The Best Tips, Tricks and Gear for Travel Photographers
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Here is the list I wish I had 20 years ago when I started traveling the world taking photos. After years of leading photography tours to Bali and Indonesia, I have had the pleasure (and sheer frustration) of using a myriad of gear, gadgets, cameras, clothing and more. Here I breakdown those that have made the cut and saved me time after time.
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I will not cover cameras and lenses, as that is a whole other blog post (and perhaps tome). I will convey a humorous story I heard the other day from the Morro Bay Photo Group illustrating the importance of the artist behind the camera and not so much the camera itself. At a dinner party a professional photographer was showing his work and the host was so impressed she said, “My, you must have an amazing camera”. His reply, “The food was incredible this evening, you must have a fantastic oven”.
Prior to any trip, I will start a packing list weeks prior. By now my gear is pretty much set, but there are always new challenges with every adventure- new gear to try, or leave behind (or smash into a thousand pieces). I find a great way to keep track of this list is the Evernote app http://www.evernote.com/ It allows you to make lists, capture photos, use voice notes, etc. to remember things and it sync with your iPhone and computer so you have it anywhere you go (even without an internet connection which is crucial in some remote areas we travel to). Had a great bottle of wine? Too drunk to write down the name? No problem, just take a photo of the label with Evernote and it will not only keep it for you but it can use automatic character recognition to transcribe the label text for you to make it searchable. This is great with CD’s, DVDs, even stuff I find on the web and want to remember.
In fact, the iPhone and its millions of apps have replaced many items in my travel bag like an alarm clock, music player, compass, flashlight, etc. Although, I always carry a spare of the last two just in case.
Now lets get to the fun stuff- The Gear.
A handy item I always include is Mini Surge Protector with USB Charger by Belkin.
Its small and it can save your precious equipment from irrecoverable destruction via electricity surges which are a common event in many countries. The cleverly designed unit also includes two USB ports so you can change your phone and other gadgets at the same time. This little guy not only comes in handy in other countries but also in that all to familiar airport hunt for an open outlet. I always chuckle when I see travelers huddled on the floor around one of the few open outlets to charge their laptops and phones during a layover. Become the hero and save the day as you can not only always plug in but allow a couple other people to have access as well. It’s $25 but you can buy it here for only $12!
A product I discovered recently and really love is the iStabalizer
Its $30 and is a great mini tripod not only for the iPhone but will fit any camera phone or small camera. I used to use the gorillapod tripod but now it forces you to use its cumbersome iPhone case and is not usable with other gadgets. The best part about it is the flexible strong legs that can wrap around many objects to secure the tripod in many otherwise impossible positions. Wrap it to a fence, sign post, even your rear-view mirror for a great time lapse of your travels. Another cool feature is the mount unscrews ant fits right into your full size tripod when needed. I love to set it up and do a time-lapse as I set up my big boy gear for a more formal shoot. They also manufacture a cool video steady cam for $99 but that might be a bit much for iPhone style video shooting. You can buy the tripod here.
Speaking of time-lapse, if you have not tried it yet, do it right away. Its fun, provides great additional coverage and is so easy to do. There are many apps out there but I like iTime Lapse best. It’s free and has some good options. Here is sample of one I created
Thankfully, these days most electronics will work in most countries. The safe voltage required for my iPhone, Canon battery chargers, Mac Book Pro, etc. is found in most destinations so a bulky, expensive and heavy converter is normally not required as it was many years ago. Now a simple, lightweight and inexpesive adapter is all you need. Simply search the web for the outlet configuration and order the proper adapter. Just be sure you do this before you leave as it is often times very hard to find in country and if you can locate it, it will be 500% more expensive. Most electronics are now universal but check the manufactures web site to be sure.
Pockets, pockets, pockets. I love me some pockets. The leader in ‘modern pocket technology’ as I call them is - www.scottevest.com They offer some great travel pants with tons of storage space and some nifty pockets that even the most skilled pickpocket (or David Blaine) can’t penetrate. They also offer a fleece jacket with zip off sleeves that can accommodate an iPad, water bottle and tons of other gear. It even comes with a lens cleaner shammy. The company sponsors people to do an around the world trip with no luggage, only using the pockets in their products. While that may be a bit extreme, it can offset some of the ridiculous additional costs the airlines shove down our throats for luggage. The downside of course is the more pockets you have, the more places you need to check so work out a system to remember where your stuff is stashed. I commonly carry pens, lens cleaners, model releases, water, etc.
Bali can get hot so I recommend wicking shirts with lots of pockets like those from North Face but you can find great deals on these at the discount stores.
My backpack is a Tamrac Aero Series Speed Pack. It fits my 17 inch MacBook Pro, some gear, a couple lenses (even a 220-400 beast), but the coolest part is the quick access pocket that allows you to get to your camera in seconds without even taking the pack fully off. This allows me to catch shots that I would otherwise have missed. It also features weatherproof zippers so the rain or splashing waves wont get in and ruin your gear. I love it and you can get yours here. Its not fully waterproof so I also carry a rain cover like this one
In the back I always stash some granola bars, a headlamp, carabineers, etc. I use a carabineer to clip my Leatherman multi-tool to the front of my pack, not inside, so I always have it handy for many uses including protection. Obviously you can’t bring it on the plane so remember to always put it in your checked gear so it doesn’t get confiscated or get you locked up in the pokey. Purchase yours HERE
Camera gear and lenses are very expensive and heavy so you may want to look into renting gear specific for the type of adventure you are embarking upon. In some countries you can even rent the cameras, lenses and equipment there so you don't need to lug them back and forth (also saving you some money on those bogus luggage fees).
Of course I also travel with an external hard drive. Lacie makes good rugged drives that are known thier reliability. Here is a link to purchase. I also like Western Digital's drives but they are not as good for traveling. www.wdc.com I also carry a card reader, extra batteries, polarizing filter, etc.
A good final tip is too make your expensive gear look as crappy as you can. Some people are attached to their labels and brands but I don't want to stand out and be a target. I use a sharpie to cover up labels, brand names, etc. I also switch out my Canon neck strap for an aftermarket one. It’s more comfortable too.
I hope these tips and tips are helpful and please share your thoughts below. I would love to hear from you. Do you have any gear you cant live without?
Come join us on one of our Photography tours and learn even more tips, trick and ideas. Please check out some of our tours and we specialize in fully custom tours to see exactly what YOU want.
We have lead teams of documentary filmmakers and amateur and professional photographers from all over the world. We know many secret spots that most people never see and we have special access to help make the trip as unique as possible.
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