Essential Gear and Accessories for Travel Photography

Photo by Thomas Schweighofer

Whether you are taking a long trip through multiple countries, or just a short road trip, proper planning involves having the right gear and accessories with you. This article will cover the most useful gear and accessories for your travel photography.

Of course, a camera and lens are necessary in addition to the items on this list. Your lenses of choice may vary depending on what you will be photographing. If you want to minimize the gear that you are carrying, an all-in-one lens will cover you in almost any situation. A 28-300mm lens is a popular choice as an all-in-one.

1. Tripod

Having a tripod with you will allow you to get the sharpest photos possible, to photograph in low light situations, to bracket exposures for HDR merging/blending, and to photograph long exposures.

It’s important to keep your gear as light as possible when you are traveling, and a heavy tripod is something you will often choose to leave behind. A lightweight tripod is likely to get used a lot more frequently, and it will also make your life easier. Carbon fiber tripods tend to be durable and lightweight.

There are many tripods created specifically for travel photography, but really all you need is something that is lightweight and compact (and of course, capable of holding the weight of your camera and lens). Brands like Benro, Vanguard, Manfrotto, and Gitzo all make tripods specifically for travel. Personally, I use a Sirui T-024X tripod, which is a compact and lightweight carbon fiber tripod.

Depending on the camera that you are using, you may also want to consider a GorillaPod or another flexible tripod. These tripods are not intended to hold as much weight, but because they are small and flexible they are ideal for travel.

2. Camera Bag or Backpack

Of course, you’ll need a bag or backpack to carry all of your gear and accessories. There are several different types and styles, so be sure to choose one that works well for you. If you will be doing a lot of hiking, a backpack is ideal. If you will be mostly in urban areas, you may prefer a messenger style bag.

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Lowepro backpacks are a popular choice. They make a variety of different sizes and styles, and are available at different price points. Before you make a purchase, be sure to consider if you will need room for a laptop, tablet, or other devices in addition to your photography gear.

If your bag is large you may also want to consider bring a smaller bag with you as well. For situations where you don’t need to carry everything, you can put just the essentials in the smaller bag and save yourself a lot of bulk and weight.

For messenger or sling style, the bags from Peak Design are a top choice.

3. Polarizing Filter

A polarizer is helpful for reducing glare off of water and other surfaces. If you’re photographing waterfalls, streams, lakes, or other bodies of water, a polarizer can have a big impact on your photos. Thread the polarizer onto your lens and then turn it until the glare is reduced or eliminated. Polarizers can also increase contrast and saturation in the sky.

There are a number of different brands that you can choose from. Hoya is a popular brand. I have used a Tiffen circular polarizer for several years and I’ve always found it to be very good. Tiffen polarizers are priced very well. Recently I’ve upgraded to a B+W polarizer that is more expensive than the Tiffen filter.

4. Neutral Density Filters

Neutral density filters will reduce the amount of light that reaches the cameras sensor, allowing you to use a slower shutter speed. ND filters are often used for long exposures, and they come in different strengths. I would say neutral density filters are not as essential as many of the other items on this list, but they are good to have. There are many different brands available. I have been using B+W neutral density filters for a few years and have always been happy with them. Cheap filters can often cause color casts or reduce the quality of your photos.

5. Extra Batteries and Charger

You won’t want a dead camera battery to stop your photography in its tracks, so be sure you travel with some fully-charged spare batteries and a charger. You can buy spare batteries from the maker of your camera, or buy third-party batteries that will be considerably cheaper. The third-party batteries often won’t last as long as the batteries made by your camera maker, but for extra batteries the savings may be justified.

I travel with two Canon brand batteries (one came with my camera and the other was purchased as a spare), and two Wasabi batteries. The Wasabi batteries also came with a charger and adapter that can be charged in the car.

Whenever you are purchasing a spare battery be sure that it is compatible with your camera.

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6. Memory Cards

Depending on how long you will be traveling, it’s possible that you will take enough photos to fill up a few memory cards. How much storage you will need will depend on how many photos you will take, and the size of the files. As megapixel counts continue to rise, so do the size of the files created by the camera. SanDisk, Lexar, and PNY are popular choices.

Its also a good idea to have some kind of a case or protection for your memory cards. You won’t want a card full of your photos to be damaged.

7. Card Reader

A memory card reader can transfer files faster, as compared to using a USB cable. A card reader can also be used without your camera being turned on.

8. USB Charger, Solar Charger

USB chargers and solar chargers can help to ensure that you are always able to keep your devices charged and usable. You may be away from outlets for long periods of time, so be prepared.

9. Travel Power Adapter

If you will be traveling internationally you should be prepared for different types of electrical outlets. If the outlets are different, you’ll need an adapter to be able to use your chargers and devices. A simple travel power adapter will usually do the job.

10. Portable Backup

After you’ve taken some photos you will want to create a backup. When you are traveling, one of the best options is to have a portable drive with you. This could be an external hard drive that you can hook up to your laptop, and there are many different brands and options available. Personally, I use external drives by Seagate and LaCie. The LaCie rugged portable drive is an excellent choice.

11. Lens Cleaning Kit

As you travel, you will inevitably need to clean your gear. Lens cleaning kits typically come with a blower, a brush, a cloth, and some cleaning solution. Some also come with a lens pen, or you can buy a lens pen separately. Although the microfiber cloth is very useful, I also recommend having some lens wipes on hand. I always have the Zeiss lens wipes in my camera bag.

Whenever possible, I also prefer to take some dry towels along with me. If space is limited this may not be possible. I usually leave them in my car and then if needed I can use them to dry or clean my gear or myself.

12. Flashlight

As you’re traveling, a flashlight is a good accessory to have for safety. Of course, something small and lightweight will be ideal for carrying in your camera bag. Something like the J5 Tactical flashlight is a great option.

13. Rain Gear

Being prepared for rain is important if you want to protect your gear. Simple rain sleeves or jackets can be purchased to protect your camera and lens. A rain cover like this one by Altura can be great for protecting your gear and still allowing you to photograph in the rain.