Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Travel Photography Must Haves

With summer rapidly approaching, I have been going through and refining my packing lists for travel with my camera. This post covers some must-have (and generally inexpensive) purchases to consider before your next trip.

Cleaning Products

No matter where you travel, your camera is at risk of getting dirty. Sand at the beach, dust on the trails, even smudges and fingerprints can all stick to your lenses and filters and detract from your images. You should never leave home without a method of easily cleaning your lenses, and most are so small they fit easily in a purse or camera bag.

Slow shutter photograph of the Firehole River in Yellowstone National Park
(If you look in the blue sky, you can see smudges from dirt/grease on the lens.)

Your first line of defense should be a blower. These simple products work well to loosen and remove larger bits of dust, dirt, or sand. It is best to use this first, as larger particles of debris can get stuck in brushes or clothes and scratch your lens or filter. The Giotto brand of rocket blowers are very well-regarded by photographers and come in multiple sizes. The small works well for travel or when space is at a premium, while the large size is more effective.

After removing the larger particles, a LensPen is a must have for cleaning on-the-go. A little wider than your average pen, but the same length, a LensPen contains two different tools for cleaning your lens: a retractable brush on one end and a flattened tip with a carbon cleaning compound. The brush can be used to remove any visible particles left after using the blower, then the flattened tip end is used to wipe away any smears, smudges, or grime. Use a small, circular motion for best results. The carbon cleaning compound is stored inside the pen and refreshes each time you twist the tip back in. It is not a liquid, so there is no risk of spills. You can buy individual LensPens or multiples in cleaning kits or packs. I keep one in my purse and one in my camera bag at all times. I recommend only buying a LensPen sold by the manufacturer to avoid imitations.
A LensPen (older model) is a convenient size for travel.

When I am traveling and trying to minimize my gear, I stick to just a blower and a LensPen. If space is not an issue or if you are visiting a particularly dusty or sandy location, you may also want to consider bringing along a liquid lens cleaning solution and a microfiber cloth or disposable wipes. In my personal experience, I have found that the blower and LensPen are enough to cover nearly all cleaning situations.


Another thing to consider when traveling is duplication. Memory cards fail or get full, batteries lose their juice, and all kinds of issues in between. It is also important to consider how you are storing them.

I always carry at least one extra memory card when traveling. I shoot RAW+jpg which means that even my 16GB cards tend to fill up quickly on a trip. When buying memory cards, you need to consider a few factors: the style of card your camera takes, the size of the card, the speed of the card, and the brand of the card.

Make sure that you enough memory cards.

Several different styles of camera memory are available including compact flash (CF), secure digital (SD or SDHC), MemoryStick, and more, so be sure that you are buying the style made to fit your camera. The second factor is the size of the card: how many gigabytes of memory it can hold. I generally use and buy 8GB and 16GB cards, but even larger sizes are becoming more common. It is worth looking at a variety of sizes, as there is usually a ‘sweet spot’ in the market (for example, two 8GBs might cost less than one comparable 16GB card). Shop for memory cards on Amazon.

The third factor is the speed of the card, which is generally indicated in a little circle symbol on the card itself. The speed indicates the read- and write-speeds of the card, which is how fast you can write data to the card and how fast you can read (download) data from the card. The write-speed is more of an issue for people who shoot video rather than photographs, unless you do a significant amount of high-speed, burst photography.  A fast read-speed does come in handy when downloading to your computer. Most of my cards are class 10, the higher-speed cards, and I suggest that you stick to 6 or higher.

The final factor is the brand of the card. Ask a group of photographers which brand they use and you may get as many different answers as there are photographers! SanDisk and Lexar are two of the most well-known, while ‘cheaper’ brands such as Transcend and Kingston are also well-regarded. Do some comparisons and see what kinds of deals you can find.

Store Memory Cards Safely | Boost Your Photography

Memory cards are usually sold in small plastic cases, and an inexpensive upgrade is a dedicated memory card holder. Many different sizes and styles are available, and you should consider both the size of the card you use as well as how many you want to have with you at a given time. Features to look for include weather-sealing and waterproofing to help guard against accidents. Shop for memory card holders on Amazon.

Finally, you always want to make sure that you have at least one extra battery (I carry two). Name-brand batteries that match your camera are often significantly more expensive than the knock-off brands. I have had good luck with both my Promaster and Sterlingtek knock-off batteries, but I always carry two backups just in case. Don’t forget to bring along your charger if you’ll be gone for any length of time!

Take a record shot each time you change your battery.
(Taken as close as we got to the top of Electric Peak, Yellowstone National Park.)

Another tip for batteries: learn how long your batteries last. Every time my battery dies and I replace it, my next shot is always of the dead battery. That way I have a record of exactly when during each shoot I had to replace the battery, and I can calculate approximately how many shots I can take with a given battery. So, I know that my original Canon battery lasts around 800 shots, while my Promaster and Sterlingtek batteries last around 650-700 shots. These numbers vary considerably, of course, when doing long-shutter shots or in colder weather. Read the full article: How Long Does Your Camera's Battery Last?


Size is an important consideration when traveling, and this post has covered some small, inexpensive purchases to consider before your next trip. A few small upgrades can make a big difference in making sure you can get the shot crystal clear, save it, and have battery life to spare.

Always remember:
  • Blower to remove large debris
  • LensPen to brush off and clean lenses and filters
  • Lens cleaning solution
  • Microfiber cloth or disposable wipes
  • Extra memory cards
  • Memory card holder
  • Extra batteries
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