The following post on packing hacks for travel photographers was submitted by Andrea Bernice Roth.
When I was just a beginner, I would always find packing for photography trips quite challenging and stressful. As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t just stuff everything into my travel bag. I had to assess every gear—the camera, lens, cleaning kit, and other items—if it really was needed for a specific trip. Since I often move around doing location shoots, I’ve forced myself into learning how to pack smart and light.
My years of experience lugging around photography equipment have made me realize that travel packing doesn’t have to be stressful. All it takes are a few packing hacks for travel photographers that can lighten your load and make more space for essential items.
Photography Packing List
I was once overwhelmed with my must-bring list of photography equipment and accessories because I thought the more I had in my bag, the better prepared I would be. But after enduring sore back and shoulders for a few days, I saw the importance of pruning my photography packing list. Since then, I’ve made it a habit to cross out items that won’t be very useful and to keep only these essentials on my list:
Camera: Travel-Friendly Options
Of course, you can’t go on a travel photography trip without a camera. The best cameras for travel are those that are compact and lightweight.
When I went to check out the Grand Canyon, I brought a bulky and heavy DSLR. Only a few hours had passed, and all I felt was pain all over my neck. The view was majestic, definitely like no other, but all I could think about that time was diving into my fluffy bed to rest.
Lesson learned? Bring a mirrorless camera when you’re going to do long walks to reach your photo shoot location. With this smaller and lighter camera in tow, you’ll get the professional image quality of a DSLR minus the bulk and weight. I often use my Fujifilm X-A10 mirrorless camera because it’s portable (it weighs only about 300 grams) and selfie-ready (it has a tilting LCD screen and picture enhancer). I love its retro design, too!
However, if you’re going to shoot on the beach or underwater, a portable and waterproof action camera is your best bet. What’s great about action cameras is that you don’t have to worry about yours getting wet and damaged.
>>Check out this review of the waterproof Travelon pouch.
Chargers are among the must-bring essentials for travel photographers. We need to keep our camera and other gadgets powered up so that we can shoot as many times as we want and connect to the internet when we need to.
Also, don’t forget to pack a universal adapter for your camera’s battery charger. I always bring mine, so I can plug my device into any power outlet around the world. I’ve experienced the hassle of leaving this one behind, and it ruined not just my scheduled shoots but also my travel budget. Universal chargers may be small, but in some countries, they can be very expensive! So don’t forget to bring one.
However, if you hate messy and tangled cords of your gadgets’ chargers, keep them organized in your bag using a travel cord organizer (we’ll discuss that later in this article). Another convenient and space-saving packing hack is to get rid or at least reduce the charging cables you’ll have to bring. How? Go wireless! I’ve heard that some recent smartphones can be recharged on the go without using wires.
>>Read this travel power bank review.
Spare Batteries and Memory Cards
For me, there’s no such thing as taking too many photos. Picturesque landscapes and structures, wonderful people, and mouthwatering food are all great photo opportunities that I don’t want to miss.
If you think so too, make sure that you have a continuous supply of battery power and file storage for your camera. In all my photography trips, I make sure to pack four 64GB memory cards, two 32GB compact flash cards, and two extra camera battery packs. Since they don’t occupy much space in my bag, I don’t mind bringing all of them.
Do you really have to bring multiple camera lenses? It will always depend on the location of your photo shoots and the types of subject you’ll be photographing.
When I traveled to Bangkok for a music festival, I didn’t bring more lenses than I needed. It’s for safety—crowded places anywhere in the world are not exactly the safest areas to carry your expensive lenses around. However, when I went to India to shoot portraits of the locals, I brought a medium telephoto lens (a Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II) that did the job single-handedly.
On the other hand, if you’re just going on a casual, leisurely photography tour and you’re satisfied with the performance of your camera’s kit lens, then that will do—no need to bring an extra lens that you won’t use anyway.
Camera Cleaning Kit
A camera cleaning kit is something that I wouldn’t remove in my travel photography checklist! After a whole day of shooting outdoors, I always make sure to clean my camera, especially its sensor, to keep it in good condition. It’s always been a habit, and I’m sure it will come handy for you, too.
To save more space, the best way to pack big cleaning solutions is to pour small amounts (make sure they’re enough to use for the entire duration of your trip) into small travel toiletry bottles.
Tripod or Monopod
At times, you’re going to need a portable tripod that will keep your camera steady while you’re shooting at night or in low light. I was lucky enough to invest in a compact and lightweight tripod. It was very useful when I shot a time-lapse video of the Eiffel Tower. The tripod helped a lot in keeping the camera still, and I was impressed with the quality of my shots!
Since my camera bag has buckles on the side, I was able to keep my tripod intact. Get a tripod that’s not only lightweight but also collapsible so that you can easily fit it in your bag when you’re not using it.
A lighter and more compact option for camera support is a monopod, which is similar to a tripod, but instead of having three legs, it has only one leg.
>>See how to take a better selfie with the Podo stick-on camera.
Photography Gear Packing Essentials
With the plenty of choices available for travel photographers, what kind of camera bag is best for your needs? Here are five things I consider when choosing a camera bag:
1. Ease of Access
A great camera bag allows you to easily pull out your camera and slip it back in. Of course, this will depend on the type of opening and closing mechanism you’d like to get. A velcro and magnetic-based mechanism works best in many situations, except when it’s rainy or dusty. Zippers are a great choice, too. However, a zipper might accidentally scratch your gear if you’re not careful when using it.
2. Pockets and Compartments
I’m very meticulous when it comes to my photography equipment, which is why my camera bag has a lot of pockets and compartments. They keep everything organized and help me easily identify the things I’ll need to use, rather than having to rummage through a messy bag. Consider getting padded dividers because they can protect your delicate camera and lenses.
Get a waterproof camera bag with sealed zippers that can survive wear and tear and is stitched rather than glued for durability. Five years ago, I bought my Tamrac Expedition 6 camera bag, and after all these years, it still keeps my camera safe from extreme weather and other damaging elements.
4. Size and Weight
Ditch the “bigger is always better” mindset because a bigger bag can make it tempting for a traveling photographer to fit as many things as possible into it. This has been my mindset for the longest time, and I would often end up carrying more than I could bear. Get a camera bag with just the right size for all your essential photography gear.
5. Comfort and Portability
Since you’ll be traveling with this bag for long hours, make sure that it fits your body type well to avoid having sore back and shoulders. A backpack with padded shoulder straps and back padding will make a great travel companion.
>>Check out the Timbuk2 Snoop camera insert that makes any bag a camera bag.
Travel Cord Organizer
My cord organizers are my lifesaver when I travel and shoot. With them in my bag, it’s easier to manage all my charging cables and prevent them from tangling, breaking, fraying, and getting worn out.
You don’t even have to spend money to have one. You can create a DIY cord organizer using simple materials such as toilet paper tubes, small tin cans, or eyeglasses cases.
>>Learn how to travel like MacGyver: pack these items that solve problems.
Silica Gel Packets
Don’t throw away those silica gel packets on your newly purchased bag or shoes because you can use them to keep your camera in good condition. Silica gel gets rid of moisture in the camera’s sensor, so have those gel pockets inside your camera bag for protection.
LiPo Safety Bags
I’m extra careful (almost to the point of being obsessive-compulsive) when it comes to packing my camera batteries. Whether they’re charging, discharging, or even just being stored, make it a point to put your batteries in LiPo safety bags. While fire from LiPo batteries rarely happens, it’s still a possibility that can cause serious damage to other stuff inside any photographer’s bag.
How to Pack Your Photography Gear
Of course, the packing process won’t be complete without some fun hacks that will help you pack smarter and travel lighter. Here are some of the helpful, tried-and-tested packing hacks:
Customize Your Camera Bag
Since camera bags have padded dividers that can be easily attached and detached, customize them according to the number and type of equipment you’re planning to bring. This is very useful especially if you really need to bring extras.
I once attended a wedding in Greece, and with my strategically customized padded dividers, I was able to carry all the lenses, external flash, and filters that I needed for covering the event without getting worn down and looking haggard.
>> You can even purchase extra padded dividers if necessary.
Keep Every Piece Tight and Snug
Make sure that each item in your camera bag is snugly inserted in every compartment that you’ve made with padded dividers. This will keep your camera, lenses, and other accessories from wobbling and crashing against each other while you’re traveling.
One time, I failed to do so because I was so busy and in a rush. All my lenses ended up scratching each other, and everything looked messy when I opened my bag. Such a horrible disaster for any traveling photographer!
Place Your Lenses in Thick Socks
Camera lenses should be handled with extra care because they’re sensitive even to the slightest movement. If my bag doesn’t have enough space inside, I put my lenses in long and thick socks to keep them from getting scratched and having cracks.
>>Learn more hacks and tricks for packing electronics.
Bring White Cardstock and Rubber Bands
Don’t bring a conventional flash diffuser on your trip, for it will just eat room inside your bag. Go for a more convenient and portable DIY flash diffuser using a white cardstock and rubber bands. I’ve done this a lot of times, and it definitely saved me space.
Attach ND Filters to Lenses
To save more space in your camera bag, attach your neutral-density (ND) and polarizing filters to the lenses before putting them into the compartment. Just make sure to screw a protective lens cap on the filter. This hack also saves me time because I don’t need to mount a filter on my lens every time I need to use it.
May these simple packing hacks help you make your travel photography experience less stressful, more productive, and a lot easier—just like what they did for me! If you know other packing hacks for travel photographers that you‘d like to share, leave a comment below.
About the author: Andrea Bernice Roth is a freelance writer and photographer from Long Beach, California. She co-manages an artists’ collective with her friends to encourage photographers and other creative minds to showcase their talent. This free-spirited adventure junkie loves riding waves in Malibu and traveling to seek out the world’s best surf spots.
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Hilda Matthews says
Whoa. This is an extensive guide. I love how you presented the hacks. I do hope others may feel the same way I do. Good job on this one Brooke, well actually the credit is also for the guest writer.
Yes, Andrea did a great job with this one! Glad you enjoyed it 🙂
Fiona Ludbrook says
,Thanks Andrea, I seem to be already packing my camera gear exactly as you suggest!
We spend so much on our gear, especially our lenses, that it pays to keep them clean and protected. I also include a dry sac for my camera and waterproof covers, depending on the destination, but I also love the odd day where I leave my Sony A5, together with its heavy zoom lense behind and just rely on my Nikon Coolpix waterproof camera, which also has manual override!
I often improvise a tripod, rather than cop the extra weight, too!
Guess it depends on what and where we shoot as to our final photographers packing list!
I do love my monopod as a walking stick if negotiating lots of stairs or downhill, but compared to a tripod its functions are pretty limited and can never really replace a tripod!