New to travel photography? Don’t want to buy a lot of gear that you won’t use and don’t really need. We’ve got you covered- here’s a list of just the ESSENTIAL travel photography equipment for beginners (plus a few extras for when you want to progress.
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Travel Photography Equipment for Beginners- what do you REALLY need?
Let me be really really really clear before we start- you do NOT need a load of expensive gear in order to take amazing travel photos. And yes, I know that’s unusual for a travel photography website to say.
But the fact is that people travel everyday (let’s just not mention 2020!) and take amazing photos using just their phone.
So why do you even need additional photography equipment?
The short answer is that, despite the amazing results you can get with a good phone camera nowadays, you’re going to get even better ones with a proper camera. And a few useful accessories.
Essential gear for new travel photographers- where to start
Now, there is a chance you won’t need EVERYTHING on this list. In fact, I’d recommend that you do NOT rush out and buy everything on this list.
Instead, think about your next trip. What are you planning on doing? Are you going to be surfing, motorbike riding or generally doing something adventurous? If so, an action camera and harness or mount is probably the place to start.
Or are you going to be visiting somewhere with incredible landscapes, like the Dolomites or a National Park? If so, a decent travel camera with a sturdy, lightweight tripod will be your new best friend (and possible a rain cover- check the weather forecast!)
Traveling solo or want to take photos of yourself? A remote shutter and selfie stick/ extendable arm is going to make your photography so much easier.
Whatever you buy, getting a decent case or camera travel bag to transport it in is important, plus a cleaning kit to help you remove dirt, sand and anything else which gets into the lens. And an external hard drive is non-negotiable; as someone who damaged her SD card (and lost 2 weeks worth of photos) just trust me on this. You want to back everything up as often as possible.
Lastly, there’s a lot you can fix in the edit. Don’t panic about having the latest and best gear- once you figure out how to edit, you’ll find you can fix a whole host of mistakes! Here’s are 19 insanely useful apps to help you edit travel photos.
Photography gear for travelers- beginner essentials
These are the things I recommend you have before you travel. As I mentioned earlier, you might not need everything, but here’s where I tell all newbie travel photographers to start. You can also check out our travel photography tips for beginners to get the most out of your time.
Don’t panic. This is THE hardest item to buy on the list- because it’s the most complicated. There are SO MANY opinions on the best camera for travel photographers- especially beginner travel photographers. Seriously, if you Google it you get over 1.5 MILLION results.
So how the heck do you choose?
Well, you’ll be pleased to know we’re currently doing some testing and will have that review for you shortly, but for now, here are a couple of recommendations for you.
For complete travel photography beginners: Get something easy to use- if you don’t use it, what’s the point? If you’re a COMPLETE beginner to travel photography, you can get some fantastic bundles, which include the camera body, lenses, straps, bags and everything else you need to get started, like this
For those looking for a little more: This is the camera I have and I LOVE it. I haven’t got the time or the headspace for overly complicated and this is so easy to use, especially for the basics to get you started. But it is a more advanced model, so not for the complete beginner.
Ahhhh, lens are another area which confuses people new to travel photography- it took me MONTHS to figure out what the heck I needed when I was a beginner.
The truth is, you’ll use one lens for 90% of your shots, unless you’re planning to get into astro or sports photography.
If you can only afford/ only want one lens, get something which fits your camera body and is somewhere in the 16-35 range like this one– that will certainly be enough to get you going.
I know there are many different types of action cameras, and there are some wonderful ones on the market, but I’m still an avid Go Pro girl (check out our Go Pro tips for beginners). I use this thing EVERYWHERE. Some of the recent places I’ve used it have been:
- On my motorbike (Go Pros are great for motorbikes)
- Whilst snorkelling
- Exploring the Verdon Gorge in France (I don’t take my main camera on ‘action’ walks in case I break/ drop it)
- Parasailing in Florida
There are a few different variations of Go Pro on the market. Personally, I use and recommend the Go Pro Hero 8, but that’s mostly because I haven’t had chance to buy and review the Hero 9 yet!
Tripod- flexible and sturdy
I LOVE my tripods. I have two and, although it can be a pain carrying them, I use them both enough to justify continuing to travel with them.
The one I probably use most is a small, flexible tripod, and if you’re only going to get one, this is the one I’d recommend. It can be used in hundreds of places, including rocky grounds, up trees and attached to fences. There are many cheap imitations on the market but the original is still the best- definitely worth paying a little extra for.
Make sure you have the right fittings for both your main travel camera AND your action camera- they probably won’t be the same but you can use one tripod for both cameras.
If you’re planning to do more landscape photography and even astrophotography, you’ll probably want to slightly bigger, sturdier tripod. Of course, finding one which is lightweight and not too much of a pain to carry, whilst being sturdy enough to do the job is a challenge. This is the one I have and it’s brilliant. Admittedly, I don’t take it everywhere like I do the flexible one, but it’s there whenever I know I’m going to be doing some longer exposures and don’t have to carry it too far.
Camera bag/ backpack
I never realised how essential a decent camera bag is for travelers until mine broke… and I was forced to use a normal backpack (the horror!) Not being able to keep the camera secure and safe, and protect the lenses whilst traveling or even walking around, made me really anxious.
There are HUNDREDS of travel camera bags on the market and it can be tough to choose. This is my absolute favourite, mainly because it doesn’t look like a camera bag and it’s got anti-theft protection, which gives me greater peace of mind in a crowd.
Lens cleaning kit
This is NOT a suggestion- get a lens cleaning kit. They’re not expensive and you WILL get dirt, dust or sand in your lens, no matter how careful you are. And once it’s in, you can’t clean your camera lens properly without a cleaning kit. So just save yourself a lot of heartache and regret and carry one with you at all times- there’s no point it being in the hotel room when you need it!
This one is perfect because it comes in a handy case- easy to pop into a pouch in your camera bag for traveling.
Useful additional gear for beginner travel photographers
So, those are the ESSENTIAL gear you need to photograph your trip. But there are a few more things we recommend, mainly because they make travel photography easier and more fun.
Spare batteries & battery charger
Honestly, I debated whether to put this in the essential list or not, because you really do need spare batteries. I carry three, but you can get away with two if you prefer. Without wishing to state the obvious, make sure they’re fully charged up.
As this is a list for beginners, you might not be aware that batteries discharge over time, even when not being used, so if you haven’t used your camera for a while you’ll probably want to put them on charge before you leave on your trip.
Spare SD card
Again, this is almost an essential. There is nothing worse than being in an amazing spot, with the right lighting and conditions and the photography gods are smiling down on you… and then you realised your camera or drone SD card is full.
This mainly happens if you either forgot to empty it (been there) or if you’re filming video, but either way you don’t want to have to start scrolling through your SD card to see what you can delete- especially if you’re at a live event. So invest in a decent second SD card like this one.
NOTE: SD cards not only come in different storage sizes (128GB, 256GB etc), they also come in different PHYSICAL sizes. Make sure you buy the correct size for your camera, action camera or drone. If you’re not sure, take it into a photography shop and ask.
External Hard drive
I told you my sob story earlier about losing all my photos from a trip when an SD card corrupted. That was several years ago and it STILL haunts me. I wish, with all my heart, that I’d bought a hard drive on that trip- and used it each night to download and back up my photos and videos.
You can use one hard drive to store images and video from your camera, action camera/ Go Pro AND drone, so you don’t need one for each. You just might need a memory card reader so you can connect them all to your laptop.
This is the hard drive I use to back up my travel photos– it’s been everywhere with me and I love it. Again, hard drives come in different storage sizes- bigger is always better.
TOP TIP: Do NOT store your hard drive in your camera bag. Just in case you lose it. I prefer to leave my hard drive in the hotel safe where possible or alternatively I’ll carry it with my passport in my handbag or secure travel scarf.
Action camera extension arm
One of the Go Pro accessories I love most is the extendable arm. It’s brilliant for being able to take a photo of yourself and as much of the scenery as possible and it also double as a mini tripod. If you don’t have a Go Pro, you can get a similar extension arm for a camera or another make of action cameras.
If you plan to use your phone most, a selfie stick is invaluable. Get one which folds up quite small, but extends far, like this one. Before I got an action camera, I used to use this ALL the time to take shots of myself on location.
Remote Shutter release
Whilst we’re talking about taking photos of yourself, don’t forget to get a remote shutter release for your camera. You can use this for two reasons:
- To stop the ‘shake’ on a long exposure photo which happens when you press the button on the camera
- To take a photo of yourself without the awkward ‘arm in photo’. Using a button allows you to set up the shot, then get in it and take the photo with the button hidden in your hand.
Make sure you get one compatible with your camera and test it before you travel- some of them take a little getting used to.
If you’re using your phone, you can also get a wireless shutter button, like this.
Waterproof cover/ rainsleeve
If you’re planning to do a lot of landscape photography, or you’re traveling somewhere in the winter/ rainy season OR you’re planning to visit lots of waterfalls, a waterproof cover/ rain sleeve is almost essential. You don’t want to risk your camera and/ or lenses being ruined by rain/ moisture, so make sure to fit the cover well in advance and keep it easily accessible so you can grab it if conditions worsen.
This is the one I have but be sure to get one which fits your camera.
Most action cameras are waterproof, so don’t need a cover or rainsleeve, but if you need to change the battery/ SD card, make sure to protect the camera so no moisture gets inside.
Other useful camera equipment for travel photographers
Nothing on this list has been so essential that you couldn’t go on a trip without it. However, this list is even less so. These are the ‘nice to haves’- things which make your photography life better or easier, but you really don’t need to pay next day delivery for.
We LOVE our drone. It’s possibly one of the best travel accessories we ever bought- and it’s my second favourite travel camera (the Go Pro is my first.)
Again, drones can be confusing if you’re new to them, so we’re also conducting a review on the best drones for travelers, but in the meantime here are our recommendations:
- Best drone for travelers (what we use): DJI Mavic Pro 2
- Best small drone for travelers: DJI Mini
- Best non-DJI: Xiaomi Fimi X8 SE Drone
Backup camera/ smaller model
Many serious travel photographers carry two or even three cameras, PLUS all the lenses they require. Many travelers have a ‘point and shoot’ in addition to their main DSLR, but some have a smaller, lighter model.
Personally, I use the Go Pro as my backup camera, but if you have the funds and the room in your bag, and don’t mind the extra weight, then by all means bring a backup camera on your trip.
If you’re traveling and planning on filming ANYTHING, you’ll want an external microphone. Admittedly, this is less about travel photography and more into travel videography, but it might be useful for you.
Here’s the one I use with my Sony, but please get one to fit your camera.
If you’re planning to do a lot of videoing and vlogging, you might be better off with one of these best HD camcorders.
Once you start getting better at travel photography, you may want to invest in some addition equipment, such as lens filters. Lens filters do different jobs- I started with a polarizing filter to help reduce glare and reflections (especially on water), but you can also get ND filters, which change the amount of light getting through to the camera- useful for things like waterfall shots.
You can also buy a bundle like this to try them out– make sure you buy the correct size to fit your lenses.
And that concludes our list of essential equipment for new travel photographers. I’d love to hear what gear you carry- let me know in the comments below.