Pro photographers reveal their top travel gear
From left: the Wimberley Head, the Canon 50 mm EF, a Nikon MC-30 Remote Cord with Trigger Lock and the F-Stop Satori EXP.
From road-tested tripods to essential photo-related apps, we asked a few well-travelled professional shutterbugs to weigh in on the best gear for snapping photos.
While most of their advice is aimed at travellers that own digital single-lens reflex cameras (DSLRs), their strategies for capturing great images can be of interest to any photographer.
A tripod that’s adaptable and travel-friendly
Specialising in architecture and interior photography, Dubai-based photographer Catalin Marin has travelled the world and runs a personal blog, A Momentary Awe. Besides a camera, Marin’s most essential travel gear is a sturdy, lightweight tripod. His choice at the moment is the Gitzo GT3541, which folds down to only 55cm and extends to 132cm without the head. “One of the best features of this particular tripod is that it can be used without a centre column, which means it can be put literally flat on the ground for those cool low angle shots,” Marin said. “I would encourage photographers to shoot photos from very close to the ground or a floor because those angles can create compelling compositions.”
A good lens to snap the clearest of travel images
Reena Bammi, a professional travel-and-lifestyle magazine photographer, said that “a good lens is more important than a fancy camera.” She uses uses a Canon 50 mm EF, but reliable reviews of other quality brands and models can be found at Digital Photography Review, a website with Consumer Reports-style reviews of photographic equipment. “A good lens has optics that mimic the way the human eye sees, so there is less distortion, more clarity and often a wider range of depth of field.”
A head for the tripod that can support large lenses
A wildlife photographer for magazines who runs worldwide photo tours, Suzi Eszterhas can’t live without a Wimberley head -- a tripod attachment designed to rotate a very large telephoto lens while keeping the camera steady. “I once saw a leopard leaping in Kenya's Masai Mara Reserve. The Wimberley head provided a stable platform for my 500mm f4 -- my favourite lens for big cats -- and allowed me to pan smoothly and quickly to follow all of the action," she said. Her Wimberley head is the original design from the 1990s, though a newer version is available.
A cable release for taking extended-duration shots
Jayanth Sharma is the director of Toehold, a global photography vacations and workshops outfit based in Bangalore. His most beloved accessory is a cable release, a product that lets you take long exposure shots, where photographers keep a shutter open for a long time to achieve a timelapse effect. For instance, Sharma once used a cable release to keep a shutter open for 16 minutes to take a gorgeous shot of stars forming a trail across the Himalayan night sky in Ladakh, India. His preferred model, Nikon’s MC-30 Remote Cord with Trigger Lock, works when a camera, such as his Nikon D700, is set to manual (or bulb) mode. Incidentally, if you’d rather shoot several pictures over a certain time period, such as 1,000 times over five seconds, Sharma said it’s best to use an intervalometer, a feature that is built-in on some quality DSLRs and that's sold separately for others.
A bag to carry all of your gear in
One of Britain’s most accomplished landscape photographers, David Ward, leads photographic workshops and runs the compelling photography blog Into The Light. His favourite piece of tech is his F-Stop Satori EXP, a rucksack he uses when carrying his gear to remote locations. “I carry around 20 kilos of gear, and with other bags always had an aching neck and shoulders after a long walk, but because the Satori has an internal frame it transfers the weight onto my hips,” he said. “I’ve just come back from a trip to Iceland where the temperature dipped as low as -20C and we experienced high winds and driving snow. The Satori performed perfectly whether I was walking along the shore or climbing onto a glacier.”
A mobile app to find the best photo ops
Seth Lazar, a philosophy professor in Canberra, took time out from his academic career in 2009 to travel around Africa with his wife, Lu, stopping at towns whose names begin with every letter of the alphabet, from Agadir in Morocco to Zagazig in Egypt. Lazar said travel photographers need to be prepared for all sorts of situations, from fast response shots of kids playing football to the slow-paced stakeout of a sunrise. One of the lightest things you can carry is an app, and his favourite is the Photographer's Ephemeris, because it helps you plan the perfect outdoor shoot, with time-specific details about the position of the sun and the moon, such as when and where the moon is likely to rise over a particular hill.
A pocket-sized backup of your images
Helen Cathcart is a magazine photographer who confessed she is “paranoid about getting off a plane at the other end after a trip and discovering that all my photos have disappeared in some technical snafu”. So now, at the end of each day, she downloads the images from her camera to her Apple Macbook Pro laptop, and transfers them again to a Western Digital 250GB mini hard drive. Then she formats each card so it is clear, meaning it is less likely to get corrupted while shooting the next time. When she returns home, she transfers the photos again onto a one-terabyte desktop hard drive. “I usually won't delete the files off my mini hard drive until I absolutely have to.” There are also several online storage sites that will store back-up copies of your photos.
Software to enhance the look of your photos
Trey Ratcliff runs the popular travel photography blog, Stuck in Customs. His speciality is travelling the world to teach people about HDR photography, or high dynamic range imaging, in which multiple shots are combined into one image to capture the full extent of a scene. “The most essential tool in my toolbox is software for your computer called Photomatix. It can take a boring, flat travel photo and give it back all the life it had when you were there on the scene,” he said. If your camera can shoot in “raw” mode (the highest resolution option), that will ultimately yield a bigger file and a richer image, because there will be more data for the Photomatix and similar software to make use of.
Sean O'Neill is the tech travel columnist for BBC Travel