Monday, 24 February 2014

What gear to take? 10 Essential Accessories for Travel Photography

I admit packing one’s bags for a trip is a very personal thing and as individuals we all have our preferences on what to and what not to carry. But photographers in general are notorious for lugging around a lot of luggage on trips. This happens partly due to the fact that deep within we all want to capture amazing pictures and never would we want to be in a situation where we need something to make a shot and don’t have the equipment needed with us and partly because we are attached to our gear and do not want to leave anything behind (read we are not very good at balancing functionality and weight).

Travel Photography
Photo by: Jeff S Photoart

Whatever the reason may be it is not advisable to carry everything you own on every trip you make. It just doesn't work that way. Believe me I've made this mistake a couple of times and ended up feeling miserable every time. The point is you need to make compromises when you are packing for travel; you should careful weigh the pros and cons of carrying each piece of gear depending upon the destination, the mode of travel and what you intend to shoot during the trip.

 Essential Accessories for Travel Photography
Photo by: Thomas Leuthard

The right approach to gear for travel photography is “less is more”. One important thing to consider is your mode of travel. If you are on a road trip in your own vehicle or a vehicle hired for the trip, you could afford to carry enough gear as you could use the vehicle to keep your gear safe and need not carry everything to your hotel room and back every night you stay. But if your travel involves a lot of walking, using public transport, or if you main intention is not photography (leisure trip/vacation) then it is better to stick to the bare essentials. Here’s a list of the most essential accessories for travel photography (assuming you are a DSLR user).

1. Camera Bags

Perhaps the most important accessory for travel photography is a good quality camera bag which is about the right size for the equipment you need to carry, will offer sufficient protection to your gear, is easy to take out and put in things and easy to carry around.

In General backpacks and shoulder bags tend to provide you with the most flexibility for travel photography. Having a bag that you can carry around and shoot with and is easily accessible is very important. If your trip involves air travel then it will be wise to make sure your bags comply to FAA’s maximum carry-on size limits. Some good ones you could consider are from Porta Brace, Lowepro Event Messenger Series or Pelican’s 1510 series Carrry on Cases.

2. Compact Camera Support Systems

Carrying a full sized tripod along is not practical on many occasions; however when situation demands one make sure you choose light weight carbon fiber tripods that could be folded to very small sizes. One good recommendation will be the Traveler series from Gitzo.

On trips when you don’t need a full sized tripod, consider other more compact stabilization options like Monopods, Joby’s Gorrillapods or the Novoflex Bean Bag.

One particularly efficient alternative to a tripod is a monopod. Though you will still need to have a relatively steady hand, a monopod will do most of the work for you, while being smaller, lighter, and cheaper than a tripod.

Flexible rubberized design of the gorrillapods makes it possible to wrap around a variety of objects like poles, trees or furniture. They could also be fit into very small bags due to their compact nature.

For maximum portability choose bean bags, you can carry around an empty bean bag and fill it with any material that is available at the location. They have a waterproof inner lining which allows you to fill it up with wet sand or dirt and a leather exterior for maximum grip to prevent the camera from sliding.

3. Portable Backup Solutions

Depending upon the type of trip you might want to carry backup solutions like a laptop, external hard disks, or simply enough spare memory cards. With the prices of memory cards dropping it is now days viable to plan ahead and carry enough memory to last the trip thus avoiding the need to carry anything extra. One thing to remember is that while travelling you will actually shoot a lot more than you think you will and you will go through your memory very fast especially if you shoot RAW. One realistic estimate is that one would shoot an average of 400 frames per day, now calculate the amount of memory required by multiplying that with the number of days and do carry some more.

4. International Plug Adaptor

When travelling overseas, do check up on the specifications of power sources and see if it is compatible with your gear. If not get yourselves an international plug adapter like the Fujifilm World Adaptor that will let you use your equipment with the power available at the location.

5. Adding Location Information to Your Pictures

Geotagging your pictures (embedding location information like GPS co-ordinates for the location) are useful as it lets you know the exact location each picture was taken with pin point accuracy. Geotagging also makes it possible to plot out points on maps with your pictures which could be shared as an account of your travel.

6. Filters

Depending on the type of photos you wish to make you’ll need filters like CPL (Circular Polarizing Filter) GND (Graduated Neutral Density Filter) , ND (Neutral Density Filters) and Infrared Filters. But choosing which ones to carry could be a complicated affair, for example a circular polarizing filter could also double up as a 2 stop ND filter, the effect of a GND filter could be generated (to an extend) in post processing and the use of higher power ND filters and Infrared filters makes tripod shooting mandatory. So choose wisely.

7. Flash

External flash units could come in handy if you plan to shoot indoors and low light scenes, however to improve the quality of one’s shots the flash needs to have a swivel/bounce head or better could be triggered off camera. It also needs batteries and charger. All this could add significantly to the weight of your kit. Consider the conditions that you will be shooting, do your camera have an onboard flash, will it suffice etc. and then make your decision as to whether you need to include it in your kit.

8. General Accessories

USB cable, a small flash light, a small multipurpose tool kit (e.g. Leatherman Wave Tool), plastic bags to keep equipment dry in case of emergencies, small packets of silica gel, Extra batteries, battery charger, camera charger, memory cards etc  should also be considered for inclusion in your baggage.

9. Cleaning Kit

Always carry a full fledged camera cleaning kit with you comprising of rocket blower, small brush, sensor swabs, lens pen, microfiber cloth etc.

10. Insurance

travel photography accessories
Photo by: Photophilde

Well this is not exactly an item you need to carry, but it is one of the most important thing you should consider while planning your travel. You may never need to file a claim, but it is always better to have sufficient insurance cover for you and your equipment. Accidents happen, your gear may get stolen while travelling the risks are enormous so why take chances, even though it’ll cost you a bit extra the peace of mind it provides is well worth it.

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