The Ultimate Gear List for Photographers (& Rebels at that)
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This guide will help get you to Southeast Asia with all of the necessities, so you can boogie down to some real photo adventuring. Read through my bad hair day adventures & check out the sections on travel tips, photo gear, personal essentials and tech necessities to find out what to take along and how. And then go do it.
I initially penned this The Ultimate Gear List for Photographers that Love Asia Way Too Much. Over time the internal muse spoke and a (somewhat) more clarifying post title fell into place. (Post titles can be hard work!)
After all, I had to write about recently returning from a nice, 40-day adventure-exploration-loop of Thailand (with Malaysia thrown in for good measure).
It was a great trip that
punished pushed me, kicking and screaming out of my comfort zone. I love my comfort zones – but sometimes you need to get out of them for inexplicable creative and sane reasons.
Adventure forces you to adapt an efficient lifestyle. Discover you’re carrying around gear you don’t use? Post it home. Or
maybe just purchase a smaller backpack in the first place.
Strange but true.
The old Sony-boy didn’t get much love at all.
More on why I think that happened below.
As for that new backpack. Didn’t quite stand up to the rigours of VIP airplane treatment. You owe me one for that Kathmandu!
Of course the Incline is supposed to be a lightweight backcountry pack. Overseas travel (tossed in aeroplane underbellies) is probably not its forte.
But before we get to the ultimate gear list for photographers (and rebels at that) let us wax lyrical with bags, backpacks and carry-able stuff…
The LowePro Rover (right) is a nice looking, solid bag that’s built specifically for carrying camera gear. In some countries you’ll want to keep that in mind.
A raw rookie mistake is simply bringing too much gear. It’s a hard one to master. I’m guilty of it (and
possibly paranoid of being seen as just another backpacker too).
I travel with minimum gear, study people, languages and document lifestyles. The tourist route don’t do nuthin’ for me!
Off the beaten route is a whole different matter.
That’s why I’ve explored places like Myanmar and Chittagong ship breaking yards, or the fantastic Kumbh Mela festival in India.
But I digress. The thing is, a top loader bag is perfect for a 3-day snowboard trek, or days mountaineering. When it’s too cold to care which way gear goes in.
But when head needs to hit pillow for 40 days and nights it’s infuriating pulling out all the gear just to get stuff at the bottom.
A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving. – Lao Tzu
The solution might be to carry less and a use a pack that has more than one opening. (BTW bit the bullet and got a Mountain Designs 30L carry-on).
That means after a long day of bus, train travel (cycling, cafes & whatever you do), coming home tired you only take out the gear you need – no more.
You can still be a travel photographer (rebel-style) without needing every photo gadget under the sun.
A rebel is one who travels consciously, ethically and harmoniously with as little footprint as possible. Just sayin.’
❮ I roll with backpack and my man bag at front. I took this photo to show you how
ridiculous cool I look.
The manbag (man purse?) carries the essentials (iPhone, pesos, pens, notebook, tickets etc) securely.
Your iPhone / photographic tools of trade you keep in the sling or on-person-gear. You need it at a seconds notice. How can you snap street life if you’re digging for a phone?
You want to be on instant for any jaw dropping photo-moments.
Arrive at destination, throw the backpack into a corner of your room, grab the essentials bag for some snapping adventures. Snap, assess, Instagram, move on.
Anyways, without further ado, here’s the:
Ultimate Gear List for Photographers
+ ON PERSON GEAR
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• Earplugs, hat & sunscreen
• Shorts / skirt etc Kuhl gear rocks!
• Manbag / sling / Camera bag
• Good travel footwear (for tropical!)
• Pens, notepad, iPhone & essentials / translator APP
Is the Sony RX100 M3 the ultimate video tool? Light enough to keep on the hip. Easy reach for the money shot. ❯
Safely keep your Sony RX100 M3 in the retro, old-school MegaGear camera case. Looks fabulous.
+ GEAR FOR THE BIG BAG
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• Apple MacBook / MacBookPro
• Sony Alpha a7R II Full Frame ☺
• Carbon fibre tripod
• Your choice of camera lens
• Headphones (Noise reduction / language study, music)
• Waterproof case (fits a Hard Drive)
• Thumb Drives / 1-2TB Hard Drive
• Cables and wires / plugs etc
• Thermals (Good for cooler climes)
• Clothing cubes keep gear neat.
• Silk sleeping inner / sleeping bag
• Waterbottle / I use a stainless steel Kleen Kanteen. (No disposable cups!)
• Pens and pencils, notebooks
• Head Torch / First Aid Kit
• Swimming gear / Lightweight towel
• Waterproof travel bag (ocean travel)
• Lightweight running shoes
• International power adaptor ☺
• Toiletry bag
★ Although titled the ultimate gear list for photographers your gear will differ I’ve just listed what works for me.
+ TRY IT OUT
- I’ve tested the Velocity Global Wallet, a reloadable Visa Prepaid card that lets you load money online and store it in multiple foreign currencies. Worked great for me in USA, Mexico, Japan, Thailand…
- Keep hearing good things about the 28DegreesCard.
- Goosedown jacket (Heading to colder climates or climbing mountains?)
- Sleep hat – when you like to keep ears warm and the night dark.
- I carry books but thinking Kindle or iPad instead.
- Backpack cover and small waterproofy (sea crossings, long tail boats, ferries, rainy days).
+ NETWORKING & RESOURCES
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~ Booking.com is good too.
~ Travel sites / research places to see
~ LinkedIn (Do you use it?)
+ PLANNING TOOLS
- Use Google Maps / Google Earth for research
- Lonely Planet Guides in PDF format
- Thorntree Forum
- Agoda, Kayak or Expedia for booking flights and accommodation
- Online business cards to take with you
There were times when I was tempted to abandon my (old) 20KG backpack somewhere (a Bangkok storage room at 20 baht a day comes to mind) and go entirely with the hip bag.
You could almost do it, monk style. ☺
But still, with carbon fibre tripods and say the new MacBook (I’ll have the 920g rose gold), an adventure photographer can still go lightweight, hardcore & do it all carry-on.
Maybe it’s just false confidence but I’ve definitely reassessed my whole travel photography (with some electronic scales close by!)
What, You Shoot Only iPhone?
I started writing this from a beach side resort in Koh Chang, after travelling all the way around Thailand and I’m puzzled why I shot ONLY iPhone.
Could it be because I focus on shooting mostly street photography?
Or because you can show your Instagram pics within hours of snapping them?
empty your wallet send your pics to Facebook and other social media so that’s one way to get feedback on what people, er, like.
Still, something about the iPhone makes snapping easier. It doesn’t look like a camera. How about that – it just looks like a phone. This gives you some fantastic sleuth advantages!
It’s different when you’re primarily shooting stock and need the lens / resolution. Some boutique art / photo agencies ONLY accept high-resolution so use the DSLR or high quality point-and-shoot for that stuff.
Other agencies / websites will happily take iPhone. Sweet. ☺
Bring your own helmet if you’re itching to ride motorbikes, skate, rock climb, do outdoor adventure sports in South East Asia.
❮ These lightweight helmets are perfect, look great and do the job.
The alternative is you wear what the guy at the shop gives you.
Plus gloves and night glasses, although that sort of thing can be purchased for so low cost it might be better to wait until you’re there.
I like taking this sort of gear as particularly in Asia I find myself buzzing around on motorbikes and bicycles like some sort of rainbow sprinkler.
Planning and Travel Tips
Step 1: Close eyes. Pick a place on the world map (or however you plan).
Step 2: Sort out travel arrangements.
Everybody and his brother knows the first step is to plan your trip and sort out travel arrangements. A rough itinerary will make sure your plans are feasible.
Then only pre-arrange or purchase the essentials:
~ Plane tickets to and from the country
~ Accommodation for your first few nights
~ Tickets for any activity or event that may be sold out if not booked ahead
Everything else, you can pretty much arrange on the fly.
This method offers flexibility to stay a few extra days here and there or pick and choose new destinations as you go, after comparing notes with folks you meet.
Check out travel guides to find activities and potential itineraries.
Guides like the Lonely Planet series are excellent and you can get them in PDF now to load on a mobile device. Better than carrying around a brick in your bag. ☺
Their online Thorntree Forums can also be very helpful to leverage the knowhow of the traveller community.
Them guides are where you’ll get lists and prices for accommodation and transportation options so you get an idea of prices and availability or book ahead.
Flights to and from Southeast Asian countries can be easily booked online through a number of websites.
These are the ones I usually use:
- Jetstar.com (Damn that Friday Fare Frenzy!)
These are all excellent for low cost fares to overseas hubs like KL, Malaysia.
Some local airlines for domestic flights have user friendly websites too, or you can just book flights locally once you arrive.
+ TRAVEL INSURANCE
Being a rebel adventurer, I never wanted to fork out the pesos for insurance when I travelled. Guess I’m super careful about
where I go what I do.
And thankfully no bad ju-ju has ever happened to me (apart from a few bad hair days & walking up to that street vendor dude in Delhi).
“Oh so you want some fresh juice? Puts it on the table. Here you go. Good luck.”
After weeks in a world of hurt, your boy Hurley can say he had the best stomach cleanse this side of Timbuktu.
Now I just suck it up and pay the few dollars a day extra it costs to get some sort of travel insurance.
Read this Choice travel insurance cheat sheet if you need to think it over.
The best camera is the one you have with you.
I shoot iPhone and I like the Sony a7 series (pic below).
Just commit to actually carrying and using it. ‘Nuff said.
As for carrying your photo gear, you can use a bag not originally made for camera gear.
Just keep your lenses and camera in individual protective pouches. (Probably best for smaller mirrorless cameras).
Although there are some beautifully designed camera bags around so I’ll understand if you go that way.
- Lens cleaning kit
- Spare battery (preferably more)
- Charger & cables to transfer your photos
- Power adapter
- Lens filters as needed
- Carry a spare memory card. Sandisk seems reliable.
- If you are planning to shoot videos, ensure that you have a 10x memory cards. Memory cards must be fast enough to write the hi-definition videos.
- Carry spare batteries. Batteries for your camera, flash and remotes if any.
- And the last one – perhaps the most important. Carry your business cards. Surprises knock from unknown directions.
Besides camera gear, there are a few tech tools that you’ll need, primarily a computer and phone.
If you are planning on doing any major work, i.e. writing, editing photos or making weird youtube videos during your trip, it makes sense to take along a small laptop (mentioned previously).
Again, weight is something to consider so you can travel fast and light and enjoy yourself instead of telling everyone how heavy your pack is.
A high quality tablet with keyboard and ports to attach an external hard drive may be an even better solution if you don’t need the computing power.
I was totally ready to go iPad Pro. But how am I supposed to edit my
weird movies Hollywood productions on that?
Generally speaking take a 1-2TB Hard Drive (something super indestructible like the Transcend StoreJet ) and back everything up. Keep memory cards in a separate bag to your hard drive too.
Hopefully if you lose one bag through theft or accident, you’ll still have the other.
A phone that can accept a local SIM card is also a great idea. When you arrive, pull out the pesos and purchase a local SIM card. Or get a Skype universal number.
Top up with minutes for phone calls / data bundles for internet or get a monthly plan. Last trip I used all free WIFI and it worked well. Almost everywhere has wifi hotspots now. Be careful with security and banking when you go that way!
And keep roaming turned off.
Unless you really need it. ☺
OK so I needed it a few times when I was totally lost in Los Angeles. (But Google Maps says the Greyhound bus station IS here…)
That way, you can stay connected to the internet. A local number does make it easier for accommodation, tours or friend meet ups.
Note to self: Pack only the personal essentials you think you’ll actually need, and then leave half of that at home!
They say you can either take many outfits and change clothes every day, or take one outfit and change towns every day.
But seriously, clothes and other things you might need are available everywhere in Southeast Asia, and a trip to the local markets for some shopping will likely yield another adventure anyway.
A silk sleeping bag liner can be a godsend to keep mosquitos off or when you’re less than thrilled at the bedding provided. ☺
And lastly, good walking / exploring shoes, boots, clogs (slippers for indoors etc). A lightweight travel umbrella (travel brolly) closes the deal.
So what do you think? Did I capture the ultimate gear list for photographers & rebels? Please comment and share it with your friends by clicking the social links below. (I owe you a coffee for that!)
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