Travel Photography Packing Tips
By Matt Preston
It’s not just freelance photographers that travel with all manner of camera gear. Digital SLRs are an affordable choice for many these days and with more and more people getting in to SLR photography it’s important to think about how you’re going to carry this gear while traveling.
Photography is an expensive business at the best of times but it’s worth preparing yourself and your gear well before you embark on your adventure of a lifetime. You’ll want to keep your camera, lenses, etc safe from harm and secure from would-be thieves. A little effort now can save you a lot of pain and heartache in the future!
Which camera bag should I buy?
So firstly the bag. Who would take a camera without a good quality camera bag? The emphasis here really is on quality. I made sure I got the best quality bag that I could trust. It needs to be relatively weather proof and very well padded for all that delicate equipment. I chose the Tamrac Adventure 9. It’s a full ruck-sack style bag with lots of compartments, very well organised and well thought out zips and fastenings to keep the weather out and the gear in. It’s very comfortable and I love it. It’s not cheap but well worth looking in to. I’d definitely recommend it to others. You can of course get smaller bags that just fit in your DLSr and lens plus maybe one other lens. Some are ruck sack style while others are smaller over-the-shoulder bags. These are OK for short day excursions but I’d advise a ruck sack for longer treks. Shoulder bags often cause you to raise one shoulder to support the bag which can be uncomfortable after a few hours.
What weather proofing do I need?
As much as i trust my bag I have also tested it’s weather-proofing abilities. I was stuck out in a torrential downpour with it once and while it did protect my gear the inside was slightly damp when I got home. The gear was dry and would have survived longer I’m sure but I decided to investigate further weather proofing.
I found a great solution in the Exped Dry Bags. These little fellas are fantastic. You just fold the top over 3 times and click the strap in. The 100% waterproof material does the job. I tested this by filling one with toilet paper and running it under the tap for over 4 minutes. Most likely the worst conditions they’ll ever face. The paper came out completely dry. I have a couple of “extra small” and one “small” Exped Dry Bag. I keep them inside my camera bag so i know my gear will always be dry and safe.
How much equipment should I take with me?
I’m not the kind of guy to travel light. Some photographers say just take the one lens, one camera. I don’t believe this at all. I say take what you feel comfortable carrying. Take what YOU want and what will make you happy. I have 3 lenses, one Canon 5D Mark II body, a Sony HD video camera and my Manfrotto tripod. No doubt I wont take it all out every day but I’ve been working out at the gym especially for carrying this camera bag so I’m prepared to take my gear where-ever it needs carrying. My Tamrac Adventure 9 backpack is surprisingly comfortable even when fully loaded and I’ve taken it up mountains and thru rain forests without a problem.
What gear should I take?
Gear wise, I bought my Canon 5D Mark II specifically for travel photography. It’s weather proof housing, very robust design and staggering beautiful quality is worth every penny. I’ll also have a wide angle Canon 24-105 F4 L IS, an amazingly good lens that makes the most of my camera and is great for documentary style shots. Also my wonderful little 50mm 1.8F which is so cheap it’s silly not to take it! For wildlife photography and even portrait photography i have the rock solid all weather 70-200 F4 L. It’s not light to carry but it has proven time and time again to be worth it.
Should I get camera insurance?
Insurance is of course vitally important. I use the UK based Photoguard insurance. They give great coverage and understand the needs of travel photographers. Their price was very reasonable and I feel more secure now that I have that insurance. As a friend said, go with the premise that at some point your gear will be stolen. Be prepared for it. So when it does you can start sorting out what needs to be done instantly. Of course hopefully it wont happen but that will be a bonus! Make sure you have digital copies of all receipts and invoices for any of your gear. You’ll need these when making a claim. Upload them to Google Docs for free so that you can access them even if your laptop is stolen.
Should I take my laptop when traveling?
If your serious about your photography then I’d recommend taking your laptop. Get it insured with your camera gear. The Tamrac Adventure 9 has a slot for carrying my Macbook Pro which is really handy. Developing your photos as you travel is often a wise idea as the backlog of photos to go thru when you get home can be daunting. You can also upload them to your blog site as you travel.
Backup Backup Backup!!
I can’t emphasise this enough. I’ve heard so many stories of people losing all of their photos when their camera was stolen. There really is no excuse these days. At the very least you can take your memory cards to a local store that will burn you images to disc for you. I personally travel with 2 external hard drives. 1 is my primary drive containing all my photos, the second is a clone of the primary, a perfect backup. I never store images on the laptop as the laptop is more likely to get stolen than an external drive. I backup every time i import photos and when i’m traveling i import daily. This is so vitally important. External hard disc drives are cheap these days. You can also upload your photos to sites like Flickr if you have good internet access. Make sure the hard drive you buy is USB powered. This makes it much easier to back up while traveling.
Research the areas you’re going to, be prepared for the environments around you and travel confidently with your gear. The results you can produce make it all worthwhile!