What’s in my camera bag for travel photography is a bit more intense than what I’m using when I’m shooting family portraits, as you can see from the volume of gear below. But this is also camera gear for two of us if that eases your soul. When it comes to our camera bag for travel photography, Brian and I have one goal: keep it LIGHTWEIGHT. Between the two of us, you can see what is absolute necessity from waterproof camera bags to certain lenses to a mini flashlight that comes in handy as a GREAT bartering tactic.
When Brian first got this waterproof camera bag, I was so confused. But the first time we were on a long tail boat in Thailand, and the water from the Andaman Sea splashed over the side and onto all our stuff…I got it. You might think a waterproof camera bag is a little excessive, but if you’re doing travel photography in areas where you’ll be on a boat, hiking, or under a ton of rainfall, you may want to reconsider. Just this summer we were exploring the Hill Country in Texas with our kids, and we had to cross a river. Brian carried this waterproof camera bag over his head, and I can’t tell you how relieved I was to know that the camera gear was good. We may have lost one of our kids in the river’s current, but at least the camera gear was good. 🙂
Researching for the best tripod can feel a bit overwhelming. There are so many choices. But let me make this easy for you. The most important key to your camera bag for travel photography is WEIGHT. And the less weight you have to carry, the better. This carbon fiber tripod is super light and gets strapped to the side of our camera bags. Easy. Enjoy researching the different options but don’t make the mistake of getting a heavy one that you have to drag all over Europe. That will definitely put a “heavy” damper on the trip!
When we do our Portrait of Italy Workshop, we take the group to this off-the-beaten path, medieval village. Brian has everyone set up their tripods and teaches them how to capture “sweet light” (when the sky is the bluest it will be all night).
3. HEADBAND: ME RA KOH SIGNATURE HEADBANDS
Why the headbands? It all started in Thailand. It was during one of our trips with the kids, and the weather was so dang hot that I needed to get my hair off my face. I loved how their headbands sparkled (I tend to like things that are pink and sparkle.) But I also LOVED how it kept my hair out of my eyes when shooting. When we got home, I wore one to a portrait shoot…and something magical happened. By having my hair off my face, kids could see my facial expressions, my eyes, and feel my energy that much more. I LOVED it! One little girl loved my sparkly headband so much, she was convinced I was Ms. America. Somehow sparkly headbands and big smiles meant Ms. America. I didn’t have the heart to tell her otherwise.
Years later, she still calls me Ms. America. When I started doing TV segments for The Nate Berkus Show, I decided to wear my signature headbands to help people remember me that much more. And the best part, it doesn’t matter if you’re having a bad hair day…no one can tell! It’s the BEST! In November, we do a special holiday campaign and sell my signature Thailand headbands. Keep an eye out through our newsletter to get your own in November!
4. MINIATURE WOOD FRAME
Okay, I had to share this because I still carry this in my camera bag for travel after years and years. When I first started taking photos, with no real goal of becoming a professional photographer, I was overwhelmed with the idea of trying to see the world through a frame. I wondered if I could condition my mind to develop a photographer’s eye. So I went to IKEA and bought this miniature wood frame. I took out the backing so I could see through it and always had it in my car.
Whenever I came to a red light, I’d hold up that wood frame and try to frame a scene of the old woman at the bus stop, the kids walking home from school, or the horizon’s sunset. I thought about where the sun should go in the frame, should I off-center the kids and why, and would a landscape or vertical image be better? And through all these little mental exercises, I started to see the world in frames.
I still carry the same frame with me wherever I go, as a reminder that the simplest creative exercise can lead to dreams we never imagined possible. Even if you weren’t born with a photographer’s eye, I’m a firm believer (and proof) that you can develop one.
Battery chargers are a girl’s best friend! There must be some mystical dynamic of energy being depleted when you are shooting. Anyone ever notice this? Whenever I finish a shoot it always seems like my smartphone is almost dead! I LOVE this gold brushed, lightweight battery charger for smartphones and tablets. It comes with me everywhere!
6. LIP GLOSS: C.O. BIGELOW MENTHA LIP TINT
I don’t wear a ton of makeup unless I’m doing TV or speaking. But I always have this brand of lip gloss with me. You can find it online, at Nordstrom, or Bed, Bath and Beyond. It’s the BEST! Enough said. 🙂
7. EXTRA BATTERIES: 2-PACK BATTERIES FOR SONY a7, a7r, a7rii
Even if I charge my batteries the night before, I always bring extra batteries in my camera bag for portraits. I’m kind of Type A that way, and I can’t tell you how many times I was glad I did.
8. LENS: SONY FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM
My “work horse” lens. People often ask me “If you could only have one lens for portraits, what would it be?” Without question, the 24-70mm f/2.8 lens. The 24-70mm zoom range gives you a ton of versatility for shooting street portraits or getting wide shots of architecture. Whether you’re zoomed in or out, you can always stay at the f/2.8 aperture for what I call a “buttery, blurry background” or foreground like this shot. Anyone recognize the location of this shot? If you said Hobbiton from Lord of the Rings, you’re right! Our family filmed a special episode in New Zealand and had to see Hobbiton!
Take the time to save the money for a G Master version of this lens. It’s a chunk of change but the quality of glass plays a HUGE role in your colors, light, and sharpness. This lens is worth every penny!
9. LENS ADAPTER: A-MOUNT to E-MOUNT
Sony’s mirrorless technology was a game changer. But lots of photographers were heavily invested with their lenses. Enter the lens adapter. You can now get a lens adapter so you can use the Sony mirrorless camera body AND your lenses that are not Sony brand. AWE-mazing, right?! We use the adapter when we’re shooting on the mirrorless systems and need an A-mount lens to work on an E-mount camera body.
10. LENS: SONY 16-35mm f/2.8 ZA
Brian loves this lens, especially for filming. But we’ll do a different post on What’s in Our Camera Bag for Filming. Let’s stick with shooting stills for this post. If you love wide scene shots of architecture, landscape, and the challenge of combining both a person with a certain scene, this lens is the BEST! Notice the f/2.8 in the title. This means that whether you’re zoomed in or out, the f-stop will stay at f/2.8 if you want. That means you get what I call “buttery, blurry backgrounds”. My favorite!
I thought these nuns were praying. After all, we were at the Vatican! But when I approached them for the shot, I heard them giggling and realized they were looking at photos on their smart phones! The BEST!
This is one of my favorite shots from Israel shot with the 16-35mm f/2.8 lens. At sunset, the sunflowers bow their heads just outside of Nazareth.
11. LENS: SONY 16mm f/2.8 FISHEYE
The fisheye lens is not necessary to your camera bag for travel photography, but it sure is fun to play with! Fisheye lenses are ultra wide angle lenses that make images look like the four sides are curved. This model has corner-to-corner sharpness. If you want to play with capturing the full 180 degree view, this is your lens.
People often ask me what my favorite lens is. That’s a different question than what is your portrait “workhorse” lens. A workhorse lens needs to be as versatile as possible. But one of my favorite lenses, that I LOVE to shoot with most, is the 55mm f/1.8. I’ll always choose a fixed prime lens over a zoom lens. The fixed prime lenses allow me to go down to f/1.8 in aperture. This makes all the difference with capturing buttery, blurry backgrounds and gorgeous bokeh! And when it comes to travel, I LOVE how small and lightweight this lens is!
13. PASSPORTS: SONY ARTISAN PASSPORT HOLDER
Sony sent this as a signature gift to all of the Artisans of Imagery a couple year ago, and I must say that I carry it with deep pride. Not many photographers in the world have this special token. It’s the little things, right?!
We love the JOBY GorillaPod tripods! This one is for cameras that are under 2.2lbs or Action Cams. We’ve strapped this to the outside of jeeps in Egypt, and when we weren’t looking cows licked them like popsicles! If you don’t want to travel with a bigger tripod, this model and the next are great options. You just have to factor in to how long they sit.
15. TRIPOD: JOBY GORILLAPOD FOCUS CAMERA TRIPOD
I’m amazed at what kind of weight this GorillaPod model can hold! We’ve strapped our big 70-400mm telephoto lens around a tree or railing to film Langur monkeys eating in Thailand’s jungle canopy (See below for the shot of the Langur monkeys eating. Can you spot the orange baby?)
And this GorillaPod held the camera body and heavy lens completely steady! If you’re in a creative rut, you’ve got to get one of these GorillaPods. You’ll start looking for all the places you can strap your camera too, and then use your SmartRemote app to trigger taking the image from your Smartphone!
16. BACKUP CAMERA BODY: SONY A7r FULL-FRAME, MIRRORLESS DIGITAL
Every camera bag for travel needs a backup camera body. If you’re starting to shoot more paid portrait sessions, and the a7rii (see below) is out of your price range, this is an AWE-some camera body to consider! I LOVE the mirrorless Sony camera, full-frame bodies. I especially LOVE the a7r and a7rii models. With the mirrorless system, you’re able to see exactly what your photo will look like from the Live View display on the back. No more guessing on whether or not you have enough light.
Why do I love the two r models in the a7 lineup? Dynamic Range. I love capturing photos with both shadows and bright light. But I want to make sure I retain as much detail as possible. Look at all those layers of rolling green hills I was able to capture in this shot of a Tuscan sunset with our Portrait of Italy Workshop! That’s what Dynamic Range gives you! Its sole purpose is to make sure that highlights aren’t blown out and shadows are inviting with all the detail and depth.
The ISO also goes up to 25,600. For those of you who are sick of grainy photos when you’re at ISO 800, you’ll pretty much be in heaven with this camera body. Just a word about the video component. When we were filming our family travel show, the a7rii model wasn’t released so we used this camera for a lot of our filming. The quality is broadcasted TV quality. Just ask the networks! Pretty AWE-mazing!
If you don’t have the money for the above lens, 24-70mm f/2.8 GM, and you don’t want to wait to save up your pennies, this is a cheaper version. But keep in mind that the aperture only goes down to f/4. I still think it’s better to save up for the big enchilada!
I LOVE this lens. When we take our workshop to Italy, we’ll often pull over to the side of the road for breathtaking shots of Tuscany. This lens helps me zoom in and get the shot. I’m okay that it doesn’t go down to a f/2.8 because I’m often shooting landscape at a much higher f-stop like f/8 and higher for lots of detail. With landscape, I don’t want the buttery, blurry background. I want all the depth and detail from near to far.
Brian and I have also used this lens many times to capture Gibbon apes and Langur monkeys in Thailand’s jungle canopy. There is no way we would be able to zoom in on those wonderful animals without being able to go to 400mm. Can you find all five Langur monkeys, including the baby?
19. MEMORY CARDS: SONY 128GB CLASS 10 UHS-1/U3 SDXC (94MB/s)
Last item in my camera bag for travel photography is extra memory cards. They’re important, but FAST memory cards are even more vital. Have you ever sat down to move your images from the card to the computer and felt like it took forever? Or even worse, have you ever been shooting and had the camera stall on you? You thought you bought a fast camera, but it can’t keep up?! Sometimes this is because your memory card is too slow. A lot of people don’t even know about the speed factor when buying memory cards. They’re often price shopping instead. Next time you purchase a memory card, make sure the speed is 94MB/s. It will often say on the front of the card and packaging.
20. CAMERA BODY: SONY A7rii FULL-FRAME, MIRRORLESS DIGITAL
This camera body is my baby. This is Sony’s flagship camera, and its performance is unbelievable. Dynamic Range is off the charts with this camera. It reminds me of the old days when I used to shoot with film–all the incredible depth I’m able to capture. Just to recap Dynamic Range again, it’s the ability to capture incredible depth and detail with both shadows and highlights. This is something I value tremendously in a camera body because of how much I’m using shadows and back light to add drama to my images.
The a7rii is also 42.4 Megapixels with 5-axis in-body image stabilization (say goodbye to motion blur and hello to low light!) and 4K movie recording. And one of the most important features is how lightweight it is. This camera body is phenomenal! Both of these camera bodies (a7r and a7rii) have a tiltable Live View screen. Picture walking through a crowded alleyway, and you can use the tiltable Live View to lift your camera above your head while shooting the most amazing shots!
UPDATE: TWO NEW CAMERA BODIES
The a7III is around $1K less. It’s 24MP versus 42MP. If you’re shooting high volume, I would highly consider this model. The Dynamic Range is phenomenal. And you won’t need as much storage with 24MP. Plus, it’s $1K cheaper.
The a7RIII is my camera body of choice. This is Sony’s flagship camera body. It is the camera professional photographers have been dreaming of! The phenomenal CMOS sensor, extended battery life, dual card slot, and speed are just a few of the things I love about this camera. I had the privilege of being one of the first four professional photographers to test this camera body for two weeks before it was announced to the press. I was BLOWN AWAY by this camera’s performance! The SONY a7RIII is now my main camera body for travel and portraits.
21. CAMERA BAG: LOWEPRO FLIPSIDE SPORT 500 AW CAMERA TRAVEL BAG
We have four different versions of a backpack camera bag for travel photography; the kids, Brian and I all have one. The kids backpack versions are a little less intense to fit their camera and a couple lenses (plus snacks). Brian’s is the most intense because he’s carrying some of this gear and all our film/audio gear. His camera backpack has a lot more back support. You can see Brian’s bag here. It comes in black, blue and orange. I like orange–bright colors is my thing. 🙂
The model in the picture is mine. The reason why we like the Lowepro backpacks is because the zipper to open it is on the inside that goes against your back. The outside (that faces people) is solid fabric. I don’t have to worry about being in a crowded market and someone unzipping my camera bag and taking something without me knowing. It can’t happen because I would literally have to take the backpack off to unzip it.
22. HEADLAMP: PETZL TACTIKKA PLUS 4-LED HEADLAMP
Brian is religious about headlamps! For the first few years we were married, I’d always make fun of him when he put one on. But seriously, headlamps are the BEST! They free up your hands to dig through your camera bags. If you want to read at night and NOT attract bugs, you can switch the light to a red color. And when you’re cave exploring and can’t see a dang thing, an awesome headlamp is your hero!
23. SUNGLASSES: AVIATORS
I should probably be wearing sunglasses that have some kind of UV protection, especially with the intense climates we visit. But I’m kind of cheap that way. I typically buy my sunglasses when we’re abroad–you know, the knock-off ones for $3. 🙂
Everyone needs two or three of these flashlights in their camera bag for travel photography. It’s super small and has an adjustable focus zoom. But that’s not even the best reason. When we’ve been abroad and needed to ask a local for a favor, like access to a private area to photograph (aka the backside of the pyramids), locals sometimes love this flashlight more than a cash tip. Just saying! 🙂
25. EXTERNAL HARD DRIVE: LACIE RUGGED MINI EXTERNAL MOBILE DRIVE
This little guy is our favorite external hard drive for travel. It’s framed with rubber padding, and it can be dropped up to 4 ft without any issues. We’ve also tested it in every climate from humid jungles to Thailand to dry deserts in Egypt to rainy days in the Pacific Northwest. I also love that it’s water resistant. DONE!
Last but not least, my FAVORITE travel lens is the Pancake Lens! I LOVE this lens when I’m in narrow alleys in Italy or France,
when I’m in an open market,
or when I want an awesome selfie with Brian and the kids. This lens is the BEST! It’s super lightweight, fits in my pocket, and gets the BEST shots! If you are going to be in an area that is known for narrow alleyways, you can’t do the trip without a Pancake Lens. Otherwise, you’ll be so frustrated because no matter how far you back up…it won’t be wide enough. But the Pancake Lens will almost always be wide enough, especially when elephants approach your kids! 🙂
NEW ADDITIONS TO OUR TRAVEL CAMERA BAG!
When you’re taking photos of crystal clear, blue waters like the ones around Milos, Greece, you want a polarizer. The polarizer cuts all the white glare from the sun so you can see the rocks below the water’s surface. It also helps retain better color vividness. I’ve never noticed the need for a polarizer like I did in Greece. If you’re new to using polarizers, here’s a great article that explains polarizer basics with before and after photos. (p.s. This wonderful photo was taken by my 13-year old son, Blaze! He did a great job, right?! Check out Blaze’s instagram account out here!)
If you want slow shutter speeds for silky smooth water, and it’s to bright outside, you need to take away light. That’s where a ND FILTER comes in to play. The ND Filter darkens everything so you can
29. CAMERA: Sony RX10iii–Best Travel Camera
This camera is AWE-mazing! If you know you’re going to be shooting subjects from a distance (like apes in the jungle canopy, animals on safari, or just wanting to stay inconspicuous while capturing locals), you must check out the SONY RX10III camera! For having a 600mm telephoto zoom, it’s so lightweight without having to compromise any image quality! I was so excited about this camera that I did a whole video review while in Thailand photographing Gibbon Apes in the jungle’s canopy!
Scroll down to watch the video. You’ll LOVE it!
Do you love travel and photography? If so, you’re in good company! Got a Dream Bucket List? Consider joining Brian and me for one of our special Portrait of the World photography Workshops. We take small groups to Italy, Thailand, and more! All levels welcome!