My Travel Photography Gear

I haven’t been photographing for that many years and until 2013, I only used a basic point and shoot 5 megapixel camera. It was only until a trip to an African safari where I decided that it was time to upgrade and find a camera that would do it justice. I still use the same camera on a regular basis and have added another one to my travel photography gear.

Until April 2014, all of the photographs were taken on an Olympus OMD EM5; a micro 4/3 system that has delivers sharp and DSLR like photos, but in a smaller and lightweight camera body. It’s been an amazing kit to shoot with, but in April I decided to upgrade to a Nikon D610 DSLR. It’s a full frame system with a sensor twice the size of the Olympus.

Why the change you may ask? The main reason in a nutshell is that I just needed more megapixels and now that I’m selling large prints especially of my landscape photos, the higher the required megapixel count goes a long way. Also the low light performance of the full frame sensor is far superior to that of the micro 4/3 system.

What did I do with my Micro Four Third System?

I still have it, and I still use it. I carry it with me whenever I’m out and about and don’t want to lug around the DSLR. For basic portraits, street photography and especially food photography it is perfect and it fits nicely into my day pack.

So what gear do I lug around now?

Full frame system summary:

  • Nikon D610
  • Tamron 24-70mm F2.8 lens
  • Tamron 70-300m F4-5.6 lens
  • B&W circular polarizing 82mm filter
  • 7DayShop 82mm Variable ND Filter
  • Tiffen 82mm ND 1000 Filter.
  • Wireless ShutterBoss Timer Remote

Nikon D610 – This is the entry-level full frame DSLR by Nikon. Despite the considerable weight differences, it performs like a workhorse. It’s weather sealed so I don’t have to worry if there’s a bit of rain around and the construction is solid whereas before, I had to be careful with the Olympus system.

In terms of image quality; in daylight and landscape photography, there’s no considerable difference between the Nikon and Olympus. They both have excellent sharpness and dynamic range. Where the Nikon outperforms the Olympus is in low light. Images appear sharper and with considerably less noise. Even with images that come out dark, I’m able to extract the detail in post processing without too much noise and versus the Olympus. Another aspect that I like with the Nikon is that dials such as ISO are easy to access on the camera body so I’m able to easily switch between automatic/manual ISO and easily dial in the amount that I need while still looking through the viewfinder.

Tamron 24-70mm F2.8 lens: This lens is an absolute beauty. I was looking at getting the Nikon 24-70mm F2.8 lens but at 40% less, and extensive list of positive reviews, the Tamron proved to be better bang for my buck. The constant aperture F2.8 performs like a dream in low light situations and it’s my go to lens for 99% of the time now.

Tamron 70-300m F4-5.6 lens: I use this lens for the tighter landscape, some portraits and moon shots. The Nikon equivalent lens that I originally considered getting was the Nikon 70-200mm but at nearly five times the price and the amount of photos I take at that focal length, it wasn’t worth it. It’s not the sharpest lens but this can be fixed in post processing. Where it does stand up is the vibration control. In lower light, I can get sharp shots at a slow shutter speed of 1/15th of a second which is AMAZING.

B&W circular polarizing 82mm filter: This isn’t a cheap polarizing filter, but it does an amazing job of reducing glare and as a travel photographer, there will be a considerable number of shots taken during the day where this comes in handy. I keep this one the camera most of the time as it makes the colours in any subject pop out.

7DayShop 82mm Variable ND Filter: This is a variable ND (neutral density) filter which use to reduce the amount of light that comes through the lens. The main use for me is to employ a longer shutter speed to convey drama, time and motion into a scene by: smoothing out water in lakes, oceans and waterfalls, creating light streaks in traffic and create motion in clouds.

It’s not the best ND filter in my opinion and at a higher stop value, it tends to produce a yellow cast. It can be corrected in Photoshop, but takes time away from being out and shooting. At $30, it’s pretty cheap vs $200+ that you can pay for the better brands which one day I’ll invest in when I go on a photographic trip where I’ll use an ND filter on most of my shots.

Tiffen 82mm ND 1000 Filter: This is a new addition to my kit as I couldn’t get the length of exposure at the higher end of the 7DayShop Variable ND filter. This filter barely lets any light in, thus allowing long exposure shots in the middle of the day.

Wireless ShutterBoss Timer Remote: To get tack sharp images, you don’t want anything touching the camera when the shutter release is triggered. That’s why I use this remote. It can be plugged directly into the camera, or triggered wirelessly. Great for group shots.

Micro Four Third System summary:

  • Olympus OMD EM5 kit with a 14-42mm and
  • Olympus Zuiko 12mm super wide lens
  • Olympus 17mm Zuiko lens
  • Olympus  Zuiko 40-150mm lens

Camera Body Olympus OMD EM5: The construction is solid and feels well-balanced in the hand. It has a 16 megapixel camera, a high-definition OLED screen and a crystal clear electronic viewfinder and has one of the fastest autofocus systems out there.

Olympus OMD Camera Update: There’s now a new model released called the Olympus OMD EM1. It’s the same 16 megapixel goodness as the previous model but now has a SLR like group for a better fit in the hand, an increased maximum shutter speed of 1/8000th sec, built in WiFi (instant instagram photos!), faster frame per second burst rate and in camera HDR. If you want a camera and lens combination then the Olympus 12-40mm F2.8 lens is the perfect combo to get for speed and that creamy blurry background on portrait shots.

olympus 12mm

A wide-angle lens allows you to capture plenty of detail in the foreground, midground and background to give you a great landscape shot

Lenses

I’m a fan of fixed focal or prime lenses. The pros with this is that you will always have the sharpest photos possible as you won’t be cropping the image when zooming in. Also using a prime lens in street photography makes the reader feel like they are in the shot itself.

Olympus Zuiko 12mm F2.0 super wide lens:  I’ve probably used this baby for 95% of my shots. The wide-angle on it is incredible and sharpness is unmatched.

Olympus Zuiko 17mm F1.8: This is my Christmas present to myself. I needed it to fill in the focal length gap between the 12mm and the 25mm. I can feel myself using this a lot more often as it’s the perfect focal length for my style of photography after nine months of travel photography.

Olympus  Zuiko 40-150mm lens: This lens came with the camera and whilst it isn’t as sharp as the other three that I have, it still does a great job. If I was taking more wildlife shots, then I would look at upgrading it.

gopro turtle

The first turtle I saw in Mexico, captured with a GoPro.

GoPro Hero2: I’ve used this for many underwater shots and video. It’s so compact and the quality is pretty awesome. You can also use it to clip onto helmets, surfboards or pretty much anything.

UPDATE: I’ve had quite a few emails about the gear and what a more affordable and compact alternative would be for a beginner. For the camera body I would recommend something like an Olympus EP-5 body with the above 17mm lens. It’s the perfect combination that will allow you do fit it into a small bag and allow you to take nice landscapes as well as portraits. If you want to take portraits of your loved ones then consider the 45mm lens. You will get razor-sharp images and that perfectly blurry background and separation of the subject and background.

Other important accessories

  • Nikon SP700 speedlight for portraits and interior photos.
  • Wacom Intuos Pen and Touch small tablet
  • Sandisk 8gb, 2 x 16GB and 32gb memory card
  • Mefoto Backpack Tripod
  • Extra battery
  • Lens cleaner
  • Dust blower
  • 13.3 Macbook Air, 4GB RAM and 500gb Solid State HDD
  • iPad Mini 16GB
  • Adobe Lightroom software
  • Adobe Photoshop software
  • 500GB Portable HDD
  • 2 x 1TB Portable HDD

Nikon SP700 speedlight: I bought this in case I was going to do any portrait shows but it hasn’t had much use. Hopefully I will do more as it’s a nice unit and much better than the on camera flash.

Wacom Intuos Pen and Touch small tablet: I love this unit as it allows me much more freedom and accuracy with intricate retouching work in Photoshop and Lightroom. Some photographers prefer to use a mouse but I don’t carry a mouse and this comes in handy if im processing a lot of photos to save my index finger from getting RSI from using the trackpad too much. It’s touch sensitive like a real pen so I have more control over all of the editing.

Memory Cards: Most of the time I am taking multiple shots in burst mode especially for portrait and street photos and pick the best from the few that I’ve taken. If you have a slow camera then it will spend some time buffering and saving to the memory card which is frustrating. There’s also nothing worse than running out of space so get at least an 8GB card. Because I shoot in RAW format which produces image file sizes of 25MB on the Nikon, I can easily fill 8GB in one day if I’m taking photos of places like the Galapagos. I make a habit of downloading all of my photos from the memory card onto the computer at the end of each day.

Backups Hard Drives: I’m quite paranoid about losing my photos and data. I started off with just a 500GB portable HDD but since then I have bought two 1TB Seagate HDDs. I use the 500GB to back up my entire computer on Time Machine once a week. On the 1TB drives, I backup all of my older photos onto both drives so that I have a duplicate copies in case one of them fails.

Tripod:  If you want sharp photos and shoot at night then a tripod is a must. Some hardcore photographers spend thousands of dollars on carbon fiber tripods but went a long time using a cheap and flimsy tripod which broke when I sat on it and I now have a beautiful scar across my arm as a result. I ended up investing a bit more money into a MeFoto tripod and now realise that a good tripod is worth investing in especially when there is a tiny bit of wind involved.

I’ve since added a Joby Gorilla Grip tripod to my kit. I use it mainly when I’m walking around the city and I want to save a bit of space that my other main tripod can take up. It’s great to use when you’re in places that may not allow tripods in, as I can be slightly sneakier.

What do I use to post process?

Up until mid 2014 I used a Macbook Air (below) which was more than enough for 90% of the images that you see which have been processed in Lightroom. However, as my skills developed, I found myself using Photoshop more frequently for complex processing and layering and working with file sizes of up to 1GB, thus requiring more memory and processing speeds.

Heavy duty post processing in Photoshop.

13.3″ Macbook Pro, Retina Display, 16GB RAM and 1TB Solid State HDD: This thing is a beast compared to the Macbook Air which is still a great machine. If you’re using multiple layers in Photoshop and dealing with RAW files then this is the machine to get. I would suggest getting as much RAM as you can afford but don’t go any lower than 8GB.

Basic processing in Lightroom.

If you can’t afford a top range Macbook Pro then a basic Macbook Air will suffice. For two years, I used a 13.3 Macbook Air, 4GB RAM and 500gb Solid State HDD, which did the bulk of my post processing in Lightroom and some basic Photoshop. It’s so light and barely weighs anymore than an older model iPad which I got rid of as a result. I upgraded the storage on this system to a solid state hard drive meaning that there are no moving parts on it so it’s less susceptible to failure and also it is SUPER fast!

iPad Mini 16GB: I use this mainly to watch movies and to read books. It came in handy especially on the 24 hour bus rides in South America. The 16GB is a bit of a stretch especially with so many movies coming in high-definition and if you like using a many apps then it can take up precious space as well. Go for the 32GB version is you don’t like to keep an eye on space too often.

Post processing software  A lot of people tell me, “Wow you must have an awesome camera!”. To be honest, the majority of the work is done after the shot is taken. I’ve been Adobe Lightroom for just over 2 years now. It’s a photography workflow and editing  software that I use to organize my photos as well as make adjustments to them such as alignment, fixing white balance, sizing, sharpness, temperature and quite a few others that you’d get bored with me listing.

I know a couple of people who are anti post processing, but the reality is that by setting the camera in automatic mode or if you’re shooting in JPEG format, then the in camera is still post processing the image, adding contrast and sharpening after you take the shot. The camera is processing the image based on what it thinks the shot should look like, not how you saw it. Secondly, the camera cannot see the world in the way a human eye can see and most of the time it will create an image with areas within an image look great but the areas in shadows will be black whereas in real life you could see the detail. This is why in my opinion you should post process if you want to be on control of the art and want the best out of your pictures.

shadow image

Ever get results like this where the foreground is in deep shadow?

Perito Moreno Glacier

To make it like how I saw it, in Lightroom, I increased the detail in the shadows as well as made some minor cropping to the image

Photoshop CC. When I first purchased Photoshop, I was so overwhelmed at all of the buttons and functionality. Fast forward a year and a half and now I can’t imagine life without it. It’s a powerful tool for blending, removing objects, and compositing using layers and masks. I don’t like to use HDR software that gives an unrealistic look, so I rely on photoshop to manually blend in parts of images to deliver a more natural look.

At the end of the day, to me the most important thing in photography will always be the fundamentals of composition. It’s sounds simple but if you can’t get the composition right then all the expensive kit and software can’t fix a technically poor image.

panorama in photoshop

A 5 photo image that was stitched together in Photoshop.

Storing my files.

My portfolio and the blog files that you see are stored on Smugmug. I use this for both this site as well as my other blog, Jimmy Eats World. It’s a very intuitive site and very simple to create your own portfolio site. Mine took me less than half a day to create.

I use the mid range business package which allows me to sell prints of my images without any hassle. All of the customer service is handled by Smugmug and I receive unlimited hosting of high resolution files.

If you want to give it a go, they offer a seven day trial and if you decide to sign up, use THIS link for a 20% discount off the first years membership. I also receive a referral fee so any help with keeping this site running would be greatly appreciated :)

whcc_integrated_smugmug@2x

Transporting it all

In total, everything weighs around 15kg which is  overhalf of the total weight that I travel with. I used to fit micro four third system, lenses and laptop into a small back pack, but now I transport most of it in a 20L Lowepro backpack. In it I carry: Both camera bodies; all five lenses; the nikon battery pack; 2 x filters; 1 x backup drive; Wacom Tablet, passport and other documents; Macbook Pro and charger; iPad and charger; and iPhone charging cables. The remaining gear I store in my main pack to be checked in at airports or on busses.

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