Travel photography and photography in general has opened the world to me. It has become a reason to wake up at dawn and set off to see a misty sunrise behind a Buddhist temple, or to stay out late in the Scottish Highlands to capture a rescue mission in the mountains with a long exposure. The potential to take my favourite photograph tomorrow has, for the last four years, been my driving motivation to experience and document the world around me.
All the gear involved with the act of photographing makes being a backpacker at the same time almost an oxymoron. Known notoriously by throngs of other tourists as the ones with the most luggage, photographers are undoubtedly weighed down by gear when out taking photos.
In 2011 when I began a five-month journey across China and Southeast Asia, I packed more than most. In an 80-litre backpack I had four lenses, three cameras, and a flash, a laptop, a mini tripod, backup equipment, batteries, chargers, and more memory cards than I could count. My gear took up more space than my clothing and, though I knew the weight was cumbersome, it wasn’t until I received an invitation to explore Northern Thailand’s Mae Hong Son Province on a motorbike that I made the conscious effort to lighten my load.
I also had the opportunity to hike the Great Glen Way, a five-day, 114-kilometre footpath from Inverness to Fort William, Scotland. Carrying everything I needed for a single week in October, I traveled using nothing more than a 35-litre backpack with a tripod and tent strapped to its top. The Great Glen Way took me to places that were accessible only by foot or bike, officially off the beaten path. Packing more than I needed wasn’t an option.
The benefits of packing light are four-fold: the first advantage being carry-on luggage. If at all possible, I carry my most valuable belongings on my person on long-haul bus rides, air flights, and even car trips. Keeping an eye on your gear during transit is safer than using luggage locks. Placing your camera in a small protective bag before you place it in a day bag or a backpack hides it. Petty theft happens abroad and at home and keeping a low profile by not carrying a great deal of gear around is another way of keeping your equipment safe. Especially when arriving at a new destination, it is great to be carrying only a backpack. You can then explore without first having to stop at a hotel to unload your luggage.
Carrying only one or two lens options and a single camera, I can act quickly when I see a scene or moment I’d like to photograph. If I had all of my equipment with me, I would ask myself which camera I should use, which lens would be best, and whether I should use a flash. All of these questions could slow down my response to a potential photograph and might mean that I don’t capture the scene at all.
Traveling light is going to mean different things to different photographers. Your lens choices, camera choice, and any other gear you use are going to change the aesthetic of your images. No lens is going to be great for everything and travel photography is as diverse as the world itself. Think ahead: Where are you going? What do you plan on shooting? Landscapes? Portraits? Architecture? Answering questions like these honestly will help narrow down your kit significantly and give you the flexibility and benefits of traveling light.
Here is a Packing Sample list, as an example of all I took with me on my two-week hiking trip to Scotland:
1 Long-sleeved tight shirt
2 Pairs of hiking socks
1 Pair of sleeping socks
1 Light sweater
1 Heavy sweater
1 Pair of rain pants
1 Pair of hiking pants/tights
Running shoes/Hiking shoes
1 Sleeping bag
1 Sleeping pad
Cotton sling day bag
case that fits into a day
bag or backpack
1 Power adaptor
5 8GB CF cards
1 Small waterproof
case for CF cards
This article originally appeared in our Winter Issue in 2013. Get it in print - HERE