I visited Cuba, Ocean City, NJ, and Denver, CO over the summer. The three trips presented the opportunity to revisit what equipment I carry in my camera bag.
The real challenge for me — just like every other photographer — is to figure out which lenses to pack and which ones to leave behind, as well as what accessories do I really need. There will always be a photographic opportunity that the limitations of a travel bag will prevent you from meeting. It won’t allow you to bring all of your equipment. This is when the photographer must prepare well for the journey.
First of all, I use a sizable journalist camera bag, the Oberwerth Heidelberg. It’s an ideal bag that allows me to carry two Nikon full frame DSLR bodies, three lenses, a speedlight, and a variety of other equipment. The pockets give me plenty of room for smaller devices like triggers, flashlight, chargers, raincoat for the camera, extra camera and AA batteries, and a cleaning kit. Finally, I carry a collapsible tripod in my carry-on bag.
I usually bring one utility lens, a fixed Sigma 35 mm or Zeiss 50 mm that can be used for all situations. Then the other two are specialty lenses that I use for specific situations. One is usually a long lens, either the Meyer Optik Trioplan 100, my Nikon 85mm, or Meyer-Optik Trimagon 95, and the other is my Nikon super 14-24 mm lens that I use for architecture shots like the above staircase.
This combination of lenses lets me scale down and go out on individual shoots with one body and one lens (utility) or a combination of my long lens, and the utility or the wide angle lens.
Now I have to be honest. I am a big man, and I used to be able to carry my bag everywhere, all day fully loaded with no problems. But with my middle-aged back issues, it’s too heavy for long periods of time fully loaded. So now I think what I can bring in the bag for the whole trip and what can be unpacked at the hotel, and repack based on situations. For long trips I might even pack a second smaller camera bag like a Garmisch for short day trips.
Usually, I leave my back up Nikon body at the hotel or house rental. Then I decide which lenses to leave behind. In addition, I unpack back-up triggers, any extra filters, several AA batteries (leaving two in the bag in case I need to change the ones in my meter or flash), chargers, and extra camera bodies. All of these might be useful in the bag, but they won’t make or break most photographic opportunities (barring a camera fail).
I almost always keep the flash in the bag unless I know I am only capturing landscape/cityscape shots. You never know when you can use the flash for a portrait or to provide fill light, particularly if you have to photograph in the middle of the day. I also keep the camera’s back-up battery, extra SD cards, and the camera rain jacket.
Why One Utility, One Long, One Wide?
The utility lens has obvious value. I always bring a lens that can address most situations. If the situation is wide, and I only have a 35 mm or a 50 mm, I can always stitch together two or three pictures. On the other hand, if I need a tight photo I can always crop in or move unusually close to the subject.
The long lens is helpful for a variety of situations. Yes, portraits and close-ups like the above shot I took with a Nikon 85 mm are obvious. But even in a landscape situation you need to focus in on specific areas of the subject. The opening sunrise photograph of the Ocean City, NJ beach was taken with a Trioplan 100. Could I have moved closer with a 35 or 50 mm lens? Sure, but the sun would have looked horribly small in comparison.
The above parent/child elk photo was also taken with a Trimagon 95 mm. While an unconventional use of the portrait lens, it was another situation where a tight focus was needed to capture the animals as a primary focal point.
Finally, the 14-24 mm works well for me as I like capturing all sorts of architecture and corrosion shots. So this is something I use more frequently than most would. It is for my own art. You may have an art lens (like the Trioplan 100) that you prefer.
Don’t Forget the Tripod, Triggers and Flash
Many people choose to forgo the flash, trigger, and/or tripod on their trip. I think that’s a big mistake. If you are serious about making your vacation or trip a photographic adventure, you will want these items.
Without a tripod and trigger, you lose the opportunity to take great low light photographs (like the sunrise/sunset pic) with long exposures. It also becomes difficult to photograph portraits and people unless you have a flash. Even in broad daylight, you want fill light like the above shot (taken with a 35 mm lens), which was shot at two in the afternoon. The sun can come top down and provide really harsh light and dramatic shadows and hooded eyes. You’ll either need a bounce or flash (used above) to resolve these situations. A flash is less awkward.
I’ve been out on enough photography trips to know that I need a second body (yes, I had one fail in the middle of a trip). I have also needed a rain jacket for my camera when a storm blows in. It’s understandable to see why some choose not to bring these items on their travels. Those are individual choices.
But no matter what, don’t forget to bring your tripod, triggers and flash. Yes, they weigh more. In my opinion, these items provide the difference between good and great photography portfolios for your travel journeys.
What would you add to your travel kit?
You can learn more about Geoff Livingston and see galleries from his Cuba trip on geofflivingston.photoshelter.com.