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Essential Travel Photography Gear: 5 Must-Have Items

essential travel photo gear (the must-have items)

If you’re struggling to choose the right travel photography gear, you’ve come to the right place.

You see, new travel photographers are always asking me about the equipment they should buy. And over time, I’ve developed a standard set of items that every travel shooter must own, from the absolute beginner to the serious professional.

Below, I share my list of essentials; it features all of the basics, including camera, lens, and accessory recommendations.

(By the way, a quick piece of advice before we start: Get adequate insurance to cover your camera and accessories. Accidents and thefts can – and will – happen. Be prepared!)

So if you’re ready to put together a top-notch travel photography kit, then let’s dive right in, starting with the most important gear item of all:

1. A camera

Needless to say, every travel photographer needs at least one camera (and if you’re serious about travel photography, I’d really recommend you carry two: a main body and a backup).

What travel photography camera is best? Honestly, there are so many different choices, plenty of which are capable of great images, so the only way to really know what’s right is for you to think about your shooting preferences, then do some serious research.

But I do have a few pieces of advice.

travel photography camera

For one, make sure that your camera is portable enough to carry all around the world, yet offers strong enough image quality to create stunning prints. It might sound like a tall order, but you can find entry-level mirrorless cameras, DSLRs, and even point-and-shoot models that are small, lightweight, and take great pictures (they won’t break the bank, either).

Of course, there are also pro-level cameras that fit the bill, but they’re far pricier. Professional travel photographers tend to use high-end mirrorless and DSLR cameras, which range from around $1,500 to $5,000 USD. One advantage of these cameras, in addition to the insane low-light capabilities and high megapixel counts, is the (often) robust weather sealing. If you plan to shoot in rain, snow, blowing sand, or sea spray, weather sealing is hugely beneficial. It might even be a must-have feature.

If you’re not sure whether a specific camera is right for you, I highly recommend renting before you buy. There are plenty of great online rental companies (and you can find in-person rental companies locally, too). Grab the camera for a day or three, go out and take some photos, and see what you think. You may end up frustrated or you may fall in love – but after a few hours, you’ll know whether it’s a camera worth buying.

By the way, when you’re ready to purchase, shop around. Don’t forget that you can always buy secondhand cameras; these cost half as much but are often in outstanding condition.

2. Lenses

Usually, cameras come with just one low-quality lens, or they might come “body only,” which means that you’ll need to purchase a lens separately.

Lenses do make a major difference, so I recommend you think about your travel photography lens choice very carefully. Wide-angle lenses, for instance, will get you completely different results from telephoto lenses. And wide-aperture lenses will let you shoot in very low light, though you’ll pay for it in money, size, and weight.

To start, you’ll need a workhorse lens, which you can use for most of your travel photography. It should offer a good range of focal lengths, should be relatively lightweight, and should offer decent optical quality. I’d recommend looking into 24-70mm lenses, which are great for everything from landscapes to travel portraits. (In fact, you could get away with only purchasing a 24-70mm lens; they really are that versatile!)

If your budget allows it, however, I do recommend you add a telephoto lens to complement your workhorse lens. A 70-200mm lens, for instance, is great for tighter landscapes, architectural details, and even large (or tame) wildlife.

Over time, you can always build up your lens collection further by adding macro or prime lenses, but if you can start with a 24-70mm lens and a 70-200mm lens, or even just a 24-70mm lens, you’ll be in great shape.

Here’s my basic list of lenses, which I carry on every trip:

  • A 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom
  • A 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom
  • A 50mm f/1.2 prime
  • A 100mm f/2.8 macro
people hiking up a mountain

3. A tripod

Beginner travel photographers might not like the idea of purchasing a tripod – after all, it can be expensive, it can be a hassle to transport, and it’ll slow down your shooting – but here’s the thing:

A tripod is one of the most invaluable travel photography gear items you will ever own. In fact, ask any travel photographer to name their favorite accessory, and they’ll most likely say a tripod.

What makes tripods so special?

For one, without a tripod, you cannot take photos that require slow shutter speeds. Image stabilization technology is great, but you can’t use IS to capture ultra-long exposures at night; try it, and you’ll likely end up with a series of blurry photos.

long shutter speed coastal exposure using a tripod

And yes, tripods do slow you down, but that’s often a good thing. Tripods mean that you spend a bit more time thinking and composing rather than just snapping away.

There are plenty of amazing tripods, and the one that you choose will come down to personal preference, budget, and weight tolerance. Most travel photographers go with carbon fiber tripods, as they are stable and lightweight, and I recommend that you do the same.

Now, when you’re looking at tripods, you’ll probably notice plenty of cheap options – in the $50 to $150 range – and you’ll wonder: Why can’t I get one of those?

Well, you can, but they’ll often weigh a ton. You might not think that 7 lb sounds like a lot, but try carrying a 7 lb tripod for an entire day (along with your camera, lenses, and accessories) and you’ll wish you had paid more money for a lighter model.

And if you find a cheap tripod that doesn’t weigh a ton, it’s likely very unstable. Do you really want to rely on something cheap and flimsy to hold up your expensive camera? In my view, you should always choose the best tripod that you can afford. It’ll last you a long time, anyway, and will be well worth the initial investment.

long shutter speed abstract water

4. A camera bag

Tripods might be the most important travel photography accessory you’ll ever own, but camera bags come in as a close second, so make sure you buy a good, durable, comfortable product.

You see, camera bags often go unnoticed, yet not only do they keep your equipment safe while in transit, but they also hold your equipment when you are photographing at your destination. They protect your precious cameras and lenses from sand, rain, and snow, and they ensure you remain comfortable when walking or hiking from location to location.

There are lots of camera bags to choose from, and they vary in terms of size, durability, comfort, accessories, and cost. You’ll need to pick a bag that works for you, and as you become more experienced, you may want to buy different bags for different scenarios.

For instance, if I’m hiking or out in the wilderness, I carry a large, comfortable bag, one that’s good for long walks and that contains plenty of room for equipment, water, and more. On the other hand, if I’m shooting in a city, I’ll go with a smaller bag or even a shoulder bag, which holds less gear but won’t get in the way.

5. The little things

At this point, you have your camera, lens, tripod, and bag, which means that you have all the big purchases covered. But there are a handful of additional items that I haven’t mentioned yet. I’m talking about:

  • Camera batteries
  • Memory cards
  • A lens cleaning kit

All of these items are essential, so let’s tackle them one at a time.

First, the camera batteries: When you buy a camera, it will come with a rechargeable battery, but it might be wise to invest in at least one more. The last thing you want is to be out photographing when your battery fails. A spare will always come in handy. (Note: Mirrorless cameras have especially poor battery life, so if you do shoot mirrorless, you may want to grab two or three spare batteries.)

Next, you’ll need to purchase decent-sized memory cards. The cost will be a factor here, but keep in mind that RAW files take up a lot of space, so if you’re planning on shooting in RAW, you’ll definitely need extras. Depending on your shooting style, you may fill a 64 GB card in a day or two, so bring two, three, or more cards just to be safe.

Finally, you’ll want to grab a lens cleaning kit. This doesn’t have to be expensive, nor does it need to be elaborate; you might just buy a brush and a lens cloth. But no matter your destination, you will need to wipe dust, debris, and dirt off your lens glass, and if you have a proper cleaning kit, you won’t have to worry about ruining your equipment.

(By the way, I also recommend that you fit a UV filter over each and every one of your lenses. This will ensure that the lens doesn’t get scratched! It’ll be far cheaper to replace a UV filter than to repair scratched lens glass.)

man in a field

Bonus: Extra accessories

My travel photography gear list covers the essentials – but there are other items you can buy over time that can be incredibly useful in the right circumstances.

For instance, a polarizing filter will help get rid of unwanted reflections while boosting color saturation; I highly recommend carrying one if you plan to shoot water or vegetation (such as fall foliage).

And a set of neutral density filters will limit the amount of light entering the camera, which lets you reduce your shutter speed in bright light to capture smooth water:

long exposure of a stream with a polarizing filter travel photography gear

Then there are graduated neutral density filters, which are like ND filters, except they only affect part of the scene. They’re meant to handle significant differences between background and foreground brightness, and they’re especially helpful if you like to photograph landscapes at sunrise and sunset.

Finally, I recommend you take an external hard drive. A hard drive will free up memory card space, and you can also use it as a backup in case something happens to your cards!

travel photography gear landscape with a graduated neutral density filter

Essential travel photography gear: final words

Buying your first camera, lenses, and accessories can be a daunting prospect.

But if you pay careful attention to this list, do your research, and get the absolute essentials, then your kit will turn out great. You can always add more specialized gear over time!

Now over to you:

What travel photography gear do you plan to take on your next outing? What gear do you need to buy? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Kav Dadfar
Kav Dadfar

is a professional travel photographer, writer and photo tour leader based in the UK. His images are represented by stock agencies such as 4Corners Images and Robert Harding World Imagery and they have been used by clients such as Condé Nast, National Geographic, Lonely Planet, and many others. Kav is also the co-founder of That Wild Idea, a company specializing in photography workshops and tours both in the UK and around the world. Find out more at That Wild Idea.

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