Travel photography is a wonderful way to capture the beauty and diversity of the world. Whether you are exploring a new destination, revisiting a favourite place, or documenting your own culture, you can use your camera to tell stories and share your perspective. But what kind of gear do you need to start your journey as a travel photographer? In this article, we will introduce some of the essential travel photography gear for beginners, such as cameras, lenses, tripods, filters and accessories. We will also give you some tips on how to choose the best equipment for your style and budget. By the end of this article, you will have a better idea of what to pack for your next adventure!
Designing equipment list for your travel photography needs
What do travel photographers take pictures of?
Travel photographers can encounter various subjects and situations, depending on their destination and interests. Some of the common things that you might take pictures of are:
- Landscapes and nature: mountain landscapes, forests, seascapes, deserts, etc.
- Architecture and urban scenes: buildings, bridges, monuments, streets, markets, etc.
- People and culture: portraits, festivals, ceremonies, costumes, food, etc.
- Wildlife and animals: birds, mammals, reptiles, sea creatures etc.
Each of these subjects might require different types of photography gear to capture them effectively. For example:
- Landscapes and nature: a wide-angle lens to capture the vastness and depth of the scene, a tripod to stabilise the camera and enable long exposures, and a polarising filter to reduce glare and enhance colours.
- Architecture and urban scenes: a zoom lens to cover different focal lengths and perspectives, a flash or a reflector to fill in the shadows and create contrast, and an ND filter to control the exposure and create motion blur effects.
- People and culture: a prime lens with a large aperture to create a shallow depth of field and isolate the subject from the background, a remote trigger or a timer to take self-portraits or group shots, etc.
- Wildlife and animals: a telephoto lens to get close to the action and capture details, a fast shutter speed to freeze the movement and avoid blur, a monopod to support the camera and reduce camera shake, etc.
Considering the size and weight of your gear
One of the challenges of travel photography is to balance the quality and quantity of your equipment. You want to have the best gear possible to capture stunning images, but you also want to avoid carrying too much weight and bulk that might limit your mobility and comfort. That’s why it’s important to consider the size and weight of your gear before you pack your photography bag for your next adventure.
The first thing to consider is the airline luggage restrictions. Depending on the airline and the destination, you might have different limits for the size and weight of your carry-on and checked baggage. You don’t want to pay extra fees or risk losing your valuable equipment if you exceed these limits.
The second thing to consider is your ability to carry the gear around all day long. Depending on your itinerary and activities, you might have to walk a lot, climb stairs, ride public transportation, or hike trails. You don’t want to get tired or injured by carrying too much weight or having an uncomfortable bag.
Familiarity vs. shiny new toy
With camera gear, as with many other pieces of technology, there’s always a temptation to upgrade or get the newest shiniest bit of kit. Although significant upgrades could facilitate easier photography, the changes between models are usually fairly small and incremental.
If you’re just getting started I would suggest keeping your camera body simple, learning the basics and then upgrading once you know your way around all of your cameras functions and are looking for more functionality.
I started with the Nikon D3200, an entry-level camera, but with a decent sensor. This camera served me very well, and adding additional lenses to my kit once I knew my way around the camera. Funnily enough, the majority of the photos within this post were taken with my D3200, before I upgraded to my current Nikon D7200 camera body, which personally for my situation is the best camera, even though it’s not a full-frame camera.
The best way to improve your photography is to get out there and practice, while also increasing your chances of capturing special conditions. Spending money on getting to new, exciting places around the world is definitely a preference for me, over spending thousands on a top-of-the-range camera. Of course, these priorities depend on your available budget and level of experience with photography.
Best travel photography gear
There are hundreds of cameras available on the market, each with pros and cons.
Point and Shoot Cameras. These are the cheapest and smallest cameras, therefore have a small sensor with poor low-light performance and image quality. e.g. Panasonic Lumix TZ200
Bridge Cameras. These sit between point-and-shoot and DSLR cameras, typically with a slightly larger sensor but a fixed lens which cannot be changed. e.g. Sony RX10 IV.
DSLR Cameras. This type of camera refers to the Digital Single Lens Reflex camera with a larger sensor size (crop or full frame) and interchangeable lenses. e.g Crop sensor: Nikon D7500 or Canon 850D (Rebel T8i). Full frame: Nikon D780, D850 or Canon 5D Mark IV/6D Mark II. However, the best DSLR camera for travel photography depends on your budget and requirements. Read more about crop sensor and full frame camera differences.
Mirrorless Cameras. Mirrorless cameras, as the name suggests do not have a reflex mirror or an optical viewfinder. They’re typically smaller and lighter but still retain a larger sensor (crop or full frame), e.g. Crop sensor – Nikon Z 30, Z 50 or Canon R 10 or R 7. Full frame – Nikon Z5, Z6 II, Z7 II, Z8 or Canon RP, R, R8, R5. These are the options available as of July 2023.
DSLR vs. Mirrorless
If you have an unlimited budget, a high-end mirrorless camera will likely be the way to go. The reduced size, weight and modern features are hard to beat with a DSLR, making them highly suited to travel photography. Mirrorless cameras have come a long way in terms of their capabilities and now many models outrank older DSLR systems.
That being said if you’re looking for a lower-end camera, a DSLR may be better value for money. Also, not everyone can get on with the EVF (described below) and may prefer an optical viewfinder.
This was historically a disadvantage but now transitioning into an advantage for mirrorless cameras. For example, eye-detect and subject-tracking across focus points almost across the entire sensor.
As DSLRs have an EVF (Electronic Viewfinder) this uses more battery when compared to the optical viewfinders found in DSLRs. With the smaller camera body, the battery size and therefore capacity is often also reduced. Although battery life is constantly improving and the most recent camera bodies are very good. Spare batteries can be carried and many cameras support USB charging.
As mirrorless cameras have been around for less time than DSLRs, This leads to fewer options for used lenses, limited 3rd party lenses and an overall reduced portfolio of lens options vs. DLSR lenses. However, most DSLR lenses can be adapted for mirrorless camera bodies with a spacer which does not impact image quality. Also, the number of mirrorless lenses is increasing rapidly.
As the sensor is fully exposed on most mirrorless cameras it can be more susceptible to collecting dust during lens changes. However, with the correct lens-changing technique and by keeping your camera and lenses clean sensor cleaning can be reduced.
DSLR vs. Mirrorless summary
Finally, and most importantly the image quality is more or less the same between a mirrorless and DSLR camera, considering similar specs. The added features of a state-of-the-art mirrorless camera may help to improve your hit rate, but only if you know how to use them and pair them with a great scene and composition!
If you’re limited in terms of available budget, spend the money on different lenses as opposed to a high-spec and expensive camera body. An all singing all dancing camera body can wait for when you have learnt how to use all the features on your entry-level or semi-professional camera.
What lenses should a travel photographer have?
This is a crucial question and also a real challenge. Unfortunately the “perfect all-round lens” doesn’t exist without some form of compromise. The best lenses also depend on your budget and requirements.
In general, there are three DSLR lens type options to cover all basis, but of course, these can be mixed and matched where needed. I describe these options in more detail below, including the pros and cons. This can then help you select the correct options for you, given your budget and personal preference.
|Prime lenses||35mm f/1.8|
|Lowest aperture fast lenses ✔|
Highest possible image quality ✔
|Many lens changes needed with fixed focal lengths ✘|
High-cost option ✘
|“Holy Trinity” f/2.8 zoom lenses||14-24mm f/2.8|
|Low aperture fast lenses ✔|
Variable focal length – Increased flexibility ✔
|Some lens changes needed ✘|
Highest cost option ✘
|Wide angle lens, prime & superzoom lens||11-16 f/2.8|
|Lowest cost & weight option ✔|
The best balance of prime/large focal range lenses ✔
|Least lens changes with flexible superzoom ✘|
Crop sensor-only lenses ✘
What is the best single lens for beginner travel photographers?
For a beginner, or someone just getting into travel photography simplicity and flexibility is key. Spending thousands and lugging around a huge bag of many lenses is unlikely to be the best start for your photography. Although you may have the best gear, you may not have the experience to put it to the best use. For example, some moments happen quickly, and having the wrong camera lens can cause you to miss the moment entirely.
For optimal flexibility, a zoom lens is preferred as this gives many options for different compositions depending on the scene. A superzoom such as the Tamron 16-300 or 18-400 also allows a wide-angle focal length, together with a long focal length. Although there is a compromise with the narrow aperture, a lens like this can save you a lot of weight and money.
I talk more about these superzoom lenses in this article about Nikon D7200 lenses for travel photography.
The two main types of filters are Neutral Density filters (ND) and polarising filters. It’s recommended that you first become familiar with your gear and general settings before implementing the use of filters.
These allow you to slow down your shutter speed by reducing the light which can reach your sensor. This can be beneficial in some situations such as capturing the movement of water or clouds. They come as variable ND filters or filters which block a fixed amount of light. Further details on the use of ND filters can be found in this article, which also details how to use them for seascape photography.
A circular polarizer can be used to cut down reflections and also glare which in turn increases saturation. This can come in really useful, especially for landscape photography.
There are a few disadvantages as these reduce light into the lens/sensor, therefore in low light to maintain shutter speed ISO may need to be increased for a given aperture. Also, they’re fairly expensive, and another thing to think about in terms of careful storage and attachment to the lens front element
Must-have photography accessories
Tripod or monopod. Depending on your travel itinerary and genres of photography a tripod, although bulky can be a great addition. A tripod really comes into its own for night photography. Various options are available
Remote shutter release. Although cameras often have a self-timer function built in, for timelapse photography a timer remote shutter is very helpful as it can be set to set photos at a given interval, continuously.
Plenty of memory cards. The last thing you want on a trip of a lifetime is to run out of space. Ensure you have plenty of memory cards, and if you can purchase the faster read/write speed cards you can afford them. Make sure you also have a storage solution and stay organised, you don’t want your SD card getting lost or damaged.
Spare camera batteries. It’s not always possible to recharge your camera batties when out and about. For this reason, it’s best to always have a couple of fully charged spare batteries just in case. It also allows you to still use your camera whilst other batteries are on charge. In cold locations, you will find that batteries will drain a lot faster.
Comfortable travel bag
This is probably one of the most important considerations. If you’re not comfortable carrying your gear, you’re likely to be reluctant to take your gear out and about with you. Together with comfort, easy access to your camera gear is key, enabling you to quickly get your camera out when required. The right camera bag may not be a photographic gear-specific bag, especially if you need to carry plenty of other gear. Overall there are plenty of options and it comes down to personal preference. Your bag is the one thing that will always be with you, so make sure you’re happy with your choice.
What’s in my own camera bag?
- Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3
- Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 or Tamron 24-70 mm f/2.8 G2
- Nikon 85mm f/1.8
It’s worth noting that I don’t usually take a laptop and external hard drive with me, mainly due to the weight and cost. However, for large trips where I’ll be taking many photos, I will bring them, to ensure I can backup photos as I go to reduce the risk of losing any photos.
In conclusion, embarking on a journey as a travel photographer is an exciting endeavour that allows you to capture the beauty and diversity of the world around you. Equipping yourself with the right gear is essential for telling compelling stories through your lens and for making your photography trips as pleasant as possible. From versatile cameras and lenses to handy accessories like tripods and lens filters, finding a balance between quality and convenience is key. Remember, while top-of-the-line camera equipment can enhance your photography, it’s the passion, practice, and unique perspective that truly make your travel photos shine. Pack your bags, embrace the adventure, and let your travel photography journey unfold!