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Essential photographic equipment

There has never been a more exciting time to shoot travel photographs. It is possible to venture to the most far flung corners of the planet and to have experiences that only a few decades ago were the sole preserve of anthropologists, archaeologists or explorers.

The advent of digital cameras has opened a whole new way of taking images and sharing them with your friends, family and even the entire worldwide web.

Despite all the changes, the fundamentals of taking good images have not changed a great deal. By learning a few guiding principles and making the effort to apply them in the field you can come back from your travels with images that capture the true feel of the experience.

Once you've made the difficult decision as to which camera to buy, there are a host of lenses, accessories and other essential bits of kit you should consider before setting out into the field.


Camera lens

Unless you want to carry around a barrage of fixed, or prime, focal length lenses then it makes most sense for travellers to use zoom lenses. You may lose a smidgeon in image quality with zooms but the convenience factor of just having one or two lenses and not having to change them constantly whilst shooting far outweigh this disadvantage. Zoom lenses also allow you to easily frame an image in different ways from the same spot.

For general travel shots, a good choice of lenses for starting out would be a 28-70mm and a 70-200mm, which would allow you to capture everything from big landscapes to intimate details.

If you are looking to shoot wildlife images then you need something bigger, 300mm or above. The bigger you go the better the chance of shooting award winning animal photos, but lenses over 300mm can make a serious dent in your travel funds.

If you want to play around with slightly whacky images then an ultra wide lens - 14mm or 16mm in focal length - can add unusual dynamics to an image but they have to be used with some caution as they create heavy distortion.

Memory Cards & Storage

With the onward march of digital cameras, the memory cards needed for storing the images have also seen rapid advances in technology interlinked with tumbling prices. There are currently several different formats of card, from Compact Flash (cf) to Secure Digital (sd).

Your choice of camera will dictate which format you need but some brands of card are certainly better and speedier than others. Leading brands include Sandisk, Lexar and Fuji.

The key to good performance is the read/write speed of the card, which can usually be found on the packaging. Although it is now possible to find 16 gigabyte or larger cards, it may be wiser to buy several smaller capacity cards, partly to add some security against losing your images.

If all your images are on one card and the card fails or gets lost, then all your images go with it. Using several smaller cards spreads the risk. cf cards are a handy size for handling in the field whilst sd cards are tiny and can easily be dropped.

Cards need to be cared for, so get hold of a memory card wallet to store them in and number the cards to keep track of which ones you have downloaded. A simple tip for avoiding overwriting a card that hasn't been stored on computer is to place them in the holder face up or down depending on whether they are formatted and ready to be used again.

If you expect to take more than one card full of images during your trip, then you can either take more cards (their prices have come down significantly), purchase a small storage hard drive with built-in card reader, such as those made by Jobo, Epson or Canon or take your laptop computer with you.

If the images are crucial, then it is a good idea to take enough storage capability to be able to back up your images at least once to avoid catastrophe if a hard drive unexpectedly fails.


Photographer using a tripod

Despite all the advances in technology, there still isn't a good alternative to carrying a tripod if you want to get the best possible images. Sharp images are certainly crucial if you have any intentions of trying to sell them or publish them.

The best time to shoot images is when the light is very soft and low, around sunrise and sunset, exactly the times when hand holding your camera becomes very difficult due to the slow shutter speeds required. There is a wide variety of tripods available, but as always when travelling, lightweight is a good option.

Also look for ones that pack down to a smaller size. A monopod is a viable alternative, though they won't help much in low light conditions when you may need exposure times of several seconds.


All good photographers have a collection of extra items that can help save the day when you are out shooting images.

A lens cloth and brush keep your lenses clean and dust free, while some cotton buds are useful for cleaning the nooks and crannies of a camera body.

A bible could be written for the numerous uses for a roll of duct tape, from fixing tripod legs and broken camera bags to keeping moisture out of the camera if you find yourself deluged in a rainforest.

Some lightweight dry bags (available from camping stores) are excellent for keeping your gear dry on the road. They pack down small too when not in use.

If you are using a slr then a good camera strap - rarely the one that is supplied by the manufacturer - will make things a lot more comfortable when you walk around for hours with it on your shoulder. Ones made from neoprene are particularly recommended.

Camera Bags

Photographer's kit

How you carry your camera gear is a very personal choice, but there is almost certainly a bag or case available to suit your needs.

Backpacks are ideal for spreading the strain of heavier loads over longer distances, but you have to take the backpack off to access any gear. A new range of single strap, across-the-shoulder bags have made it easier to get at your equipment on the move. They simply swivel around from your back and some have special access zips to make getting at your camera a breeze.

Waist packs are ok if you only have a light camera but they won't be comfortable over any distance with an SLR camera inside. Many camera bags now feature a built-in weatherproof cover, which can be a godsend when the heavens open.


It is crucial to check the small print of your travel insurance policy to ascertain whether it covers the full value of your camera gear. Many travel policies have a relatively small 'single item' maximum payout and they often count a camera body and a lens as one single item, even if they are not attached to each other.

If your policy is not sufficient, there are several commercial companies offering specialist photographic insurance, including Glover & Howe, Photoguard and E&L.

Processing and Image Management Software

In these days of digital it is becoming more important to have some photo processing and asset management software on your computer to deal with all your images.

Many professionals have long used Adobe Photoshop, but for most people this industry behemoth is overkill. Adobe's relatively new Lightroom software or Apple Aperture are both superb for doing almost everything most travellers will want to do with their images.

Both feature some reasonable ways of organising your images too, so that you can find them again even years after you shot them. Microsoft Expressions Media is another excellent package for organising and distributing your images.

If your budget is tight then Google Picasa is a free download and will search your computer to find all the images on it and allow you to organise or adjust them in a basic way.


The Traveller's HandbookOriginal article by Steve Watkins published in

The Traveller's Handbook