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Catherine and I just returned from an eleven-day trip to New Zealand (we’ll do a photo blog about it soon), and the experience raised a number of issues I deal with whenever I embark on a major trip. It starts before I even start packing my gear, when I ask myself, “How much do I want to make this trip about photography?”  I always try to strike a balance between doing the photography I want to do on a trip while not being shackled by my camera gear when/if there are times I don’t want to take photos.  To achieve that balance, I do my best to identify the minimum amount of gear necessary.  There are a lot of pros and cons to weigh in determining what that packing list will look like, and the answers will vary depending on the destination and individual goals and preferences.  New Zealand, for example, was an incredibly photogenic country, one that I may never have the chance to visit again.  Other trips that we have been documenting on Mirrorless Planet, including Ireland, Japan, and (coming soon in the microblog) Maui, have yielded similar learning experiences, and were the sources for the images in this post.  For any of these travels, leaving a piece of gear at home could have potentially meant we’d miss out on an opportunity of a lifetime to get a shot that we couldn’t make without it.  This is one of the main reasons I love the µ4/3 system and have built my photography gear almost completely around it.  It’s compact size and versatile feature set make it the only camera I need for travel.  Nevertheless, even small gear like µ4/3 and lighter supporting equipment can still add up, potentially limiting what we are able do by impacting our convenience and security, weighing down our backs and our freedom.  Being overburdened by gear can be a constant drag throughout any vacation — from the airport to the hotel to the field and back again.  My intention for this post is to share some of my approaches to this dilemma — strictly as an amateur enthusiast on a “photo vacation” rather than from the perspective of a professional travel photographer, whose circumstances I imagine would differ in several respects. Some of my points will be based on my personal predilections and will not be for everybody, but I hope that some of you might find some of these tips helpful.

 

How I View Travel Photography:

Nature, including wildlife and macro, are two other important aspects of our photography. (Click to view full-size)

Nature, including wildlife and macro, are two other important aspects of our photography.
(Click to view full-size)

Our love of travel was one of the main reasons Catherine and I started doing photography.  The others were food and nature.  All three passions paired very well with taking pictures, so photography was a natural hobby for us to add to our lives.  When it comes to our vacations, all of our passions are usually involved, but we don’t want photography to rule over the other enjoyments of the trip to the point that it becomes a detriment.  Rarely is picture-taking the only point to an activity.  It may be a primary factor (say, going to a beautiful location and doing landscape photography), or it may be a lesser factor (taking pictures of our food at a restaurant).  Usually, photography is enhancing our experience of something else, and vice versa.  Only rarely do we have activities where photography is not involved at all.  So, you could say that our trips are mostly photography-centered.  I am not sure if that makes me a travel photographer, but I have a very simple view of what travel photography means.  Without getting into various artistic or thematic motivations, my personal (non-pro) definition of travel photography is that it is made up of elements from any or all of the other genres (landscape, portrait, street, documentary, architecture, food, perhaps wildlife or astro, etc.), but with less time.

While I haven't talked about it much, food (and beer) is yet another passion Catherine and I have combined with photography. (Click to view full-size)

While I haven’t talked about it much, food (and beer) is yet another passion Catherine and I have combined with photography.
(Click to view full-size)

There are two key points here.  The first is that I am generally looking to shoot multiple genres on my vacations, and that means different types of gear.  I’ve never gone anywhere I haven’t shot landscapes, so I generally want a wide-angle lens, filters and a support system.  Since wildlife photography is another major passion, we also need telephoto lenses.  The genre list can go on, depending on the trip.  Add in that I am packing for two, and you can see why my camera bags could get out of hand.  The second crucial point is the time limitation.  Photography is just as much (if not more) about the moment than it is about the location — the right lighting, perhaps hitting a particular event, or benefitting from the season, or weather of the hour.  I don’t have unlimited funds to travel to far away places multiple times or stay in one area long enough to keep revisiting a shot until I hit it at just the right moment.  I can’t take forever setting up and shooting in one spot for however long it takes.  For travel photography, I have to take what I can get when I get it, and move on.  This means that I always feel compelled to make the most of the opportunity, which in turn makes it hard for me to choose to leave a piece of gear at home.

 

How I cut Down My Load:

The above viewpoints all greatly impact how we plan a vacation.  I usually approach an upcoming trip with a lot of photographic possibilities, so I start refining them down by asking myself what interesting photography genres would work really well where we are going.  Of course this is a lot easier to leave certain gear at home if the destination only offers limited varieties of photography I am interested in.  But longer, more wide-ranging trips will have a number of interesting photographic genre possibilities, and sometimes I can’t bring myself to give any of those opportunities up.  That was the problem we faced in packing for our cross-country New Zealand excursion, which had the additional factor of being so far from where we live that we may never get a chance to go back (although we really want to).

Nachikatsurra temple, shot with the E-M1 and 12-40mm F/2.8 Pro in Kansai, Japan. (Click to view full-size)

Nachikatsuura temple, shot with the E-M1 and 12-40mm F/2.8 Pro in Kansai, Japan.
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How do I pare down what gear to bring when I know it will mean losing out on some of these chances of a lifetime?  Once I’ve narrowed down the genres, I set to work on just that.  Fortunately, I’ve built my photography kit around the premise that having lighter and smaller gear allows me to take more of it, which is why I am a proponent for compact and light systems like µ4/3 and carbon fiber support equipment.  I am also very lucky in that Catherine does photography with me instead of waiting for me, and she is willing to carry some gear (with not too much complaining).  Nevertheless, even lighter gear can add up and get in the way.  So, I weigh my pack against three logistical costs of bringing it: convenience, security, and most of all fun.  If any of these considerations are too adversely impacted by the amount of gear I’m bringing, I need to downsize.  So, I ask myself the following questions:

  • What will be the mode of travel?  If flying, airline baggage restrictions will be a limiting factor.  I will revisit this point later with some advice for the airport, but for now I will just say that we (like most photographers) don’t want to put our photography gear through check-in, which limits us to carry-on baggage restrictions.  Going by train can be easier, by car is easier still.  With those we can usually pack more with less inconvenience.  If this is a hiking/backpacking trip, however, we must pack very sparingly.
  • How safe is the location?  Travelers can never completely safeguard themselves from robbery, but we want a certain comfort level in leaving large amounts of expensive gear in the car or hotel.  If we don’t feel confident doing that, we will end up carrying everything everywhere we go, so we will know not to pack more than we are willing to carry for long periods of time.
  • Will we have other people with us?  I have to think of traveling companions before deciding how much photography we will be doing, because it’s their vacation too.  Even if they say they are willing to wait while I shoot or even help carry gear, I still feel compelled to reduce the photography aspect and plan for having less time for it.  This means I don’t want to be bringing a lot of support gear that takes time to set up, or try time-consuming techniques.  I’ll simplify my shooting and take fewer pictures.
  • What are our personal tolerances for weight?  I’ll go more into how I get around this later, but I don’t build packs that are too heavy for us.  Even if I think we can bear it out, too heavy a load may still take its toll on the amount of fun we are having.
I don't use a selfie stick when taking a picture of both of us. I use a tripod and set my camera for 12-second delay. (Click to view full-size)

I don’t use a selfie stick.  When taking a picture of both of us, I use a tripod and set my camera for 12-second delay.  This image was shot at Lake Hayes, in New Zealand’s South Island.
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With each individual piece of gear, I also ask whether we will actually use it.  This can be hard to anticipate, so it is easy to overpack.  I have many times brought gear that I thought I might need, but ended up not using and carrying unnecessarily.  The only way to improve on this is to remember which pieces I didn’t use for the next trip, and why, and if the why is still applicable, use that information to decide if that gear should be left behind this time.

More gear adds complexity to photography, for better or for worse.  Added complexity means there will be more photographic techniques to try, more gear to fiddle with, more things that can go wrong — all of which can slow me down and add a degree of pressure.  This is true even at the simplest level of just bringing a few extra lenses.  This is an important consideration when factoring in the trip’s timetable and the tolerance levels of travel companions.  Another way to look at it is that a limited gear selection forces me to focus more on specific types of photography, which I may or may not deem beneficial.

Similarly, I have to consider how good I am at using a particular piece of gear.  If I’m not very good at a certain technique, I may not want to spend a lot of my valuable vacation time floundering with it.  During an expensive vacation is usually not the best time to start learning.  It took me several trips, but I finally figured out that bringing my flash would be a waste of space until I get good at using it.  That said, if the trip is affording me a rare opportunity to try for the first time a technique I otherwise would not be able to, taking specialized gear for it could be worthwhile.  For example, New Zealand’s clear, rural nights offered my first chance at doing astrophotography.  I can’t say that my first attempts produced fantastic results, but I enjoyed the experience, and it didn’t require any extra gear I wasn’t already taking.

 

Planning Ahead:

Downtown Sydney Harbor by night. (Click to view full-size)

Downtown Sydney Harbor by night. I’ll post more of these images soon in an Australia microblog.
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It goes without saying that planning ahead is critical, and Catherine is a master at researching locales on the internet and putting together amazing trips.  Of course, there are some things we cannot plan for (weather, delays, a place we find we want to stay longer at, whatever).  Furthermore, having photography as a part of our travel means everything takes longer than it would otherwise.  We may stay in one spot longer than expected, and while on the road we may stop often to shoot the scenery.  So, when planning for a trip, we don’t regimentally schedule our time down to the hour (though obviously, we adhere to any reservations we’ve booked).  We pick one or two specific travel spots for each day, each spot with one or more activities we would be interested in doing.  We may or may not be able to hit them all (usually we do not), but the point is to have options and let the day unfold as it will.  We prefer not to spend too much time traveling from point A to point B (though sometimes this is unavoidable, or sometimes the driving is the whole reason we are there).  If we can keep our (logistical) travel time between spots to under three hours, we are usually pretty happy with that.

We plan the photography aspects of our trip as thoroughly as we do for any other activities.  Strong planning informs us of what photography opportunities we want to aim for, and what logistical hurdles might take a potential activity off the schedule.   Knowing which activities make the must-do list takes some of the uncertainty out of choosing what gear to bring and what to leave home.  Sometimes, getting a shot I really want to pursue puts us on a tight schedule.  Deeper internet research allows us to plan the time of day we want to hit a certain spot, and gives us an indication of what to expect.  If it is a heavy tourist spot, it will most likely be best to hit it early in the morning or as soon as it opens, in order to beat crowds that could ruin a pristine view.  Google Maps has a feature that allows us to see photos taken from a particular location, which is helpful to get an idea of what sorts of shots we can expect (but be warned that the geo-locational aspect is usually not exact, depending on how the person who submitted the picture entered the data).  I also use an app called The Photographer’s Ephemeris to determine the positioning and timing of the sun (or moon) on the day I plan to be at that location, which is helpful not only for sunrise/sunset shots, but also to avoid shadows or glare, or knowing when are the best nights to do astrophotography.  This sort of research also helps me get an idea of what focal lengths will be the most useful at that locale, and whether I may need specialized gear such as a tripod and/or filters.  Of course, we also do this to come up with back-up plans in case the weather forecast looks bad, so we can pack for that too.

 

Wherever we go, we tend to drive ourselves. The freedom to go anywhere at our own pace allows us to photograph our explorations at our leisure. (Click to view full-size)

Wherever we go, we tend to drive ourselves (even if the steering wheel and side of the road are opposite from what we are used to). The freedom to go anywhere at our own pace allows us to photograph our explorations at our leisure.  For this image, Catherine shot a fisheye of the inside of our rental car as we drove through south New Zealand.
(Click to view full-size)

 

Gear Table:

Go ahead and laugh. But they're useful. Really. (Click to view full-size)

Go ahead and laugh. But they’re useful. Really.
(Click to view full-size)

I hesitate to admit to the world the amount of nerdiness this says about me, but one of the surprisingly helpful ways I have refined my photography packing dilemma is to set up gear tables.  The tables represent the photography genre combinations I will likely be doing and whether it is to be a light or a heavy kit.  Aside from a description as to why I need it, each table lists out each piece of gear and ascribes a priority ranking, a made-up “encumbrance” value, which bag the gear will be stored and whether I or Catherine will be carrying it.  The table I show here may give you an idea of why my packs can get large enough to inspire me to write this post.  These tables help me come up with reasonably manageable packs for every occasion, and add some discipline to my packing process.  The priority rankings help me cull gear that may need to be left behind.  I update them every once in a while based on how much I have been using specific items.  The encumbrance values approximate the bulk and weight of the item, and the totals help me distribute the weights of the packs (much more for mine than Catherine’s, of course).  Then I test the bags to make sure it all works.  The hardest part is convincing Catherine that her bag is as light as I can get it.

Similarly, the tables also afford me more discipline in buying gear.  They show what holes I have in my kit and what I already have pretty well covered.  The priority rankings help track what genres I tend to do more, so I don’t let GAS convince me to buy gear for genres I don’t do.  They also help me in determining what sort and size of camera bags we need.  I’ll admit, I like camera bags, so we have quite a few.

 

Lens Selections:

I do like fisheyes, as limited in use as they are. I shot this double rainbow outside of our hotel room patio on the beach in Lahaina, Maui. (Click to view full-size)

I usually do like to have my 8mm Pro f/1.8 fisheye lens with me, as limited in use as fisheyes are. I shot this double rainbow outside of our hotel room patio on the beach in Lahaina, Maui, intentionally capturing the hotel and palm tree above us as well as the ocean. 
(Click to view full-size)

Easily the hardest packing dilemma is which (and how many) lenses to bring.  I have seen many camera forum members agonize and plea for advice on what lens to bring for their next trip.  Amusingly, while they usually state upfront that they have lenses A, B and C, many responders still seem to recommend lenses D, E and F.  It seems to me that unless there are lenses you are already planning on buying, more than likely the gear you will want to bring is the gear you have already been using.  In any case, hopefully some of the framing questions I have provided can help refine your criteria for a particular trip so that you only take the gear you will need.

Personally, I prefer zooms over primes for travel photography because of their versatility, and because I am very satisfied with the performance of all of my Olympus Pro lenses. The 12-40mm and 40-150mm Pros are my go-to, do-anything lenses, with a few other primes making up the rest of my lens choices.  To me, the issue is the inconvenience of switching lenses, and the weight of carrying several in a pack.  Since Catherine and I both shoot, we each mount the complementary lens we think we will use the most that day on our cameras, and I will perhaps carry one or two others in a day pack or belt pouch if necessary.  I don’t tend to bring redundant focal length lenses, unless I think I will a need a specialized prime such as the 60mm Macro, fisheye, or a fast portrait lens.  Lens swapping can be avoided by carrying multiple bodies, but if traveling solo, carrying around multiple cameras can be clunky in its own right, and this needs to be weighed versus the hassle of switching lenses.

Some folks take this a step further and recommend all-in-one lenses, such as the Olympus 14-150mm f/4-5.6 II.  I can certainly see their merits for travel, as they could effectively eliminate the photography gear dilemma almost singlehandedly.  I have never used an all-in one lens, so I cannot speak to their performance, but I nevertheless suggest determining whether their image quality and speed are strong enough to meet the needs of your photography.  Referring back to my “once in a lifetime” theme, having good lens performance is a reasonable concern  — though different people might view that criteria very differently.  I’d welcome the thoughts of those who have used all-in-ones to weigh in here on how well they have served.

 

Support Gear:

If you don't mind lugging it around, a tripod is invaluable for many landscape and macro photography shots, even with Olympus' wonderful image stabilization. (Click to view full-size)

If you don’t mind lugging it around, a tripod is invaluable for many landscape and macro photography shots, even with Olympus’ wonderful image stabilization.
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For many Olympus users, support gear might not be needed at all because IBIS will be good enough for their needs.  Support gear can potentially be the heaviest, bulkiest and all-around troublesome of additions to a travel photography kit.  For me, however, if I am going to do long exposure or night photography on a trip (and I haven’t gone on a trip yet where I haven’t), I will still need to bring some sort of support system.  I have several options to choose from; a tripod, a monopod, a tabletop tripod, or a bean bag.  Spoiler alert: despite the inconvenience, it’s always the tripod I end up bringing, with one addition.

I’ve professed my loyalty to my Really Right Stuff tripod before on other posts.  It is simply the most versatile and effective support tool for my type of shooting.  It is a light, carbon fiber model that offers excellent stability for long exposure and macro photography as well as long-range shooting.  Long exposure shots such as this post’s title image are only possible with a tripod.  It allows me to do multi-row panoramas and completely eliminate parallax error.  It frees up both hands so I am not fumbling around so much, and lets me hang my filter bag off of it.  I can be in my own pictures, if I want.  I can extend it much higher than I am tall for extra height, or get down really low for that macro shot.  I’ve even used it as a boon to shoot out on a cliff.

My monopod, on the other hand, is even lighter and smaller still, so it is allowed in more places.  I can also get much higher by holding up a monopod than I can extend my tripod (though I could hold up my tripod too, I suppose).  I have a clamp attachment to give it a little bit of the flexibility of my tripod, but it is still very limited by how it can be attached to objects to get that same stability.  I can do panoramas, but not as well as with the tripod, and not multi-row.  As I mentioned in my birding blog series, I find a monopod very awkward in birding situations.  I think most importantly, though, the added stability of a monopod is just not as important with Olympus’ excellent IBIS, particularly the new Sync IS.  Since it’s also not going to have enough stability for long exposure (unless I can attach the clamp to something), the amount of a monopod’s practical usage with µ4/3 is very specific and limited.  My monopod, excellent as it is for what it does, doesn’t get nearly as much use as I thought it would, though sometimes Catherine uses it if her wrist is hurting.

This is my new favorite kit for walking about. The RRS L-Plate connects t both the Black Rapid wrist strap (via an RRS clamp designed to accept straps) and the RRS tabletop tripod, which adds tremendous flexibility and doesn't hurt with hand-held stability, either. (Click to view full-size)

This is my new favorite kit for walking about. The RRS L-Plate connects to both the Black Rapid wrist strap (via an RRS clamp designed to accept straps) as well as the RRS TFA-01 Pocket Pod, which adds tremendous flexibility and doesn’t hurt with hand-held stability, either.
(Click to view full-size)

My most recent support equipment purchase was a Really Right Stuff tabletop tripod, the TFA-01 Pocket Pod.  I had read professional travel photographers swear by it, but I was dubious of its usefulness and so delayed buying one for years.  I was wrong.  I don’t think it is a complete replacement for my full-size tripod, but as it weighs nothing, it doesn’t need to be.  It is excellent for any of those places a full tripod would be inappropriate, such as taking food pictures in a dark restaurant.  I have even taken to adding the tabletop tripod to my walking around kit.  With a wrist strap attached to the side and the little tripod on the bottom, it aides in hand-held use and is a ready-to-go support system for whenever I need one — replacing a full tripod as long as added height is not a requirement.  I absolutely love it.

Since I mentioned it, I’ve never brought a bean bag with me on any trip aside from road trips where we know we are shooting wildlife from out the car window (my main use for it).  As a consideration for longer trips, it does have the advantage of being weightless when empty and folded up for the journey, but I feel that adding the ballast (sand, beans, whatever) could be a pain to do on the fly, and carrying it around with the filling is the heaviest and most cumbersome of all the support options. I should also point out that some islands’ (like New Zealand) customs agents check for bringing in foreign contaminants that could have an ecological impact.  So although dirt is usually readily available to fill a bean bag, getting all of it out again would be a challenge.  I would recommend just steering clear.

 

A Camera Bag for Every Occasion:

After finishing a fashion shoot of my niece, I turned my attention to the beautiful rock formations under assault from the waves. Shot in Maui with Dramatic Tone art filter. (Click to view full-size)

After finishing a fashion shoot of my niece, I turned my attention to the beautiful rock formations under assault from the waves. Shot in Maui with Dramatic Tone art filter.
(Click to view full-size)

When I said earlier that I have several camera bags, what I meant to say was that I am as obsessed with camera bags as some women are with handbags.  I don’t have a favorite brand.  Among the major ones, I like Lowepro’s products for their ingenuity, and Think Tank for how well they are made, but there are many good manufacturers out there.  Which bags I use is determined after I have gone through all of the above options and figured out exactly how much gear I am taking.  I don’t want to be carrying around a bigger bag than the load requires.  So, I fit (and test) the bag to the gear tables I mentioned earlier.  I ensure that I have a bags to meets all of the requirements of any of my gear table options, and no more.  To that end, I look at how many pockets does it has, how reconfigurable it is, whether it has a laptop compartment and/or a separate compartment for other items, where it can accommodate larger telephoto lenses, and whether it can do it with the body attached.  There are a few other factors:  The cushioning on the straps and lower back and how comfortably it sits on the shoulders is also a very important consideration, particularly when carrying it for long periods of time.  Belt and chest straps help a lot by taking some of the weight off the shoulders.  I also prefer a pack with metal rings on the shoulder straps so that I can safely attach my Black Rapid Pack Strap (reviewed here) — highly convenient for taking pictures while walking about with a pack.

A less-considered factor is how discrete the bag is.  Thieves know what a camera bag looks like, and may actively target them.  One of my camera “bags” is actually a Crumpler insert meant to fit into a regular backpack, purse or day bag.  I think this offers better stealth than buying one of the many messenger-style camera bags there are out there — as thieves will still recognize the common models for what they are.  One thing I don’t own is an expensive leather camera bag.  I admit they are beautiful, but they add a lot of weight and I think they scream “rob me!”  Of course, if I am carrying my tripod with me, no amount of camouflage is going to hide the fact that I am carrying photography gear, so this is more of a consideration for those traveling relatively light.

My Think Tank Streetwalker Pro camera backpack fits nicely in a 21" stroller. I find this is an excellent way to travel with photography gear. (Click to view full-size)

Bags such as this Think Tank Streetwalker Pro camera backpack fit nicely in a 21″ stroller. The leftover space to the right is also perfect for a small tripod. I find this is an excellent way to fly with photography gear.
(Click to view full-size)

Another type of camera bag I don’t own is the airport stroller variety.  Instead, I pack my gear in my photography backpack, and the backpack goes into my normal carry-on stroller.  This provides a good level of protection for my gear as well as camouflage from thieves.  When I am ready to walk about, I just pull out the backpack from the stroller (which stays at the car or hotel) and I am on my way.  If I need the extra luggage space for souvenirs on the return flight, I have the option of carrying my backpack as a carry-on and using the now-empty stroller for all of the stuff I bought.  It works really well, but one potential hangup (which could convince me to buy an airport stroller camera bag) is when we travel on smaller airlines with potentially stricter carry-on size limitations.  To fit most camera backpacks inside generally requires a 21” stroller (which is what mine is), but 21″ strollers are too big to fit in some of the smaller airplanes.  In fact, those 21” strollers (and let’s just say that advertised measurement is over-generous) found in every luggage store in the U.S. are already past the limits that many worldwide airlines are now proscribing, particularly when they include the wheels (a detail that varies by airline).  The good news is that the airlines generally haven’t been enforcing it very strenuously, as long as they fit in the cabin.  If the airlines ever start to enforce these new rules, we’ll have to say goodbye to our 21” strollers and start using the 19” ones or even smaller carry-ons seen more commonly throughout Europe and Asia.  I have searched for a 19” carry-on that is small enough to meet the worsening airline requirements and yet still fit my camera backpacks, and have not yet found one.

 

Additional Airport Advice:

The Japanese bamboo forest of Arashiyama, shot with the E-M1 and 12-40mm F/2.8 Pro. (Click to view full-size)

The enchanting Japanese bamboo forest of Arashiyama, shot with the E-M1 and 12-40mm F/2.8 Pro.
(Click to view full-size)

The airport can be a major aspect of a trip, and it is important to be prepared for potential hang-ups and hassles.  Our carry-on luggage is usually almost all camera-related, as I don’t want to risk putting it through check-in.  My carry-on is usually the above-mentioned stroller with my photography backpack inside, and my tripod in its case is my personal item.  If you are bringing a tripod, be aware of airline restrictions on tripod lengths.  Smaller airlines have stricter rules, and I have on two different occasions been asked to pull out my tripod and measure it — once in Japan and once in Ireland.  Note that in both instances they checked the length of the tripod, not the tripod bag (which is several inches longer).  Fortunately, my tripod is a four-section version specifically so that when it is collapsed and with the ball head taken off, its length is under any airline limits.  If I know that I will need to have the ball head removed, I make sure to do that before going to the airport.  A 3-sectioned tripod would not have fared as well.

One other piece of airport advice is to register your gear with customs, if you can.  It’s free, but a bit inconvenient.  Before you depart, go to the airport’s customs (call ahead to make sure when the office is open) and they will provide documentation listing the gear (with serial numbers) you are bringing.  This serves as proof to customs agents that you brought them with you, and you didn’t buy them on the trip.  I have never been questioned on this score, but it is better to be safe than sorry.

 

The stress of flying with expensive photography equipment can be reduced with a few precautionary measures. (Click to view full-size)

The stress of flying with expensive photography equipment can be reduced with a few precautionary measures.
(Click to view full-size)

 

Repeat the Process Throughout:

A beautiful day in Maui, a waterfall, and a rainbow. What more could anyone hope for? (Click to view full-size)

A beautiful day in Maui, a waterfall, and a rainbow. What more could anyone hope for?
(Click to view full-size)

I have focused so far on what to think about when packing before embarking on a trip, but a similar process should be maintained throughout the trip.  While at home before a vacation starts is generally the time I find myself over-packing, but while at the hotel the morning I am determining what I will bring with me that day and what I will leave in the hotel is when I usually find myself under-packing.  Part of it is that we are usually in a rush to get started, and part of it is that over time the suitcases and gear get disorganized.  Gear moves from one bag or configuration to another during the trip and doesn’t get put back again.  Sometimes, I thought I had brought what I needed only to find that I didn’t.  So, to mitigate confusion, I pack the night before and try to maintain organization.  In fact, a nightly photography routine is valuable: charge the batteries, clean the gear (if necessary), cull and edit some pictures and perhaps post some (if possible), and organize for the next day.  The gear tables I mentioned earlier can help serve as a checklist to both ensure that I have all of the gear I brought on the trip (I have lost items in the past), and that they are all packed in their proper places.

Just as I did before the vacation, I anticipate what sort of photography I will be doing and what gear I will need — and weigh it against the inconvenience it will cost me during the day.  This exercise should be easier since it is only one day, and I will have a good idea of what the weather is going to be like (etc), but sometimes when faced with the prospect of carrying equipment around all day, that gear suddenly seems a lot heavier than it did at home (especially to Catherine).  It pains me to say that on many occasions this has caused us to leave behind a piece of gear we later wanted.  I always try to tell myself that I brought the gear all this way to be used, so if I think that I might need it, aire on the side of bringing it — in a way the opposite mental approach I advised using when packing at home.

I know a lot of this is just common sense, but the security aspect I mentioned earlier is most prominent in planning the day-by-day logistics.  Whatever I leave behind (whether in the car or hotel) could be stolen.  Even if the hotel seems safe, I don’t leave left-behind gear out in the open, and we put up the “Do Not Disturb” sign so that staff will not come in.  Likewise, we don’t leave gear in the back seat of a car.  We put gear that we won’t be using into the trunk of the car when we leave a place, so that we have what we will be using for the next stop ready to go.  If we gear up after we’ve arrived at a tourist spot, thieves may take notice if there is more gear left in the trunk.  If we get out of a car with our packs all ready to go, they will likely assume that is all we have.

 

Post Processing on the Road:

A Geisha in Gion, shot with the E-M1 and 12-40mm F/2.8 Pro in Kyoto, Japan. (Click to view full-size)

A Geisha in Gion, shot with the E-M1 and 12-40mm F/2.8 Pro in Kyoto, Japan.
(Click to view full-size)

Although I just mentioned it as part of a nightly routine, I am not yet at the point where I can download pictures at the end of every vacation day. There are several reasons why this capability is important to me.  One is that if a memory card fails, I would only lose the pictures I had taken thus far that day.  Another reason is that we can share our experiences on multimedia in relative realtime, which connects us more closely to our friends and family.  Even more importantly, I want to cull some of the bad pictures out and get some of the post processing out of the way so I don’t have thousands of pictures to go through and edit when I get back.  Currently, we cull and download a few as we go, but the bulk of the pictures are edited when we get home.  When we got back from New Zealand, the picture count I uploaded onto my computer was 5,200 total — which included missed or repetitive shots we hadn’t yet deleted.  While that’s not an unusual number between the two of us for a two-week trip, it means a weeks-long ritual of deleting, sorting and editing, which is not a process I enjoy.  For the next trip, I’d like to reduce this pain as much as possible by doing some of it as we go.  The reason I haven’t yet is that to-date, we have carried only an iPad (and a portable USB charger for the hotel and car) on trips, and I am not sure whether I would be doing myself a major disservice by using the iPad for mass editing.  That is a question for another post, but in any case we are looking into laptops as a more powerful option. Some laptops these days are nearly as small as iPads, and yet (I expect) can have all the editing power we would need, particularly since I am not using the most intense photo editing software.  If we do buy a laptop at some point, I would be able to add a little culling and post processing to my hotel evening routine, which should ease my post-vacation editing burden considerably.

 

Conclusion:

I’ve made many packing mistakes over years of trips, and my only claim to wisdom in this regard is that I always strive to do better the next time.  The above post is all that I have learned so far.  I hope that it has offered up some useful advice and/or at least useful questions to put into context the dilemma of choosing what photography-related gear to pack on a major vacation.  One of the great things about µ4/3 is that its lightweight compactness affords us more leeway to get that balance within tolerable levels, but it is still helpful to be as disciplined as possible in packing so that while on the trip we suffer the least amount of inconvenience and burden necessary.  It’s a difficult balance.  The costs of making packing mistakes are incremental, but they add up in weight and time and anxiety over security, and without good planning can be a serious hindrance to the fun we’re supposed to be having.  For me, while I have occasionally kicked myself for not bringing a particular piece of gear (which more often than not is back at the hotel rather than back at home), I am also often guilty of over-packing and bringing a piece of equipment I don’t end up using.  My desire to not miss a shot is just too strong, and I don’t really mind the pack weight, so I usually find myself with a heavier load when traveling overseas.  But I also enjoy walking around free and happy with just a camera and one lens on a sling (and Catherine with nothing), so it is also good if I can do what I can to feel safe about leaving the rest of my gear at the hotel or in the car.

 

A sunset in Maui. shot with the Dramatic Tone art filter. (Click to view full-size)

A sunset in Maui, shot with the Dramatic Tone art filter.
(Click to view full-size)

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