Having traveled more in the last five years than in all of the previous forty three, I finally feel like I have found a comfort zone as a traveling photographer. Though lugging far less gear, I'm still protected with backups for critical items.
Looking back just four years, there is now a huge difference in the way I approach my gear pack. A walk-thru and my reasoning, below.
Above is the current version of my basic kit, which which I have logged nearly 100k miles and made the vast majority of my on-the-road pictures. I have long since ditched my DSLRs for travel unless there is a specific reason to lug them around.
To this I'll sometimes add a basic one-light kit—SB-800, compact stand/umbrella and sync. But that is a major step and I have to have a good justification that I'll need the lighting. Ironic, I know, from a photographer who has built his career on using light. But the benefits from traveling so light (while still having backups on the critical items) are many.
Compare that to a similar trip of just four years ago, when I actually thought this was traveling light:
Except for the light stand kit, I could fit it—barely—into an overstuffed Domke F2. But that baby was a shoulder-killer. (More on that 2009 gear-dependent paranoia here.)
Fast-forward to 2013, and the biggest millstone I have dropped was my marriage to the DSLR and multiple focal lengths. I now honestly feel for the people I see lugging a body and two street-sweeper f/2.8 zooms in a tourist-filled square. They don't look like people on holiday to me. They look like infantry.
Committing to a 35mm field of view has saved my back and improved my travel photos. Nothing begets creativity so much as a healthy bit of restriction. And marrying to the 35mm throw allows me to go with a Fuji X100 (and more recently the X100s) as my only "real" camera. My backup, if I ever need it, is my iPhone.
The 35 wide-angle forces me to contextualize my portraits, and offers a natural field of view for slice-of-life photos. If I have a super-wide and/or a long tele, more often than not I would just use them to create gimmicky pictures. The more I travel this lightly, the more comfortable I am with it.
Should I need light, the Fuji (with its high sync speed) and a small flash is a dream combo. So if there is any chance I will want to light, I'll add the most spartan one-speedlight kit.
My one heavy luxury is a 13" MacBook Pro, which tends to live in the hotel room safe during the day anyway. It's my main computer platform and I haven't made the jump to an 11" Air yet.
My iPhone, in addition to being a camera backup, it's also my backup for 'net. For image storage redundancy, I use the 64GB SD card in tandem with my computer's hard drive to back up my images.
Each night, I download all of the day's shoot to my HD, and also leave the images on the card. I had a camera stolen earlier this year while on the road—first time ever for me in 30 years. That's an expense. But the sucker punch would have been if I had not backed up my photos each day on the trip.
The card wallet shown in the photo holds two extra batts and two SD cards. There's no practical limit to how many photos I can shoot if things get interesting.
I am headed back home tomorrow after a week in Cuba. This time I decided to bring the speedlight kit because one of my projects while here was to make portraits of some Cuban photographers. I thought having a light with me would be both appropriate to the subjects and give me some options.
But without that project in mind, I would have likely left all of the lighting gear at home. I know—feels weird to me to hear me say that, too. But like they say, every possession is a burden. And never more so than when you are moving or traveling.
Hopefully the light gear pack restrictions will have spawned some visual creativity. But I do know one thing: my back is happy. And not every traveling photographer I know can say that.