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The Travel Photographers Kit Bag


Hasselblad 503C camera and Hasselblad 180mm f4 Sonnar lens with Kodak Portra 160VC film

Hasselblad 503C camera and Hasselblad 180mm Sonnar f4 lens with Kodak Portra 160VC film

One of the great compromises we face, as photographers, is what gear to bring and, therefore, what to leave at home when we pack our bags. The experienced traveller understands the necessity to conserve space and reduce weight. Some decant their shampoo into a smaller container, dispose of excess packaging surrounding medicines (while including important documentation such as original prescriptions, product identification and dosage instructions) and choose lighter weight, new technology (e.g. fleece) clothing that efficiently manages a range of varied climatic conditions. A beanie, scarf or neck gaiter and gloves are great items to include for colder weather, while a sarong can become a pretty universal item (clothing, towel, wrap, etc) for the girls.

The camera bag allows us to include all our photographic gear into the one place. But remember, you have to carry it. Those taking a lot of gear may prefer the backpack version rather than the traditional carry strap shoulder style. Backpacks also provide fairly solid protection for your camera and lenses and enable you to take some of the weight off the shoulders and spread it more evenly over your back and hips. Try walking for hours with a more conventional camera bag slung over one shoulder and you’ll appreciate the advantage offered by the backpack.

However, while backpacks that sit snugly onto your back do allow you to balance the load quite evenly, the lack of air circulation around your back will tend to trap any sweat between your back and shirt. This is a real problem in high humidity climates.

Lowepro and Domke are very good bags. Lowepro has a huge range of packs, both traditional over the shoulder and backpack varieties. They are quite expensive, but well designed and are strong and very well padded.

Designed with the photojournalist in mind, Domke bags are often less well padded and, as a consequence, somewhat lighter. Some people find the Crumpler range of bags, particularly those designed like the ones utilised by couriers, to be effective for light to medium loads. Whatever bag you choose make sure that, like a new pair of shoes, you allow time to wear it in and understand how best to adjust it to your body size and individual needs. Many of those straps and belts have quite specific applications. Make sure you check them out and adjust them to your own individual body shape. For added security it is desirable that your bag should be understated and not look like a camera bag. You’re asking for trouble if you use a bag that advertises Nikon, Canon or any other known photographic manufacturer.

As to what you actually put into the bag, please consider the following:

  • Include your most used lens or lenses. A zoom lens is certainly an advantage, when it comes to size and weight, compared to two or more fixed (prime) lenses. But a zoom lens is really only an advantage if you regularly use it at a variety of focal lengths.
  • A fast, fixed lens (eg. 35mm f2 lens) for low-light photography (temples, sunsets, etc).
  • UV or clear filter on each lens, as well as one or more Polarising filters.
  • Only bring a separate flash (strobe) if you know how to operate it and intend to use it while you’re away.
  • The really inspired photographer may decide to include a fold out reflector to fill in shadows when shooting under bright light conditions. Many reflectors can easily be unzipped and removed from the underlying frame, revealing a white diffusion disk which allows you to both reduce and soften the light falling onto the subject (eg. face, still life, etc).
  • A light weight and relatively compact tripod, particularly one manufactured from carbon fibre, is ideal for low light photography. Alternatively, a fast prime/fixed lens as detailed above.
  • Two cable releases, including a spare, is essential for tripod use.
  • More storage cards than you think you will need.
  • Two portable storage devices (Epson, Canon, etc) of 100 GB or more used instead of or in addition to a laptop computer. Alternatively a small computer with two portable hard drives with at least 200 GB capacity.
  • Spare batteries and charger for camera.
  • Quality batteries for flash and accessories (e.g. alarm clock, torch)
  • Soft lens cleaning tissues/cloths and a large blower brush (eg. hurricane), though I would never use the brush as they tend to transfer grease from your hands and all manner of foreign particles onto lenses and sensor.

The above image features a tea plantation in the Cameron Highlands, Malaysia. My best friend (Cutts) and I were nearing the end of a photographic trip through Sri Lanka and Malaysia and were taking a few days break, over the Christmas period, in the highlands. The abundant green hues were softened somewhat by the moisture rich atmosphere, producing an image both delicate in tone and full of detail.   

© Copyright All Rights Reserved

Glenn Guy, Blue Sky Photography


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