Photography Bits: My Travel Photography Essentials
Most beginners would probably think that upgrading gear offers a quick solution for better photographs. Well, bad news. It doesn’t. Think gadgets amounting five to six figures which boasts of apertures as wide as f/1.2, red rings wrapped around zoom lenses with extreme focal lengths, a full-frame body with lightning fast shooting capability, super lightweight carbon fiber tripods – an arsenal of equipment most photographers are dying to get their hands on. I should know because I once dreamed a high end line up like this when I was starting. However, the lack of funds forced me to make the most of an entry-level 10.1 megapixel camera and a kit lens for about 5 years. The obsession for high end equipment overlooks the more significant question – “why.” I wrote this post to address the question “what equipment do I bring/use when I travel” and most importantly, “why bring them & when to bring them?” I hope you’ll find this handy when considering what to buy.
You wouldn’t want to carry all your lenses and camera bodies when you’re traveling. First of all some lenses are quite heavy, and second, there are times you’ll end up not using one lens or the other body at all. To avoid over-packing, conduct a small research about your destination. The set of equipment I bring depends on the circumstances and conditions. If you’re shooting surfers from the beach, bring a telephoto, if not, better leave that cumbersome lens at home.
Keep in mind, however, that what works for me, doesn’t necessarily and will always work for you. We might have different preferences in style and approach. I won’t get deep into the specs as well and technicalities because I don’t really get deep into the specs and technicalities. I find it really sophisticated. This post will focus more about the necessity of the equipment – why and when to bring them.
I only bring one camera body when I travel – the Canon Rebel T2i (or 550D) which replaced my Canon 400D after a good 5 years (which works until now). The entry level camera has an aperture, shutter speed, ISO, white balance, and a timer, which obviously comes in all DSLR cameras. These are also the things you really need. Higher megapixels won’t make your photography skill better anyway. You’ll probably need those millions of pixels if you’re printing the image into a billboard. But for web use (Facebook specifically), a 10 megapixel camera is more than enough. For now, the 18 megapixels of my camera comes in handy when I crop (which I will discuss in the telephoto part).
You’ll find the Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM lens attached to my camera most of the time since I shoot a lot of landscapes and architecture. While many would disagree, I also love using the ultrawide lens in taking portraits to give a sense of environment to compliment the subject. The 10-22mm also gives you the advantage when there’s not a lot of room to move. I’ve always felt the need for this lens and I knew even before that the Canon 10-22mm will provide me that extra wideness that my previous all-around lack. After having this lens, I know that there will be no need of upgrading or buying new equipment any time soon.
The wide aperture of Canon 50mm f/1.8 II lens gave me those desired isolating blurs when shooting portraits and also comes handy in really low-light conditions. Zooming in and out of your feet due to the prime lens’ fixed focal length doesn’t really bother me. I’m more concerned about the focusing accuracy especially when you open wide to f/1.8 where there’s little room for dead-on sharp focusing where you want it to be. In addition, during low light conditions, this lens might have a hard time focusing and that’s the time I switch to manual focusing and using live view where you could digitally zoom in to check if what needs to be sharp is sharp. Though the built is quite feeble, and cannot withstand a beating, I find this cheap lens an important part of my arsenal and has served like a secondary weapon which comes handy any time.
There was an incident when I was shooting in low light, and while focusing, the front element just popped out. Fortunately, the optics didn’t shatter or cracked. Thanks to my friend who pieced it together like a puzzle, I was able to use the fast lens once again. Repair fees almost cost a brand new lens.
Nevertheless, the Canon 50mm f/1.8 is inexpensive and it wouldn’t hurt have one. You will love this lens if you’re shooting a lot of portraits of friends and family. But you might also want to check out Canon’s 35mm’s or Canon 50mm f/1.4. I’m still thinking if I really need one.
I feel ill-equipped when I don’t have a tripod that’s why I just bear with the extra weight when I travel. The necessity of a tripod is not limited to long exposure landscape and interior shots alone but also convenient for shooting outdoor sports. The tripod provides a stable ground, so you need to worry less about the tilt miotions and concentrate on your panning.
How I wish I have a carbon fiber tripod but it has a price I certainly can’t afford so instead I use a heavier Benro A1580T, built with Magnesium-Aluminum alloy, three leg sections with twist locks. It has been through quite a beating but still work effectively. Recently, I replaced the head with a much user-friendly single knob Benro BH2 Ballhead (since the old B2 Ballhead corroded). The single knob however offers less control especially when you want separate control on tilt or pan. I love the quick release plate though since its much more easier to use and convenient to use compared to the “twist-and-pull” plate of my previous Benro head.
I think it’s safe to say that a tripod can be your best friend and your worst enemy in traveling at most times.
When buying, make sure you’re investing in a tough and sturdy tripod. It might be more costly than the generic feeble tripods, but if you’re really serious about photography, a nice tripod would be a good investment. I think Benro tripods can equally deliver quality similar to the more expensive counterpart, Manfrotto. Sometimes, vendors threw in a generic tripod when you buy a camera kit, use it – there’s no need to buy – yet.
Circular Polarizing Filter
Filters come in all sizes, color, and importantly, a specific function. If you’re shooting a lot of landscapes, you’ll find the Circular Polarizing Filter (CPL) better than Photoshop. First, the CPL filter cuts down reflection and haze which will give you a rich blue sky, and adds saturation to the environment – green trees become greener, red rocks become redder, and so on. When you’re shooting water, let’s say a stream or shallow river, it removes the reflection and allows you to see through the water exposing what’s lying on the river bed. You might want to remove the CPL however if you’re shooting a person.
You will need a keen eye when you use the CPL to notice the subtle changes as you turn the front element. I have a Hoya 77mm Circular Polarizing Filter and Hoya 67mm Circular Polarizing Filter for my 10-22mm and 70-200mm respectively (I also used the 67mm CPL to my 17-85mm which was formerly my all-around lens).
Neutral Density Filter
A Neutral Density Filter (ND Filter) cuts the amount of light which allows you to use smaller apertures or slow shutter speeds during day time. Why would you need a smaller aperture and shutter speed? So that you could shoot long exposures shots of rocky beaches or waterfalls without waiting for the sunset or sunrise or night time. ND Filter will give you the smooth or dreamy effect on water. You could also use the ND Filter if you want to remove moving people in popular tourist attractions who keeps on moving around. ND Filters also come in different intensities. I used an Kenko 67mm ND400.
Why Hoya? No particular reason at all, it’s just that I’ve been using Hoya ever since. When there’ s no Hoya available at the store, maybe there’s Kenko. I don’t really know the difference between these brands similarly to differences between Canon and Nikon.
How about a UV Filter? I used to put a UV Filter to protect the lens, but when I learned that adding glass elements on your lens would lessen quality of an image. So when you put something in front of your lens, make sure it will do something good to your photograph. The protection of my lens, I rely on lens hoods.
What about a square graduated ND filters? I’d love to have those.
I was shooting a long exposure of the sky when my friend bumped into the tripod, all legs extended, and the camera fell lens first to solid concrete. The hood was scratched but the glass was left unscathed. After that incident, I always attach a lens hood on my lens.
Flare will remove contrasts and reduce saturation. Imagine your at the beach, the sun in front of you, and you’re looking for your friend who is swimming. You block the sunlight with your hand, that’s what lens hoods are for. But sometimes, the blocking the light with your hand is more effective (like a “gobo”).
There are corresponding hoods to every lenses. Using a wrong hood results to vignetting. If you use a telephoto hood for a wide lens, you will see the hood on its edges. Make sure you buy the right hood, it’s not necessary to have the same brand as your lens.
There are Canon lens brushes and Microtex microfiber cloths available in camera stores which functions the same as a Stanley 1″ Paint Brush (the soft one) and a cleaning cloth which is free when you buy reading glasses or sun glasses. The paint brush removes sand and small particles on my lens both on the exterior and glass.
How about the sensor? I never messed with the sensor even if there’s a blower available. Leave the sensor to specialist before you regret it.
Yeah, flashlights. Well, it’s apparently much cheaper than flash guns or external flash units. For extra illumination, I use a 500 peso headlamp I bought from a hardware (and there are much cheaper ones in flea markets). Flashlights could light your subject, add illumination to the environment, or can be used as props.
Would I consider buying an external flash? Yes, definitely. And also a trigger/receiver set, and a softbox, a stand, umbrella, and so on.
The following lenses, I always consider if I will bring them along or not. Like I said, it would depend on the situation and circumstances.
Telephoto Lens (optional)
I have a Canon 70-200mm f/4L which is quite a heavy addition in a camera bag. So before I make space for this long barrel, I ask myself, “Am I really going to need this?” That’s why I only bring this telephoto lens on 2 occasions.
First, when I shoot outdoor sports like surfing, wakeboarding, etc. These sports won’t allow you to get as close as possible unless you have a protective waterproof casing for your camera. If only I could get as close, I will get close using a wide or fast lens. (But if you get close, also keep an eye out for safety). Sometimes, the length is not really enough, and that’s where the details of 18 megapixels come handy when you crop.
Second, when I go on long backpacking trips. Yeah, its heavy but I hate the feeling, “if only I brought my telephoto”, because sometimes I use the telephoto for landscapes and portraits as well.
Back Up Lens (optional)
My kit lens was a Canon EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM (an upgrade option when I got my first DSLR) and since it was my lone all around lens back then, the power diaphragm always break down once a year. I was in Singapore once when it broke down and only left with a 70-200mm which was quite hard for me in shooting cityscapes, street photographs, and interiors. Ever since, on the first sign of malfunction of a lens (I think you could feel it in your camera), I always bring this along – just in case.
But I think you should also know, that this was my first lens ever. My all around lens I’ve been using it for more than 6 years, maximized it to its full potential, before I finally purchased a 10-22mm.
Most likely, you will also ask the question, “Which is better Canon or Nikon?” Honestly, I don’t know the answer. I use Canon because, first, it was my first camera and shifting to other brands which means investing to a whole new line of equipment. Second, Canon has numerous service centers in the country which I find really convenient. Repairs and services are quite expensive but I don’t want to risk my equipment to non-specialist.
As we all know, photography can be quite an expensive hobby if you would want to take it really seriously. Lucky for you if you have the financial capabilities, and unfortunately for me, I am not. But it didn’t stopped me from pursuing what I love to do.There was also a time I get intimidated by those huge cameras and top-of-the-line I see on other photographers when I travel. But there are lots out there who have the best gears but the output is not quite interesting which proves that it’s never about the tool, but it’s you who take those good pictures.
I didn’t accumulate all these overnight. I thought a hundred times (and saved a lot of money) before considering an upgrade or a new gear, it also took years before I bought a lens. I just have to make the most out of what I have, and put skills learned into it. I think, in photography, high end gears will not be your best ally, but your resourcefulness.
For this set-up, I used: (1) The back of a Marian River calendar for background (2) Old illustration boards for reflectors (3) Flashlight for fill (4) Filter case for diffusers (5) Window as key light (6) Masking tapes (7) strings
1. I hope you’ll find this post useful when traveling or buying gear. And again, for the nth time, think before you consider buying.
2. More photography tips soon.
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