Packing Your Camera Bag for a Vacation

Packing Your Camera Bag for a Vacation

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  1. Summer vacations and photography are a perfect match and no trip is complete without an album of captured memories. If you own a large amount of photography equipment, the temptation is to carry all of it in the hope of catching that perfect shot. Unfortunately, there are disadvantages to toting extra equipment; it is heavy, a target for thieves and chances are much of it never leaves your camera bag.


    A heavy-looking camera bag is inviting for thieves, especially at airports and tourist-dominated locations. It is natural to let your guard down while on vacation, making yourself an even more tempting target.  Even without thieves to worry about, vacations are full of distractions, increasing the chance of lost or misplaced equipment.

    If you are not used to carrying a heavy camera bag for long periods, your vacation can be hampered sore necks and backs.

    Airline travel, tourist attractions and other vacation activities mean a lot of banging and bumping of your camera equipment. While modern cameras tolerate more abuse than their predecessors could, travel does increase the wear and tear on your equipment. Holiday hazards, such as sand from the beach or cold weather condensation can harm your camera.

    Be Realistic

    Set some realistic expectations about the amount and quality of the photography you are going to be doing. While the 400mm telephoto lens will capture an elk grazing 200 yards away, is that really the shot you will always cherish from your Rocky Mountain vacation? I carried a second flash on many trips, anticipating some exotic lighting challenge. I used it exactly once to throw some extra light of a few classic cars parked at night along the beach.


    No matter how serious of talented you are as a photographer, most family vacation photos are snapshots. Your goal is to capture a photo of your child with the characters at the theme park. There is no dramatic lighting, you ignore every scene composition rule and you never show the photos to anyone outside your family. You are unlikely to ever enlarge the photo, or are you likely to ever even print it. Will you really notice the difference if this photo is taken with a $4000 camera and lens- or a $300 pocket camera?


    Vacation photos are about captured memories, not your photography portfolio. A picture of the Statue of Liberty can evoke the same memories no matter who fired the shutter. Consider adding other photographer’s work to your vacation albums. Add a photo credit to stay legitimate. It is even legal, and many photography websites allow you to search for images that are royalty free and licensed for non-commercial uses. Don’t feel guilty, every major publication uses file photos.

    Rental Equipment

    Most major cities have photography stores that will rent equipment by the day. Consider renting equipment on location to supplement what you are carrying. If you plan on one day of use of a long telephoto lens during a two-week trip, renting might make sense.

    Consider purchasing photos on location. It may cost a few dollars to get a picture of your family with the head mouse, but in twenty-five years when you look at the image, you will not remember the cost.

    Be aware of invisible photographer’s syndrome (IPS). A common syndrome of serious photographers, the family returns home from vacation to find that there are no pictures of the photographer.

    My Recommendations

    I have travelled extensively all over the world, and for the vast majority of those travels, I carry my Nikon DLSR, a 24-120mm VR lens, an SB800 flash, and polarizing filter. This wide angle-telephoto zoom is perfect for most vacation snapshots, since it can capture people and nearby objects, yet can reach distant objects.  Everything else stays home. Do I occasionally miss one of my other lenses? Sure, but I don’t miss it enough to lug an extra 10 pounds.

    For business trips, when I am carrying a laptop bag most of the time, my photography equipment is limited to a small Canon camera that fits in my shirt pocket. The pictures it takes are acceptable, but a far cry from my beloved, bigger, heavier, more expensive Nikon. However an old photographer’s adage, “the best camera is the one you have with you,” always applies.

    But why buy quality photo equipment if you are afraid to take it on trips? I never said I don’t take my equipment on trips. I distinguish between photography trips and family vacations. I will occasionally visit the seashore for a weekend with enough camera equipment to outfit an army. However, my goals and itinerary is much different for such a trip than a family vacation to Disneyland.

    I do not recommend any particular strategy, only that you consider the advantages and disadvantages of a heavy camera load, and plan accordingly for any travel. Consider alternate strategies for obtaining the images you want, and be realistic in our expectations.

    Happy Travels.

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