Photography Travel

Photo Equipment Part 2: What’s in the Bag

Some people take photos because they travel.

I travel so I can take photos.

One of the very first times I traveled with equipment, I brought more than I needed, or I brought the wrong lens, or I ran out of storage and had to shoot Inle Lake in Myanmar with basic JPG (which is not entirely a bad thing, but shooting RAW would have been better).

As I traveled more, I learned which equipment works for me, and now I often pack only what is really essential on a photography trip.

Most of my trips last three weeks at most, and the trips I like are the ones where I am constantly on the move. Arrive in Delhi at 9 pm, get into a car at 10 after customs, drive for 9 hours to Bikaner, and shoot all day. That sort of thing. So I do not want a lot of equipment that will be cumbersome or too heavy and prevent me from moving a lot.


Loading boats at Kusumba, Bali. Photo (c) Aloha Lavina.

2007 was the year when I first racked up more than 80,000 miles traveling with my camera, so that was when I found out what I needed. Bare essentials for me on a trip are one DSLR, a wide lens such as the very affordable Sigma 10-20mm f/3.5-5.6, a middle lens which stays on the camera as the default lens, which for the Nikon D3 is the 24-70mm f/2.8 NANO Nikkor, and a long lens, my favorite being the Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8. These zoom lenses are fast lenses with the widest aperture zooms come in. I find that using these fast zooms gives me a lot of confidence that while on the move, I am able to get images that are sharp and bursting with color, the way I like my images.

Just last December I was offered an assignment and a sponsorship by Canon, and they sent me a 60D, a new prosumer model with video, and the flexible 18-200mm f/3.5 lens. I found that Canon really produces a blue sky, and that the combination of the camera body and lens were lightweight (great because the trip had a lot of trekking) and flexible. The lens covered all the subjects I needed to shoot—closeup portraits, environmental portraits, landscapes, still life, low light detail, and action shots of black necked cranes and vultures swooping around flapping prayer flags.


I also have the following in my bag:

  • Spare batteries – the new batteries these days boast longer life, up to 1500 shots. For the D3 I find the batteries do last around that long, and that is usually what I shoot on a really good day.
  • Memory cards – I bring up to 48 GB of memory on a weeklong trip because I am a trigger happy girl and can usually fill up to 16 GB easily in a day, shooting RAW.
  • Storage viewer – I bring the EPSON P-5000 or the P-7000 on my travels. The P-5000 has 80 GB of storage and the P-7000 has 160GB of storage.
    The EPSON P-7000 has a 4 inch screen for viewing photos and stores up to 160GB.

    They both have a 4” LCD screen for viewing photos in common camera formats (RAW for both Nikon and Canon, as well as TIFF and JPG). I use this device to back up and store my images and free up the memory cards for the next day. Also, at night I spend time editing my photos, deleting photos that obviously do not work, marking the ones I really like. The EPSON allows you to “star” your favorites) and saving them into a separate folder called “Favorites” to help me get started with processing when I return from the trip).

  • Cleaning equipment – I have a great blower brush and microfiber cloth, and I use them often. When I am indoors, say for lunch or a coffee break, I’ll often clean the camera and lenses I have used so far, before heading out again for more image hunting.
  • Filters – I attach a UV filter to every lens. More than something that will affect my color or image, the UV lens is basically to protect the lens glass. I also bring a polarizing filter (sometimes).
  • Lens hoods – all Nikon lenses come with a lens hood, and I absolutely make it a point to use them. Not only do they block out unwanted light, they also protect the lens from bumps especially in crowded areas.
  • Tripod – I have a Chinese made Benro tripod that I use in places where I might take some landscape shots or long exposures. If the trip is long enough and I do not have a deadline for portraits, I bring the tripod. On most of my trips though, I have to confess, the shots are all captured handheld.
  • A couple of pens and a small notebook – writing equipment is always part of my camera bag. You never know when an image brings with it a story that uses words.


For trips where I have to edit and process photos before returning home, I bring the 15” Macbook pro. I prefer Apple products because they are intuitive to use, and I do not have to calibrate the screen too often.

For post-processing work that I do at home, I use a 27” iMac with 8GB RAM. I need it especially to prepare files that are really really big, like billboards.

I use Adobe Lightroom 3.3 and Adobe Photoshop CS5 to prepare my images for publication. I sometimes use Adobe Illustrator to prepare files for print publications which specify this file requirement.

For storage, I use three different external drives as backups which I clean every year. Clients’ photos in the original RAW format are kept in the external hard drive for a year, and then I delete them and only keep the ones I use for my portfolio.


All things considered, I am pretty happy with the equipment I have, for the work that I do. However, if I had the some dispensable cash to invest in more equipment, I would probably go for the following juicy bits.

1.     14mm f/2.8 lens – this lens is great for tight spaces—markets, temples, festivals. It’s fast and it’s wide enough for travel and street photography.

2.     Macbook 15” i7 core –at the moment I can only run CS4 on my Macbook Pro which is two generations older. With this new, faster MBP, Adobe Photoshop CS5 and Lightroom 3 could run without the issue of overheating.

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