Travel Photography Equipment - What To Pack?

Travel Photography Equipment – What To Pack?


travel-photography-gear.pngWhat photography gear should I pack when I’m traveling? Today Christina Dickson answers this question. Image by Dean Forbes.

It’s your first trip out of the country as a real “photographer”. Your clothing is packed. Your suitcase is at the door. Now there’s only one question:

What photography gear do you bring?

In 3 days I head off to Ecuador as a photographer for a philanthropic missions group. While there, I get to spend an exciting 23 days documenting the culture, the mission’s work, and the people of Ecuador.

My office looks like a war zone as equipment and essentials are spread out so you can hardly see the floor. One thing is for certain: I don’t want to forget anything. There’s nothing more disconcerting than traveling thousands of miles to a foreign country, only to discover that you left a vital piece of your photographic equipment.

My list of photography equipment should cover me through rain, through dark convention centers, and through the sandy beaches of the coast.

1. Photographers Bag

No tourist bags here. When you are traveling overseas for a photographic mission, you need to protect your gear with something durable, water resistant, and maintain accessibility through mountain regions and the city. My bags of choice vary between the Kata 9, and the Crumpler 7 Million Dollar Home.

The Kata Rucksack is an amazing backpack. The main compartment has enough space for my Mark II N, 70-200 2.8 IS lens, 24-70, 2.8 lens, 50 1.8 lens, and two 580 EX speedlights, and a 250gig external hard drive. In the zipper top inside, I can keep my lens cloths and cleaner, my card reader, my extra cards, a USB hub, and any other small items I may need. Two zipper pockets on the outside hold my phone and ipod. Finally, the back holds a secret zipper compartment where I can keep my MacBookPro, charger and a book for the road.

When you don’t need to lug around a laptop and several speedlights, something like the Crumpler 7 Million Dollar Home is the perfect “sling” solution. It holds my camera, all my lenses, and its zipper top holds all the little accessories such as lens cloths, card reader and extra cards. In the front pouch I can hold my wallet, passport, phone, and maps. This is all protected by a very durable Velcro patch and thick clasp over the front.

2. Shooter Bag

Let’s be realistic. How often will you want to pack around 40 pounds of equipment on the go? If you have a secure hotel room and decide to leave your laptop, flashes, and other gear, you’ll want to be sure to have a “Shooter Bag”. A shooter bag is simplistic in nature. When my camera is on my shoulder, I need a bag just large enough to hold essentials. I have a sling bag that is padded enough for an extra lens, and large enough to hold memory cards, my wallet, passport and map. This is the perfect solution for traveling around large crowds when a normal camera bag will either hurt or hit people.

3. Card Case

On the road it’s easy to loose little things like cards. Keep your 1, 2, and 4 gig Extreme Cards all together in a little protective case that can be thrown into a larger bag.

4. Cleaning Equipment

Lens cloths are critical for dust, sand, and dirt that appear on your lenses. A “puffer” will keep your mirrors and sensor spotless.

5. Card Reader

Need I say more?

6. 120 Gig External Hard drive

I recommend purchasing a new hard drive for your photographic trips. Depending on the duration of time you will be out of the country, you may want to purchase a 120-300 gig hard drive for secure photo storage. Seagate and WD Passport are very reliable hard drives. I own one 120 gig WD Passport, two 500 gig WD Passport, and a Terabyte WD Passport. I have had no problems with these hard drives even with my traveling in the past 3 years.

7. Zip Lock bags

Heading off to a wet or rainy location? Keep a couple spare gallon sized zip lock bats to hold lenses and your camera when you need to keep shooting in spite of the weather.

8. An LED light

Don’t want to pack multiple flashes? Try using an LED (light emitting device) for dark places. Secure the LED to the top of your camera. Depending on its power and range, you may be able to light up the majority of your scene when available light is less than conducive to shooting. (You will find these in the camping section of Wal-Mart or Target.)

9. A journalist pad

Let’s face it. When you travel around, you aren’t always remembering confirmation numbers, hotel addresses etc. Keep track of people, places, and random notes when you are on the go with a small, portable note pad that won’t take up a lot of space, and won’t get damaged in various weather conditions like an iphone or other media device.

10. A Travel Tripod

For those days when you want to catch a sunset over Venice, you won’t want to be without your tripod. And I have good news. Traveling with a heavy, bulky tripod is no longer painful. Try the Gorillapod Compact Mini Camera Flexible Travel Tripod.

Happy photographic travels!

What travel photography gear tips would you add to Christina’s list of travel photography gear?

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category

Christina N Dickson is a visionary artist and philanthropist in Portland Oregon. Her work includes wedding photography and leadership with

Some Older Comments

  • ED February 16, 2011 12:14 pm

    @as: it is AN "LED" because you don't read it as led you read it as "el-ee-dee"

  • Duane Storey October 27, 2010 04:27 pm

    I'm heading out on a year long travel adventure, and have been debating what to bring as well. While I have a nice SLR, I've been hesitant to bring it along. I finally caved and decided to bring the SLR, but only one lens. I'm also going to bring a point and shoot along for when I want to leave the SLR in the bag.

    If anyone is interested in my decision making process, feel free to take a look at the camera gear I'm taking on my trip.

  • David August 30, 2010 03:54 pm

    Please get over it

  • Linda Moore March 5, 2010 05:27 am

    "an LED" is correct because the vowel sound short e is the first sound heard.

  • Mark February 21, 2010 08:02 am

    FWI, Led stands for Light-Emitting Diode.

  • Anthony January 28, 2010 04:24 am

    If you like the Kata Rucksack you should check out the Naneu Adventure K4L

  • ABQStyle Arizona Photo Blog May 2, 2009 01:35 pm

    I've learned that the best way travel is as light as possible. A small dslr body and no more than two lenses--the kit lens and a light zoom telephoto. A light tripod is a must as well.

    Thanks for the wonder article! You can visit the results of my travel through the southwestern United States at ABQStyle New Mexico & Arizona Photo Blog

  • GeddyJR April 8, 2009 02:00 am

    I happen to be a professional linguist (5 languages) and a trained chef. I bet I'd be invaluable to take along on your trips. And here's the "equipment bag" you'll need for me.

  • JBENZ December 22, 2008 02:48 pm

    I was surprised to see my Tamrac Deluxe Convertible in your lead photo.

    See my Five Star Amazon review:

  • David Blanchard August 19, 2008 03:13 pm

    I travel with a quality camera and one flexible lens. My current fav is a Sony DSC R1. The R1 travels in a small camera bag with the miscellaneous essentials (filters, mini tripod, lens cleaning stuff, memory, iTouch + headphones, etc.). Typically, if I'm shooting, the bag is in the hotel and essentials are in my pockets.

    I bring a monopod (packed at the bottom of the suitcase) until arrival at the destination. Look into a Trek Pod Por which incorporates a passable tripod feature.

    If possible I travel with my MacBook Pro. If not possible, I bring lots of memory (yeah, I have yet to buy an Image Tank-like device).

  • Matthew August 15, 2008 07:42 am

    I'm definitely going to take note of the advice to bring plastic bags and am also thinking about the following: some sort of solar-powered battery charger if a reasonably priced, small-ish device exists, and an ipod to not only hold music but to dump photos off to. I figure I'll be traveling much lighter than described above as my traveling is for recreation and not assignment but still a great article.

  • Photogeezer August 15, 2008 05:08 am

    First of all, thanks to Christina for providing this article. Disagreements notwithstanding, she obviously takes what works for her. Equally obvious, we're all going to develop varying preferences. E.g., I'm 58 and no longer have the stamina to lug around what I'd like.

    Kudos to the grammar police! My pet peeve is the use of an apostrophe to pluralize a word. How did that bad habit get started?

  • Kirk August 15, 2008 12:09 am

    LED actually stands for Light Emitting Diode.

    It is the name of a small diode that also produces light. When power is applied in the correct direction.

  • Guy August 14, 2008 08:48 pm

    Don't forget to bring electrical plug adaptors for your electrical gear. Did anybody specifically mention a circular polarizing filter, and lens hood? Hats.... most useful in bright sunny situations especially in the tropics

  • John P August 14, 2008 08:18 am

    I travel mainly in Asia and try to keep it as light as possible. Camera, polariser, SD cards, spare battery in a snoot bag which for longer outings and on planes etc I then put the lot inside a cheap looking back pack together with a monopod. I then also have room for a water bottle, passports, etc.

    What I would really like though is a compact storage device with the capability to edit photos while travelling in isolated places(e.g. with a program such as photoshop elements and a reasonable sized screen). Short of a micro laptop (which I'm told wont handle editing programs well)there seems to be nothing on the market.

  • dandaman606 August 14, 2008 06:53 am

    I have been fortunate to have travelled extensively and my rule of thumb from experience is always travel lightly for everything. get a name tag on a bag that doesn't scream steal me, I like to think most people are essentially honest. ditto to the suggestion of including a small flashlight/torch. Also,it is statistically overwhelming that your gear is much more likely to get pinched say in Rome,BA,or most large cities. I have seen many comments here and elsewhere advocating hyper-vigilance in third world countries. Just because people are poor doesn't mean they all want your stuff.being aware of your surroundings while travelling should be the first rule everywhere.

  • Lighttenuppeople August 13, 2008 11:09 pm

    To all of you who keep correcting the grammatical errors of others, do you really have nothing to do or are you so insecure that correcting someone's quick reply to a web post makes you feel superior?

    Go take some pictures.

  • he August 13, 2008 09:40 pm

    well, but if this list is longer than my gear list? do i have to take everything with me then? :D

  • foreveryung August 13, 2008 04:16 pm

    Hi Pi, it's rice. Not rise. Thanks for the great idea though. I will definitely be trying the rice bag trick!!! Cheers!

  • Pi. August 13, 2008 11:26 am

    Tripod? Nonono..!
    Take two stitch up little bags filled with rise with you and every underground will provide a perfect stable solution.
    The rise will keep your equipment dry inside your bag when your in humid conditions.
    But don't forget to place them in the sun as soon as you get the chance.
    Works great!

  • Artdrea August 13, 2008 10:12 am

    Thank you for the list it was really helpful
    you did a great job and put a lot of thought into it.

  • Lachlan August 13, 2008 08:09 am

    * a small torch for shooting after dark (try finding stuff in your bag in the dark)
    * a plastic disposable poncho (just in case the heaven's open!)
    * a remote shutter release
    * i carry a 40gb combined hdd/card reader (digimate ii) which works for my CF cards, and my wife's SD cards
    * collapsible tripod (i'm all about the long exposures)
    * 50mm macro, 50mm 1.8, 18-200mm telephoto and of course all the filters
    * water! (the lowepro bag has a great external attachment for your water bottle so the inside doesn't get wet)
    * and of course spare cards/batteries etc.

  • Donovan August 13, 2008 07:34 am

    You're only observing the basic rule for when to use "a" and "an" where a is used in front of a consonant and an is used in front of a vowel. Unfortunately, you are wrong in this case because there are exceptions. The writer is correct in using "an LED" since the first letter of the word sounds like a vowel. In this case it sounds like a short e.

    "as Says:

    it is ‘a LED’

    ‘An’ before a vowel, ‘A’ before a consonant."

  • Brandon August 13, 2008 05:37 am

    Oh Yeah! You need a voltage converter to plug in your hard drive/ battery charger!

  • Chet August 13, 2008 05:36 am

    Ditto on the shooter bag. A lot of people don't know why I like to bring an empty bag with me when I can. The camera belongs in my hands, not in a bag, esp a backpack.

    I don't need a bag for my camera. What I do need is an accessible bag for an extra lens, maybe a flash, batteries, CF Cards, etc.

    I throw a Lowpro Off Road over my shoulder. Straps adjusted for hand reach. Lenses in main location, flash in 1 can, water bottle in other can. Front pockets have room from everything else. This is good for most of my event work.

    Sometimes a client will have a room or I will have access to my car and that may be a good place for extras like a large backpack where the rest of the gear I want will be stored. Stuff a small notebook, Ext HDD, readers, reflectors, filters, tripod, whatever...

    Maybe that's what an assistant is for? Haha.. I've never really had the luxury.

  • Smitty August 13, 2008 03:48 am

    I'm amazed that you have the courage to shoot on the beach! Having lost an old (but cherished) Point and Shoot in the sand off Spain, I have a unique phobia whenever I'm confronted with shooting in sandy conditions. Luckily I overcame it just enough this past week to shoot my 4-month old on the beach in New Jersey.

    And, as an electrical engineer, I can confidently say that there is nothing wrong with 'an LED'.

  • Luke Robinson August 13, 2008 01:55 am

    I would say that picking and choosing the gear you take with you on a trip is entirely dependent on what you want to get out of the trip and where you are going.

    A comment above talked about getting robbed, which is a real risk in some developing countries, but will be even more of a risk if you are brandishing a gigantic and obvious camera bag (or a gigantic and obvious camera). Some of the crumplers are not obviously camera bags, though I find them a bit fiddly.

    For my purposes I am more than satisfied with one of the black mini backpack bags such as my LowePro Mini Trekker AW (,1965,14.htm) which is small and not obviously a camera bag, but can hold 2 Canon SLR bodies (40D/20D), a 70-200 F2.8L telephoto, two more decent sized L lenses (wide angle and "walk around" zoom), a 550EX flashgun, a GorillaPod, and a Canon G9 "SLR backup" compact camera. In addition a fair amount (14GB or so) of memory cards, spare batteries, various filters, cleaning implements etc. And in the outside pocket would go guidebook, notepad, pens, and photo business cards to give out.

    Would very much second or third the portable hard drive idea. I have one of those little Seagate ones and they're a life saver. Backup as often as you can and leave the thing in the hotel safe if you've got one. If you're on a long enough trip I would consider also backing up a selection of your best shots onto DVD at some point and then posting a copy home to yourself so that if the worst should happen and you are utterly robbed of everything, at least you have some backup. Obviously this could work with online backup as well, but my experience of the availability of high upstream speeds in internet cafes and hotels has been variable at best.

    Also would go the multi-camera route if you are on a proper photo expedition; you never know A) when you might need the backup body and B) when you might need to have ready access to your telephoto and wide angle lenses simultaneously. Of course you can solve that conundrum with an el cheapo 28-300mm super zoom but the slow speed of the lens and the likely sacrifices in image quality from that means most people quickly outgrow them. And definitely have a quality compact. There are times and places (in the souks, in ghettos, out on the town) where you don't want to be lugging a big SLR kit around with you. Sometimes you need to go a bit Lomo and shoot from the hip - you get some crazy shots that way. I find the Canon G9 quite good for this sort of thing as it has full manual control and RAW so I can always have a play around when I get back.

    Another thing to plan for is that for me, it generally takes almost an equivalent duration to the trip for me to postprocess and edit down all my shots to my final sets. So a 2 week trip requires 2 weeks of work afterwards to edit down.

    Some recent trips:



  • Brian August 13, 2008 01:46 am

    Great tips on the traveling cases.

    LOL @ the grammar police.

  • Alexandru August 12, 2008 06:28 pm

    I just bring my point&shoot camera in my pocket. But I am not a photographer anyway.

    When I have my jacket I also carry an extra set of batteries, tiny tripod, another memory card.

    On the last day of a trip I usually switch the memory cards and keep the first one safe (even if not full yet). That way I still have most of the pictures safe in case something happens with the camera on the last day.

    In my bags I bring a battery charger and charge the empty batteries every night. Plus USB camera cable and card reader, in case I find a computer to get my friends' pictures.

    Also a camera-to-TV cable, which is useful to see the pictures taken without a laptop. Most hotels have a TV with A/V kind of input.

  • Igor August 12, 2008 05:11 pm

    I always take tripod with me. Tripod is essential!
    And I take ND Grad filter. The effect of tripod + ND Grad is great in landscape photography! Especially in the evenings.
    Give it a try.

  • zulfadhli August 12, 2008 03:55 pm

    great tips.. in my previous traveling experience, i've noticed that batteries and memory cards is very essential. some of you may feel that 4GB is enough for one day shot and at night you will transfer the pictures into your external hardrive. But it wont enough. Being in other country, everything is new and everything is interesting and will want to shot all of them. So bring as many as memory card you can. and instead of buying 1 8GB memory card, it is better for you to buy two 4GB memory cards because the cards might crash or stolen or missing and these things happen, you still have another one. and bring batteries as many as you can especially if you are going to cold country because the batteries tend to dry out fast in cold weather. anyway, nice and great article...


  • zulfadhli August 12, 2008 03:54 pm

    great tips.. in my previous traveling experience, i've noticed that batteries and memory cards is very essential. some of you may feel that 4GB is enough for one day shot and at night you will transfer the pictures into your external hardrive. But it wont enough. Being in other country, everything is new and everything is interesting and will want to shot all of them. So bring as many as memory card you can. and instead of buying 1 8GB memory card, it is better for you to buy two 4GB memory cards because the cards might crash or stolen or missing and these things happen, you still have another one. and bring batteries as many as you can especially if you are going to cold country because the batteries tend to dry out fast in cold weather. anyway, nice and great article...

  • Mr English August 12, 2008 02:31 pm

    @ "as" - before you go correcting, it helps to have the rule correct yourself. In the case of acronyms (such AS LED) for example, the rule is the same but based on the sound rather than the actual letter (or how the letter itself is spelt phonetically). So it's AN LED vs A DOF.

  • Lindyannajones August 12, 2008 10:10 am

    I've discovered a piece of equipment I consider essential: knee pads. I use the hand-held type used by gardeners. I just returned from Monument Valley and at one point on my trip, we spotted a collared lizard. I know the shoot would have been cut short if I had needed to kneel on the gravel for long. My trusty knee pads allowed me to keep shooting for a full 5 minutes. I actually have two of them for those times when I want to get fully prone. I have one for my elbows and one for my knees.

  • Megapixelicious August 12, 2008 09:33 am

    My day back always have 2 big garbage bags, 2 granola bars, pocket change and a few plasters.

    Oh, tripod is ALWAYS coming with me now. I did not have it for my trip to Vietnam and Costa Rica and it was a big frustration.

  • Lee August 12, 2008 07:01 am

    I would say that on the whole, this is generally bad advice. I've been a world traveling photographer for six years now, and if you ask me, the most important thing to keep in mind in the third world is to never bring anything that would break your "photographic mission" were it to be stolen. Robbery is very real, especially if you're a white guy, and you're almost GUARANTEED to get stalked/held up/jacked in some form if you're carrying a big goofy photo bag and a tripod. Unless, of course, you plan to be accompanied by a security entourage and you plan to stay within well-trodden dorky tourist territory.

  • maz August 12, 2008 06:55 am

    Agree with comments about taking a tripod- I compromise with a monopod which works well. Re. Crumplers- I have a couple in different sizes; but WHY do they have a strap made from a stiff piece of car seatbelt? Really uncomfortable...
    One extra tip; I pinch the free shower cap from hotel rooms when I travel to slip over the camera if it starts to rain!

  • Brandon August 12, 2008 06:50 am

    I just did a 5 week jump in Europe. I took my tripod and hauled everywhere even with it being completely in the way. There were several times that I almost threw it way as I kept hitting things/people with it. I was saving it for my last days of the trip that were going to be spent in Paris and for taking those awesome Eiffel tower shots my wife would love. I get to the tower unpack all my stuff and realized I forgot the adapter that screws on to the camera to connect to the tripod rendering it useless. Came out with some great shots anyway. Point is make sure you have the adapter to your tripod!

  • Bill August 12, 2008 06:38 am

    What tips for taking hand luggage on a plane - what sort of bag is best to hold camera, lenses, laptop, tripod and other gear 'cos there's no way that mine is going in the hold. I recently nearly got caught flying on a budget flight within the UK as I had a fair bit of gear with me and couldn't take it all on board - had to stow the tripod in the end and hope for the best.

  • Christer August 12, 2008 06:25 am

    Thanks for the list. Will look into the Crumpler bag.

  • mik August 12, 2008 06:00 am

    LED stands for Light Emitting Diode (not Device :) but anyway good compact article you wrote :) thanks!

  • William Raven August 12, 2008 05:38 am

    I belive it's way too much gear, the tripod it's useless if you have Image Stabilization or Vibration Reduction.... If you need a tripod then any flat surface will work...

    What you REALLY need:

    1. Camera duh!
    2. Two lenses at most.
    3. Batteries... lot's of them.
    4. Cards, lot's of them.
    5. Plastic bags.


  • Teewinot August 12, 2008 05:05 am

    Perfect timing! I'm going on vacation tomorrow. :) Thanks for the great tips.

  • Ben August 12, 2008 04:31 am

    Not to be nit-picky: LED = Light Emitting Diode.

    On the subject of bags, I have been considering picking up one of these:

    I have a HD video camera /w two adapters and an XSi with two lenses. I have currently two camera bags and a harder case to store everything including cables, batteries, and chargers. I am also looking for a decent sized hardened case to transport everything long distances, but have a couple smaller bags to take with me.

    I would consider investing in blue-ray burner with media. hard drives are good but traveling abroad like that and being in more "rugged" conditions I would be concerned about the hard drives getting dropped and the head contacting the platters inside the drive. Solid state is another option. Both are really expensive.

    The GPS logger is an excellent suggestion. I would not have thought of that.

  • Fredrik August 12, 2008 04:17 am

    In my crumpler pretty boy I always pack my D50, 70-300,28 and 50mm + 4gb of memory. Only bring one battery since I've never had one fail or run out during one day. Ofcourse I only shoot for fun, so I don't need the backup. Never do photography with a tripod so I never have to haul one of those arond. In the top of the pretty boy I keep a bottle of water, pens and a sweater.

  • August 12, 2008 03:56 am

    I travel light, light light.

    In January of 08 I went to New Zealand for six weeks with only one carry on bag. In that bag was all of my camera gear, PLUS my clothes, toiletries, etc. None of it ever left my side. I would never risk leaving anything like a camera or laptop out of sight or in a hot car.

    My camera bag system was a Tamrac camera shaped case, with a heavily padded strap and two Think Tank lens pouches on either side. Inside was a D200, 12-24, 18-200, sb800, two pocket wizards, three camera batteries and charger, AA charger, two small gels, and 42GB (3x12gb, 3x2gb) of memory cards.

    I decided not to bring a backup device, and simply shot RAW+JPG and uploaded the jpgs to flickr or DVD at internet cafes. I never erased any cards and just barely filled them by the time I left.

    No tripod either, I have some great shots from the trip that were up to 2 second exposures hand held and came out fine. Wide lenses work well hand held, and my 18-200 has vibration reduction.

    You can see the results from the trip here:

  • Pete Langlois August 12, 2008 03:29 am

    I travel heavy and bring everything. You never know what you will need. I'm used to carrying everything in my backpack so it's no big deal. 4 batteries, 10-12GB of cards, spare flash batteries, all the lenses I might need, tripod strapped to the backpack and I use a monopod as a walking stick. Don't forget press credentials if you have them. You never know when they will save your butt.

  • Rosh August 12, 2008 02:55 am

    I like to keep it simple.

    But, I always have backups on my backups. Battery chargers, laptop, extra storage, cards, two cameras. You have to have two cameras. You are doing you and your client a disservice if you don't have backups, including cameras, when you are on location. Time is always extremely valuable when away from the studio.

    Always have a passport ready.


  • Lee August 12, 2008 02:30 am

    I'm surprised some sort of gps logger isn't on the list. I'm currently looking for one for my Canon 400D and got all excited when I saw the title of the article :P

  • Spencer August 12, 2008 01:57 am

    Great tips, but I have one back (because this blog trend really needs to stop):

    The word is "lose" not "loose".

    Again, great tips. On #7, a shower cap from the hotel room seems to work too.

  • as August 12, 2008 12:31 am

    it is 'a LED'

    'An' before a vowel, 'A' before a consonant.