What To Take


By Andrew Hudson

Standard Camera

A ‘compact’ or ‘point-and-shoot’ automatic camera makes life very easy as it is small and simple to operate. In fact, they’re even preferable over more expensive ‘SLR’ cameras in some circumstances, such as when you need fast response, something less noticeable and intimidating (for photographing people), or something small and light (when walking around town or hiking).

Some models have one fixed lens (usually a 30mm wide angle) which is the lens you’d use most on a more expensive camera. Other model also offer a second, telephoto lens, or a single zoom lens to help you capture details and make good portraits of people.

Look for a model that feels good in your hands and that you can understand how to operate. I like a very wide angle lens (24mm) to capture buildings and make big, punchy shots. A fill-flash feature is very useful to brighten people’s faces. Other useful features include lockable autofocus (to focus on subjects which aren’t in the center of the frame), a self-timer, and panoramic mode.

A Camera for the Experienced

The camera of choice for experienced photographers is the SLR — Single-Lens Reflex. This type of camera contains an angled mirror and prism to show you exactly the scene viewed by the lens. This is a benefit over the simple point-and-shoot camera (which has a separate viewfinder lens) as it allows you to better monitor the image.

The greatest benefits of an SLR camera is the ability to change lenses according to the situation, and to have manual control over focus, aperture and shutter-speeds. SLRs are typically more cumbersome, expensive, and technically demanding than a compact camera, but you are rewarded with increased flexibility and control.

Look for a model that feels comfortable and that you understand how to operate. I like a built-in flash, auto-focus capability, and aperture-priority mode (where you set the aperture and the camera determines the corresponding shutter speed). A light-weight design is valuable when you’re traveling.

Read more about Cameras

1. Lenses

Most people start with a medium zoom lens, such as 35-80mm or 80-135mm, then a telephoto 100-210mm. The lens I use the most is a 24-35mm as you can do so much with it. About 80% of my photos are taken with a 28mm lens. Many professional like a 20mm lens, the exaggerated perspective adds great punch and depth to their shots.

A popular ‘long’ lens is 80-210mm. I prefer a 100–300mm telephoto as that extra 90mm seems to go a long way. You can use a 2x convertor to double the length but there are drawbacks. It adds two precious f-stops resulting in slower shutter speed, and decreases the optical quality by 10–20%. With such a long focal length You’ll need a tripod.

2. Cases, Caps and Straps

Lenses are fragile and expensive so protect them with front and rear lens caps. Adding a UV or skylight filter to each lens serves as extra protection. If you’re like me and prone to dropping things, It’s cheaper to replace a damaged filter than a broken lens.

A strap can be useful for carrying the camera. It keeps your hands free while keeping the camera primed for action. A nice wide strap spreads the load. Personally however I prefer not to use a strap as it just gets in the way. Instead I carry the camera in a padded case.

Choose a camera case that carries all your kit and is well padded. Adjustable compartments and pockets are useful. Shoulder bags are popular but carrying the weight on one side all day can get uncomfortable. I prefer a backpack as it frees up both hands and makes it easier to travel.

Many professionals prefer a bag that also fits around the waist. This way, they have ready access to a range of lenses.

3. Filters

Your choice of filters, as with everything else, is one of personal preference. I use four filters — a standard polarizer, a blue-yellow polarizer, an FL-D filter and an 81B filter.

With the standard polarizer, rotating the filter gives deep blue skies and strengthens colors by removing glare and reflections. The blue-yellow is a good color enhancer, it makes skies electric blue and increases the amount of golden yellow on buildings. I use the FL-D filter on most sunsets and dusk shots as it adds a warm purple color to the sky. The 81B filter is good for warming up shots when you’re shooting around midday.

Here are some other filters.

Color Enhancer Enhances reds, but can leave a cold blue/violet cast and is expensive.

Color Correcting Enhances particular colors — green is good to enhance foliage. For example, a CC20G adds 20% green by reducing other colors by 80%.

Single ColorAdd an overall blue, orange or sepia cast to your shot.

81A, 81B or 81CSimulates late afternoon light by adding an orange/brown cast. A is light, B medium, and C strong.

Haze 1 or Skylight 1ACan reduce haze at high altitude. Skylight 1A adds a slight pink “warming” cast. Used often to protect lenses.

Neutral Density or Split-Field Neutral DensityReduces the brightness of a scene, for better control of aperture. A split-field neutral density reduces a bright sky to match a shaded foreground.

Red or YellowIncreases tonal contrast in black-and-white photographs.

Read more about Filters

4. Extra Photo Storage

If you’re going on a long trip, you’ll be taking lots of photos, so you’ll need some way to store those pictures. Depending upon what type of camera you have, take extra “flash” memory cards or film, a photo hard disc, or laptop.

5. Camera Care

Dirty lenses or filters produce low-contrast images and washed-out colors. Keep things clean with a soft lint-free cloth, special dust-free tissues, lens-cleaning fluid, and a blower brush. A pair of tweezers is useful if sand or dirt gets lodged inside the camera. A small screwdriver can tighten up any screws that come loose, particularly on long lenses which don’t like the vibrations of traveling.

6. Flash

A flash is useful for brightening people’s faces on overcast days, and for indoor shots. Many cameras today include a built-in flash which is suitable for most purposes. If you’re keen on interiors, consider a hand-held flash to brighten dark areas while the shutter remains open. Remember that many museums prohibit flash units as they can damage the exhibits.

7. Second Camera

If you have it, also take a compact camera, or a disposable camera. This is great for restaurants and quick snaps of unsuspecting friends in embarrassing situations. Many professionals carry a second SLR in case one jams or they’re shooting with two different films. But that’s a little extreme.

8. Tripods

A full-size tripod is essential for steady, top-quality shots, but is too cumbersome for most travelers. Instead carry a mono pod, or a mini-tripod — coupled with a wall or table, they’re almost as good.

If you have a tripod, You’ll also need a cable release to avoid camera movement when you take the shot. Alternatively use the self-timer feature.

9. Notepad and Pen

Useful for remembering good locations, bus numbers, details about your subjects, and addresses of people you meet. If you’re considering submitting shots for competitions, You’ll need to note your camera settings.

10. Batteries

If your camera uses rechargeable batteries, don’t forget the recharger. If you’re going overseas, you might need a voltage/power convertor. Take a second, spare rechargeable battery, so you can keep shooting.

It’s easy to avoid buying spare batteries but there’s nothing more infuriating than getting somewhere fabulous and finding out that your camera won’t power up. As Gary Larsen (almost) said, just when you find the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, and Elvis, all sitting together, your batteries die.

Copyright 1997–2007 Andrew Hudson for PhotoSecrets / Photo Tour Books, Inc. You may reproduce this article for personal, educational, non-commercial and non-Internet use, such as in a local photo club newsletter or school project. No Internet publishing is permitted. For commercial use, please email me for permission.

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