I don’t consider myself a photographer. I really don’t know what I’m doing when it comes to messing around with the ISO and F-stop and whatever else you can mess around with on your camera settings. I can’t tell what settings should be used in what lighting or what angle to shoot at to make someone look their best. I have a decent eye for composition and know how to use Lightroom at an intermediate level.
That’s about it.
I’m also always wary of buying new gear and gadgets, especially while traveling so much, because I don’t want to spend money on things I don’t fully need or know how to use and that can easy get lost, broken or stolen. On the other hand though, I want my photos to look good (enough), am always trying to (slowly) improve my photography skills and the ways that I can capture the places I travel to, and because of this site and Instagram, am often asked what camera I use.
If you know anything about cameras and photography, you won’t be impressed with what I have to share, but if you’re stating out down the DSLR route and wanting to improve your photo tools while on the road then read on…here’s what’s in my camera bag. (And click on the blue product links to seeing pricing on Amazon.)
This is the camera I’ve been using for the past year – Canon’s entry-level DSLR. I bought the Canon EOS Rebel T3i (called the EOS 700D outside of the U.S.) because I wanted to make the jump up from my usual point and shoot (listed below) to a DSLR, was already familiar with Canon’s products and this was the cheapest option for me to mess around with as I got to learn DSLR photography better. This model is actually now discontinued by Canon but still available and, from what I read, a better deal than the most-recent model available, the Rebel T5 (below). I particularly like the touchscreen display that also swivels, a feature that isn’t available with the newer model, and have used it more than expected.
The camera body is relatively small and light for a DSLR and takes decent photos but where you can really step up your game is with what lenses you use which I’ll talk more about later.
At $399, the latest Canon Rebel T5 is actually cheaper than the T3i for some reason allows beginners to get started in the DSLR scene for relatively little investment.
Before the Rebel, I used a Canon G16 which is basically a highest-level point and shoot available before moving onto a DSLR (in fact it’s slightly more expensive than the Rebel at $379). It’s larger than many compact point and shoot cameras (you can’t fit it in your pocket) but does give you some flexibility and control in adjusting the aperture, etc. and is surprisingly good for macro shots (as long as you were shooting a clearly defined object that was obviously set away from the background). It’s also quite sturdy with was nice when traveling – I was never worried about it getting banged up.
You can’t add on lenses, however, plus the zoom sucked and the shooting in low light wasn’t great.
Now let’s move on to lenses. Again, I don’t have anything fancy. I currently have professional photographers staying with me and they wouldn’t be caught dead with the lenses I own. On the other hand, it would just be plain silly for me to own the lenses they have, that go up into the thousands of dollars range for one lens, since I’m not a professional photographer and don’t know how to use my camera well enough for justifying that investment.
Anyway, the lens I use for probably 90% of my photos is a 50mm fixed lens. Canon makes three versions of this lens, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8, f/1.4 and f/1.2. I started with the entry-level 50mm f/1.8 nicknamed the ‘nifty fifty’ for its quality and value – this lens will only set you back $110 and takes excellent photos, particularly when you’re shooting people or in low light.
Since it’s a fixed lens, it takes a little getting used to. You can’t zoom so need to figure out how close or far away to stand from the object you’re shooting to get it into the frame. It’s great at blurring out the background while keeping the object in focus, even if you’re shooting in auto mode (which I do more often than not).
Recently I upgraded to the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4, the next step up at $349, and immediately LOVED IT even more than I had initially loved the f/1.8. The moment I took my first photo with the lens I knew I had made the right decision in purchasing it. (The Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 is obviously even better but the price jump is much steeper than that between the 1.8 and 1.4 at $1,349.)
The photos almost effortlessly come out with certain pop to them that makes it look like you know what you’re doing. It’s one of the only gadgets that I’ve ever gotten excited about.
Here are two images, the first with the 1.4 and the second with the 1.8, both on auto settings. You can see that with the 1.4 the image background has a smoother quality to it with a more gradual blur and even more bokeh while with the 1.8 you can definitely get that blur, but it works better if the object you’re focusing on is clearly in the foreground.
The other lens I’ve purchased separately is a wide angle lens for interior shots and landscapes. There is no way I could shoot the inside of a hotel room or a mountain top vista with the 50 mm, which is why I got a cheap wide angle lens. The Canon EFS 10-18mm is not a high-quality lens, it’s only $279, but does the job and is lightweight since it’s made out of plastic instead of metal.
Always carry an extra battery. Simple as that. (And check what battery your camera model uses before you buy.)
Again, always carry an extra memory card (or two). Especially while traveling, I take a ton of photos and leave them on my memory card until I’ve transferred the image files on to both my computer and an external hard drive to make sure I always have them saved in at least two places. Right now I’m using the Sandisk Extreme Pro 32GB SDHC but since I don’t shoot video or in RAW I personally don’t notice differences between memory cards.
To clean your lenses.
I haven’t found a tripod that I love yet and usually don’t carry one with me because I simply don’t like the hassle. The one I own is similar to this one – very lightweight which is nice for traveling, but it doesn’t feel very strong or sturdy.
Having a tripod paired with a remote makes it much easier to take styled shots, landscape shots in low light (minimizing any camera jiggle) or selfies without the selfie stick (though it’s a bit of work). Amazon has its own brand of wireless remote that works with Canon cameras for just $8.99.
I use Adobe Lightroom to process all my photos. It’s a little intimidating to start using at first but is quick to learn and I have no desire to try any other editing program.
Since I don’t need to always have the latest version of the software, I purchase the program itself instead of subscribing to Adobe’s Creative Cloud membership service. The latest version, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 6 is available for $124.99.
I own a GoPro HERO3 but really haven’t used it that much and am still figuring it out. (Any tips for me on GoPro photography??)
The GoPro HERO4 is the latest model, but if you’re just playing around the HERO3 should be just fine and costs a couple hundred dollars less than the HERO4.
If I didn’t have my Canon DSLR, I would most likely go for the Sony a6000 mirrorless digital camera. Not only does it take awesome photos (my friends at Tieland to Thailand use this camera and love it – you can see some of their shots here), but it’s SO SMALL and great for traveling. You have the power and quality of a DSLR and interchangeable lens, in a light, compact body.
(Supposedly a new Sony a6100 or a7000 model is expected to be released in March 2016.)
What camera gear do you travel with? Do you think having a GoPro is a must? Let me know in the comments below and visiting this post for tips on taking better travel photos…served with a bit of attitude.
Hey! I'm Alana and I've spent nearly the past decade living in Chiang Mai, Thailand, working as a writer and photographer. I started Paper Planes as a place to share local insight, special places, and how to travel well through a range of experiences — from hostels to high-end hotels, street meat to multi-course meals.
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now we know the secret behind your magic! teehee always enjoy looking at your photos!
Not much of a secret! 😉 Your photos are so great!
Really great piece – thank you so much for sharing these tips. I also use a Canon Rebel T3 and it’s great for a beginner like me. Next step – look into and learn more about Lightroom! Thanks for the inspo 🙂
Lightroom’s awesome – you can do it!
I really enjoyed reading this post, as I am a beginner in photography as well and it’s always interesting to see what gear other people are using!
I have the Canon Rebel as well, and also love the 50mm lens. It’s just great and is so versatile!
Thanks for sharing.
Photography is such an expensive hobby … I’ll need to save up some cash in order to even buy a couple of those things.
It seems like every hobby is expensive!
I LOVE the Canon 50mm f/1.8. Fantastic lens for its price!
Just: thank you!
I wish I could figure out Lightroom! I had a pro photog friend of mine attempt to walk me through it and after I got off the phone with him, I forgot everything. So I cheat and use Picmonkey but it’s obviously limited in what it can do. I keep trying to find a good tutorial for Lightroom that isn’t overwhelming but so far no luck.
Have someone walk you through it in person! I found the interface really intimidating at first – and still am always learning little tricks/ways to use the program more fully – but I’m really glad I switched over to it and got used to the program.
Hey, great post – I felt like I was listening to myself 🙂
I agree – it’s hard to buy a lot of stuff because it’s too much of a pain to travel with, and you really need to go with the most versatile stuff.
I also have no clue what I’m doing with my gopro and haven’t found my favorite tripod yet so I just don’t carry one.
I’m impressed that you just travel with the prime and ultra-wide? I tend to go with a versatile zoom and one specialty lens (prime or ultrawide or extra-fast) depending on what I think the trip will bring.
Great post! I need to make a similar one!
I really liked the post and a fan of the Canon products you mentioned but I love the Sony a6000 and think it is one of the best in the price range for mirrorless cameras. Great post! I also mentioned your blog in my Facebook post this morning as a good read. Loving your content!!!
Tho this article is from 2016, I still do find some great tips here especially for first-timers. Anyway, thank you for sharing and it was really a good read.
14 Comments on Travel Photography: What’s in my Camera Bag