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It’s fair to say that as a travel photographer you can never be 100% prepared for everything. There are so many different scenarios and variables that can affect your photography and your journey that you simply can’t predict. But over time you will begin to learn techniques that will help you be able to tackle the issues you’ll encounter.
Part of this is your list of equipment. While the obvious photographic equipment might seem straightforward, there are also a number of non-photographic items that will begin to make it on your list. As you will discover over time they can also be invaluable. Here are seven of my must-have items that might also help you along the way.
It doesn’t matter how well you prepare and how many times you check the weather forecast, at some point every travel photographer will get caught in the rain. Most times you can avoid you and your camera equipment getting wet by trying to wait it out under some shelter. But sometimes you can’t or more importantly, you still want to photograph. After all, rain can provide wonderful reflections on the surface of pavements and roads not to mention people with umbrellas that can really help tell a story.
So to avoid getting your camera wet, simply take an ordinary plastic bag and cut a hole big enough for your lens hood to fit through. You want roughly half of the lens hood sticking out and the hole in the bag should be a tight fit. Put your camera in from the top of the bag (as if you were putting shopping in it) and stick the lens with the hood attached through the hole. Put the elastic band around the bag near the hole to keep it in place and voila you have created a bag to keep the rain off your camera.
When you want to shoot with your camera simply put your hand in the bag and hold the camera inside. Sure you can probably find an expensive version that you can buy, but why waste money when you can make it yourself?
If you ask me what is the one non-photographic item that I always carry with me, it’ll be a small face towel. I have lost count of the number of times that I have used a towel in different scenarios. Whether it’s to wipe my camera dry after getting water, mud, or anything else on it, or wiping my face when I’m hot and sweaty (it’s amazing how much better you feel when you can simply wipe your face with a clean towel when you are out and about all day), wiping my finger when I have cut myself, or even just wiping a bench dry after rain so I could sit down while waiting instead of standing up (or getting my trousers wet by sitting on a wet bench). The number of times that a simple towel will come in handy will astound you.
The number of times that a simple towel will come in handy will astound you.
Okay, so technically speaking a Smartphone isn’t a “non-photographic” item but ignoring the camera element, it has become a must these days for travel photographers. Whether it’s to check sun direction, weather forecast, maps, making notes about potential shoot locations and metadata details, to simply having access to pass the time by reading the news while waiting for sunset, a Smartphone has become an essential tool for every travel photographer.
For the majority of photographers, a Smartphone has replaced the trusted compass. But it’s still worth having a small one in your bag just in case your phone runs out of power or you can’t get a signal. Besides being able to bail you out when you get lost, a compass can help you determine sunrise/sunset direction where the light will move, which is essential for any travel photographer.
Travel photography usually means early starts and late finishes as the soft light in and around sunrise and sunset is great for photography. This usually means you’ll be out and about when it’s colder than during the day and trying to work your camera dials with cold hands or even carrying a tripod is not an enjoyable experience.
During the daytime depending on the time of year, it can be pretty cold for your hands and even in the summer months it can get much colder in the evenings and early mornings. So do yourself (and your hands) a favor and keep a pair of gloves in your camera bag.
Sometimes you simply can’t beat pen and paper. It might be to take notes, to jot down ideas for shoots, to sketch a composition that you want to try and create later, or it might simply be to take the email address of the person who’s photo you have just taken so that you can email them a copy. Whatever the reason, a pen and paper is always useful to have in your camera bag.
It’s easy to forget sunscreen and a hat among all of the other things above, in addition to your photographic equipment, but they are essentials for anyone working outdoors. As a travel photographer, you will be spending most of your days out and about and it’s easy to get distracted and not notice a few hours going by. The last thing you need on a photo trip is to get sun burned.
Over the years, I have found that these small items have become invaluable. I will, of course, adapt this list as I go and add or remove things for certain destinations. For example, if I’m out in the wilderness I would carry a first aid kit, an emergency kit with things like a whistle, blanket, etc., a torch, and the relevant maps of the areas I’m planning to explore. But my basic list of items accompanies me on any trip even a short city break.
Over time you will build up your own set of items. But for the time being, I hope this list is useful for you.
Anything else you can think of? What non-photographic item do you always carry with you and why? Please tell us in the comments below.