As awesome as it would be to be able to simply buy a camera and head out on your travels, you’ll soon find that the camera alone doesn’t cut it. In fact, there are a few travel photography essentials that you really can’t go without. All of these things make up your travel photography kit.
When it comes to putting together your travel photography kit, you definitely don’t want to go overboard. In fact, it’s best to just keep to a few photography essentials: 2-3 lenses, cleaning supplies, a filter or two, maybe a tripod, and a bag to carry it all in. Minimalism is definitely key!
But how do you know exactly what you need to bring and what’s just extra weight holding you down? In this post I’m going to go into my personal photography essentials: the things that are in my camera bag that I never leave home without, and talk about why you should be bringing these things along too in order to take great travel photographs!
Travel Photography Essentials: Lenses
Okay, I know what you’re thinking. Didn’t my camera come with a lens?
Technically, yes. But that lens your camera came with (typically referred to as a kit lens) is on the bottom of the spectrum in terms of quality. In order to keep camera prices low, manufacturers use cheap glass and other materials in their kit lenses. They also typically have a limited zoom range and functionality.
So while it is possible to take good photos with your kit lens, if you really want to take great travel photos, then a few good lenses should be your first investment (after the camera, obviously!). You don’t have to buy these all at once, obviously. On average I’ve added one lens every six months or so, and think that’s a pretty good rate. Really though, it’s all about what you can afford!
P.S. Want to take great travel photos? Grab this FREE cheatsheet!
In my opinion, your first lens purchase should be a high quality, powerful zoom lens. The lens your camera comes with will likely not zoom beyond 70mm, and probably doesn’t zoom out very far as well.
The zoom lens that I carry with me is an 18-105 mm lens, and I hardly ever take it off my camera. It truly is all-purpose, and it’s a fantastic addition to your photography essentials!
I’d suggest looking for a lens that has about this range, with an f-stop range of f/4-f/5.6.
Wide Angle Lens
Another great addition to your travel photography kit is a good, wide-angle lens. This will let you capture even more of the space around you, and especially helps in cramped spaces like interiors where you can’t back up to get more in the frame.
A wide angle lens should be less than 20mm and have an f-stop range of f/1.8-f/2.8.
If you love taking pictures of people, then a good quality portrait lens is an absolute must! Portrait lenses are generally 35mm, 50mm, or 80mm, and can stop down to f/1.8, allowing for those super creamy bokeh backgrounds.
I personally use a 35mm portrait lens and love it.
So what else besides lenses is there to add to your camera kit? Well, a lot of stuff. Some things are definitely photography essentials, others are really only necessary on certain trips.
Very often you’re going to be out all day, without time to rush back to your hotel room and wait an hour or two while your battery recharges. And you definitely don’t want to be caught with a dead battery right when you arrive somewhere amazing (like when my camera died the second I walked into the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona).
So, what’s the best solution? Buy a pack of extra batteries (they usually come in twos)! That way, you’ll never be caught without a working camera on your travels.
Extra batteries are absolutely travel photography essentials.
Extra Memory Cards
In the same vein as the extra batteries, you don’t want to have to go back through your memory card and decide which photos to delete to make room for new ones when you’re just trying to enjoy your vacation. So instead, have an extra memory card or two on hand for when your first one fills up.
You definitely don’t need a tripod for most trips, but they can be super useful if you want to photograph at night or photograph things like waterfalls or the northern lights. I also never travel solo without a tripod, so that I can always get the exact pictures of myself that I want.
When looking for a good travel tripod, look for one that is both lightweight and sturdy. You definitely don’t want to add more weight to your pack than you need to!
Carbon fiber tripods are some of the most lightweight out there, but they can get pretty expensive.
I personally use a MePhoto Backpacker Air Tripod, which is one of the lightest tripods on the market right now and is surprisingly affordable!
You probably only need a remote control if you’re going on a trip where you’ll also need a tripod. They’re super helpful for reducing camera shake when you are shooting with a slow shutter speed.
Additionally, a remote control with an intervalometer feature is very useful for taking photos of yourself!
There are a lot of different lens filters out there, and it can be tempting to bring them all along. But it’s really not necessary.
If you’re worried about lens scratches, then investing in some UV filters is a good idea. They don’t change anything, but are way cheaper to replace than a lens!
If you want to take pictures of water, then a polarizing filter is a good thing to buy. They reduce reflections.
Lastly, if you want to take a photo where the shutter is left open for a long time in bright conditions (for example a photo of a waterfall where the water is blurred), then you should bring along a neutral density filter, which lowers the exposure of your shots.
Finally, you definitely don’t want to be caught without a microfibre cloth to clean your lens and something to clean your sensor with if it gets dust on it!
Don’t forget your travel photography cheatsheet!
Alright, now how the heck are you supposed to carry all this stuff around? A regular old backpack or purse is probably not a good idea because they do not provide nearly enough padding or organization. It’s definitely a good idea to buy a backpack or shoulder bag (or both) specifically made for cameras. They’ll not only protect your gear but will have thicker straps to save your shoulders.
I personally love using a backpack for my photography gear whenever I can. Evening out the weight between both shoulders is a major plus, and backpacks can also just fit more stuff in them!
If you don’t want a camera backpack that looks like a camera backpack, then I highly suggest the Jo Totes Bellbrook backpack! It’s what I have and I am so in love with it.
The pro of a shoulder bag is easy access, while the con is that it puts the weight on only one shoulder.