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5 Tips For Travel With Only One Lens

172_small Whether traveling for business or just on a well deserved vacation, there are times when we all don’t feel like carrying around our full compliment of lenses, flashes and accessories. During trips like this the inner photographer in each of us starts to panic; “What if I need my wide angle lens?” “I want to capture some great close-ups” and they all too familiar “Which lens DO I take?” Right about now it’s best to tell your inner photographer to relax, everything will be ok. And then remind it of the benefits of traveling with just one lens:

  • Simplicity
  • Only one filter size needed
  • No lens changes means less dust on the sensor
  • A lighter camera bag or no bag at all! (gasp!)

And I’m sure there are more to be had, but the basic fact is it’s easier to travel with just one lens sometimes. Especially if you’re squeezing some photography into a business or family trip. My own reason for traveling with just one lens stems from a three week trip to Nepal last month that included 19 days of trekking in the Himalayas with plenty of dust. After seeing quite a bit of dust on the sensor from my wife’s last trip to Nepal, I decided it was time to stick with one lens, especially when everything that came with me would need to be carried by me for over 75 miles of trekking.

Here then are five tips for making the most of a one lens vacation!

1.Buy A Good All In One Zoom

These past two years have seen a plethora of wide range zoom lens land on the market. 8X and 10X lenses are fairly common now and have decent all around capabilities. For those using a DSLR with a 1.6 crop factor, something in the 18-200 range works well. For those with a full sized sensor the options are a bit more cumbersome and expensive. Both Nikon and Canon have excellent lenses in the 70-300mm range and some even down to 28mm. For a full size sensor, you’ll want as wide as you can go while still retaining image quality.

Also a consideration when picking ‘the’ lens is image stabilization. It’s easy to skimp on the price and try to save $50 here or $100 there, but if the lens you are interested in has an image stabilizing version, go for it. It can always be turned off to save the camera battery if you’re not zooming out a lot. While at the same time the better systems can allow you to handhold shots that typically benefit from use of a tripod. If you can leave the tripod behind, that’s even more weight and space saved.

2.Practice before you go

This tip can be a very eye opening experience if you’re not accustomed to a wide zoom range lens. Test the lens in all kinds of lighting situations and surely run it through its full f-stop range. Does bright light at 18mm and f/3.5 produce any vignette? Is the amount acceptable to you? How low of a shutter speed can you handhold when zoomed to 250mm or more? Will dusk shots be too hard with the appropriate f-stop? How fast is the focus when zoomed out and zoomed back? Get a feel for the weight of the lens too. Carry it around as you plan to do on your vacation and see if the lens length and weight are a problem.

3.Watch your hood


The lens hoods for wide range zooms always look a bit funky. They’ve got a hard job to do to successfully blocking out unwanted light in such a large range of zoom. And, admittedly, they won’t always get it all. One thing those hoods can do well is block your on-camera flash from reaching close subjects. If you are very close to the subject or have the zoom out a bit, that hood can create an unwanted shadow along the bottom of your picture as seen in the picture at right. In this case, you can’t even see just how truly adorable the kitten is and that’s a shame to find out 7000 miles later.

4.Learn to shoot panoramas

It may begrudge you to leave your super wide angle 10mm lens at home, but have no fear! With a bit of technique help and an article from DPS, you can still bring back wide angle shots from your trip. The DPS article is entitled How to Create Panoramas with Photoshop and Photomerge. There are now many other panorama programs out there for those not wishing to purchase the full version of Photoshop (Photomerge is also included in certain versions of Photoshop Elements). I’ve used Autopano Pro quite successfully and while it has a lot of features I don’t touch, the auto rendering and ‘hands off’ options work very well. Autopano also does a wonderful job of correcting lens distortion as well as color correction.

It will take two or three shots to make the one shot you would have had with a wide angle lens, and you’ll need to do a little more work metering the scene and setting the exposure so it doesn’t change between shots, but you may find greater latitude in composing the panoramas when faced with a slightly smaller field of view. The image below was stitched together automatically with Autopano Pro from 22 images, all shot in portrait configuration at 28mm. I missed my wide angle lens, but I didn’t miss this shot.


5.Cheat a bit with a close-up lens

Technically this would qualify as bringing along another lens. But most close-up lenses are not much bigger than a filter so I don’t consider it cheating. If you like to shoot macro images, a close up lens is a good compromise if you can’t bring along your best macro lens. Typically they screw on to the end of the lens and allow for focusing distances down to 1″ in some cases. Bringing along a close-up lens will open up different ways of viewing your vacation and can hopefully bring back shots you would have missed without it.

Peter is living his advice and traveling through South America and Japan with only one lens for three weeks. A travel related blog of his past and current shenanigans can be found at The Carey Adventures. He also hosts a Photo of the Day RSS feed found here.

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Peter West Carey
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.

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