel, I carry this bag on sports shoots. I have my 70-200mm f/2.8 mounted on the camera for most shooting, but have a 24-70mm in the bag that I can change to for post-game celebration and portrait shots.

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