Photo: Uncornered Market

Essential Gear for the Nomadic Travel Photographer

by Audrey Scott Jan 7, 2009
Learn how to be a travel journalist — check out the curricula at MatadorU.

The amount of equipment my husband and I carry with us as we travel around the world has been described as extraordinary to insane. However, we use it all to capture various bits of content (text, photos, video, audio) for our website and other projects.

That said, we do use some more than others. Here are what we’ve found to be the 6 pieces of essential gear for the nomadic travel photographer.

1. DSLR Camera

When choosing a DSLR for travel photography, opt for flexibility. We carry a Nikon D300 with an 18-200mm VR lens. Although a bit bulky and heavy, this combination yields professional quality photos with range and reach, from landscape to close-up portraits. For Nikon fans, the D90 is similarly feature-rich, but lighter on the neck and pocketbook.

Nikon camera
Price: $2,029.95 | BUY

Other camera accessories
Grab the following to boost your travel photography:

2. Laptop

Obviously a piece of essential gear for reviewing, post-processing, captioning, and titling our photos. I carry an old 12-inch Mac Titanium PowerBook. I still love it because of its size, durability and reliability. My husband carries a PC. If we were to buy new today, we’d probably both go for a 13-inch aluminum MacBook or one of these travel friendly laptops.

Price: $1,229.99 | BUY
3. External hard drives

The sheer number and size of digital photos (particularly if you are shooting RAW) makes storage a major concern. To ensure we never have to delete anything, we carry two ultra-portable external hard drives – a Buffalo 320 GB MiniStation and a Western Digital (WD) 500 GB Passport. WD drives are an exceptional value; they are inexpensive, sturdy, reliable – and with each new release -smaller in size.

Hard drive
Price: $134.99 | BUY


Hard drive
Price: $119.99 | BUY

Low-tech backup

Carry a few DVD-Rs to burn photos and videos, and mail them back home. My mother is familiar with this trick; she receives a package from some new far-flung location every couple of weeks.

4. GPS data logger

A GPS data logger cannot tell you where we you are or how to get to where you want to go like one of these GPS handhelds. Instead, it keeps a log of where you’ve been. These devices are small and can usually hang off the side of a camera bag or belt loop so you don’t even notice it’s there keeping track of your every step.

We use this location information to geotag our photos (i.e., embed location information into the EXIF data of each photo.) We used the Sony GPS CS-1 for two years, but recently changed to the Amod AGL-3080 because of its compatibility with Mac.

Why geotag photos? It’s a simple way to keep track of where each photo was taken. Additionally, we like how the Google Map that appears below each of our photos adds geographic context to the image. For these reasons, the GPS data logger has become a piece of essential gear for us.

GPS device
Price: $69.99 | BUY
5. Compact camera

It may seem redundant to carry two cameras, but when the situation requires something less imposing and less conspicuous than a DSLR, a small handheld is the answer. If you choose well, it can actually do a decent job capturing simple video and audio clips to supplement your travel photography.

We carry the Casio EX-V8 and are thrilled with the 7X optical zoom that it achieves without extending its lens (our last compact camera died because the lens got stuck).

Point and shoot
Price: $214.95 | BUY
6. Camera / laptop bag

Hauling around all this essential gear becomes heavy on mind and back. As a professional travel photographer, it’s worth investing in a durable, well-designed bag that protects your stuff, doesn’t scream “please steal me, I’m an equipment bag” and feels comfortable on long walks.

I can’t recommend the Crumpler Puppet (replaced by the Crumpler Keystone) camera/laptop backpack enough. It has survived tough climates and chicken bus rides, and remained flexible enough to carry all of the equipment above…and a little bit more.

Camera bag
Price: $150.56 | BUY

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Stoke your interest in travel photography with these articles:

* If your goal is to be a travel photographer, the MatadorU Travel Photography program has the resources you’re looking for.

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