Photographic Equipment List
Choose the right tool for the job, know how to use it properly and wisely and you should accomplish your goal. This clearly applies to the photography tours.
When it comes to photo gear there are entrenched camps about one brand vs. another brand, film vs. digital, 35mm vs. medium format, etc. Whatever tool you choose to use (read: whatever brand), read the directions (1st!), test it, practice with it, become very familiar with controls, menus, etc. and use it to best of its capability and as importantly, use it for what it was designed for. There are some photos that can’t be taken with certain gear.
Below is a complete list of you may want to consider. Photographic Equipment List (pdf)
It’s pretty extensive and detailed and it covers a lot of bases. It’s best used as a resource list not a specific checklist for a trip. Each trip we offer is unique so we recommend you contact us with any questions and we will make suggestions based on our experience.
When traveling internationally, you need to make sure you are aware of the laws about carrying this type of equipment across borders, even if you bought it in your home country. Part of the reason is to prevent illegal imports coming in without being accounted for, to avoid paying taxes and other fees and to protect the merchants who legally import these goods into the country, and many more laws that are too long to discuss here.
We suggest you have all your equipment registered with the US Customs & Border Protection (CBP) BEFORE you leave or you may have issues upon returning to the US. I have not heard of it personally but it does happen. In your case, since you are not travelling with 20 cases of gear, likely nothing will happen. If in doubt, register it.
Click on this link to CBP to get your answers directly from the source.
Another option is to have a CARNET (international customs and import documents or passports for merchandise)
For more information about the CARNET call them directly 1-800-282-2900 or see the links below.
Personally, I have never used a CARNET for my equipment, but I did when I worked with National Geographic Magazine on the Atacama story with Joel Sartore. It was all handled internally so I have no personal experience.
The options and combinations of gear are too numerous to consider, below are points to consider.
I am not saying you need all of this, keep it light and simple and you will make more photos since you will concentrate on making photos with one camera and one lens at a time, instead of lugging a bunch of heavy gear around and keeping an eye on it.
What camera gear should you bring?
Begin with a core kit and build from there….based on where you are going, what the weather will be like, what kind of photos you want to make, weight and size restrictions and your technical knowledge.
I have my personal kit, with many different brands that I use and they work for what I need to accomplish and I am happy with my results. If I practiced and used another major brand I would be as successful, so I don’t get hung up with brands (and I have used many of them). I am a 35mm user and I think for their capabilities, weight, quality and versatility, they are hard to beat and they are much more affordable than any medium format system out there. They are also much more resilient in harsh conditions and that is where I tend to find myself in. I do choose the best I can afford that is of good value, well made, that is reliable and produces excellent results that I expect from a professional piece of gear. The new generation of mirror-less cameras have pretty amazing capabilities and are so much smaller!
I do NOT recommend lenses that cover from ultra-wide to long telephoto (i.e.: 24-300mm zoom) as they are not as good as they claim. They may be small, compact and cover a long range but the results are less than optimal. If you are limited by budget, size and weight, you may not have an option but there are a few great exceptions to consider.
For the field I prefer to have a basic kit that includes some choices from this basic core group. I would always lean towards using lenses or bodies with built-in Image Stabilization/Vibration reduction capabilities if at all possible.
The ‘core kit’ includes some of these choices:
- 1 or 2 full-frame sensor camera bodies OR
- 1 or 2 cropped sensor camera (you gain power on the long telephotos, you loose coverage on the wide angle lenses)
- prime “wide” lens (24, 28, 35, etc.) *some people only use a 28 or 35 or 50mm lenses as their main lens
- prime “normal” lens (28, 35, 50mm, etc.)
- wide “zoom” lens (12-24/2.8, 16-35/2.8, 17-40/4.0, etc.)
- medium wide “zoom” lens (24-70/2.8, 28-75/2.8, 24-105/4.0, etc.)
- telephoto “zoom” lens (70-200/2.8, 70-200/4.0, 75-300/4.0, 100-300/4.5, etc.)
- prime long “telephoto” lens (300/4.0, 400/5.6, etc.)
- macro lens (50/2.8, 100/2.8, 180/5.6, etc.)
- dedicated TTL strobe (with a diffuser for soft light and/or with Better Beamer flash extender for the long shots)
- electronic shutter release (critical when using big lenses, during low light or macro photography)
- If space and weight are at a premium you may consider this wide range zoom (yes, an exception) from well-known manufacturers and these are the high-end glass, so they actually are pretty good.
- wide to telephoto zoom (35-350/3.5-5.6)
- telephoto zoom (100-400/4.5-5.6)
The basic gear you must have:
- 20-300 GB of total CF/SD storage (bring many cards, med to high capacity that write fast, in a digital media case that protects them from elements)
- 2-4 extra batteries for each camera (charged). Preferably new vs. old. Batteries are not one size-fits-all!
- 2 chargers with cords to match each battery type (one size does not fit all!)
- basic sensor cleaning kit
- micro-fibre cloth and ‘lens pen’ – keep many of them in separate pockets!
- Small headlamp
- Small multi-tool
- A camera bag that holds what you need and protects it from the elements and abuse.
The ‘specialized’ gear includes:
- 15mm fisheye lens
- prime “ultra-wide” lens (14, 17, 20mm, etc.)
- extension tube for extreme close-up and closer focusing distance to subject
- 4x converter (you gain 40% more power but you loose 1 stop of light)
- 2x converter (you gain 100% more power but you loose 2 stops of light)
For shooting animals AND landscapes I recommend the following big glass. Yes, they are VERY EXPENSIVE and HEAVY, but the results are worth the money!
For low light conditions I use super fast lenses. They are EXPENSIVE but worth it! They can mean the difference between getting a usable shot or not. Combine some of these fast lenses and the better cameras with great low-light capabilities and you will have a killer combo and you will put the odds in your favor and create stunning images.
What camera bags should you bring?
Carry systems and photo gear bags are used from home to destination (bigger bags), then on location (small & compact), and specific carry needs for terrain and weather are the next considerations (photo vest, fanny pack, sling pack, waterproof sack). Use whatever system works for you and you are familiar with.
- photo vest is a great way to carry a lot of gear, comfortably and conveniently. You can carry other gear besides photo gear when needed (Scottevest, Domke, The Vested Interest and others)
- waist/fanny pack for one body, 2-3 lenses, 1 flash, CF cards, etc. (MindShift, Think Tank Photo, LowePro, ClickElite, Tamrac, Naneu, Gura Gear, Kinesis, etc.)
- backpack for basic photo gear kit AND extra clothing, food, water, glasses, hat, sunscreen, matches, etc. (MindShift, Think Tank Photo, LowePro, ClickElite, Tamrac, Naneu, Gura Gear, Kinesis, etc.)
- waterproof fanny pack, backpack or sealable bag that keep the water, dirt, sand, dust, bugs and critters out. (LowePro, Seattle Designs, True North, etc.)
- shipping cases are used to send your gear protected and are best for checked baggage. This would be waterproof & padded cases with wheels that protect your gear and all the big, heavy & odd-sized items (big lenses, tripod, etc.) that you cannot carry-on. (Pelican, LowePro, UW Kinetics, etc.)
What tripod should you bring?
Use a tripod and head combination that is designed for the weight of lens and body being used. I prefer ball heads over those with levers (personal preference) but I think ball heads are faster to use and quite secure.
If you have lenses that are 300mm or smaller; consider a ball head or pan/tilt head. For lenses in the “fast” range (400mm 2.8 and upwards) you should consider using a gimbal style tripod head or an adapter to a ballhead that will give you gimbal capabilities.
Tripods come in many shapes and sizes and materials. Which one you choose depends on where are you going, what subject are you shooting, what gear are you using and whether you can carry it yourself or need help. Also, small planes/boats have size and weight limitations. Heavier is preferable for sharper shots (especially with long lenses) and some people are using carbon fiber tripods (expensive buy oh so nice!) that are lighter than aluminum ones with much success. The choice often depends on your budget.
- ball head with Quick Release mechanism that will handle up to 12-15 lbs. (Really Right Stuff, Acratech, Kirk, Induro, Giottos, Gitzo, Manfrotto, etc.)
- Gimbal head that is made for big lenses (Wimberley, Joby, 4th Generation, Manfrotto, etc.)
- Gimbal accessory for ballhead (Wimberley Sidekick)
- Arca-Swiss compatible head clamps (have plates for camera bodies and lenses & standardize on one system and have plates on all lenses & cameras in place)
- tripod legs that can withstand the total weight of camera, lens, tripod head and accessories and not wobble or shake. I prefer three sections vs. 4 sections on my tripods. (Feisol, Gitzo, Manfrotto, Slik, Induro, etc.)
How to keep the camera sensors clean?
Cleaning sensors and camera bodies and lenses is a MUST. Do not skimp on the sensor kits, get the best you can afford and understand the issues that are specific to your camera brand and model. Self-cleaning cameras are not 100% guaranteed to keep the sensor clean. They are improving on the technology but you need to know how to clean in the field. Done right, there is no issue and little chance of damaging anything. You are actually cleaning a filter (a piece of glass) in front of the sensor NOT the actual sensor. There are some cameras that do not have that filter but you would know that when you bought it.
- sensor cleaning kit (dry and wet systems)
- lens cleaning kit (lenspen and microfiber cloth are great combos as well as lens paper and cleaning fluid))
- camera body cleaning kit (robust paint brush to get the grit off and keep the outside of the camera clean, especially near the mount and keep the inside as clean as possible.
- compressed air for the outside (NOT to be used inside mirror box or to clean the sensor!) NOT allowed to be carried on airlines (carry-on or check-in). Check with T.S.A.
How about using portable lighting in the field?
If I can fit it and need it for a photo I have in mind, I’ll add these portable strobe lights for location portraits.
- on-camera strobes that can accept wired devices to fire them (PocketWizards, etc.)
- 400-600 watt second monolight that runs on battery or A/C or both. (ProPhoto, Dynalite Jr., Elinchrom Quadra, etc.)
- 1000-1200 watt second battery operated power pack with 1-2 heads (Pro Photo, Elinchrom, Hensel, Comet, Lumedyne, Bowens, etc.)
- wireless triggers (transmitter & receiver). (PocketWizard, RadioPopper, Elinchrom, Hensel, MicroSync, Quantum, etc.)
- Light modifiers: umbrella, softbox, grids, etc.
- Light stands (reversible folding are small and compact)
- light reflector (Flexfill, Elastolite, ScrimJim, California Sun Bounce, etc.)
What crush-proof / waterproof cases should you bring?
If I have the need for protection against abuse and the elements, I take these specialized pieces with me.
- waterproof cases (Pelican, OtterBox, Nanuk, Underwater Kinetics, etc.)
- waterproof/splashproof housings (Aqua tech, Ewa-Marine, Aquatica, DiCAPac, Ikelite, Sea & Sea, etc.)
What computer should you bring?
Computer and all the technology that goes along with them – this is a basic core group.
- Apple MacBook Pro 13″/15″, maxed out RAM, fastest and biggest drive I can stuff in there (1 TB). I may swap out the optical drive and stick in another drive so I have two drives. I rarely use the CD/DVD drive anymore.
- Tablet (iPad, Google, Samsung, etc.) for reading and showing photos, e-mail, etc. It DOES NOT REPLACE a laptop as the OS and the vast amount of data would choke the tablet in one sitting and is not the same thing.
- 2 external hard drives (phantom power, minimum size of 1 TB (preferably with Thunderbolt, USB 3 or FW 800 or a combo of all options). It all depends on your computer jacks.
- 2 card readers (preferably with Thunderbolt, USB 3 or FW 800) AND their cords.
- wireless mouse & mouse pad (so much more efficient than a track pad)
- spare cords of all peripherals including laptop
- portable storage HD that you can download CF/SD cards to, that can verify all is well via data count or visually. (Epson, Jobo, Digital Foci, Wolverine, etc.) ** NO LONGER USE THESE ANYMORE!
- high-end surge protectors
- high voltage converters 220 to 110, with spare fuses
- strip for plugs (2-4 plug capability)
- 2-3 converter plugs to make 3-prong plugs into 2-prong plugs (which makes them non-grounded, such is life)
- LED light (on flexible stem) that runs off USB port for late night work or reading, etc.
- iPod/Nano, etc. for music (w/ear buds, small external speakers)
- cel phone with international calling capabilities (some smart phones are quite handy and have useful apps for sun/moon/tides/weather, etc.)
- solar chargers for all electronics (check to see compatibility and charging capacity when charging lots of items at once) Goal0, etc.
- small tool kit for basic field needs and repairs (micro screwdrivers, multi-purpose tool, head lamp, etc.)
Multi-media projects include most of this (and more) this is the basic kit. Getting the audio right is critical! These are very demanding of gear to shoot it right and much more time-intensive.
We do not offer tours specifically for these projects so you need to confer with us about your needs and requirements.
- HDSLR camera that shoots video
- LCD magnified viewfinder or electronic monitor
- GoPro HD camera (u/w housing, etc.)
- shotgun microphone (Senheiser, Rode, Sure, Audio-Tecnica, etc.)
- shock mount for microphone (slips into camera hot shoe)
- windscreen for shotgun microphone (helps reduce ambient noise levels)
- wireless lav microphone kit: transmitter & receiver w/spare batteries, extra antenna, extra mike, extra lapel clips. (Senheiser, Rode, Sure, Lectrosonics, etc.)
- audio adapter for pro microphones with XLR inputs and level controllers (Beachtek, JuicedLink, etc.)
- HD recorder w/extra batteries (Zoom H4N, Marantz, etc.)
- headphones or ear buds so you can hear clearly while recording.
- Portable storage HD that you can download CF/SD cards to, that can verify all is well via data count or visually. (Epson, Jobo, Digital Foci, Wolverine, etc.)
- CF or SD cards for the recorder (high speed, high capacity) in a digital media case protected from elements
- fluid head for smooth pans, tilts, swings. (Gitzo, Manfrotto, Sachtler, Davis & Sanford, Cartoni, Vinten, etc.)
- sturdy set of tripod legs for the fluid head – make sure they fit to each other, check the studs or carry stud adapters! (Gitzo, Manfrotto, Slik, Enduro, etc.)
Any extra pieces that may add to the success of the shoot or are absolutely necessary would be included in this group.
- small portable printer to give ‘prints-on-demand’ to people you have met. (HP, Epson, Canon, etc.)
- foldable cart for carrying your bags to/from anywhere to avoid carrying them on your back or using your hands.
- battery-operated portable cine-wave power source that is rechargeable. (Dynalite XP1100, etc.)
Electricity is your friend and your enemy.
Depending on geographic region, weather patterns, season, altitudes, humidity, dust, and all the environmental challenges, you still need to recharge your electronic gear. We are totally dependent on electricity nowawadays!
You need to have a system to clean and protect them, and the proper gear to be able recharge the batteries of all your electronic equipment cameras, flash, computer, cel phone, GPS, satellite phone, etc. especially since most electronics nowadays use rechargeable batteries in some way or another. Some have battery grips that will take AA batteries so plan in having those as well. In most countries the voltage is 220 @ 50 Ghz (not 110) and they use different plugs to access the electric grid. Read-up and see what the requirements are for each country you are visiting! Make sure you have high-end voltage converters that can handle your conversion requirements for your equipment as not all converters can handle the electricity draw needed to recharge, much less use some of the electronics you may have. Converters are NOT surge protectors so make sure you have the appropriate ones for your needs. Extension cords with multiple plug receptors may have some sort of surge protector but most are very unreliable and often will not protect your gear from even a mild electricity surge. Don’t take chances with your valuable equipment and get some robust ones. You can use power inverters that will help you charge your gear while in a vehicle via the cigarette lighter. There are excellent and reliable solar chargers nowadays and they keep getting better. Read up on your specific equipment about the requirements before buying any power inverter.
Transportation and your gear
Use whatever you need to get you where you need to go and back home. Be prepared to change the system to adapt to the transport mechanism – going from plane to 4×4 to boat to camel to canoe to burro to log raft will need adaptation. I often travel with waterproof cases that have wheels and hideaway handles as it is easy to get your gear and your personal bags from place to place and they also protect your gear when it is checked and often you can work out of them directly. Some brands (Pelican) offer the option of taking off the wheel and handle assembly with a simple tool and leave it behind (to save weight) and they work very well. The waterproof cases are heavy but they protect your gear, which is most important! You can pack all your photo gear in the bags that you will be using on location then put them inside the shipping cases until you get to your destination then leave the heavy cases at your hotel and just pull out the “working bags” and travel light.
Plan thoroughly and wisely and take only what you need, don’t take the kitchen sink and the couch.
This is a robust list but I may have omitted a few items here and there. Please feel free to share your knowledge and let me know what I could add to the list. This is not set in stone and depending on your trip and the circumstances this list can keep on growing or shrinking.
Often times, ingenuity and adaptation will be enough to resolve an issue. There is no need to keep on buying stuff “just in case” you may need it. It’s not what you have but what you do with it that matters.
Clothing and Basic Travel Accessories
There are many choices and options that we could recommend for what to bring as far as clothing and basic essentials so just go to our Basic Clothing & Equipment List (pdf); which should be a good starting point.
Call us if you need advice, comments and help at 303-545-5728 (o) or 303-808-7713 (m)
Feel free to contact us if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.