What to Bring Travelling: Photography Equipment

By Bryan Rite

First of all, let me say this: I'm not a pro photographer or the world's best traveller, but if you're reading this, chances are neither are you! When I go travelling, the ability to bring back photos is really important to me. It doesn't really matter if they are perfect photos or even that good, but they are the most amazing way to share your experience as well as look back and remember. I still look at photos from my old trips and I start to smile immediately. This being said, it can be hard to know what type of equipment to bring and how to go about storing your photos safely. This guide will hopefully help you get started in the right direction but it is only my opinions and advice, if you figure out something better, make sure you tell me!

Compact, point and shoot cameras are the most popular for backpackers.

What Type of Camera

The type of camera you use while travelling depends greatly on what you have, your budget, and what you expect. Personally I wouldn't go with anything other than a digital camera of some sort. The ability to see your pictures immediately and the low cost of big memory cards for storing thousands of photos makes them incredibly more useful and portable. Also, the added bonus that most consumer digital cameras can take videos really makes it a no-brainer. Digital camera prices have dropped dramatically in the last couple years and you should be able to find an excellent camera in any budget range. While easier to use overall, digital cameras do require a few more accessories; I'll get into those in the next section.

If you are stuck with a film camera, don't fret, your pictures are going to be just as beautiful as any digital -- you might want to do a bit more planning, though. Your main disadvantage is the film you will have to buy, carry, and store. Depending on where you are going and for how long, this could be a big problem. At the very least it will be expensive. This will be discussed in the next section. On the good side, you won't have a sophisticated electronic device along the treacherous journey and you can probably be a bit rougher with it.

The next question is Compact or SLR? For almost all of you, the answer will be a compact point and shoot camera; they are the most common camera for consumers on the market and deadly simple to use: point and click button. When backpacking around, size and weight is extremely important and a compact, point-and-shoot camera is the choice of 99% of travellers. A compact camera and a nice zippered case to keep out sand, dirt, and moisture is all you'll need unless you're into photography and plan on bringing a Single Lens Reflex camera. In that case, you'll be trucking around with a lot more equipment.

SLR cameras allow you more creative control, but you'll be packing around a lot more heavy equipment.

Camera Support

If you're bringing a camera and you're going anywhere for longer than a couple days, you're going to need to support your camera. Most of the support equipment you'll need was included with the camera when you bought it. While it shouldn't cost you anything extra, you don't want to forget it -- without support, your camera is just a hunk of metal after a couple of days.

Digital Accessories

Digital cameras are excellent travel tools, but they do have a couple of small needs to keep running. Mainly power and memory.

Memory cards are incredibly cheap these days. Thirty bucks can buy you a card that will store one thousand photos... that's a lot of photos. They are very small and don't require anything special. I always travel with as many as I can in-case I lose them, they break, and why not, they don't add anything to your gear load. You can buy expensive cards that allow you to take pictures a little faster and probably last longer, but if you're budget is tight, the cheaper ones will work just as well. I think its better to have two cheaper ones then one expensive one: you get double the capacity and also a backup one. Make sure you get the type of memory card your camera requires, there are lots of different formats.

After memory, power is the only other mandatory concern. Digital cameras need either a proprietary battery, specialized battery, or regular A-sized batteries and this depends on the type of camera you bought. Each have their own pluses and minuses. Proprietary batteries, in my experience, offer the fastest and longest battery life, but they require the special charger and possibly power adapters for the country you are in. Specialized batteries are batteries made by most battery companies but specialized for digital devices and sometimes come in strange shapes and sizes. They often have great battery life and power, but can often be extremely difficult to find and very expensive in the long run. I generally discourage these types of batteries, especially travelling in underdeveloped countries -- they'll be impossible to find. Finally, A-sized batteries are going to be much easier to find and won't require a special charger but they usually have very short battery lives and you will likely be buying lots of them.

Regardless of the type of batteries you use, I recommend you try and keep at least a backup ready and charged. Its hard to do sometimes, but having at least one backup means you don't have to go seeking a power outlet or store. That means more time travelling and less time worrying about how much battery you have left. When I travel, I have 3 batteries for my camera which can last from only a couple days to a couple weeks. Since batteries are small it shouldn't be a big burden to carry an extra one or two.

Finally, another accessory that may come in handy is the USB cable for your camera. This way you can easily transfer your photos onto a computer and either upload them or write them to CD (we'll talk more about storage options in the Storing Your Photos on the Go section). While not required, the USB cable can come in handy, especially since most Internet cafes have at least a USB plug on their computers and not many have card readers or even CD drives.

Film degradation can ruin your photos, but even a ruined photo can be one of your favourites.

Film Accessories

Film Cameras also have two required accessories: power and film. The power needed for film cameras is generally a lot less than digital cameras. You can probably get away with a single set of batteries your entire trip, or at least keep a small pack of A-sized batteries. The problem with film cameras is... film!

Film can be a difficult thing to go on long backpacking trips with. First of all, it is often very expensive in the places you need to buy it the most (tourist attractions), it has an expiry date, and keeping film in good condition requires it to be cold and processed as soon as possible. While not a big deal for small trips - even a month long is fine - after a month, your first roll of film will start to degrade and lose quality. It's usually difficult to get film processed on the road less traveled, plus storing all the used and un-used film canisters can be a problem.

As a result, a good deal of planning should be made so that film can get processed as soon as possible and that you bring proper storage material for your film. Whenever you stay in an area for longer then a couple days, it would be a good idea to get your film processed if your area has a lab. It doesn't have to be printed, just get the negatives from a processing lab, that way you don't have to pack the actual photos around. Alternatively, get them also put onto a CD if the processing lab has that technology. You then have the ability to store them online if need be.

Be sure to bring two water proof containers of some kind. Heavy duty, sealable, plastic bags work great. Why two? One for used film canisters and one for un-used. Make sure they don't get wet and keep them in the darkest, coolest place possible. Also, remember X-ray machines will ruin all your film so don't pack it away with your check-in bags at airports and make sure older X-ray equipment is safe for film. The new ones generally are, but old ones are too powerful -- often you'll be asked to take it out and they will manually inspect your film.

Storing Your Photos on the Go

A good solution for storing your photos on long trips will make sure you come back with all your memories.

This can be a difficult process for long trips. The trick I have found is to have a number of ways to store your photos so that depending on where you are and what is available, you can always roll with the punches. You can spend a lot of time taking excellent pictures but it will be all a waste if you lose the CD you've been writing them to. Having a number of options makes sure you're covered in any situation. Each option in itself is a step in the right direction, but each by itself is vulnerable to breaking, corruption, or loss. I would recommend figuring out how to do at least two of the following methods as often as possible to avoid losing any of your photos. It seems like a lot of work, but it's worth coming back after many months with all your beautiful photos.

Writing to CD is a great solution for most travelers. Most popular destinations have kiosks or stores that specialize in writing digital camera memory cards to a CD for you. A lot of film processing labs are also able to transfer a copy of the negatives to CD. Its cheap, fast, and allows you to easily browse and upload your photos from any Internet cafe. Problem is, they scratch... especially on the road, so make sure you have a good case and take care of them.

Online storage is another great solution but will only work in more developed countries where their Internet infrastructure is reliable and fast enough so you aren't sitting for hours transferring 30 photos. There are lots of online sites that allow you to upload photos for free but usually you aren't able to keep your photos at their highest quality because of size restrictions. Many of the same sites offer paid options that allow you to store your full-sized photos online. Storing online has the added effect of allowing friends and family back home to see your photos before you come home and is a great way for your loved ones to see what you're up to and stay in touch.

• A Photo Wallet is a digital device made for storing photos on the go. Its basically just a hard drive that can download your photos directly from your camera without the need for a computer. This can be invaluable if you are in areas with no technology, but they are usually rather expensive. If you break it, all your photos are gone. If you bring an MP3 player on your travels, a lot of them can double as a cheap hard drive. When plugged into a computer, they will show up as a removable storage device and you can transfer photos onto them and still keep their music playing abilities; just leave a couple gigabytes open for photos.

• Lastly, the most simple solution is just the medium itself. For film, keep the negatives in a waterproof bag. For digital, bring lots of memory cards, they are so cheap and large now, that bringing 4 large memory cards could probably last you at least a couple months on the road without needing to unload them. The downside again is misplacing or breaking them and losing all your photos.

Final Word

Hopefully these tips will help you plan and pack for your next trip. Of course there are no fast rules -- each trip, and the pictures you want, might need a different setup. You'll learn only from experience. Good luck and happy shooting!

By Bryan Rite

Bookmark this Article: