Travel Photography Tips - DPS Community Workshop

Travel Photography Tips – DPS Community Workshop


It is time for another Digital Photography School Community Workshop. This week’s question is from Sandy who is asking for some Travel Photography advice in three areas.

Note: check out our Travel Photography Guide – Transcending Travel

If you have some advice for Sandy on any of their questions feel free to leave your tips in comments below:

In a couple of weeks I am heading off on a six month round the world trip (part work part vacation) and I’d like to ask your advice on three areas with regards to my photography.

Firstly – how would you recommend managing my images while away? I have three fairly high capacity memory cards – but am petrified at the cards getting lost or damaged. How should I back up my images?

Secondly – I have a Canon EOS 40D DSLR and am wondering if you could give me some advice on what lenses to take? I am willing to purchase one if you recommend one that I don’t already have. Obviously space/weight is at a premium.

Lastly – any general advice on Travel Photography? I’m both excited and nervous about capturing my adventures with my new DSLR – any hints or tips that you could give would be greatly appreciated.

PS: In addition to the advice of the wider DPS community – here are a few tips and tutorials from our archives to get you started Sandy.

Lastly – I’ll put in a vote for the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM Lens as a great walk-around lens for your trip (if you have the budget for it – it’s not cheap). I took it on a recent trip and while I did take a couple of other lenses with me the 24-105mm rarely left my camera.

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

Some Older Comments

  • Ron April 20, 2013 03:58 pm

    Back up your photos often and DO NOT delete off your cards as they will be your second backup in case you laptop gets stolen or has a hard drive failure. Cards are cheap . I use a mini tripod as it is all I need to brace the camera. As mentioned before flick the Canon strap and get a plain black one.
    Have a good trip

  • karolinahong December 24, 2010 11:23 am

    I use my Canon 550D to film a lot, which means that I use a lot of memory. I brought an external hard drive with 1TB of space which I'm hoping will last me for quite a few months. I also use Flickr and Picasa for storing my pictures online as a backup system.

    Good luck!

  • AngusM February 14, 2008 11:36 pm

    Sharon - speaking for myself, I wouldn't want to go to a place as amazing as Peru and leave my best camera behind. Unless you are worried about weight/bulk, I'd take the Rebel. However, make sure you get insurance to cover it fully, find something to carry it in that doesn't scream "camera bag", and carry a smaller camera as a backup so that if someone does grab the Rebel, you're not left without any camera at all. Peru has a bad reputation for theft from tourists, so it's worth paying attention to what's happening around you at all times, and not flashing your expensive camera about unnecessarily. Be cautious, be insured, and you'll be fine.

  • sharon Berg February 14, 2008 04:48 pm

    I found the information here very helpful. I wish I had one of you to hold my hand as I make lens decisions --but this is close. I am almost thinking now of not taking my rebel xti with me to Peru. I have an Olympus c5050zoom. Maybe that is a better and easier choice. What do you think?

  • tony tysinger January 11, 2008 11:22 am

    do people still use slr filme camers ilove them could someone answer me thanks tony

  • D. Brent MIller December 6, 2007 12:05 am

    Some time ago, I thought about this very subject, because I needed to carry a camera on a motorcycle tour feature story. As a professional photographer, I have too many lenses, and wanted just one for my Canon 10D. I bought the Tamron AF Aspherical XR DiII 18-200mm. At the time, it was a new lens made for the smaller sensors on digital cameras. The lens performed flawlessly. So, I bought the bigger brother (made for a full-frame camera) and use it a lot on my Canon 1D MkII. It also fits my EOS 3. The Tamron lens is a great tool for a single lens. The 35mm equivalent is 28-300mm.

    I no longer use the 10D, but I still have the Tamron lens and will sell it. If you're interested in a used lens (in excellent shape) at a very good price. Contact me through my web site.


  • Scott December 2, 2007 01:59 am

    I spent 2-1/2 weeks in Russia this past June as my first major trip with a digital SLR. It was nice not having to carry and protect a ton of film but digital brought new challenges.

    Bring an extra battery, perhaps even two, for everything that needs one. Bring a world adapter for your charger's plug too.

    Bring lots of memory cards if you can. Because ...

    I used a memory card backup device with a display on it to avoid having to bring a laptop and it worked great but I wanted to be extra safe so, as much as possible, I also left images on the memory cards so I'd have two copies.

    As far as RAW vs JPEG it is not an easy decision. I came back with just over 2,000 images and I don't have a ton of time to spend working on them. It took me months just to whittle them down to 600 keepers. I shot JPEG. If I had to process every image after I got home I'd still be trying to find time to get started. That's me though. You may be a more conservative shooter, a professional that needs maximum accuracy and flexibility or someone that has time and likes to use it processing images. On shorter trips I set the camera to shoot both and use the RAW files for any images that didn't come out right otherwise.

    Weight matters. This is especially true for lenses as glass is heavy. Quality also matters. I'd carry a reasonable wide to tele zoom but also bring at least one fast lens for indoors, night, etc. Otherwise you find yourself cranking up the ISO to the point of lots of visible noise and / or trying to handhold at speeds you can't.

    Depending on how much you'll be moving (packing, unpacking, lugging stuff around) a tripod may or may not be practical both because of weight and size/shape. Bring one if you can. Go with carbon fiber if you can afford to. Don't bring it if you already know you won't use it. I use a carbon fiber mono pod when I know a full tripod just isn't going to work for me. If neither is going to work, then go for an Image Stabilized lens at least.

    I like to stop into a gift shop and have a look at the postcard selection when I get to a new place. This gives me both ideas of the "classic" shots of a given area but also gets me thinking about other ways I might represent something so it doesn't look like everyone else's photos. Get a shot like the postcard and then look for the shot not at all like it.

    I also carried a small Canon point and shoot in a simple belt pouch for times when the SLR was too much to carry or too attractive to thieves. Took less than 10% of the shots on this camera but there are shots I would not have gotten at all. It was also a pretty lightweight way to have a backup in case of DSLR failure far from repair facilities or even stores to buy a replacement.

    I agree with everyone that has said ditch the branded camera strap. Regardless of the "hey, come steal my camera or worse" factor, they just aren't that comfortable in most cases. Get a good comfortable strap in basic black without flashy lettering. I favor the neoprene type straps that give a little but some prefer something with less stretch.

    I love the comment by the person that shot 3,000 images in RAW on their honeymoon and had time to put them on the laptop, convert and keyword them everyday. My marriage might not have lasted any longer than the honeymoon if I did that. Did you marry another photographer?

    As others have said, most of all have a great trip. It isn't good to get home after something like this and realize you didn't see enough of it without a camera between your eye and what you were there to experience.

  • AngusM December 2, 2007 12:55 am

    I use an iPod for on-the-road backup of pictures. Apple sell a $30 device called an iPod camera connector (I believe Belkin offer something similar) which acts as a bridge between your camera and the iPod. You plug the connector into the iPod, then connect your camera via USB cable, and the iPod pulls the pictures off the camera.

    On the plus side, an iPod is smaller and lighter than a laptop and even most other dedicated backup devices. There are some minuses too, though. First, iPods currently top out at 160GB. On a six-month trip, that might not be enough. Second, you need a fairly high-tech environment to offload your pictures and burn them to long-term storage: until then, you have a lot of eggs in your stealable, breakable and losable basket. Third, the transfer eats battery power on both the iPod and the camera. At a rough guess, my iPod can transfer about 2-3G of pictures per charge. You can spare your camera's battery by using a card reader instead of a USB cable, but not all card readers work with the camera connector. So you will have to plan to be 'on the grid' every few days.

    If you have the space and strength to carry a laptop with a DVD burner and a stack of blank disks, take one. You can use an iPod or a similar backup device as interim storage on side trips when you have to travel light, then offload when you get back to your local base.

    In many places, particularly where there's a big backpacker scene, cybercafes and camera shops will burn photos from memory card to CD or DVD for you. This can get pricey, especially with big memory cards, but if you don't have a laptop, it's a good option. If you can make two copies and mail one home when you reach somewhere with a reliable postal service, do it.

    Take extra batteries, take extra memory cards, take a compact digital as a backup for when someone steals your DSLR or just for times when you don't want to haul your main camera around. Take a cleaning kit, UV filters to protect your lens from damage, and a fallback lens.

    Finally, take notes if you can so you can remember where and what you were shooting, and always take the extra shot: you won't be back that way again.

  • Bilka November 28, 2007 02:15 pm

    Hi Sandy,

    Regarding Storage: A Laptop with a CD/DVD burner would serve you well. I would ship your burned discs to a storage PO Box or to a friend Stateside for safekeeping. Depending on how Mission Critical your photographs are you might want to ship via several different carriers and to several different destinations for storage. Keep a copy with you if you wish but ship a copy too. You could also go to a cyber cafe and upload your images to reliable on-line storage.

    Regarding Equipment: Depending on how "once-in-a-lifetime" your trip is you need redundancy on your side. Cameras are electro/mechanical beasts. Things can and do go wrong. It is best to expect failure and plan for it. Do not let it take you by surprise. The last thing you want is to be thousands of miles from home on the trip of a lifetime, the likes of which you will likely not see again and have equipment failure. Bring backup cameras, batteries, storage cards and lenses.

    Your DSLR (and computer if you bring one) require batteries. Bring a large supply. If rechargeable, bring at least four. If you have a charger don't forget adaptors and transformers to match the country's power and outlets wherever you will be going.

    Finally: Have a great trip!!

    Fiat Lux,


  • Andrew Collins November 28, 2007 09:02 am

    Got back from 2 months in South America in June and agree with all the previous comments. We took a backup drive called an XSDrive which is just a memory card reader and hard drive with just a 'copy to' button. Was fantastic, though I was petrified of corrupting it in a dodgy computer somewhere - but we didn't have any problems.
    re: the camera strap - definately get one that doesn't have big flashy signage on it. We got one that has wire cable inside it so that it is 'slashproof', though it still connects to the camera by a fabric strip. But at least its a bit of a deterrent.
    Another tip is, if you have one, to take a simple point and shoot camera with you. Sometimes you just want to go out to dinner and put a camera in your pocket rather than lug a backpack around.
    It was a pain in the bum carrying around a 18-55 lens as well as a 70-300, but the quality of pictures we got of things like condors flying down Colca Canyon were well worth it.

  • Mark Kenny November 28, 2007 05:20 am

    I spent three weeks on honeymoon and shot 3000 RAW files. The laptop meant I could quickly rate and roughly keyword my pictures every day. 15 minutes spent at the end of the day when you can remember everything is worth hours of time spent later. I kept all pictures on laptop in the bag with the camera and ran daily backup to external HD which I kept in my main luggage. When I left my laptop at the hotel I didn't freak because I had my backup photos with me.

    Bring a PC formatted drive (if not lots of them), not Mac, back up to that and if you ever come across a internet café you can pay to have CD/DVDs burnt you can post home. Shooting RAW and trying to upload could be difficult.

    Multiple copies, quick cataloguing and most open formats. You can spend the next 6 months sorting and correcting your photos and throw away the backups once your home.

  • Jenoa November 28, 2007 04:51 am

    My family went on an African photo safari this summer for several weeks and I opted to take along a portable picture device instead of a laptop. The Picture Porter Elite that we used can hold up to 120GB, and has ports so that you can plug your camera cards directly into the device for uploading or backup. Another tip I learned from a Photo Class is that if you replace your branded camera strap with a plain black strap, it might deter thieves from thinking your camera is worth stealing. I found that taking a beanbag was worth it for some pictures (mostly if I shot horizontally), but can get a little heavy when added to the weight of the rest of your camera gear. If you're traveling to a humid area, include those moisture absorption packets (that you usually get free when you buy a box of shoes or buy a purse) in each of your lens bags. Also, if you're switching lens frequently on the road, it can open your camera up to dust getting inside the camera body - a small cleaning kit (or at least a microfiber cloth and blower) can be helpful in this instance. Good luck with your trip!

  • Andrés Corazón de León November 28, 2007 02:35 am

    I recommend you bring two lenses, something equivalent to the Nikkor 18-200mm VR lens and a backup(faster) 18-70mm size(I don't know Cannon gear). This will allow you to travel light, leave one lens in the hotel safe in case yours gets dropped/knocked out of your hands etc. The 18-200 VR(a perfect walk around lens) will also allow you to focus on shooting and not always having to switch between wide and a zoom lens. Not having to change lenses will keep your sensor cleaner longer.

    With the shorter and faster backup lens, you can still get nice shots on your evenings out.

    As a bag, I'd recommend the Urban Disguise models at:

    They are relatively unobtrusive and will allow you to fit a backup drive and flash gear as well. They also have a built-in rain cover that is genius! Remember, you are only unobtrusive so long as your camera is in its bag. As soon as you pull it out, you will be pegged as a rich tourist.

    For backup, make sure you have two 2.5inch USB drives. Copy all your shots to your laptop first then transfer them to both drives. Only then should you reformat the cards in the camera(only!!) This gives you redundancy if your laptop gets stolen or a drive fails. Always carry one of the drives with you at all times(they are nice and small). This way, if your hotel room gets broken into, you don't lose all your shots. Keep the other USB drive in the hotel safe.

    I recommend you load up (at least 4) on 2GB cards instead of buying larger capacity ones. For the same reason, if a card fails or gets swiped, you only lose a small number of shots.

    I second the idea of burning backup discs to mail home. The slim DVD cases work great for mailing. I've never done the online backup thing. Most third-world countries will not have fast enough connections to upload every shot. Who wants to spend 8 hours at an internet cafe every weekend just to upload their shots--I'd rather spend that time shooting. Then again, I shoot 400+ pics daily.

    Make sure your battery charger is multi-voltage and definitely bring extra batteries. If your camera has the option, buy a battery adapter that will allow you to shoot with AA batteries. They are available worldwide and will definitely pull you out of a jamb.

    Bring along a box of extra strength Gallon-size Ziplock plastic bags. They are invaluable.

    If you will be going to extremely cold or humid climes you will need to take silica gel packs. A cheap alternative is Tidy Cats Crystals:

    It works just as well and costs a tenth of the price, so long as you don't mind your camera smelling nice.

    I would also bring a flash unit with a couple of color correction gels and a slave unit if you have one. Off camera lighting looks so good in travel photography.

    A backup P&S camera is a very good idea. I don't mind handing a $200 P&S to someone else to get me in a shot, but a $2000 one with an $800 lens......?

    Have a ton of fun and make sure you appear in some of the shots.

  • Chris Ridley November 27, 2007 11:12 pm

    You must have lots of batteries, I have 3 batteries with my 40d, 2x 2gig cards, 4x 1gig and a portable hard drive card reader thing, so I can plug and copy on the road. Works well for me, I also use a black Lowepro minitrekker, you can always tape over the logo, but it's a pretty concealed bag. Oh and I take my laptop too...and loads of dvd's.
    Backup backup backup!

  • Fredrik November 27, 2007 08:39 pm

    I usually bring an portable harddrive with built-in memory-card reader. This way I can make daily backups of my memory cards without having to add the extra weight of a laptop. If you also want to make DVD-/CD-backups along the way there may be cybercafes where you can plug in the protable drive and make copies.

  • Jamie November 27, 2007 12:34 pm

    Crumpler bags are good and don't scream "steal me." Lowepro has a few low-key options as well.

    Extra batteries are more important than anything else, because no matter how good your lens/camera/tripod/artistic vision/whatever is, you can't do anything without power.

  • Terry Leitzinger November 27, 2007 12:21 pm

    I would take the canon 24-105 4L IS, I also have the canon
    70-200mm 2.8 IS, not light, not small, but the 24-105 is the better travel lens

  • Tim November 27, 2007 10:34 am

    Lenses-wise, I'd suggest the combination of an ultra-wide (10-22mm or similar) and a good general-purpose zoom, like a 28-135mm or (if you can afford it) the 24-105mm L recommended above, and making room for a fast prime (50mm/1.4, maybe) shouldn't be too hard. Given that you'll probably be encountering some tough environments, make sure you have UV filters on all the lenses.

    Other things: I agree with all above who recommend a laptop and CDs/DVDs for image storage. In my travel experience, I filled one to two gb per week with an 8mp 20D shooting JPG instead of RAW. If you're shooting at 10mp in RAW, you'll want considerably more--the point being that it's more economical to bring another mode of storage that will let you back up your photos to multiple versions rather than rely on a dozen expensive CF cards carrying only a single instance of each shot.

    Also, even if you were able to carry a mess of fast IS glass, you'd still definitely want a quality tripod.

    Another note is that, as a theft-prevention measure, you should, rather than using a normal camera bag, or worse yet, one with the Canon name on it, buy an inconspicuous camera backpack, maybe with room for a laptop as well--this will likely be easy to carry, less prone to being snatched, and allow you to keep all your expensive technology together and on your person (though it might get a little heavy).

  • kevin November 27, 2007 08:57 am

    If you're bringing a laptop and/or external hard drive (portable one of course), do not forget blank CD/DVD media. Both the laptop, hard drive, and possibly even the memory cards are susceptible to magnetic disturbances, optical media is not. It's a cheap and lightweight backup option. If you bring plastic DVD cases (or buy them on the go), you can mail the discs home for additional cheap backup of important photos (CD cases are too fragile).

    For a travel tip, check first (ask at the hotel or nearby shop/restaurant that gets lots of tourists) if cameras are allowed in certain places. You'd hate to have to go back to the hotel to drop off your bag of gear because they won't let you in and there is no safe place to lock it up.

  • Scott November 27, 2007 06:36 am

    Agree with everything that has been said. Ordinarily I'd advise against bringing new equipment on a travel assignment, since a lot can go wrong and you want to spend time shooting instead of figuring out how to use your equipment. But you'll be gone for 6 months, so as long as you have a week at the outset to get used to your new equipment, you can consider a new purchase.

    Lens recommendations: the 28-135 IS lens has good optics and great range. On your camera, however, it probably won't be wide enough. I'd look for the 18-55 EF-S as an inexpensive alternative, or a fast prime wide-angle. If you can afford it, try the 17-40 f/4 L or the 16-35 f/2.8L. Both are expensive, but will get you great coverage in the wide to normal range on your camera.

    Take a lot of memory, and take either a laptop or a photobank. Also take some spare batteries. If you can count on excellent internet service, consider using PhotoShelter or Digital Railroad (or even Amazon S3) to back up your images.

    Always shoot raw.

    On the photography end, photograph what you like. Your instincts will be a good guide to a great photograph. Try to simplify where possible, and be conscious of your backgrounds. Try to photograph the light in addition to the subject. To paraphrase William Albert Allard, remember that the difference between a good photograph and a great one is inches. Vary your position, and try to shoot close, medium, and far.

    It helps to anticipate. I was in Alaska photographing glaciers at the end of the summer, and we spent time at sea in a fjord where glaciers were calving in the water. Each time a multi-ton block of ice fell into the water -- with a spectacular splash -- it was preceded by a noise like a gunshot. That would give me half a second to locate the noise, compose, zoom, focus, and shoot. If I knew what composition I wanted, I could set the zoom and focus ahead of time, giving me more time to locate the splash.

    Lastly: always have your camera ready. If you find you're missing shots because the lens cap is on, throw out the lens cap (or at least leave it at home). Your camera should always be on and loaded with an available card.

    Good luck, and travel safely.

  • Bryan November 27, 2007 05:22 am

    when i embarked on my around the globe trip the one thing i wish i had was a point and shoot,
    sure my dslr took some amazing shots, but for the nights out at the bar with friends and stuff, nothing beats a p&s

  • Don November 27, 2007 04:51 am

    I agree, take a laptop and an external hardrive. As far as lenses, it depends on how much you want to carry around but I like an 18-135mm and a 70-300mm zoom, extra bateries and cards a must.

  • mainfr4me November 27, 2007 04:36 am

    Agreed, do take a laptop and harddrive. Also, do shoot in RAW (I did get a lot of great shots in JPEG while I was in Argentina, but I do look back and wish I had shot in RAW). Also, extra batteries and a case that isn't very eye catching to a potential thief. I took the habit of getting a plain, black bag for my camera (I use a Canon bag). I then black out any branding or whatever with a sharpie so it now just looks more like a regular school bag or 'man-purse', but you don't need that headache.

    If you really want to as well, you may want to get something like an FTP account or an online storage account so you can store all of your stuff online somewhere, so no matter what you can get back to your photos later even if your things get stolen/lost/destroyed.

  • Christopher Brown November 27, 2007 02:25 am

    Six months on the road? You really ought to take a laptop, and an external hard drive for backing up, IMHO. Shoot in RAW, don't depend on your Flash cards for storage. Empty them daily or more often if necessary. Reformat them each time rather than erasing the photos from them. Take along a good cleaning kit of course. It's sometimes hard to find the simplest little thing in Kolkatta or Addis Ababa.

    And have fun! What an adventure.

    I shoot a lot in the developing world, and I'd also mention that in big cities, some people expect to be paid if you take their picture. I almost started a riot once when I didn't take a guys photo once he maid this clear, that he expected payment. I put my camera away and he started hitting our guide. We hotfotted it and all was well, but this is something you need to be sensitive of in poor corners of the world.

  • Tim November 27, 2007 01:48 am

    The type of travelling I do determines a lot about what I bring and how I expect the photographic experience to go.

    If I'm travelling with the family, my first goal is to enjoy the vacation with the wife and kids. Photography or at least quality photography are not my top priority. (We only get one go at being a Dad...make it count). When I have time to shoot, it's usually of my kids. Fill the frame and have fun. Remember, your on vacation.

    When I travel for my job (I'm not a pro photographer...just a geek), my free time on the trip is all about the camera.

    I have a Canon 30D. I bring only one lens. My 17-85mm IS lens. It covers a nice spectrum of what I like to shoot. I'd love to take a longer lens, but there is not always room for two lenses. I also take with me a pocket size tripod (one of the bendy kinds) and a small beanbag. Most of my free time is at night, so these are very handy to use as mount. Plus they are small and easy to pack.

    I always take my laptop with me (geek...remember) and several memory cards. You can never have too many. Make sure they are empty before you leave.

  • Mike Hillyer November 27, 2007 01:46 am

    Three words: Carbon Fiber Tripod. I have height and stability for my shots, all in a package that doesn't weigh more than the camera it supports.