5 Photo Items To Pack and 4 To Leave At Home For Your Next Family Vacation

5 Photo Items To Pack and 4 To Leave At Home For Your Next Family Vacation

Copyright Michael Oh

For many of us vacations, or holidays, can be a stressful time, photographically speaking. The types of trips I’m talking about here are the ones flying to a location with solid photography potential and the whole family is in tow. These trips often call for a certain level of compromise on the part of any picture taking parent. Balancing the desire to grab my full photo kit and still manage to have enough room for all the family essentials. I have been on multiple trips with my nine year old daughter and I can attest to the learning curve and how the balance can change with every trip.

Not only is gear space and weight important, the shooting potential when on a family trip can often be limited, and for good reason. It’s not a solo trip where I get to decide when and where I travel, it’s a family trip and everyone’s needs and desires come into play. Finding that balance with family time and shooting time is way beyond the scope of this post, but I do hope to help you lighten your gear load by only packing what is truly needed given the compromising structure of any family vacation.

Items To Pack


Bring, at most, two lenses. A telephoto zoom and a wide angle zoom are all that is needed. That 400mm monster? Leave it at home. Yes, you might miss out on some great birding photos, but if this is a family trip, it’s going to be about compromise. Maybe find a simple, easy lens for a trip like this. Remember that you may be handing the camera over to other family members, depending on age, to shoot some shots. Keep it simple and easy. An 18-200mm lens works well as an all around travel lens, for those with a 1.6x crop factor camera, and there are some quality options available for most any manufacturer. If you must bring multiple lenses, try to pack them in a bag that handle double duty for daily snacks and water when out and about during your daily excursions.

Polarizing Filter

If you were to bring just one filter on a trip, bring a polarization filter. From cutting down glare of the ocean waves to removing pesky reflections on buildings to increasing contrast and saturation in other situations, a polarization filter will serve you well. I would suggest keeping it in its original container (see below when you’re not bringing your full filter wallet) for protection.

UV/Haze Filter

Chances are you have one of these on your camera already. It will help protect your lens from spray and all that sand you’ll encounter while lounging on the beach.

Shot List

Many of us travel with a shot list, be it a prescribed list for any trip or something specific for the location of intent. The most important reason to have a shot list on a family trip is to share it with everyone. This serves three purposes: 1) It lets everyone know what is important for you to see on the trip. 2) It gives others a chance to offer input and make photography more fun for everyone (ask for suggestions to help everyone feel involved, especially if your kids have favorite things they like to have photos of) 3) It helps keep you sane and limited. Don’t make the list too gargantuan, keep it limited to the most important items so you don’t feel constantly torn between family time and shooting time.

Extra Cards

Don’t run out of space!! You’ve made your checklist in the item above, but did you include all the photos of your kids and spouse playing, goofing off and just generally being a family? Not only that, if you are like me, you may hand your camera over to get a kids perspective on the world and they will surely suck down a lot of card space. On top of that, with many cameras offering video, something you may use lightly or not at all when traveling and shooting solo, it can be a great way to bring back some fond memories. But video also chews up a great deal of space. Cards are light and relatively cheap these days, don’t be caught frantically deleting photos to make room! Your time is better spent enjoying your trip.

Items To Leave At Home (And Why)

Full Tripod

A full sized tripod is nice, but the bulk and weight can be a killer on a family trip. Sure there will be times when you may want to snap a family photo in front of a scenic spot, but there are other options to a space hogging Goliath of a tripod. For instance, I prefer to carry the Trek-Tech GO! Pro tripod. It is a bit of compromise in the batter of space and weight over solid stability, but it does get the job done well for this type of situation. And it can be used as a walking stick, handed over to one of your children as a handy means of distraction when the time is right. Not only that, it will fit in a carry-on bag, possibly saving you on checked baggage fees.

Every Strobe You Own

Unless there is a specific photo you know you want to capture that will require more than one strobe, leave the weight, and the batteries, at home. If your camera has a pop-up flash, you won’t need to bring an external strobe at all. I know it may be blasphemy to some, calling for a ban on external strobes, but the weight and space saved can make the trip more enjoyable for all. Depending on the size of the little ones, you may be over burdened with snacks, toys, books or other forms of entertainment, don’t add to the stress on your back by adding in unneeded weight.

Every Battery You Own (You Know, Just In Case)

Bring one battery for the camera and one spare. That’s all you will need, really. Bring the charger as well and give the day’s battery a charge every night, replacing it with the spare. If you burn through two batteries in a day, you might be shooting too much and spending too little time enjoying your family. Depending on trip length and your shooting habits, you may be able to simplify even further and bring only the batteries and no charger. Simple = easy = more enjoyable vacation.

All Your Other Filters

You have a fancy wallet with a ton of filters. Maybe you don’t think it’s a ton. Maybe it’s only 10 or so. If your significant other thinks it’s a ton, you might want to consider leaving the wallet at home. It’s bulk, it’s (minor) weight and it is one more thing to keep track of while juggling other family gear. Simplify. Did I mention that? See what you can shoot without the filters. Sure, there may be times when you lament not bringing them all, but this is a family trip and you family would certainly enjoy you spending more time with them than the filters. Ok, bring the graduated neutral density filter. Maybe you can’t live without that one.


My point is packing a minimal amount of photography gear will often have the biggest impact on fun for everyone.  I have over one it in the past, carried over 15lbs worth of gear and got so caught up in photos that everything else falls away.  I found this isn’t always the best way to handle a trip.

One last bit of advice: Schedule time to just shoot.  Work with your spouse and kids to have some time when you can get out, by yourself, and shoot until your heart is content.  If the pull of photography is too great, communicating about your desire for photography time alone can go a long way to smoothing the bumps any family can have while traveling.

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Peter West Carey leads photo tours and workshops in Nepal, Bhutan, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and beyond. He is also the creator of Photography Basics - A 43 Day Adventure & 40 Photography Experiments, web-based tutorials taking curious photographers on a fun ride through the basics of learning photography.

Some Older Comments

  • Del January 6, 2012 03:17 am

    Wow your guy know your stuff, I covering a concert in The Gambia this month and have a brand new Canon 60D to come with me, but I am still confused as to what lenses to take, I have a 50mm 1.8, a Sigma 70-300mm a 35-80mm and a 17-55mm. I feel I should take them all but I am worried about carrying around all this gear, plus not sure about tripod and my 430exii flash. I will get a new Lowpro sling shot bag to put it in any one else have some words of wisdom

  • Rahela August 12, 2011 04:21 am

    I'm going on a similar vacation - my family, packed car (as we are driving and taking a ferry) and my new DSLR camera.

    I read that the UV filter is a must, especially on the beach - and this will be an explore-the-beaches holiday.

    As I splurged on camera and the extras, and I still want to buy a non-descript travel backpack (where I can store my camera bag with all the essentials, + still have many separate pockets for my travel essentials, as I don't want to tow two bags), I was wondering what kind of UV-filter should I buy?
    I can't buy a Nikon one as it costs about 100 USD, and given the resent spending, it's out of my budget.

    I was wondering, if a Hama Proclass UV-filter would be fine?
    I'm a new user of Nikon D3100 with AF-S DX Nikkor 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR lens.

    Many thanks in advance for your advice!

  • Rama May 27, 2011 03:35 am

    I would bring my tripod and my external flash. As far as making time the best time for photography is morning and evening light. Ok so you might not be able to skip dinner with the family to make use of evening light but there is still the morning light to take advantage of. Wake up early and shoot in the morning before anyone else is awake. This way you make time for serious photography, your back in time for breakfast and can spend the rest of the day with the family.

  • Richard Crowe March 25, 2011 01:33 am

    I think you should stick with a P&S...

    Your ideas are predicated on a "family trip" probably lugging a bunch of snotty nosed brats along with diaper bags, strollers, toys, bottles and only God knows what else. My trips are photo oriented because I am a photographer not a parent! I like photography and don't like kiddies.

    Your ideas regarding using the built-in flash are bunkum! Try bouncing a built-in flash? Or don't you bounce? That might be too much work while dragging a passel of rug-rats. Obviously you have never used the built-in flash with a 17-55mm f/2.8 lens and lens hood with its lovely shadow at the bottom of the frame. Or are hoods too much to bring. Do you ever use flash fill - even a distracted parent would benefit from fill.

    You probably are too tired chasing the kids around Disneyland or other theme parks to go out at night to shoot with a tripod, Besides, it is damn hard to get baby sitters in strange cities.

    I would suggest that a person with your philosophy restrict himself to a P&S to have more room for diaper bags and stuffed animals.

  • Rosanne February 17, 2011 04:24 pm

    I just returned from the USA from a three week trip that was primarily about skiing and a little sightseeing. The Canon 7D plus a Tamron 18-270mm lens, a polarizing filter, a light weight Gitzo tripod, a spare battery and a Panasonic waterproof camera made the trip. All but the tripod fitted into a LowePro Passport Sling bag. The waterproof camera was indispensable for shots on the mountain where a DSLR could not be taken and the temperature was well below freezing. The images were surprisingly good. So, yes Molly, take a waterproof camera. I skied with mine in my parka pocket and could whip it out at 11,000 ft up a mountain to take shots of truly amazing scenery.

  • Phil February 16, 2011 12:23 am

    Sppent 10 days in Paris last year , came home with 1800 images. Lugged arround the SLR and kit lens during the day, with an ultrawide in the daypack (great for architectural/city photography). After a day of touring arouund, we'd typically go back to the hotel to rest and change for dinner. I made one (mostly) firm decision. When we'd go out at night, I only took the P&S. I know i missed a few better lit/composed shots, but when your're walking around with your honey in Paris at night, what's more important?

  • Jim February 13, 2011 10:40 am

    "If your camera has a pop-up flash, you won’t need to bring an external strobe at all."
    I couldn't disagree with you more. A pop-up flash is a terrible flash to use, if you even have one, unless you are a snapshot photographer. Even with a diffuser attached, the results are usually poor. Bottom line, you can't just toss away equipment if you are going for quality photographs. Personally, I'd have a issue with the tripod too as I tend to take a lot of low light photographs.

  • Mike February 13, 2011 02:34 am

    I agree with many comments above about taking a flash, and would add a diffuser such as an omni-bounce - the on-camera flash is too direct and casts a shadow when in close with a hood, also you can use a far greater range of apertures with a larger flash nad light more area if necessary.
    Another item I go with is an op-tech camera strap which takes a lot of strain off your neck.
    If spending an extended period in humid environments like the rainforest, or going in & out of airconditioned areas a lightweight moisture control system liie Zorb-It can be packed inside your camera bag.

  • Dean February 12, 2011 05:22 pm

    thanks for the thoughts but I may go a different diredction. Circunstances matter. This is not really a family trip but it is a multi-purpose trip.. I am going to Africa and have to take other non-photo gear--try a musical instrument on for size. I don't want to carry "the moneter", but it is Africa. Safaries. Lions. I have been told that In some countries drivers are not allowed to leave the road as you explore. In others they can. Batteries for a DSLR . I know one person who said that the power iwhere I am headed s irregualr enough that some people did not get a full charge overnight. She used her point and shoot. Perhas a spare battery would be in order.

  • Phil February 12, 2011 01:05 am

    For those willing to give up your tripod, try bringing a ziploc bag. When you get to your destination, fill it up with uncooked rice or such, making a bean bag which can serve as support on a stable platform like a table or chair. String makes another usable stabilising option, but you won't be able to include yourself in the pic. One end of the string hooks up to the camera and the other end to the ground or your belt loop. T?ghten it up and your all set.

    I rarely use a flash but when I do, the pop up flash gets in the way of several of my lenses, leaving a dark shadow ?ntruding at the bottom of the pic, so I would make leaving the flash a case-to-case basis thing. I use a 430EX when I do, specially with my longer and wider lenses. Standard lenses are fine with the pop up, for those happy with the pop up.

  • Lucky Judd February 11, 2011 05:16 pm

    Making my living as a photographer/wideographer, I get the above question occasionally. If they havent already bought a particular camera, I ask about budget. At around the 1500 dollar range. My current favorite package is the d7000, with the 18 to 200 vr lens. I'm pretty sure canon has something similar. But for glass Nikon Canon or one of the others I think the 18 to 200 is the almost perfect walk around lens. Image quality is good to excellent. With the camera's C size sensor. You effectively have a 27 to 300 mm lens, wide enough to get a good view of the cathedral inside and at 300 mm enough reach to capture the Grizzly just before he gets to you. With it's vr capabilities and a monopod you can still get some good low light shots. I still like having one extra flash like the sb800, with Nikon's cls and the flip up flash I can still get some cool shots. People still ask what I carry. Don't ask. All my vacations are to a degree working, and between video and still I carry about 80lbs of kit, both of my carryon and part of my wife's carry on is kit. One reason I take her, just kidding.

  • Veronica Saver February 11, 2011 02:58 pm

    I am going on a hunting trip to Turkey this summer and a possible balloon ride if time and weather permit:)
    Please give ma an idea what lense to take with me..I am using Canon EOS 7D, I have a wide angle 17-40, 24-70 and tele 70-200..
    I have a very light tripod so it's no issue for not taking it..just confused with the lenses to take:)
    Thank you..

  • Mike February 11, 2011 11:18 am

    I would leave the UV/Haze filter at home and take a ND and/or ND-Split with me. All the "protecting filters" are milking the money out of the pockets of photographers. Polarizers, ND and maybe a sun filter and an achromat for specialists, this is it.
    And the build in flash isn't powerful enough to fill harsh shadows at high noon, and the weight of a flash isn't this heavy, so I would take an external flash plus flash cord with me.
    Two lenses is a nice idea, I can cover 24 to 400mm with two lenses, this should be enough for a family trip.
    If you want more reach, a TC 1.4 could come handy, also an extension tube for macro, to save the extra lens.
    It will still be a small bag, but not with the limitations the thread starter has.

  • Sandy MacTaggart February 11, 2011 10:28 am

    I agree with Peter although as a general principle I dislike doing two things at once. As a general rule trying to two things at once results in neither job being done properly

  • johnp February 11, 2011 09:33 am

    Thanks Cheezman. I'm not very outgoing so the little printer worked well for me in breaking the ice with the locals. I did notice that the first print was usually good but if you print another straight away it could be a bit streaky, I think the heat (it was 32c) affects the prints. Leave it for a while and the next print should be fine. Very hard to see if the printer is on or not from looking at the printer, you need to use your camera LCD to confirm a connection. Make sure your camera has pictbridge - my Pentax K7 doesnt so I had to use an older KD camera that did.
    Kids especially love the prints as they emerge from the printer. If you have your own children with you its a great way for them to get to know the local kids (and you to get some photographs).

  • Rufty February 11, 2011 09:03 am

    Forgot to say, with a 32Mb card I shoot RAW and jpg every shot.....
    Spare cards are used too...

  • Rufty February 11, 2011 09:01 am

    I do agree with most of the comments raised above. Except don't bother with extra batteries, a charger is lighter and just as compact. I DO have a tripod as much of my stuff is water movement either waterfalls of tidal / waves. Lenses are crucial and with my Nikon D90 I take the Nikon 18-200 and the Nikon 10-24. These cover EVERYTHING i want to take. AS for filters, a few ND and the usual ones are already on the lenses. With the Nikon SB800 flash and small light spreader that fits in front of the camera flash, remote & spare memory it all fits into the Lowenpro 100 bag as hand luggage.

  • Mike February 11, 2011 08:55 am

    Thanks for some timely advice. I've never travelled with my gear before. I'm sure space and weight will make the tripod decision for me.

  • Mark February 11, 2011 08:54 am

    I too find that my travel companions often "slept in" and I could do most of my photography before and right after sunrise. I would get back about 9 am when all were waking and we could do breakfast together! I also found that an afternoon "nap time" often happened and I could go shooting wildlife in shady environs for a couple of hours! I came home needing some "catch up" sleep, but it was worth it to shoot without imposing on the whole group.

  • Matthew Stevens February 11, 2011 07:13 am

    Don't forget batteries for the strobes. I have multiple sets of rechargeable AAs for my 580ex. I also have a travel rapid charger that can charge 4-AA in 15 mins. This charger even came with an auto adapter and is very light.

    If you want a tripod, consider a GorillaPod. These are quite handy as small traditional tripod and with the bendable legs you can wrap it around almost anything. I have one i carry in my bag vs. Carrying a tripod everywhere.

    If this is a family trip you should also consider a wireless remote. Amazon sells the Canon one for less than $20. Then you can actually be in the family vacation photos sometimes.

  • Eoghan February 11, 2011 06:53 am

    I have and Olmpus E510 (four thirds system) and I take the kit wide angle lens and the 70 -300mm zoom on holidays and have no problems with weight. The zoom is equivalent to 140 - 600mm and there are great oportunities to use it. A beautiful white egret was a regular visitor to the nearby beach early morning, and I got some great shots. Lens size and price is one of the major benefits of the four thirds system (smaller and cheaper and as good as the competition). I see the canon and nikon users weighted down with gear and I just think they intimate people a little.
    I just hope Olympus stick with the system, the E5 looks awsome and I think it might be my next purchase.

  • Rhett McCarthy February 11, 2011 06:50 am

    I disagree with leaving your tripod at home, especially when your vacationing in a scenic environment.
    A tripod is a must have, not only for family group shots but also for long exposure photographs where
    you know that moment may never come again.
    I like to always be prepared for those 'once in a lifetime shots' but great tips overall. One thing I'll agree
    upon, is leaving all your batteries at home. 99% of the time unless your shooting RAW when your on vacation.
    The family become a nag before the first battery dies.

  • Dave February 11, 2011 06:45 am

    For a family vacation, just take a good P&S, leave the rest at home. They don't want to sit around while you're doing your thing. I learned this the hard way.

  • Mahesh February 11, 2011 06:37 am

    Very useful article. Right on point! It's abbot compromise a good photo for a worthy family time. I have a toddler And I have decided to take only a point and shoot when I go out with him.

  • RS February 11, 2011 06:27 am

    We are leaving for Hawaii for our 10 year anniversary! Im a "newer" photographer but Im of course wanting to get the best pictures on this trip. I currently have these two lenses:

    50mm f/1.4 and 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6

    Im thinking of renting one or two lenses for the trip but since I have never been to Hawaii, my question is what lenses would you recommend.

    Thnx!! I love reading this!

  • Richard Crowe February 11, 2011 06:15 am

    I agree with most of your statements but, totally disagree with your notion of leaving the strobe at home.

    I will not travel anywhere without a strobe or two. The pop-up flash is useless to me since

    #1 I shoot with a 17-55mm f/2.8 IS lens and the sunshade blocks the built-in flash leaving a dark ring at the bottom of the image...

    #2 I use fill-flash for a high percentage of my outdoor shots and require high speed sync capability to use over a 1/250 second shutter speed...

    Finally, If I just wanted family snapshots (which I don't) I would opt to use a high grade P&S camera. This is a lot easier to carry and will certainly provide more than adequate snapshot size and email quality imagery.

  • Molly February 11, 2011 06:00 am

    Am considering adding a Panasonic Lumix waterproof point and shoot to my bag for a family trip to Hawaii. Anyone out there tried one of these? Thought it might be a good camera to put in my children and husband's hands near or in the water instead of my DSLR.

  • Curtis February 11, 2011 05:51 am

    Thanks for the portable printer idea JohnP! That will definitely be accompanying me on my next trip. :)
    As for tripod, especially in places where there not permitted using a string setup can be a light weight, easily packed, fall-back of last resort. There's many, many ways to do it, but here's a link to a descent youtube instructional video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LLlJl7TbXTA

  • John Fentner February 11, 2011 05:17 am

    Mostly good ideas. Traveling by car when I don't need to worry about space/weight I take the big bag with everything but on a plane I need to get everything under the seat as a personal item and that means cutting back to minimums. I take the Nikon D80 and a spare battery & charger. The 18-200mm and a 50mm prime for lenses. The SB400 flash may not have all the bells and whistles but it's small, light and makes the shadows from the big zoom go away (plus it works on the P5000 pocket camera if I want to go out without the bag).

    Lots of cards to be sure, we have 4 cameras minimum when the family goes. A Gorillapod SLR-Zoom is a workable trade off for the full size tripod with minimal size and weight (it straps on the outside of the bag and doesn't get me hassled by the Airport Gestapo the way a tripod sometimes does). UV and polarizing filters only. That leaves room in the bag for other stuff like the Leatherman Tool, cell phone, MP3 player, bottle of Cholula and a pack of cheep ceegars. "Simplify, simplify" as Br'er Thoreau put it.

    When I'm taking the laptop I also carry a little Canon iP90 portable printer. Nothing makes points with the locals like a nice 8X10 color portrait. Paid for itself in free drinks in Key West alone. :)

  • JesseAdams February 11, 2011 05:03 am

    I was recently on a four month trip to Europe and brought along my D90 with the 18-200VR lens. What a great combo, and the focal lengths make the lens basically all you need to travel (unless you have specific needs). I also only brought the main battery and one spare and never had a problem.


  • Mei Teng February 10, 2011 11:17 pm

    If I am on extended trip with lots of moving around, I usually travel light with just a zoom lens and extra batteries. I leave the tripod at home.

    Otherwise, for relatively short trips with minimal moving around, I try to pack a tripod along for long exposure shots.

  • Cheezman February 10, 2011 06:52 pm

    JohnP, The portable printer idea is tremendous! Connecting with the locals with decent photographic results is something I struggle with. Sneaky zoom shots of people just doesn't do it as there is no connection between photographer and subject and likely little emotion conveyed. With the printer you are doing the locals a favor as they do one for you. It seems this would work better in developing countries. I'm off to Bosnia in April for a two week driving tour and I bet it would work well there. Off to Amazon to see the product. : )

  • Toni Vaughan February 10, 2011 05:27 pm

    Great post and tips! I also use a trek pod for hiking trips.

  • Brett Cox February 10, 2011 02:04 pm

    I disagree with not taking a strobe. On my camera the built in flash doesn't have the height to get past the barrel of the lens and will leave the whole bottom of my image in darkness. Depending on the trip I am going on I will most definitely take a tripod with me. I try and get at least a little time for myself to get out and shoot.

    This shot would not have been possible without a tripod and was taken on vacation this last Christmas.

    But I am looking into something like the GorillaPod (http://amzn.to/dQfvT8) as a possible replacement on some trips.

  • laura February 10, 2011 12:52 pm

    Thanks for the tips. We're gearing up (me maybe more than the others) for a family trip, and I always feel bad about making everyone wait for me to compose shots, change lenses or whatever.

    And who wants to carry so much stuff?!! Thanks for quelling all of those doubts and second-guessing about leaving some of the gear at home.

  • Mandeno Moments February 10, 2011 12:10 pm

    An Utrapod II is a great mini tripod for travel and weighs 4oz/120g.

    It will hold a Canon 30D +18-200mm at 200mm, but every time you touch the camera you have to wait for the massive vibrations to die down afterwards, so to me this combination is a last resort.

    With a Canon 30D + 28mm the vibrations are a lot milder. Self timer + mirror lock up is the way to go.

    If you're going ultralight and want a tripod compromises are necessary.

  • Ken February 10, 2011 11:32 am

    Need / Want a tripod, get a superclamp and attach your ball head to it. Then any bench, fence or thick branch can be your tripod.

    It's lighter than most tripods but will still cost you about 2 lbs.

  • Amryl Malek February 10, 2011 11:09 am

    I usually bring a 35mm f/1.8, that's it. Or I just bring a Canon S90 with me and leave everything else in the house.

  • johnp February 10, 2011 10:59 am

    If travelling to Asia, Africa, India, etc I would always now include my pocket size Pogo printer. Its a fantastic way to get great portraits. You can (via pictbridge) give an instant print as a gift to your subject. We found in the villages we were staying in India that word spread and we had no shortage of willing happy subjects (children & adults) queuing up to have their photo shot, even being invited inside homes. It doesnt take up much room or weigh much, batteries are small. Works best with a fast 50mm prime lens as you need a fairly sharp bright photo. Also don't forget to take a power adaptor.

  • matabum, MaP blog February 10, 2011 10:50 am

    during my vacation i usually carry one wide lens zoom and good old 50mm f1.8... and most of the time i finished only with my nifty fifty on the body all the time:)

  • Misitio February 10, 2011 09:07 am

    Thanks, I'm a retiree turned amateur photographer who seems to carry every piece of equipment I buy when I travel. And, on top of that, I always complain about the weight. I like your recommendations, nice and simple. I will most definitely share your list with my photo club.

  • Joe February 10, 2011 08:58 am

    Plenty of fantastic, versatile zoom P&S cameras out there suited to family vacations. If you're lucky enough to have one, bring it and keep the peace. Only gear snobs look at a great shot and reserve judgment until after viewing the image properties. You know who you are! :)

  • Mandeno Moments February 10, 2011 08:48 am

    If you're going to take an 18-200mm for a 1.6x-crop camera (APS-C sensor) make sure it's got stabilisation, if your camera body doesn't have this.

    Also, consider taking something like the Canon EF 50mm f1.8 as well. It's tiny, light and discreet, unlike an 18-200 which looks like a small artillery piece. The 50mm works well in low light, is a good length for portraits, and will let you throw backgrounds out of focus.

    Personally, I don't like zooms. Despite this I have an 18-200mm (equivalent to a 29-320mm on a 35mm camera), and for versatility it's hard to beat. It's also good for rapid shooting without bothering those who are with you, and in dusty or sandy environments not having to change lenses is a good thing.

    If you want to be really radical (by modern standards) considering taking just one lens, a prime (non-zoom) that's in the 35-50mm-equivalent range. Such a lens is light (less tiring to carry), doesn't stick out and catch on things, discreet, and surprisingly versatile.

  • Nick February 10, 2011 08:27 am

    One word about flash. For any decent 2.8 or large lens, a popup flash will cast a giant shadow on the scene. It's possible to grab a cheap Nikon SB-400 or Canon 270EX for under $200 that will remedy this.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck February 10, 2011 07:48 am


    I would suggest a Circular Polarizing Filter and perhaps a Singh Ray Variable Neutral Density (Aside from the usual UV Filters)

    regards, Erik

  • Kiran February 10, 2011 07:13 am

    Love these tips, but I cannot imagine myself lunging a tripod during a vacation! I have a question about filters. I have a kit lens 18-55 and 55-200 nikon, what type of filters would you recommend?

  • Killian February 10, 2011 06:36 am

    I love this. =) Last year, my gf and I went to New Orleans for the first time. We're both photographers, and we told both of our spouses unequivocally that they could NOT come with us. This was our first time, and we both wanted to see the city as photographers.

    This year, we're going back for our favorite Krewe's parade, and we're allowing the spouses to accompany us. But there is something to be said for the occasional trip without people who roll their eyes at stopping every 50ft to take another cool shot. =)

  • Erik Kerstenbeck February 10, 2011 05:59 am


    Lots of good advice about travel photography. I would like at add a word of caution if you are travelling abroad. During a recent trip to Italy, I was approached and warned multiple times by Security Police about the use of a tripod. Using a tripod is considered to be "Artistic Photography" and will result in a fine if you dont secure a permit in advance!

    Leave the tripod at home and get creative about how you shoot and stabilize your capture. You will be surprised by how many solid objects are around to anchor your camera. This shot was a three exposure HDR shot holding the camera securely on a rock.

    Honey...Build Me a Temple, Rome: http://t.co/oX7Q6L9

    Regards, Erik

    Kerstenbeck Photographic Art

  • Judy Goldthorp February 10, 2011 05:26 am

    Thanks for this article. It is very timely, as I am planning a trip to visit a friend next week. I had just been thinking, "Do I really need to take all 4 lenses?" Thanks for answering the question. I will take 2 and my polarizing filter.

  • michael February 10, 2011 05:25 am

    This is so wise. Family vacations and photo trips are almost mutually exclusive.

  • Jason February 10, 2011 05:18 am

    (Onboard flashes just don't count. The only thing they're for is making the feature comparison table look good.)

  • Jason February 10, 2011 05:05 am

    I know you've pre-empted this :-) But... you'd be crazy not to take a flash on holiday! All those awesome sun-soaked backlit shots, gone. Carry it in your pocket if you need to!

  • ScottC February 10, 2011 04:07 am

    A definite on the ND filter! Just one more can't hurt, right? and the list gets longer.....

    I take along as much gear as I can pack, but leave a lot of it secured in the hotel most of the time.

    It comes in handy when everyone else is sleeping late and I wake up before twilight, thinking about taking photos.


  • roneezie February 10, 2011 03:43 am

    you gotta bring the speedlight at least. the pop-up flash won't work in the dark with the long lens.

  • Mike Jefferies February 10, 2011 03:22 am

    This looks like it was written by my wife. Every trip she thinks is a "vacation", I think is a "photography trip".