Photography vacation equipment

Photography vacation equipment


WHAT TO BRING ON A PHOTOGRAPHY HOLIDAY

For anyone fairly new to photography – and even for experienced photographers who are discovering a new place or subject – what equipment to bring is a daunting question. We’ve chatted to some of our top photography guides to see what they recommend (as well as what they don’t), to help you strike the balance between traveling light – especially where there are long walks involved – and making sure you still have everything you need to capture that perfect shot. Photography vacation equipment will vary from trip to trip, of course, and your company will be able to provide you with comprehensive trip notes to ensure you’ve packed all the essentials. And if you’re not sure what any of this means, we’ve got a handy glossary of photography vacation equipment below, to help you know your AV from your ISO.

Camera


An important one, this! Most travelers will be using a digital SLR, but on some photography vacations a compact camera – if it has manual settings available – may be suitable. This will depend largely on how technical your subject matter is, so chat with your vacation company to find out more; Northern Lights and forest-dwelling tigers will be hard to capture even with the fanciest of equipment, but Andalucian architecture will be just fine. For underwater photography, specialist cameras will likely be provided.

Tripods & beanbags


Useful but cumbersome, it’s always hard to decide whether it’s worth the hassle of lugging a tripod around. Definite yes: astronomy (including the Northern Lights) and time lapse images. Possibly yes: Landscapes and interiors in low light. Generally no: wildlife, as it’s moving anyway – although there are exceptions. Additionally, if you’re photographing from a vehicle (particularly during African safaris) a beanbag will be much more useful than a tripod; rest it on your windowsill and it’s a perfect camera support.

Filters


We recommend a basic UV filter to protect your expensive lens; a scratched or shattered filter costs just a few pounds to replace, unlike a damaged lens. Lens hoods also offer some protection, as well as reducing glare. You may also want to consider bringing a polarising filter (see glossary), particularly if you’re photographing water.

Memory cards/
SD cards


These days, memory cards are so cheap – and tiny – that the more you bring with you, the better. This also means that if one gets lost or damaged, you haven’t lost ALL of your images.

Laptop


Ideal for backing up as you go along, and seeing what you’ve achieved each day. Reviewing your photos gives you chance to receive great feedback from your tutor – and travel companions. If a laptop is provided, then bring a memory stick or hard drive to save your photos on.

Silica gel


You know those funny little packets you get in shoe boxes? Keep them, and put them in your camera bag. Humidity + cameras = foggy lenses.

Batteries & chargers


Camera batteries now last a long time – especially if you are using a DSLR, as you won’t be using your LCD screen much. However, as most cameras now use special batteries, rather than standard AAs, if your battery does die, you’re unlikely to find a new one, so a spare is highly recommended – especially in cold environments where batteries conk out faster. This is also important if traveling in remote regions where you may not have the opportunity to charge up each night; many lodges in Africa, for example, have solar panels or generators – meaning lights but no sockets. And of course, remember the correct adaptor.

Cleaning your camera


Dust, dirt and water are your enemies on assignment, so be sure you have safe ways to clean your camera – tissues and t-shirts just won’t do. A microfibre cloth is good for the lens; for tighter corners, especially if you’re planning to switch lenses, bring a blower brush or compressed air blower to safely remove grit or dust.

Shutter release cable


If using a tripod, many photographers prefer to use a shutter release cable to press the shutter without touching the camera – as this eliminates any shaking.

Photography glossary


FROM APERTURES TO ZOOM LENSES

  • Aperture: Roughly speaking, the aperture value – or AV – refers to how wide the “iris” of the lens opens when you take a picture. The higher the number (known as the f-number), the smaller the opening – and a greater depth of field – meaning most or all of the shot will be in focus. Conversely, a low f-number will give you a large opening – and will mean that only one part of the image will be in focus. This is commonly used in portraits, for example, where the background is blurred – giving a nice focus on the face.
  • Autofocus: Every photographer’s friend! Your camera will focus automatically – meaning you can shoot faster and generally more accurately. If your subject is not in the middle of the shot, however, or if you are shooting wildlife which is hidden behind vegetation, you might need to resort to focusing manually – as autofocus will likely focus on the wrong part of the image.
  • Composition: How the elements are arranged within a photo. You may set up the composition artificially (ie. moving objects or asking people to stand in a particular position) or by moving yourself, your camera or zooming in and out to perfectly “compose” your shot. There are all kinds of composition “rules” – you’ll learn about some of these on your photography vacation.
  • Contrast: The difference between the lightest and darkest parts of an image. Shooting at midday often results in very high contrast images, where sunlit areas are bleached out, and areas in the shade are almost black; this is why many photographers prefer early morning or late afternoon light, or overcast conditions.
  • Exposure: The exposure refers to the amount of light the film (or digital image) is exposed to. Overexposure results in a bleached out image; underexposed photos will be very dark.
  • ISO: Traditionally, this measured the film speed. The lower the number (ie. 100 or 200), the slower the film – film with a low ISO number is best used in very bright conditions. A high ISO film (800, 1600, 3200) works well in twilit conditions or indoors. However, a high ISO creates a very grainy photo – which you may find attractive or not. Although film is rarely used now, digital cameras still have an ISO setting which works on exactly the same principles – even replicating the grain effect.
  • Image stabilising: A feature now on many DSLR lenses which minimises natural shaking (ie from your hand). Some photographers prefer to use this feature only when necessary, as it can drain the battery faster.
  • Polarising filter: You know those stunning beach photos, with an aquamarine sea and a sapphire sky? Or deep turquoise lakes? To get this rich colour, rather than all the light bouncing off the water, you’ll need a polarising filter, which controls which light is absorbed. It hides reflected light (on water or glass, for example) and deepens the sky – instant pro shots.
  • Self timer: The original way of doing selfies! The timer is set for a few seconds’ time, allowing the photographer to step into the shot – or simply avoid camera shake from pressing the shutter.
  • Shutter speed: This measures how long the shutter is open when you take a picture – which affects how much light is let into the camera. So slower speeds are used when there is less available light, and vice versa. Speed is measured in fractions of a second – typically, if you’re shooting slower than around 1/30 of a second you’ll get camera shake – so best use a tripod.
  • Resolution: The resolution of a digital image affects the quality. The higher the resolution, the more pixels. A low resolution image may look fine on a computer screen – but for printed images, the higher the resolution, the better.
  • RAW: Digital cameras store images in different formats. JPG is the standard format – but RAW files are much higher quality, You’ll need to make sure you have software such as Photoshop or Lightroom to open and edit these files (and save JPG versions). The best thing is that as the RAW file contains so much information, you can adjust things like the contrast much more successfully. Additionally, no matter how much editing you do, all the original information is retained in the RAW file – so you can always go back to the start with no loss of quality.
  • SLR: Short for single-lens reflex, an SLR camera allows you to see directly through the camera’s lens when you look through the viewfinder, by using mirrors. This set up means you need to look through the viewfinder, not on the LCD screen, when you’re taking a picture. Pro photographers prefer this though, as your screen is hard to see in bright sunlight – and holding the camera to your face also helps keep it steady. SLRs also capture images faster – no more annoying delay after you’ve pressed the button, only to find the bird has flown by the time the shutter finally goes.
  • Telephoto lens: Also called a long lens; think paparazzi, or those fancy-looking black and white lenses you see hardcore wildlife photographers cruising round with. You’re unlikely to need anything quite as extreme; but if you are going on a trip specifically to photograph birds or wildlife then you’ll need at least a 135mm lens, up to around 300mm, as a start.
  • Wide angle lens: Also known as a short lens. For sweeping landscapes, or even to take in as much as you can of a narrow scene (a small room, a train), you’ll want a wide angle lens – typically 50mm or less; the lower, the wider. Be aware that if you are taking photos of a close up subject (such as a portrait) with a wide angle lens, the image will be distorted (think of the effect created by a convex mirror – or the wing mirror on a car). The most extreme wide angle lens – with a completely distorted image – is a fisheye lens.
  • Zoom lens: Zoom lenses allow you to focus in and out of a scene – they are ideal for travel photography as you can choose your focal length on the spot and won’t need to keep changing lenses (particularly hazardous on the road when there is plenty of dust, dirt or humidity to get inside your camera). Depending on the focal length, they’ll allow you to shoot both portraits and landscapes with a single lens, for example. The lower the mm, the wider the scene – and the higher the mm, the closer in you’ll get to wildlife at a distance, for example.

Photography vacation equipment


WHAT DO OUR HOLIDAY COMPANIES RECOMMEND?

Geraldine Westrupp, photographer, mountain guide and founder of our supplier, Wild Photography Vacations:
“In terms of growing as a photographer, you do need an SLR. We do appreciate there are all sorts of mediums for taking photographs – we use our iPhones loads! But a lot of the trips involve serious landscapes, so you are looking at having a digital SLR and a tripod. Some people just come with one kit lens and that’s fine, but as they progress they soon realise that they’ll need more. So usually it’s a starting point – they go away and realise that they have to buy more things to get better images.”
Oktay Ortakcioglu, founder of our supplier Imaj Photography Vacations, shares advice on what photography vacation equipment to bring to China: “Travel light – equipment that will sit in your hotel room is no good to you. A fast portrait lens is handy for indoor shoots as old wooden houses can be quite dark inside but also have a wide range zoom lens for outdoors. If your camera is not waterproof, bring a disposable (light) rain cover for your camera. A sturdy and light tripod is a must for night/dawn/dusk photography. Also a reflector is handy to have.”
Gary Latham, professional photographer who works with our supplier, High Lives, on their Bolivia photography vacations, shares his tips for taking pictures in the high Andes: “Travel light at high altitude. Some camera equipment can be heavy, and when walking at high altitude you may get more easily tired if you have a heavy camera with you.”
Lesley Schofield, from our supplier All Points East: “The aim of our photography vacations is to help each individual take better photos in the style and kind that they want to take. You get some people for whom the technical aspects of photography and their equipment are rightfully important, but you also get people who have a much more arty approach to the whole thing. We even had one couple who shared a camera. They didn’t both have a flashy camera, they both wanted to go, so they shared a camera between them. The rest of the time they took shots with their mobile phones or compact cameras.”
Photo credits: [Camera - double: Paxtons Camera Video Digital] [Tripods & beanbags - single: Beverley Goodwin] [Filters - single: Sergio Tudela Romero] [Memory cards/SD cards - double: Caroline] [Laptop - single: m01229] [Silica gel - single: Brad McMahon] [Batteries & chargers - double: trenttsd] [Cleaning your camera - single: dualdflipflop] [Shutter release cable - double: Andrew Magill] [Gerladine Westrupp quote: Jamie McCaffrey] [Gary Latham quote: Eneas De Troya]
Written by Vicki Brown
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