The Best Travel Photography Gear – The Ultimate Guide For Beginners
Do you love to take pictures when traveling but your smartphone doesn’t feel good enough for the job?
Your old compact camera is not delivering the quality you demand on your travel pictures?
Maybe you’ve had an entry-level DSLR for a while now and it’s time for an upgrade?
It doesn’t matter if you’re a newbie or you’ve got some experience on travel photography, either way there’s always something you can do to improve your equipment so that you feel you can get the most of your trips and photos.
I’ve put together a quick guidefor beginners with The Best Travel Photography Gear you can get if you want to start getting serious about it.
Ready to take your photography to the next level?
Basic Travel Photo Equipment
Forget about the phone and the selfie stick.
If you want to get serious about travel photography you will need a basic equipment which includes more than just the camera.
Maybe you want to get a job as a travel photographer; you’re planning on starting your own business online around your passion for photography; you just love it and would like to take better quality images or even you want to sell your photos online and get some extra cash.
In any of these cases, do not assume that just a great equipment would automatically make your photos better, you need to be talented or to practice a lot (sometimes it takes both) for that to happen.
A more suitable gear will help you be more comfortable when taking photos, discover the basics, find out which type of photography you like the best and you’re better at… And that will, eventually, help you get more creative and better quality images, which is what every photographer strives for in the end.
Let’s see what items should be in a travel photographer’s bag and which specific brands and type of gear are the best when you’re a beginner.
In this article, we’ll be talking about two types of gear:
- BASICS: Camera, Lenses, Tripods, SD Cards and Travel bags.
- ACCESORIES: Filters, Remote Shutters, Lens Cleaners, Flashlights, Spare Batteries.
* Before I start, Full Disclousure: I use Canon, and I’ll be recommending Canon cameras and lenses on this article since they have much better autofocus technology built-in, the menus are very intuitive and easy to navigate through and the entry-level products are cheaper and better quality in comparison with Nikon and other brands. I will never say you will take better pictures with Canon, since that involves much more than just the gear. You can take good pictures using any other brand. It’s just that I believe Canon is much better to learn with if you’re a beginner.
Now we got that clear, let’s cut to the chase my friends 😉
Time to step up your photography game!
Let’s consider two different scenarios here:
– If this is going to be your first DSLR.
You should get an entry-level type of camera. The goal here is to learn how these devices work, get comfortable shooting on semi-manual and manual modes and see how that can improve your captures and stories.
In this case, I’d recommend the Canon EOS 700d / Rebel T5i, which is the one I started my photography journey with. You can have lots of fun shooting with this one! It usually comes together with a Canon 18-55 IS STM lens, which is perfect for landscape and street photo. So it’s a nice pack to start with if you’re a travel photographer. It’s the one I got, since I saved like $100 with the pack.
We’re talking 18-Megapixel Camera, 1080p30 video recording with continuous autofocus in movie mode, 9 point AutoFocus sensor and flip-out screen.
No need to list all the features here. When I bought it 4 years ago, I didn’t understand the meaning of most of them, but I knew where the trigger button was, so I could start shooting, which is the most important part.
My advice is: just learn the basic concepts (aperture, shutter speed, ISO and white balance) and how they affect your photos, and then, if you want to get better in photography, shoot as much as you can! Don’t think too much, just practice.
– If you already have some experience with a DSLR but feel you need an upgrade.
That’s actually my case right now. I feel I’ve learned a lot and I’m starting to need a little bit of higher quality equipment cause I’m already way past the novice-level and I know I can get more from my photos.
So I just bought the Canon 80d, which is what they call an enthusiast-level camera. Not professional, but a much better machine (more quality materials and interesting additional features). I bought it together with the Canon 18-135 IS nano USM lens, since it covers a wide focal range very suitable for travelling, plus you save like $200 with the pack.
Now, we have 24MP, 1080p60 video recording with Canon Dual Pixel on-sensor phase-detection autofocus system, it also has flip-out screen but this time 45-point AutoFocus, which helps you get sharper images than the previous one (my main reason for the upgrade).
Again, many different and technical features to talk about, but you’ll learn them as you practice. The main thing here is to give you the basics for travel photography 😉
This model was released in 2016 and reviews say that it even beats some professional full frame cameras in some specific features. You’ll find only good words about it online.
I started out with just one really simple low quality lens, since I only had around $700 to spend in both the camera and one lens. So I went for a wide range lens (Tamron 18-200mm), so that I could take pictures of everything without changing lenses.
After four years of practice I’ve realized which kind of photos I like to take the most, so now I can really go for specific lenses so that I can make the most of my captures.
Lenses are one of the most important and expensive thing you need to take into account as a photographer, but there are many lenses in the market which deliver a really outstanding quality for their price.
When it comes to travel photography, you have a wide array of scenarios and types of different pictures you can take, and that will define what lenses travel with you.
For example you may be a wild-life lover, in which case you’ll need a telephoto lens (70-200mm / 70-300mm / 100-400mm), or more like a street photographer (portraits, stree life), where prime lenses (fixed 35mm / 50mm / 85mm) do the trick pretty well and deliver better quality. Maybe you love landscapes and nature, so you will need a wider angle lens to get more of the image into your frame (8-15mm / 10-18mm / 11- 22mm), or night photography, in which case you’ll go for fast lens (meaning wide aperture, which brings more light into the sensor). But you can always get a more wide range zoom lens if you don’t have any special preference and just want to document what’s around you with a bit of freedom (18-135mm / 24-105mm / 18-200mm).
Remember we’re always talking beginner-enthusiast level with a budget, so we’ll rule out advanced pro expensive stuff. If you’re loaded, and want to go straight to the top from the very beginning and get a $5.500 Canon 1DX MarkII, be my guest, but I don’t recommend you do it cause you won’t know how to even turn it on 😉
I’m going to show you now the lenses I carry when I travel, which are some of the most recommended lenses for each category:
– Multi-purpose Zoom lens: Canon 18-135 f/3.5-5.6 IS USM
– Street Photography: Canon 50mm f/1.8 STM
– Landscape Photo: Canon 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM
– Telephoto: Canon 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM
Many people undermine the importance of carrying a tripod.
Yeah, I know, they’re bulky and sometimes heavy and we’re talking travel photography. So you don’t want to be carrying around heavy stuff. True, but still…
If you love landscape photo, and you want to take some long-exposure photographies of the moving clouds on the sky, or turn a waterfall into a smooth curtain of water.
You can even take some light-trail photography or do a creative time-lapse video, you will need a tripod.
And I’m telling you, when you don’t have it, that’s the precise moment when you’re going to need it and you’ll beat yourself out for that (it happens, trust me).
So, at first I went for a cheap light tripod, but I realized it needed to weight a little more, since on windy locations it wasn’t stable and didn’t deliver sharp photos since the camera was shaking all the time (rookie mistake).
So now I carry two different tripods, which I really recommend to always travel with:
– Manfrotto MKCompactADV-BK: Height: 17 in – 65 in. Weight: 50 oz. and holds up to 141 oz. Lenght: 17.32 in, which is perfect to fit in a carry-on bag.
– JOBY Gorilla Pod SLR Zoom. It allows you to place the camera almost anywhere and get creative shots. Also it’s also so little you can carry it in your backpack. It holds up to 3kg (6.6lbs).
This one should be listed with the basics, since without this digital storage devices, you can have the best camera in the world, but you won’t be able to capture anything.
It’s the place where your photos will be stored until you transfer them to your computer to edit them and get the final version, so it’s important to take into account several features when it comes to choose the most suitable card for you:
– Capacity: there’s two types of cards when it comes to the space available to store footage. The SDHC (Secure Digital High Capacity) cards which go from 4GB to 32GB, and the SDXC (Secure Digital eXtended Capacity) cards, where you can choose from 64GB to 2TB.
You want to make sure you don’t run out of space while you’re travelling. Unless you’re planning to be shooting on cities, where you can instantly buy anything you need, you don’t wanna be in the middle of nowhere, shooting wild-life and realize your card won’t take another single photo. Plus, if you’re shooting RAW format, which i deeply suggest you do to get the most of your pictures, the size of the images will be bigger.
– Speed: Different cards have different speeds when it comes to store the photos and video footage you take with your camera.
The speed class of an SD is specially important when you wanna record video. It goes from 2MB/s to 10MB/s. If you’re shooting RAW or making HD video with your camera, you’d go for the 10MB/s one with UHS (Ultra High Speed) classification.
There’s more advanced cards in the market which go up to 312MB/s, but they are for pros making 4K and even 8K video. No need to spend so much on a card, because you won’t even notice the difference.
There’s many SD card brands, and at the photography level we’re talking about. And unless you’re making pro videos to sell, you can’t go wrong when choosing one.
I use SDXC cards of at least 64GB and 10MB/s UHS minimum, of a high quality brand. The SANDISK Extreme Pro line is one of the most used because of its high quality and good price.
There are many types of bags in the market. Thousands of brands, which produce a wide array of models. From the classic little only-camera bags for tourists, to big hard cases for professionals which can transport all kinds of big and heavy equipment (lights, super-telephoto lenses…).
But I would personally go for something kinda in the middle: back-pack style. You’re going to need a wide, comfortable and resistant bag to carry your gear around on your trips, so I guess this is the most effective type of bag for travel photography.
There are bags which only allow you to fit photography equipment in a very specific way and they don’t have space fot other items. I prefer the ones that have a compartment where you can accomodate your camera and lenses, and then several other smaller compartments for the rest of the accesories.
My choice when it comes to the travel bag is:
Manfrotto MB MA-BP-A1Advanced Active BackPack I (Black). You can storage personal items in the top compartment and photo gear in the bottom one (one DSLR with attached lens and 2 extra lenses). Lots of space for cards, filters, flashlights. A specific pocket for a 15″ laptop and 4 zippered compartments. Rain cover and external pockets with a strap to attach a tripod. To me, it’s the perfect travel bag for an amateur photographer.
These are accesories you attach to your lens, for several creative reasons. You don’t need to use them, but in some cases, they can really make a difference. But be careful using them, watch some tutorials first to make sure you’re doing it right. And take into account that the diameter of the lenses is variable, so the filters’ diameter has to match that measure.
There’s a lot of different types, so I’m just going to outline the most commonly used:
– Polarizing Filter: reduces reflections, increases the contrast of the image and even enhances colors. Specially useful for landscape photography in sunny days.
– UV/Haze Filter: protects your lens from external elements like dirt, moisture or unwanted scratches. They have aminimum, almost unnoticeable, effect on the quality of images. Some people have them always on when shooting outdoors.
– Neutral Density (ND) Filter: reduces the amount of light that enters through the lens.
Used to avoid overexposed photos or when you want to capture movement or motion blur for creative effect (moving objects, people, waterfalls, rivers). When using it you’ll need to decrease the shutter speed, so the use of a tripod would be highly required. There’s different types whether you want a fixed density of variable (the fixed ones, like in the lenses case, give more quality images).
Then there’s color, warming and cooling filters which change the color range of your images, close-up filters for macro photography, so you can get closer to the object and get a sharper image and also special effects filters, which involve a wide range of different type of effects which help create unreal or fantasy pictures without having to do so much editing.
But the first three are the ones you’re probably going to use the most.
These are little devices that allow you to take pictures without pressing the physical shutter button of your camera.
In which occasions is this useful for you?
– Long exposure: when you want to capture movement or you’re shooting in low light conditions and set a low shutter speed in your camera and put it on a tripod, having a remote shutter will help you avoid the camera shake when you press the button.
– Selfie/Family photos: you’re by yourself or with friends and family and want to show up in the picture, you just place the camera wherever you want and shoot from the remote.
– Multiple exposures: you want to take several shots of the same picture but focusing on different points each time so that you can blend them together into one single photo where everything is on focus. While the camera is in a tripod and you use the remote, that allows you to make sure the frame doesn’t change and there’s no shaky blur due to touching the camera. This technique is highly used on landscape photography.
– Telephoto shots: the more you zoom in and magnify the image, the more the camera shake effect magnifies as well, so placing the camera in a tripo and useing the remote shutter will help you get sharper images in this cases.
Of course, many brands produce this type of devices. If you have a Canon camera, you can find very affordable compatible remotes. I use one with cable. But there’s also wireless remotes. Keep in mind that they have batteries, so keep them charged.
Lenses can get dirty, and it’s important that you take care of them since they are the main party in the images you take.
So, make sure you keep them clean, specially if you’re shooting in a beach, dessert, in the woods… Dirt, dust and moist can ruin your shots, and it may be too late to realize when you’re already editing on your computer. So, specially if you’re outdoors, it’s important that you keep your lenses clean at all times with a lens cleaner.
There are many different types. There’s pre-moistened wipes, spray bottles and microfiber cleaning clothes, which are the easiest to transport and use and really do the trick.
Whenever you want to shoot at night, it’s pretty obvious to get a flashlight so that you can see what you’re doing, where you’re going and make your way back to the car if you’re in the middle of nowhere.
So, in these cases, it’s very useful to have a little flashlight, preferrably one with variable light intensity. It also helps if it has a clip so that you can attach it to your clothes and have your hands free.
It can be also of use when you want to illuminate a part of a photograph when doing long exposures of starry skies or for creative or dramatic effects.
Like it happened with the camera and the remote shutter, always keep in mind to have the batteries of your flashlight charged when you travel.
It’s the same case we discussed with the memory cards earlier.
You don’t want to be out there, doing a time-lapse of the sunset, or following a wild animal, and then at the peak moment when the sky is lit with amazing colors or that animal is just right on your trajectory making the perfect shot, and you suddenly realize your battery is dying. That sucks, a lot.
I always have at least two spare charged batteries in my bag.
Make sure you always charge them when you get home, or after a photo shoot and keep them charged, since one day you may be in a hurry and forget they were actually dead, and that is also not a pleasant thing to experience 😉
If you are upgrading to a better DSLR camera, remember that not all models have the same battery type, so maybe you won’t be able to use them in the new camera. And you don’t need to use Canon batteries (or Nikon, or Sony, or whatever the brand of your camera is), you may use compatible batteries. It doesn’t really make a difference in duration and they are way cheaper.
Final Advice To Beginner Travel Photographers
To be honest I didn’t think this post would be so long, but you know… I’d rather make it long and complete than leave important stuff out.
If you’ve made it here, thanks a lot for reading and I hope this helps you if you want to get deeper into Travel Photography. There’s an amazing world out there full of interesting people and places which are waiting for you to tell their story. So I hope this article and pictures encouraged you to do more of what you love.
Just remember this: The gear doesn’t make the photographer or the photo.
You can be as good or even better than people who already have a fancy equipment and years of experience. You can have The Best Travel Photography Gear at home, but if you don’t practice and learn every day, it’s worth nothing.
Photography is about creativity, telling your story in your own way, looking for different angles to see reality, trying to be different and practising a lot. But when you do this, always remember to enjoy the process because that will show on your work.
Now, stop reading, go out there and take pictures! 😉