Inevitably, when travelling, you want to take some pictures. They are, after all, the best aide memoire we have and are often photos of the most beautiful places we’ve been, or of a particularly cherished memory.
With the omnipresence of the smartphone, everyone is a photographer to one degree or another, and that’s definitely a good thing. Gone are the days of snobbery and condescension. Gone is the insanely high barrier to entry. And now some of the best photos out there are taken on a phone (hell, even some of the films out there – one made it to Sundance!), or point and shoot cameras (if you don’t know Brandon Li, you should) because of the degree of discretion, flexibility and availability.
Having said all that, there’s definitely something to be said for using a DSLR when you want that pin sharp, beautiful image with the amazing depth of field or a long exposure of star trails. So, we’ve put together a little piece on the photography kit we use while on the road.
As mentioned above, Pete shoots with a Nikon DSLR. Before buying a camera it’s worth reading up on a few things like Full Frame Sensor vs. Crop Sensor, Which is Right for You? and also considering whether your needs would be better served by a mirrorless camera such as Fuji’s excellent X range. If you want to save space, but also want a range of changeable lenses and most of the features of a DSLR, they’re definitely worth looking at.
If, however, you’re set on a DSLR (and I’d recommend it if you really want to take the best travel photos you can), this is what Pete shoots with and why:
After years using the excellent D7000, I upgraded earlier this year to the smallest of Nikon’s full frame sensor DSLRs and really couldn’t be happier. Its built in WiFi is ideal for the traveller who wants to be able to post directly to social media from their phone, without having to go via a laptop or dodgy shared hostel computer. The pull-out and rotating screen is ideal for shots over a crowd or at a lower level to change up the perspective. There are a bunch more features that made it the ideal choice for long and short term travelling – weather-sealing, excellent built in intervalometer for shooting timelapses, 1080p 60fps video, and some pretty crazy low light performance to name but a few.
Lenses are what really make the difference. Any camera can take decent shots, but good lenses can, to some degree, make the difference between good shots and great shots. I’m now at the point where I have pretty much a complete set for what I need. Obviously there’s always room to improve the quality of the lenses, or go from that f/1.8 (Don’t know about f-stops? Read this.) to f/1.4, but for now, I’m good.
I’m currently using the excellent Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 20mm f/1.8G ED Lens for my wide angle shots, which can also really helpfully double as a portrait lens. It’s great for architecture shots, capturing those crazy big skies and portraits of people when you want a ton of background, too. This is, however, best used on a Full Frame camera, but if you’re after an excellent wide angle lens for a crop sensor, I can’t recommend the Sigma 10-20mm lens enough.
These two photos were taken with the same lens:
You can’t beat the nifty 50 for a portrait lens. There’s a reason it’s pretty much always the first lens any photographer buys after the kit lens their DSLR came with. It’s been used for a very long time and captured some of the most famous photos in history. I use the Nikon AF Nikkor 50 mm F/1.8D and love it for how small it is, how flexible it is and the fact that it costs just £88. It’s an absolute bargain.
My newest lens and one that has totally won me over is the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 APO EX DG HSM Optical Stabilised Telephoto Lens Nikon Fit which is a really long name for a really cool lens. It’s the perfect combination of great telephoto lens for closer wildlife photography, portraiture when you need a bit of flexibility and also landscapes when your wide angle lens would lose all contrast or not be able to focus on the area you’re targeting properly.
These can be a bit of a faff to carry around and can make you an obvious target in some countries, but they do make all the difference when it comes to certain types of photography. Tripods come in all sorts of sizes, shapes (well, sort of…) and inevitably, makes. I bought my Velbon CX-440 Tripod a long time ago, while living in France, but it’s done me fine thus far and continues to do so. You can spend hundreds of pounds of a tripod, but really don’t need to.
If you want something smaller, and more easily transportable, I’ve found from experience that a mini tripod such as the Cullmann Magnesit Copter Tripod I bought in Auckland does the job perfectly well. It fits nicely into any camera bag, is very sturdy and stable, has a very handy ball head fitting and if you need a higher vantage point is small enough that it fits nicely onto a rock or ledge.
There’s a whole world out there when it comes to filters, but the vast majority of us might need two, at most. I’ve gone for a Hoya polarising filter (make sure to check the under side of your lens for the diameter) for when you want to cut out a bit of glare or the conditions are overcast, and an ND Filter. ND filters are really handy for long exposures during the daytime. Wex Photographic’s guide is worth reading on them, but basically they allow you to take shots like this, with the water all pretty and blurry.
Don’t, however, do what I did and skimp on the filter. It’s worth spending a little bit more on a good brand like Hoya. That way you’ll avoid colour casting and other nasty things.
These things are a bit weird when you first use them, but they’re really handy if you want to take timelapses and your camera doesn’t have a built in one (or you want a little more control) then an external intervalometer is really handy and dirt cheap.
Pretty self explanatory, but sometimes a remote control comes in really handy. Maybe if it’s freezing cold and you want to hide in your car or inside, or maybe you’re taking a photo of a group that you need to be in and don’t want to have to rely on getting into position before the timer goes off.
You really have to find a camera bag that suits your needs. It depends on how much kit you have and what you’re going to be doing, but if you’re starting out and maybe just have a couple of lenses, something like the Lowepro SlingShot 102 will do you nicely. If, however, you’ve got a bit more kit and want something that is both a bit more discreet and less obviously camera bag-y, as well as giving you space for stuff that isn’t just your camera kit, the Lowepro Photo Hatchback 22l is a fantastic choice. The one downside, however, is that it doesn’t have an external slot for a tripod, but hey, you can’t win them all! It is, however, seriously waterproof (when you’ve put on the built in cover) and comfortable. I know, because I walked up two Munros wearing it and got absolutely drenched along the way.
That’s pretty much all I’ve got on camera kit and what we take while travelling. I hope it’s of some use to you. If you’ve got any questions about any of it, please feel free to comment below, or drop us an email.
Full disclosure – there are a bunch of affiliate links in this piece, but buying anything from them won’t cost you a penny more than normal and might gain us some commission, which would be great.