Produced by KelbyOne

Travel Photography: Don't forget these 10 things

Patients in Phnom Penh, Cambodia get numbered for the lottery that will determine if they will get seen that day.  Credit: Perry Lawrence

Patients in Phnom Penh, Cambodia get numbered for the lottery that will determine if they will get seen that day. Credit: Perry Lawrence

Travel Photography is one of the most exciting forms of photography and it combines exotic locales, new and interesting people and life long memories. To make the most of your travels (and to insure you GET those spectacular images) these are the 10 things you will want to make sure you have with you at all times.

1. Your Passport
The last thing you want to limit your travels is your ability to travel from country to country. By carrying your passport with you at all times you can move across borders at a moment’s notice. Provided you have the right visas and entry fees, you can hopscotch across the continent of your choice. Tip: Carry a copy of your passport in a separate bag (or your camera bag) just in case!

2. Prior Approval
When I was traveling in India I had the opportunity to film at the Taj Mahal. Upon arriving at the crack of dawn the guard looked at my larger than average camera and tripod and asked for the documents for permission to shoot. Well, I had none and to get those documents I would have to go all the way back to New Delhi (where I had just come from). Some places are very cool and some places know the “commercial” aspects of filming and charge accordingly. Tip: Be prepared by asking ahead.

3. Backup Systems
When I was traveling a lot for a large non-profit, I would try to have as many backup systems as was manageable. I would think, what would happen if this item was lost or broke? I carried two battery chargers because having one break (which happened twice) could potentially render me and my equipment useless. Likewise, camera bodies, lenses, card readers etc. are weak points to your system if losing one would shut you down. The old adage used to be “film is the cheapest part of your trip”. Today, having a few back up components that could potentially save your trip are worth the investment.

4. Image Backup
Unless you plan on bringing thousands of dollars worth of SD or CF cards, you are going to want to back up your images each and every night. I recommend backing up to your laptop as well as an external drive. I use Synchronize X Plus (Pro version also available) to help automate the backup process.

5. Stealth Camera Bag
I don’t recommend traveling around foreign countries (or even your home country) with a camera bag that screams NIKON or CANON. A stealthy camera bag that fits your main ‘walk-about-gear’ (camera, a few lenses) helps you blend in. Tip: A backpack style allows you to go hands free.

The arch of Cabo San Lucas. Perry Lawrence

The arch of Cabo San Lucas. Perry Lawrence

6. A Guide
If you are new to an area and unfamiliar with the photo opportunities, hire a guide. A guide that knows the locations, the language, the current exchange rate and the best time to film at particular times of day is worth paying for. Rates range from $150 and up with the average being around $300 per day. Ask a lot of questions and make sure you feel comfortable with your guide before hiring. Guides aren’t for everyone. But if you are in a strange place and don’t speak the language, a guide can be your best investment.

7. Local Currency
I rarely carry cash in the US, but when in a new country, I try to always have a few bills on hand. Returning from a shoot in a remote village in Cambodia our cab had no AC. The temperature was around 120º outside and we rolled the windows UP to try to keep the heat out. We had to pull over multiple times on that hour long ride to get some 2 liter bottles of water. Fortunately I had some bills. Visa or Master Card were not going to get the job done!

8. Pelican Cases
This one is a matter of opinion as some love soft cases for traveling and some love hard cases. I love hard cases for traveling on airlines for obvious reasons (remember the gorilla tossing the luggage around?). Anyway, Pelican cases have kept my gear safe and sound for decades. I love the carryon sizes as well as the Pelican SC and CF card cases. Pelican cases get me to my destination. The stealth bag above allows me to get around at my destination.

9. Camera Support
Whether you use a neck strap or a sling or a holster or whatever, you want something that will allow you to go hands free at a moment’s notice. I hate neck straps and until recently went sans strap. Now I love my SpiderHolster Black Widow. It is simple, easy and secure. There are a lot of options for you out there so shop around with a system that works for you.

10. Sense of Humor and Awe
And patience (I couldn’t decide which was most important!). If you’re not having fun why bother. Traveling and capturing the sights you encounter along the way, and sharing with others, is hugely rewarding. Having patience, awe and humor will go a long way, whether you are traveling alone or in the company of others. When I travel I get super focused and all business (so I don’t miss my flight, leave a bag, or forget my passport!) However, once I can get to a location and unwind I can start to feel the rhythms of the locale. I am always in awe of the people and how they live and how different they can be. The diversity of each location has its’ own unique beauty. Finally, don’t take yourself too seriously and relax, it’s a vacation after all right?

For the best course on Travel Photography, check out Scott Kelby’s Shooting Travel Photos Like A Pro

Those are my ten things. What would you add to this list? Leave me a comment below and share what you “never leave home without”.


  • Beau Sorensen says:

    Gaffer’s tape. While I don’t do this in places that are ultra-safe like Japan, if I’m traveling someplace where there’s pickpockets, I will use black gaffer’s tape to cover up all the markings on my lens caps, lenses, and camera. All of a sudden that Nikon D3s doesn’t look like anything special.

      • Ann says:

        What is Gaffer’s tape? Where do you get it? Sounds like a plan!

        • Dale Dimmick says:

          Gaffers tape is used in the pro film, TV and photo worlds. It’s a heat resistant, very sticky cloth tape, comes in 1″ & 2″ width, & several colors. It holds most everything very well without leaving tape residue (on the short term). It doesn’t hold well to wet surfaces. It looks a lot like Duct tape, don’t be fooled though. Get gaffers tape. It holds he movie industry together.

        • C3 says:

          Musician’s use LOTS of gaffer tape too

        • Craig says:

          I found Gaffer’s tape several years ago and will never use duct tape again. It is the best of the best tape, for about anything. You can find it at some hardware stores but I found buying it on-line was the easiest. It’s wonderful stuff. And as Beau said above you can cut little pieces to cover the Nikon of Canon names and it blends right in with camera body or lens cap or whatever. Also, just wrap a small amount around a pen or lens brush rather than haul the whole roll around.

  • kenyongerbrandt says:

    A GPS and journal or notebook of all your locations and travel timeline. It’s amazing how quickly you can forget important details.

  • I’ve found a small messenger bag to be as good if not better than a backpack on many trips (at least, ones to more-urban settings). They leave your hands free while not screaming “tourist” quite so loudly, and you can swing them in front of you for maximum security when squeezing through a crowd. In some places, backpacks aren’t even allowed in museums these days. Buy a beat-up used messenger at your local thrift store, drop in a camera liner, and you’ve got a camera bag that won’t attract attention from the local thieves.

  • Al Treder says:

    I agree with all items on the list, but want to emphasize #7. Just came back from Cairo, Egypt, and I had failed to use the bank at the airport to get local cash. There were almost no places at all to get cash on a credit card or to pay with a credit card. Luckily I was always with somebody who had better foresight, so it was not a complete disaster.

    • Thanks Al, I have even started to cary more cash in the US too. I had gotten into the habit of zero cash but it is tougher to tip helpful folks and the musician at the pub!

  • Ryan Gajsek says:

    One thing I forgot to do before I got my flight booked and my hotel booked. Check for luggage restrictions. The airline I booked with was a charter that only had a 6 kg allowance for carry-on and 20 kg for check luggage. I ended up buying a lighter carry-on bag but will still have to leave lenses at home and mine is a micro four-thirds system. Do your homework!! I’ll never use this airline again!!

  • serkes says:

    Great tips

    When we went to Asia my friend Alan Mah said to bring crisp $1 bills – there were several times people wouldn’t accept worn bills. 200 crisp new $1 bills from the bank did the trick. They were universally accepted.

    I changed out my Canon Ad camera strap for an all black Pacsafe with embedded cable. The camera is visible (though I tucked it away in my photo vest) but made me less visible from behind. The Canon camera strap looks like it could easily be snipped apart.

    Though not stealth, very useful – I configured this vest to have my Canon 100-400, 8-15, 24-105 … and plenty of room for spare batteries, memory cards and guide books.

    Bonus points – we went into over a dozen museums in Spain and Portugal. None would allow a backpack; only 1 or 2 wouldn’t let me wear my vest. Makes lens changes much easier too.

    I hung a whistle from the vest, and also added some carabiners; ran the camera strap through the carabiners so it wasn’t just hooked around my neck.

    I put reflectorized tape on the vest. I also wrapped the tape around my tripod. Learned that trick when shooting at night and a car came around the bend and didn’t see me at all because I was basically invisible.

    I carried 3 of them 1-2T. Used them for Time Machine backups of my laptop, also redundant-redundant photo backups. I figure that the only things which weren’t commodities were my photos, so I’d put 1 drive into 3 different suitcases or back packs.

    Ira Serkes

  • How Spooky! I just finished uploading some images to my Exposure site which I took earlier this year in Prague, then I opened my email & saw this blog post with images very similar to the ones I took! I have to say a very big Thank You to Scott & everyone at KelbyOne, I’ve been a member for a few years now & I’ve learned so much it’s incredible. My subscription to KelbyOne is the best money I spend all year, the phrase “Value for money” doesn’t do it justice! Keep up the great work guys, you all play a very big part in my life now & I’m a better person/ photographer (hobbyist) for it. Thanks again, form your number one fan in the UK. GaryPP

  • chapmanwr says:

    You can’t even use a tripod at all at the Taj Mahal in India without a permit regardless of what kind of equipment you have. They think anyone with a tripod is a Hollywood filmmaker with lots of money to throw around.

  • Walter Gajewski says:

    I always carry an inexpensive rain cover for my camera. Ruggard makes one that you can buy at B&H. Cost is about 2 covers for $5.00.

  • Webmaster says:

    These are great tips. Here is also a great interview of travel photographer Whitney Tressel with her tips on great photos, you may be interested in:

  • Thanks for this great tip. So inspiring your work. Again thanks.