If you’re struggling to choose the right travel photography gear, you’ve come to the right place.
You see, new travel photographers are always asking me about the equipment they should buy. And over time, I’ve developed a standard set of items that every travel shooter must own, from the absolute beginner to the serious professional.
Below, I share my list of essentials; it features all of the basics, including camera, lens, and accessory recommendations.
(By the way, a quick piece of advice before we start: Get adequate insurance to cover your camera and accessories. Accidents and thefts can – and will – happen. Be prepared!)
So if you’re ready to put together a top-notch travel photography kit, then let’s dive right in, starting with the most important gear item of all:
1. A camera
Needless to say, every travel photographer needs at least one camera (and if you’re serious about travel photography, I’d really recommend you carry two: a main body and a backup).
What travel photography camera is best? Honestly, there are so many different choices, plenty of which are capable of great images, so the only way to really know what’s right is for you to think about your shooting preferences, then do some serious research.
But I do have a few pieces of advice.
For one, make sure that your camera is portable enough to carry all around the world, yet offers strong enough image quality to create stunning prints. It might sound like a tall order, but you can find entry-level mirrorless cameras, DSLRs, and even point-and-shoot models that are small, lightweight, and take great pictures (they won’t break the bank, either).
Of course, there are also pro-level cameras that fit the bill, but they’re far pricier. Professional travel photographers tend to use high-end mirrorless and DSLR cameras, which range from around $1,500 to $5,000 USD. One advantage of these cameras, in addition to the insane low-light capabilities and high megapixel counts, is the (often) robust weather sealing. If you plan to shoot in rain, snow, blowing sand, or sea spray, weather sealing is hugely beneficial. It might even be a must-have feature.
If you’re not sure whether a specific camera is right for you, I highly recommend renting before you buy. There are plenty of great online rental companies (and you can find in-person rental companies locally, too). Grab the camera for a day or three, go out and take some photos, and see what you think. You may end up frustrated or you may fall in love – but after a few hours, you’ll know whether it’s a camera worth buying.
By the way, when you’re ready to purchase, shop around. Don’t forget that you can always buy secondhand cameras; these cost half as much but are often in outstanding condition.
Usually, cameras come with just one low-quality lens, or they might come “body only,” which means that you’ll need to purchase a lens separately.
Lenses do make a major difference, so I recommend you think about your travel photography lens choice very carefully. Wide-angle lenses, for instance, will get you completely different results from telephoto lenses. And wide-aperture lenses will let you shoot in very low light, though you’ll pay for it in money, size, and weight.
To start, you’ll need a workhorse lens, which you can use for most of your travel photography. It should offer a good range of focal lengths, should be relatively lightweight, and should offer decent optical quality. I’d recommend looking into 24-70mm lenses, which are great for everything from landscapes to travel portraits. (In fact, you could get away with only purchasing a 24-70mm lens; they really are that versatile!)
If your budget allows it, however, I do recommend you add a telephoto lens to complement your workhorse lens. A 70-200mm lens, for instance, is great for tighter landscapes, architectural details, and even large (or tame) wildlife.
Over time, you can always build up your lens collection further by adding macro or prime lenses, but if you can start with a 24-70mm lens and a 70-200mm lens, or even just a 24-70mm lens, you’ll be in great shape.
Here’s my basic list of lenses, which I carry on every trip:
- A 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom
- A 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom
- A 50mm f/1.2 prime
- A 100mm f/2.8 macro
3. A tripod
Beginner travel photographers might not like the idea of purchasing a tripod – after all, it can be expensive, it can be a hassle to transport, and it’ll slow down your shooting – but here’s the thing:
A tripod is one of the most invaluable travel photography gear items you will ever own. In fact, ask any travel photographer to name their favorite accessory, and they’ll most likely say a tripod.
What makes tripods so special?
For one, without a tripod, you cannot take photos that require slow shutter speeds. Image stabilization technology is great, but you can’t use IS to capture ultra-long exposures at night; try it, and you’ll likely end up with a series of blurry photos.
And yes, tripods do slow you down, but that’s often a good thing. Tripods mean that you spend a bit more time thinking and composing rather than just snapping away.
There are plenty of amazing tripods, and the one that you choose will come down to personal preference, budget, and weight tolerance. Most travel photographers go with carbon fiber tripods, as they are stable and lightweight, and I recommend that you do the same.
Now, when you’re looking at tripods, you’ll probably notice plenty of cheap options – in the $50 to $150 range – and you’ll wonder: Why can’t I get one of those?
Well, you can, but they’ll often weigh a ton. You might not think that 7 lb sounds like a lot, but try carrying a 7 lb tripod for an entire day (along with your camera, lenses, and accessories) and you’ll wish you had paid more money for a lighter model.
And if you find a cheap tripod that doesn’t weigh a ton, it’s likely very unstable. Do you really want to rely on something cheap and flimsy to hold up your expensive camera? In my view, you should always choose the best tripod that you can afford. It’ll last you a long time, anyway, and will be well worth the initial investment.
4. A camera bag
Tripods might be the most important travel photography accessory you’ll ever own, but camera bags come in as a close second, so make sure you buy a good, durable, comfortable product.
You see, camera bags often go unnoticed, yet not only do they keep your equipment safe while in transit, but they also hold your equipment when you are photographing at your destination. They protect your precious cameras and lenses from sand, rain, and snow, and they ensure you remain comfortable when walking or hiking from location to location.
There are lots of camera bags to choose from, and they vary in terms of size, durability, comfort, accessories, and cost. You’ll need to pick a bag that works for you, and as you become more experienced, you may want to buy different bags for different scenarios.
For instance, if I’m hiking or out in the wilderness, I carry a large, comfortable bag, one that’s good for long walks and that contains plenty of room for equipment, water, and more. On the other hand, if I’m shooting in a city, I’ll go with a smaller bag or even a shoulder bag, which holds less gear but won’t get in the way.
5. Memory cards
So you’re standing in front of a breathtaking sunset, colors swirling in the sky like an artist’s palette. Your camera’s at the ready. But wait—your camera displays a warning that you’re almost out of memory. The beauty of the moment fades as you frantically sift through your photos, deciding which ones to delete to make room. Frustrating, isn’t it? To avoid this scenario, stock up on memory cards. Lots of them.
How many should you bring? Well, that depends. It’s a balancing act between the length of your trip, your shooting style, the megapixels your camera has, and the capacity of the cards you’re considering. If you’re someone who loves shooting for long stretches, or if you’re a fan of burst mode, then you’ll need hefty storage—say, around 500 GB or even more for extended trips.
Don’t just think about quantity; consider the safety of your digital treasures. I’ll talk about external hard drives later, but even before that, invest in a quality memory card case. These nifty little containers shield your cards from elements like rain, dirt, and dust. It’s a small investment that can save you a lot of heartache.
Switching gears, let’s talk about the lifeblood of your camera: batteries. And just as you wouldn’t leave for a trip with just one memory card, you shouldn’t go without spare batteries either.
The need for extra batteries becomes even more pressing when you can’t predict your access to a power outlet. Maybe you’re in a remote village or trekking through the wilderness; it’s not like you can just plug your charger into a tree.
While original batteries can be pricey, third-party options usually offer a more budget-friendly alternative without sacrificing much in terms of performance. In warm climates and where you know you’ll have frequent access to power, one spare should suffice. But if you’re headed to a colder climate, or places where charging might be a challenge, 3-5 spare batteries would be more appropriate, especially if you’re using modern mirrorless cameras, which tend to be power-hungry.
7. An external hard drive
Traveling the world with your camera is incredible. Yet, that moment of joy can turn to panic if something happens to your memory cards. This is where an external hard drive steps in as your safety net. I strongly recommend that every traveler keep one in their kit. When you get back to your lodging each night, you can transfer the day’s photos onto the hard drive. This provides a dual safety net—keeping your shots safe and freeing up memory space for the next day.
Hard drives are quite affordable now, and even drives with terabytes of storage won’t break the bank. The ones built for durability are particularly good for travel. They can handle a few bumps on the road and most are shock-resistant. You don’t want a little tumble to wipe out your irreplaceable photos.
8. A remote release
A tripod serves as the bedrock for many great shots. But let’s extend that setup a bit. A remote release might not be the first thing you pack, but oh, the difference it makes. We’re talking about crisp, clear shots when the sun’s gone down or when you’re indoors. Sure, you could use your camera’s built-in timer or even your smartphone to snap a photo. But a remote release eliminates any risk of camera shake, which can ruin an otherwise perfect shot.
Especially useful for low-light photography, this tiny device allows you to trigger the camera without touching it. This is crucial when you’re working with slow shutter speeds to get that perfect exposure. What’s more, these gadgets aren’t a major investment. Basic models often cost less than $20. So if you’re planning to capture the serene twilight or the dynamic city lights, do consider adding a remote release to your kit.
9. A raincover
Mother Nature is unpredictable! You’re in a beautiful location, the light is perfect, and then—bam! Raindrops start falling. If you don’t want your camera to be a casualty of unexpected weather, a rain cover is a smart addition to your gear. Think of it as an insurance policy for your camera, safeguarding your investment from water damage.
A basic rain cover should do the trick for most situations. These are generally affordable and easy to slip over your camera and lens. They’re made of water-resistant materials like nylon or polyethylene and usually have a clear panel so you can still see your camera’s settings. But if you find yourself in a situation where you have to improvise, a trash bag secured with rubber bands can also be a makeshift solution.
This gear isn’t glamorous, but it’s effective. And when you’re far from home, capturing scenes you’ve only dreamt of, practicality trumps glamour every time.
10. A cleaning kit
Switching gears, let’s discuss hygiene—not for you, but for your camera. Whether you’re trekking through the Amazon or wandering through the streets of Paris, your camera is at risk. Elements like rain, dust, and even snow can turn from scenic details into gear-ruining nightmares. So, just as you wouldn’t venture out without your personal toiletries, don’t forget your camera’s cleaning kit.
A basic kit doesn’t have to be bulky. A small pouch can hold all the essentials: microfiber cloths for your lens, a rocket blower to force out the pesky dust, and a small brush to reach into the crevices of your camera body. These simple tools can be lifesavers, ensuring that your camera remains functional and your photos remain clear.
Your camera captures light, but you control the quality of that light. Filters can be game-changers, particularly for travel photographers capturing diverse scenes. Say you’re photographing a lake surrounded by lush trees. A polarizing filter will minimize glare on the water and make those green leaves pop. The difference it makes is like night and day.
Neutral density filters are another key accessory. These are useful when you want to experiment with long-exposure shots. Maybe you’re near a flowing river and you want to capture that silky-smooth water effect. A neutral density filter will let you shoot at slower shutter speeds without overexposing your image.
Last but not least, let’s talk about protective filters like UV or clear filters. These may not dramatically alter your images, but they safeguard your valuable lens from scratches, smudges, and even minor falls. I say it’s a lot easier—and cheaper—to replace a filter than a lens.
Essential travel photography gear: final words
Buying your first camera, lenses, and accessories can be a daunting prospect.
But if you pay careful attention to this list, do your research, and get the absolute essentials, then your kit will turn out great. You can always add more specialized gear over time!
Now over to you:
What travel photography gear do you plan to take on your next outing? What gear do you need to buy? Share your thoughts in the comments below!