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Photography kit for lazy travellers

Photography kit for lazy travellers

I love taking photos to capture the places that I’ve seen around the world and bring back amazing memories (as well as looking good on my walls). But once you start getting interested in photography and want to go beyond a simple compact camera, you’re entering a whole confusing new world of different lenses and equipment, so how do you choose what you really need for good travel photography?

It’s hard to find a balance between having all the photographic kit and actually being able to make use of it. I’ve seen both extremes – from someone taking photos of the New York skyline using an iPad because they didn’t want to carry a camera, to travelling with someone who carted round a huge DSLR, five lenses, a tripod and a laptop worth a whopping £5000 in a bag I couldn’t even lift. So what do you really need to take a good travel photo without having to worry about carrying expensive, heavy kit? I’m no photography expert but these are my recommendations if like me you’re less National Geographic cover-shooter and more lazy traveller who doesn’t want to carry around – or buy – an entire camera shop.

Photos using a Nikon 35mm/f1.8 lens

Close-up graveyard photos taken using my Nikon 35mm/f1.8 lens

Cameras and lenses

For my first foray into DSLRs I chose the Nikon D5000 (now replaced by their Nikon D5600) as it was easy to use, not too expensive, pretty lightweight (it has a plastic rather than aluminum body like the more high-end models) and I could actually hold it still (some were so big and heavy that my hand started to shake straight away – though that probably says more about my upper-body strength than anything).

Once you have the camera, the biggest decision for DSLR owners is what lenses to buy. Money and weightlifting ability permitting I’d have a lens for every situation – wide-angle, zoom, macro, fish-eye. But unfortunately the budget isn’t up to it and I’d rather have a couple of quality fast lenses than lots of cheap ones. There’s a lot of debate about the best lenses for travel photography and it will depend whether you’re more a landscape, wildlife or people photographer and where you’re going. At the moment I have an Nikon 18–55mm lens that came with the camera, which is an all-purpose lens I use a lot, and a Nikon 35mm fixed lens which is great for portraits and at night as it goes down to f1.8. Next on the wish-list is a wide-angle lens as I love taking landscape shots, so have my eye on a Nikon 10–24mm.

There will always be some places that a DSLR isn’t really suitable for – doing sports like skiing when you don’t want to damage it (or yourself by falling on it) or on the beach with all that water and sand – so I always carry a compact camera too. I have an old Olympus Mju which is waterproof and shockproof so I can use it anywhere and don’t have to worry about damaging it. It’s now been superseded by their Tough range which are now freezeproof and can shoot movies too.

The Meribel Valley, French Alps

Meribel Valley – taken on the slopes with my Olympus Mju

Tripods

To carry a tripod of not? Although they make a massive difference if you are doing a lot of night-time or HDR photos, even the lightweight ones can be unwieldy and awkward to carry. I’ve usually gone without unless I’m doing a road trip so I don’t have to carry it. It’s useful to practice to see how long a shutter speed you can hand-hold your camera for without getting all blurry, and if I’ve had to use a higher ISO and it looks grainy then I’ve found converting to black and white and doing some noise reduction and smoothing gives a nice effect. When I need some extra help to keep a steady hand I often manage to find a handy bench or bin to lean on, or even leaning against a lampost can help. Otherwise a GorillaPod is easier to carry than a tripod and you can attach it to posts or railings as well as using it as a mini tripod.

Night photography

The Louvre by night – taken with a high ISO and converted to black and white

Camera bag

For me the key to a good camera bag is for it not to look too much like a camera bag (the same goes for those straps with your camera name on them that scream ‘rob me I have an expensive camera’). Until recently I’ve been using a small backpack with a padded section for a camera and a couple of lenses in the bottom, and a normal bag compartment on the top big enough to use as a day pack. But the problem I’ve found with rucksacks is that it’s harder to get the camera out, so you can miss those spontaneous photo moments. So I’ve now gone for a Bowery shoulder bag from ONA – mine is canvas but they also have leather versions. They are carried across your body so it’s easy to get your camera out and have plenty of padding and room for a DSLR and a spare lens or two. I like the way they look like an ordinary, smart shoulder bag and you’d wouldn’t know there was a camera inside.

Pub on London's Southbank

Slow shutter speed photo of people by the Anchor Pub on London’s Southbank

Other kit

Other things I like to squeeze into my photography kit are a couple of filters. I always have a UV filter attached to my camera (especially after once dropping it and shattering the filter instead of the lens) and also have a polarising filter take the glare off on bright sunny days and a neutral density filter for long exposures on bright days. It’s a good idea to always carry a spare battery and memory cards, plus a cleaning cloth as I seem to always get dust and smudges on my lens and am trying to rub them off with my t-shirt.

Bordeaux fountain

Getting down low to get a photo of kids playing in a fountain in Bordeaux

So what do you think? Do you agree with my kit choices or have any good recommendations. Is there something I’ve forgotten you can’t live without? Let me know in the comments below.

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Photography kit for lazy travellers – On the Luce travel blog

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21 Comments

  • Reply
    travelwithlaughter
    April 20, 2012 at 6:14 pm

    Great pointers! Thank you!

  • Reply
    Kathryn
    April 20, 2012 at 7:23 pm

    Couldn’t agree more with the annoying name plastered all over camera straps and I’d love a waterproof, padded camera bag/rucksac that didn’t look like it had an expensive camera in it!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      April 20, 2012 at 11:33 pm

      It’s funny but someone must like the named camera straps as when my boyfriend bought his last camera we managed to sell the strap on eBay and use the money to buy a plain (and much more comfortable neoprene) one instead!

  • Reply
    Anita Mac
    April 20, 2012 at 10:49 pm

    I agree with all of your pointers. May just add one – while you may loose some of the benefits of the smaller range lenses, I can’t get past my all-in-one. It is 18-200 and works a treat when I am travelling. It means I don’t have to change lenses at all as it covers the full range, and gives me more spontaneity in crowded places. Don’t get me wrong – I also am in love with my 100mm macro and the 50 mm and use them both when trying to set up shots, but the all-in-one still gives me great travel shots.
    Totally love the camera bag that doesn’t look like a camera bag. I usually end up throwing my little change/credit card purse in there and eliminate the extra bag!
    Have a great weekend.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      April 20, 2012 at 11:39 pm

      Thanks Anita, and a good point. I think if I hadn’t got the 18-55 lens with my camera I might well have gone for one with a better zoom like an 18-200 to cover a wider range of shots without changing lenses. I haven’t done enough long-range shots to need a zoom lens at the moment but want to go on a safari some day so may have to get one eventually!

  • Reply
    2 Rivers Photos
    April 21, 2012 at 2:52 am

    I agree with pretty much everything… I started out with very similar equipment but I also had a 55-250 lens with an 18-55. After a few years I really got into photography and started upgrading… now I travel with the big stuff and don’t mind it because I enjoy it that much. You never know… one day you might start upgrading 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      April 21, 2012 at 5:56 pm

      An 55-250 lens would be great too, I think that’ll be my next purchase after the wide-angle lens. Think my laziness will outweigh the desire to carry too much more though for a while – unless I can employ a porter to carry it all for me!

  • Reply
    Rachael
    April 21, 2012 at 10:58 pm

    I take way too much. No wonder I have a bad back! One thing I have done a couple of times recently is hire a lens. Before a trip where we would be watching grizzlies in the wilds of Canada, I hired a 100-400mm lens and for another trip where we would be whale watching I hired a 70-200 f2.8. One lens I take which might seem dead weight for travelling is my 100mm macro. I was glad to have it last year in Vermont as I got my favourite bug shot of the year in a garden there.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      April 22, 2012 at 4:41 pm

      Hi Rachael, it’s so hard to get the balance between not taking too much and having what you need as you never know what shots you’ll come across. Great idea to hire a lens though – both if you need it for a particular trip and you’re not sure you’ll need it long-term (grizzly watching sounds amazing!) and also to try them out before you decide which on one to buy.

  • Reply
    marinachetner
    April 23, 2012 at 10:17 pm

    Hi Lucy,
    I think this is a great post! Great ideas, tips, and advice. It’s so appropriate as I am needing to write a blog post for my photo course on what equipment I carry, and what is on my wish list. I’ll be preparing that for tomorrow.

    You were the one to recommend the Nikon 5000 to me, and ever since my husband bought it for me, I have loved it. the kit lens is just fine though I really want a wide angle lens too – landscapes and architecture shots are something I enjoy taking. I read that the SIGMA lens is far cheaper and just as good as the Nikkor. It is 10-20mm, and I have my eye on it. I agree with the tripod – what a schlepp to carry on the trip, but you gotta do what you gotta do. I also thought about getting the Gorillapod for ease though others have recomemnded lightweight carbon tripods instead. I am still lost on that one. Your Louvre shot looks very good to me – I need to start experimenting with my ISO!

    I also received a camera bag as a gift – it’s an across the body bag by Lowepro and easy to just get the camera out and put back in. It’s working so far but I don’t have extra to balance yet 🙂 I also want to get the UV and polarizing filters that you have stated. not sure about the neutral density one as I am not huge on the exposed shots except for trail lights at night. But then, I’d need to carry a tripod for that 😉

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      May 1, 2012 at 11:59 am

      So glad that you are getting on well with the D5000. You’ll have to let me know what you think of the Sigma 10-20mm if you get one – I’m thinking of hiring a couple of different wide angle lenses to try them out as I’m so confused on which one to get!

      I enjoyed your post too – there’s a few things I’d like on your list, like a wireless remote (a friend of mine took amazing long exposure night shots and you really need one to do them properly – though that would involve me carrying my tripod a bit more often!) and I really like the Lowepro bag you’ve got.

      • Reply
        marinachetner
        May 1, 2012 at 3:34 pm

        Hi Lucy! I love my D5000 – it’s my first DSLR baby 🙂 I am thinking of going all Nikkor actually and my first purchase is going to be a 35mm f1.8. With the wide angle, I will also have to research. I am with you – carrying a tripod requires an assistant 😉 That said, maybe it will somehow become second nature, sometime? The Lowepro bag is great for street photography and will fit one extra lens. As long as you are minimalist with your wallet (I have quite a long wallet than I need to downgrade), and don’t carry too much extra, it is perfect. I like it though I do know how personal a bag option can be. For city traveling, I would definitely recommend it! I look forward to hearing about your accessory and equipment purchases too!

  • Reply
    marinachetner
    April 23, 2012 at 10:19 pm

    *oops, in the last paragraph I meant to write – “I don’t have to balance any extra equipment as yet”. I blame my computer for that mistake!

  • Reply
    mummytravels
    May 7, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    Great post – I’ve finally given in and bought a Canon DSLR (loved my faithful old Canon 35mm SLR but it was just getting less and less practical, and I’m not quite that much of a Luddite to keep resisting), but extra lenses/filters definitely on the list. First I’m craving one of those camera bags though, as mine was a temporary quick fix…. bought about 10 years ago!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      May 7, 2012 at 6:24 pm

      Thanks. I think after 10 years you’re more than due a new camera bag! I keep trying out different ones, but after going through a small shoulder bag and a rucksack I’m hoping this one might last me a while.

  • Reply
    John Todaro
    July 10, 2012 at 12:25 am

    Very informative post; and what a wonderful photograph of the kids in the fountain!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      July 10, 2012 at 10:07 am

      Thanks – the fountain kept going on and off so I had to wait to get the right time to get the shot without getting a soaking!

  • Reply
    Ben
    November 5, 2013 at 5:20 am

    I’m curious, how did you go about learning to use the wide variety of lenses available in high-end cameras? Do you have some background in photography or did you teach yourself?

  • Reply
    Vlad
    March 26, 2015 at 8:46 am

    Are you happy with the 35mm lens? After spending a long time reading reviews and comparisons with the 50mm one, I decided that 35mm is better for me and it’s high on my shopping list right now. I’d also like a wide-angle lens and a neutral density filter (I have the other two) but they’re not a priority right now. Besides the kit lens, I’ve bought a Sigma telephoto lens (70-350mm) because it had a very good price. I totally recommend it. I don’t use it too often, but I took some really good pictures with it. 😀

    • Reply
      Lucy
      March 26, 2015 at 12:55 pm

      Hi Vlad, yes it’s a really good lens. I don’t use it as much as I should (I’m a bit rubbish at carrying it with me when I travel as worried about damaging it and am already hauling a ton of stuff about!). Works perfectly as a portrait lens and the low light capability is good (better than my standard lens).

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