Essential accessories for lightweight travel photography

Picture by Joana Bourgard

Most articles on travel photography gear you can find on the Web are either trivial (“don’t forget the memory cards!”), or apply strictly to people traveling with their own camels (“don’t forget a spare body and a studio lighting set!”). However, people starting their adventure with photography on the road are looking for advice backed by real life experience. I’ve been there myself. After a few years of research, experimenting and traveling, including most remote places on Earth, I managed to piece together my own set.

It should be noted here, that a different strategy should be used when assembling photography gear for a short (2-3 weeks) or a long trip (calculated in months). The basic set is similar, but in the latter case much more important is to have a good backup system for images. In both cases, there is usually one piece of luggage (a backpack?), so advice, which can be found probably in all articles in this series, that is “to buy a dedicated camera backpack” doesn’t make much sense, not if you are a lightweight traveler at least, since most of the stuff can be easily squeezed into a larger backpack. On the other hand, a decent waterproof bag for electronic equipment is a good investment.

Cleaning kit

Indisputably number one. It is easy to leave a finger mark or let particles inside the camera when replacing lens. Therefore, I recommend proven over the years DSLR Pro Kit from Lenspen. Very easy and quick to use, it saves in situations where ordinary cloth leaves streaks. The pen on one side has a retractable brush (which should be used first), and on the other end there is the cleaning tip. If it doesn’t work the first time, gently breathe on the cleaned surface and try again. The result is first-class. So far I haven’t seen any other cleaning method which would give comparable effects.

Zestaw DSLR Pro Kit od Lenspen.

DSLR Pro Kit from Lenspen.

It is not a bad idea to get dedicated cleaner fluid and tissues (like the high quality ones provided with Apple laptops), and an air blower, especially for those who happen to exchange lenses in the open.

Waterproof bag

My second favorite item, which I use every day except the continental Europe summer, and regardless of whether I go to work or struggle through the forest in a heavy rain, is a waterproof, rolled bag from Sea to Summit. As in the case of Lenspen, I have been using their products for years now and I can honestly recommend everything they have to offer. Especially the Ultrasil Dry Sack which seems indestructible and of much better quality than any other similar products from other brands.

UltraSil Dry Sack from Sea to Summit.

UltraSil Dry Sack from Sea to Summit.

Filters

Regardless of the type of photos you take, UV and polarizing filters are absolutely essential. UV filter provides additional protection to the lens and sharpens the image, too. Polarizing filter on the other hand helps achieving deeper contrast and color range. ND (neutral density) filter is useful for photographing nature with long exposures, eg. to make waterfalls and waves blurred. Also, comes handy when you have to take a picture in a very bright light and with wide-open aperture. Personally, I do not like the blur effect, trying to make pictures looking as close to reality as possible, and with the strong light I fight rarely and differently rather than using filters. The bottom line is: over the last two years I used ND filter once. In my opinion, if someone is not a fan of a certain type of photos, it’s a waste money.

Remote Switch

Who needs a cable remote switch, if there is a smartphone and wifi-enabled camera? Or at least an infrared remote control? As long as you are not obsessed with selfies, I would strongly suggest to get one for the very simple reason: the batteries finally run out.

Lenses

You don’t need a whole bunch of lens. Two are enough and one usually not, as long as you want to keep a decent level of sharpness. What I would recommend is to buy a better quality lens in the range somewhere between 16-70mm (the lower limit for the landscape photography and journalism-style shots, and 70mm for portraits), and if you are interested in wildlife photography, a solid telephoto lens in the range of 200-400mm is a must. No need for more. And, by the way, legs work quite well as zoom, as long as you don’t need a specific compression effect in the scene. So don’t feel afraid to come closer to the subject, talk, smile, or rush into a mad crowd on the street. It’s what makes photography even more fun.

Tripod

One can live without a tripod, but in low light conditions or in case of long exposure, the image quality might be pitifully low. I suggest you pay attention primarily to the weight. A proper tripod should have a hook on which extra load can be attached for extra stability.

Flash

I haven’t been a big fan of flashlight for a very long time, but now I just can’t get separated. Not because I enjoy taking pictures in the dark, but because I really like filling with artificial light, even in very good lighting conditions, especially with the background a step or two below good exposure. I wouldn’t recommend it though, if you were to decide to take a bigger water container or a flashlight. Nothing to die for.

Rogue FlashBender 2 flash reflector.

Rogue FlashBender 2 flash reflector.

However, if you are going to use flash anyway, you should consider buying a reflector (bouncer), which provides interesting ways of modelling light. The one I’m testing at the moment is Rogue FlashBender 2 – flexible, a bit pricey, but comes with good quality.

Power

You should not leave without a backup battery or two. If you think of exploring remote areas, I would strongly suggest getting a power bank with a 12V output and a compatible solar panel. A solution well tested in the field that became essential part of my own gear. What about a power strip? Oh, come on… Do you really need a huge power strip to fill up your bag with? A small splitter that allows you to connect up to three devices into a single power outlet is absolutely enough.

Powerbank and a solar panel from Powertraveller.

Powerbank and a solar panel from Powertraveller.

Image processing

A small, lightweight laptop becomes necessary for longer trips. Not only to be able to work with pictures and publish them on the go, but above all, to be able to transfer your valuable pictures to an external hard drive. Unfortunately, tablets don’t meet my expectations: they are too slow for image processing and there is no serious software available such as Adobe Lightroom.

Wearing camera

I suggest you immediately throw away your original camera strip. Not only because it exposes the manufacturer brand and makes your travel less safe, but mainly because there are more practical solutions. I would look at a proven in the battle field (as with anything else I recommend), camera strap from Joby.

Pro Sling Strap by Joby.

Pro Sling Strap by Joby.

Things you don’t need

  • Adapters for all possible outlets, because these can usually be bought anywhere in the world.
  • Dedicated camera backpack, unless you go for a day trip.
  • Full-sized power strip, a small outlet splitter is enough.
  • A GPS-enabled camera or external satellite navigation devices. Nice to have, but not really essential.

That’s it! I wish you a successful journey and share your thoughts!

Go shopping!

If you like any of the products mentioned above and trust my opinion, please consider purchasing through Amazon: