My day job involves a lot of travel. Yet despite all the practice I get, somehow I’ve never developed good packing skills. Either I bring too much stuff, or too little. Determined to fix this once and for all, I recently set about putting together a minimal travel photography kit that would have me prepared for any eventuality – without causing an emergency visit to the physiotherapist!
On my trips, I need to be able to shoot fast-action street photography of local markets and bazaars, long-exposure cityscapes at night, and pretty much everything in-between. But I also need to edit my images on the move and have a secure method of backing them up.
However, as I travel primarily for work, I must carry clothes and other important items with me too. This means that I need a minimal travel photography kit that weighs very little and occupies as small a space in my bag as possible; while still permitting me to shoot pretty much any photo I want.
What to bring? And, most importantly, what to leave behind?
My Minimal Travel Photography Kit
Precisely what you’ll want to pack will depend on the type of trip you’re going on, and the kind of photos you plan on taking once you get there. But here’s my list of the basic essentials for those looking to put together a minimal travel photography kit for a more streamlined and stress-free life on the road.
Although it’s not always possible, I generally try to travel just with a single carry-on bag, and nothing checked into the hold. I also prefer to avoid those small wheeled suitcases, opting instead for something I can just throw over my shoulder and run with.
It can be tricky squeezing everything into a single shoulder bag or daypack though, so I need to choose my equipment very carefully: when I say that this is a minimal travel photography kit, I really mean it!
Obviously, which camera you choose to take is entirely subjective. Personally though, I don’t want the move to a more minimal setup to cause any compromise on image quality: if a photo’s worth taking, it’s worth taking properly. So for me the preferred option right now is a full-frame DSLR, even if this means extra bulk and weight when compared to an APS-C model.
Having said this, the possibility of switching full time to Mirrorless is something I’m taking increasingly seriously. Particularly Sony’s full-frame Alpha options, which are looking very attractive right now (check some of my shots with A7r Mk2). Finally, I’m using a full optional bridge camera like the Sony RX10 Mk3 from time to time that, even if equipped with a small sensor with it’s limitations, allows me to travel super light but still maintain a decent image quality (check some of my Sony RX pictures here).
35mm Prime Lens
Wide enough for landscapes, short enough for street photography; small, lightweight, and very sharp. And with a fast maximum aperture, a 35mm primes lens could do almost everything I need.
50mm Prime Lens
Almost, but not quite: the addition of a nifty fifty lets me got more creative with landscapes, or shoot lively and intimate photos of local fruit and vegetable markets. If I’m not taking a full camera bag with me, I’ll put the second lens in a padded pouch before slipping it in my shoulder bag.
What no super zoom? Controversial, I know. And yes, zooms are an option too, of course. But keeping things truly minimal can be a great discipline, forcing you to push your creativity further. In any case, zooms are rarely all that lightweight or small, and unless you’ve got an unlimited budget, they tend not to offer a particularly fast maximum aperture either.
I normally carry with me two screw filters, an adjustable CPL and an ND 1000 filter of the diameter suitable for the wide-angle lens that I have with me. For a long exposure or a reflective surface, they can always come in handy !!!
The way I see it, when it comes to choosing a tripod for a minimal travel photography kit, there are two primary routes you can take: either go for a super sturdy, state of the art Gitzo carbon fiber travel tripod that will cost you a small fortune, or instead pick up a cheap little throw-away piece of garbage that you don’t care about and can ditch in a hotel room if it turns out to be of no use. Both offer their respective advantages and disadvantages.
Either way, ideally you’ll get a tripod with a shoulder strap, or one that can be attached to the outside of your camera bag. The only risk here is if you come across heavy-handed airport officials who view your ‘pod as a potentially dangerous weapon and insist that you either check it in the hold or leave it behind. If you’ve invested in a Gitzo, or something similarly expensive, then clearly neither option is particularly attractive here. For this reason the disposable budget ‘pod can sometimes work out being the better solution. It all depends on how much use you plan on making of a tripod during your trip.
Depending on the type of travel you’re doing, sometimes it can be a real hassle to stop and download all your images. Other times it just isn’t even an option due to lack of power. SD cards are small and lightweight, so there’s really no excuse for not bringing a whole handful of them with you.
I prefer not take any chances with my images, so if I’m going to be away for more than a couple of days, I bring a 2TB external drive, plus access to cloud storage in order to make a back-up of the back-up.
Battery and Charger
I always carry a charger plus at least one spare camera battery (possibly two if I’ll be trekking off to more remote locales and can’t be sure I’ll find a reliable source of power). If I can fit it in, I’ll also bring a car charger adapter so I can charge on the move.
Again, if I’ll be traveling for a while, I’ll want to edit and upload my images. If it’s a work trip I’ll usually have a laptop with me anyway, if it’s not, then the new 10 inches iPad Pro makes a for slim, lightweight, yet powerful and convenient editing tool.
Foldable Nylon Bag
If I’ve really squeezed things in (I’m pretty good at loading my pockets in order to get as much gear through customs by hand as possible) then the first thing I do when I clear immigration at the other end is offload clothes and other non-photographic items into a lightweight, folding daypack. This way I get around the airline’ single carry-on requirement, but can still easily access my camera gear without having to pull out socks and toothbrush in the middle of the street each time I need to change a lens.
So, there you have it, my minimal travel photography kit. Just the bare essentials, but without compromising on quality nor risking missed shots due to a lack of essential gear.
Finally, I should mention that, depending on what part of the world I’m traveling to, the one other thing I sometimes do is cover my camera body in black electrical tape. This has the combined effect of hiding the expensive brand name, while also making it look all beat up and less desirable to thieves.
What goes in your minimal travel photography kit? I’d love to hear your recommendations in the comments section!