Jordana Wright talks about what you really need for travel photography. This two-part article is from her book The Enthusiast’s Guide to Travel published by Rocky Nook

There are two distinct schools of thought when it comes to gear for travel photography: Travel Light and Bring Literally Everything You Own. Traditionally, I belong to the first group, for reasons that will become clear shortly, but there are a few specific occasions when it makes sense to bring a ton of equipment…

On assignment

Location assignments require massive amounts of gear.
When traveling consider how much gear you will really use.

The More, the Merrier Photographers on assignment often have massive gear requirements. If you’re planning an extensive journey with complicated or highly specific shoots, then it makes sense to pack a lot of gear. A friend of mine recently traveled to the Bahamas for a multiday resort and island photoshoot. To make sure he could achieve the full gamut on the client’s shot list, he showed up with quite a haul (Figure 13.1). From underwater shoots requiring waterproof housings to interior setups requiring full-size studio lights, stands, and umbrellas, his shoot expectations demanded that he check multiple bags of gear.

The idea of carrying that much gear across the street, let alone through airports and on-ground transit, is exhausting, but he assessed the needs of the shoot and made sure he covered his bases. In that sort of situation, you should absolutely bring whatever will help you do the best job possible. Back in my traveling preschool photography days, I had at least four large bags of gear with me for every shoot, plus my own luggage! It was enough stuff to fill the trunk of my car to the brim every time I went to work.

If you are a photographer who regularly shoots time lapses, drone aerials, or complicated panoramas, or a photographer who relies on lots of artificial lighting or backgrounds, then you should plan to travel heavy. Find a system that works for you and pack it the same way every time.

Traveling light

If you’re like me and portability and simplicity are key, then… Travel Light I always travel carry-on only. I believe that to best enjoy your travel experience, your luggage should be a help, not a hindrance. Packing light will save you from lost checked luggage, from missing out on spontaneous opportunities, and hopefully from that rage-inducing sound wheeled luggage makes on cobblestones.

Packing for carry-on

Packing light will allow you to keep shooting and experiencing throughout your journey, even on travel days. If you keep it light, you can shoot every step of the way while heavier packers are distracted and frustrated, coordinating piles of luggage at every turn. I have two different gear setups that I have come to rely on when traveling. Both are relatively lightweight and can be managed easily on my own. I don’t want to be beholden to anyone along the way, so it’s essential that I be able to muscle my own gear into the overhead bin.

Longer, more complex trips

For ten or more days on the road, or for more photographically complicated trips, I travel with a Pelican 1510 and a backpack. During travel days I keep most of my gear in the Pelican and all of my clothes and other sundries in the backpack. Once I get where I’m going, the Pelican stays safely locked away in my hotel with my clothes and the gear I won’t need that day, and the gear I do need goes into my backpack. For me, the key is utilizing modular storage bags inside both the Pelican and the backpack. That way the cases are pretty interchangeable on the fly.

Also, if I do end up needing to check the Pelican on a flight, I can hand-carry my most important and expensive gear easily. To contain photography gear, I use padded camera inserts and neoprene sleeves and cases. For clothes and other essentials, I love Rick Steves’ Packing Cubes. On shorter trips, I slim things down even further to a backpack and a medium-sized messenger-style camera bag. Either way, I keep things simple and portable. Your luggage and gear shouldn’t be an added stress on any journey.

Travel photography requires dedication. This series of excerpts from “The Enthusiast’s Guide to Travel Photography” by Jordana Wright is published by Rocky Nook.

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