Packing for long-term travel is an art form. Getting everything to fit into your bags – no more and no less than exactly what you need – is no mean feat.
This holds true for camera gear as well. You’ll want to take only what you need and no more, but figuring that out for the first time is often a case of trial and error.
In the end, though, what you take really depends on how serious you plan to be about photography.
Smartphones have changed the market when it comes to travel photography – no longer do you need to take an entirely different set of kit. Whilst you will never get photos that rival the pros, will a few choice add-ons, and some smartphone photography tips, you can still get excellent results.
Are you a casual shooter?
In this case, your photography kit will likely be light. A point and shoot camera, maybe a couple of accessories and you’re good to go. You might even want to consider a mirrorless camera so you can change lenses.
Looking to land some really amazing images?
If you’re going for a full set up you’ll need to think a bit more carefully about what you bring along and how you pack it, as it’s likely to be a good portion of your luggage. In this section you will be looking at mirrorless cameras or DSLRs, which will give you the flexibility to get the shot you are looking for.
In this article I am going to focus on mirrorless cameras, as they are less expensive, and more portable than DSLRs. When it comes to long-term travel, space is key, so a mirrorless camera will help you get the most from the room you have.
Whichever type of photographer you are, leaving things behind that you’re definitely going to need is best avoided. So with that in mind, here’s a list to get you started.
It goes without saying that to take photos, you’re going to need some kind of camera!
This isn’t as simple as it used to be. With smartphones now a serious option for travel photographers, and point-and-click cameras that have specs higher than some DSLRs, there are alot of choices to be made.
Smartphones, as far as they come in image quality, still have limits some pretty serious limits as to what they can do. I have managed to take some pretty amazing photos with my iPhone, but if the lighting isn’t great (such as a big contrast between light and shade), then it can be hard trying to capture what you see with your eyes, on screen.
If you are looking to capture some photos of your trip to share with family and friends, then the convenience and portability of your smartphone may be perfect for you. You can even upgrade your smartphone to take better photos using accessories such as Moment Lenses.
If you want some tips on using a smartphone for photography check out the article:
Point and Shoot
If you’re just a casual shooter and/or you want to pack as light as possible, you might want to consider a high-quality point-and-shoot with a good optical zoom.
For a full list check out ‘Point-and-Shoot Cameras for Travel 2018‘.
I travelled for many years with a Panasonic DMC-TZ70, and took some great shots that I was really happy with. It was only after an incident involving a monkey in Kruger National Park, South Africa that we had to move on and get a new camera.
If you are worried about damage to your camera while you travel, then there are some fantastic ‘rugged’ point and shoot cameras, which might be exactly what you’re looking for to survive the trials of long-term travel.
Cameras such as the Olympus TG-5 and Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT30EB are waterproof, shockproof and even freeze proof! There are loads of great cameras with these types of spec, so if you want to take something better than your phone, but are worried about it getting damaged, this might be the perfect range to research.
Just search ‘rugged cameras’ on Google to find some great options.
If you’re more serious about your photography, a mirrorless camera offers the best balance between camera size/weight and image quality. In fact, some of the higher grade mirrorless cameras are stunning in both their ease of use and in their image quality.
I like the Sony Alpha series, think it is a good recommendation for long term travel as it is a mix between DSLR and portability. I currently use the Sony A5100, which is small enough to feel unobtrusive, but with the large variety to lenses on offer, can also do everything from wildlife photography to portraits. If you ever grow out of it, there are lots of cameras in the Sony Alpha Series, which will take the e-mount lenses, and mean you can continue to upgrade if you become a better photographer and want more features.
If you’re traveling with a mirrorless or DSLR camera, the lenses will likely make up the bulk of your gear, so choose them wisely. I travel with three: a wide angle zoom for landscapes, a 50mm or 85mm prime for portraits and detail shots, and a long-range zoom for wildlife and far-away shots. (When I really need to travel light I leave the larger zoom at home.) If you don’t plan to shoot wildlife, you can swap out the telephoto for a shorter, all-around zoom.
If you don’t have a specialty and you’re wondering which lenses to take, try these start with two zooms—a short and a long.
If you like to shoot landscapes, you can make your short zoom a wide angle lens such as the Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM. This will allow you to get those long sweeping vistas. For my longer zoom I have a Sony FE 70-200mm. This allows me to catch a fair amount of wildlife and some great long range shots. Which exact lenses you buy will depend on both your budget and your camera model, but two zooms will cover most of your bases. Personally I like to add one more lens in there—a 50mm or 85mm prime for portraits and detail shots. (When I really need to travel light, I leave the larger zoom at home.) If you don’t plan to shoot wildlife, you can swap out the telephoto for a shorter, all-around zoom.
The Camera Bag
Your camera bag should fit everything you need. It should also keep your camera easily accessible, be easy to carry, and fit easily underneath the seat of an airplane if you’re flying. If you’re just using a point-and-shoot, no worries. Just make sure that you have some sort of organized pouch for the basic camera accessories (batteries, charger, etc.).
If you’re traveling with different lenses, a tripod, etc., then you might want to consider something like the Everyday Backpack. This kind of pack is designed to be both a carryon and an around-the-town backpack and has sleeves for notebooks, a laptop, water bottles, and everything you need to safely carry your camera gear on a day trip.
While the term “accessories” might make it sound like these are optional, they’re really not. The items in the following list will make all the difference between being able to comfortably take photos on your trip and constantly having to find work-arounds because you don’t have what you need.
For still photography, pack at least two high capacity memory cards – more if you can afford it. They’re small, so won’t get in your way and are really useful for both storing photos/video and keeping a backup after you’ve loaded them to the cloud/your laptop/external hard drive, etc.
How many is ideal? Well that depends on both quickly you fill them up and how quickly you move the images to another, more secure place. If you’re only storing photos/video on memory cards (not recommended) then you’ll need quite a few. Ideally you’ll be traveling with a laptop, tablet, thumb drive, other storage method, so the memory card won’t be your primary storage option.
Don’t try and save money here. Buy a high end, well-known brand. There is nothing worse that the feeling of losing an entire day’s worth of photos due to a fault with the memory card.
This seems quite the no-brainer, but you’ll be surprised how many people forget these and then have to figure out something else on the road. I use a DSTE 1.5A dual battery charger that allows me to charge two batteries at once, plug into a wall or car outlet, and charge a USB device. That’s more than enough for me, but if you use a lot of devices that charge via USB, you might also want to think about taking a multiport USB charger with you.
You should always have at least two fully-charged battery packs on you, and if you’re traveling with a mirrorless camera, then three. (Mirrorless cameras go through batteries much more quickly). More than three isn’t really necessary unless you know you’ll be away from electricity for more than a week or two and plan to do a lot of shooting in that time.
This is a must if you plan to travel abroad, as many countries have different wall plugs than we do. You can usually buy a kit that covers just about every option for less than 20 GBP. For example, the JyoMix Universal Travel Power Adapter works in over 150 countries and lets you charge up to 5 devices at once.
Lens Cleaning Kit
This can be as simple as a lens cloth if all you have is a point-and-shoot, or as complex as a complete kit. I generally only take a lens pen, a cloth or two (which I keep in the plastic sleeve it came in), and a squeeze air blower. Unfortunately the blower is bulky, but sometimes it’s the best thing for the job, especially when visiting arid areas with a lot of dust and sand.
Camera Rain Jacket
While your camera is stowed, your camera bag should be enough to keep it dry (if you’ve invested in a waterproof one), but what if you want to photograph some of the amazing scenes that happen during storms? No worries! A number of companies make rain jackets for cameras, allowing you to continue shooting even while it’s raining. The most affordable range from 30-60 GBP, and are compact, easy to pack, and protect from dirt and dust as well. (The one I use is called the Storm Jacket.)
If you’re working with any kind of modern digital camera (or smartphone), you probably have an LCD you’re working with. That means it needs to be protected—especially if it’s a touch screen or your primary means of focusing. You’ll need to do a search on Amazon or Ebay for your particular model of camera, but in general they should cost less than 10 GBP.
If you know you’ll be away from electricity for days at a time and you know you’ll be doing a lot of shooting (or you’d rather just be safe than sorry), traveling with power bank is never a bad idea. This Anker Power Core 20100 can keep my Sony A7 III going for a couple of days with fairly heavy shooting.
If you’re traveling with a point-and-shoot and/or are a casual photographer, then you can skip this next section. The list above will probably cover all the gear you really need. If you’re a more serious photographer, however, the items below will be quite important.
Whether you choose a full-size travel tripod or something like the smaller Gorrilapod, you’ll need something to stabilize your camera during long exposure, night, and/or HDR photography. A good travel tripod will be light yet sturdy and pack down into a manageable size. Oh, and don’t forget the tripod plate that screws onto your camera!
Not sure which tripod to start with? Three-legged Thing’s Punk Corey is a great tripod that won’t break the budget. Zomei also makes some great travel tripods. My first travel tripod was the ZOMEI Z699C.
Lens Filters (Polariser, UV, Neutral Density, etc.)
If your lenses have filter threads, you’ll want to have at least a UV filter for them. Even is you don’t really need the filter element, this will protect your lens from damage.
If you’re into landscape photography, you’ll definitely want to invest in a polariser for your wide angle lens. A polariser is like putting on a pair of tinted sunglasses. You know that feeling when you put on your shades and the sky suddenly seems much bluer? A polarising lens will do the same for you camera. With modern-day software, you can get a similar effect in a post-processing by upping the saturation, but it will also have added benefits such as reducing flare.
I like to also travel with neutral density filters, (though I don’t use them as often as I should). These are like the dark glass that you can get in cars, and will cut out light allowing you to shoot with lower shutter speeds, and get clever effects such motion blur. If you look at the photo of the waterfall above, these are the kind of effects that would be impossible without a neutral density filter, as they would just end up bright and washed out.
If you want more information read: A Beginner’s Guide to Camera Lens Filters.
These are small and invaluable for shooting any type of photography where you need to minimize camera shake (i.e. long exposure or time lapse photography). You can, of course, also use them to capture shots of yourself off in the landscape. (A wireless one is best for this application.) It’s helpful to get one that has a timer and/or intervalometer, as it’s easier than having to do it on your camera.
Pro Tip: Some apps for smartphones serve as remote shutter/intervalometer.
Unless you’re shooting exclusively on your phone, you’re going to want something to edit your photos on. Which to take with you depends on what you’ll be doing with it (i.e. will you be typing a lot?) and what you’re used to. Just make sure to check that you have what you need to transfer the photos to your device. For example, if your device doesn’t have a memory card slot and your camera doesn’t have wireless you may need to get a USB adaptor. Also make sure that it has enough storage space, especially if you’ll be doing video. (You’ll probably want to bring along a couple of external hard drives if you do a lot of video.)
Just about every photo will benefit from basic editing—cropping, sharpening, correcting lens distortions, etc., and that means you’ll need editing software. Adobe Lightroom has been the industry standard for quite a while, but now that it’s moved to a subscription service many photographers are looking for alternative. If you’re working with a laptop, I’d recommend Luminar. It’s an easy-to-learn professional-standard editor that caters to travel and landscape photography. If you’re looking for something free and are shooting in RAW I’d recommend RawTherapee. There are plenty of others out there, but these are my favorites.
This is pretty much it for the basic kit. You can, of course, add flashes and other more advanced gear options, but if you don’t already know how to use them I’d advise against it. They take up room and you’ll probably find that you shoot most often with what you know.
Have any other items you think are important for a sabbatical camera kit? Let us know!
The Smartphone Accessories Kit
Smartphones don’t really need much in the way of accessories, but if you want to take your mobile photography as far as it can go, there are a couple of things you might want to try.
Cleaning off your lens should be the first thing you do before taking a picture with a phone that’s been rolling around in a pocket or purse. Just make sure to keep the lens cloth in a protected sleeve so it stays clean.
Wide Angle Clip-on Lens
These days a number of companies ( i.e. Moment and Olloclip ) are making clip-on lenses for smart phones. There are a few different ones to choose from, but as a traveler, you’re quite likely to run into an amazing landscape of cityscape you want to capture and more often than not you’ll get the best results with a wide angle lens.
Stabilizer and/or Tripod
If you’re planning on doing videos during your trip, then you’ll definitely want to look into getting a stabilizer for your smartphone. These have a bit of a learning curve, but will definitely take out most of the shakes in your footage. Just looking to do stills? No worries, they also make tripods for smartphones as well.
This is a guest post by Max Therry, a full time architect, who would rather be out taking photos! This background in architecture has helped him be a great photography, and taught him how and one thing can be perceived and captured in many ways.
You can find some more fantastic tips about photography over on his site PhotoGeeky.com.
If you’re interested in guest posting on this site, check out the guidelines here, and drop me an email.