The Joy of Traveling Light
Sunday, October 16th, 2011 by Reed Hoffmann
I’m often asked what gear I take when traveling. And the answer is always the same – it depends on what I want to do. In the case of our recent vacation to Italy, the plan was to relax and enjoy the time together, not be out shooting from pre-dawn into night. Which meant little gear. But I still hoped to make some nice photos.
In this case I went with my standard small kit: Nikon DX body (D7000 this time) with Nikkor 16-85 f/3.5-4.5 and 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 VR lenses. That gave me a body with a ton of great features, and a pair of relatively small, sharp lenses that cover an equivalent of 24-450mm. The two sacrifices I made were no fast lenses (meaning f/2.8 or wider) and nothing exotic in wide or tele. It also meant no tripod, no flash, no filters, and no extra memory cards. But I did bring a laptop – the little Lenovo X220 I’ve fallen in love with.
The D7000 has two SD card slots, and I filled them with a pair of 16GB cards. As a pleasure trip, not a photo trip, I chose to shoot JPEG most of the time, which meant that 32GB of space would be plenty for the two weeks. There’s a common misunderstanding about the JPEG format. Most people seem to think it’s bad. I just say it’s misunderstood. Sure, there’s data loss through compression, where RAW (NEF for Nikon) doesn’t suffer that. And, if you make mistakes in exposure or white balance, RAW is more forgiving. But JPEG, at best quality (least compression) still captures a great deal of data, and properly shot (exposure, contrast, white balance, etc.) produces a great file that can be printed HUGE. And, it’s not all or nothing. Those moments where I think I’ve got a great shot (the lightning from the last post, for example), I simply switch the camera to NEF (RAW).
But more important than all of that, it means I’m just carrying one camera and lens, with the second in a small fanny pack (Thinktank Speed Demon). And I’m on vacation with my wife, who doesn’t want to wait more than a few minutes if I find a picture I have to shoot. Not all photography requires a ton of gear and time. Remember, good pictures come from knowledge of photography, not the amount or cost of the equipment you’ve got. Looking for good light and interesting angles, I also shot panoramas and HDR images. No tripod? I used tables, bridge railings, or simply raised the ISO. No flash? Well, I had the built-in one, and for the most part just looked for shots where I wouldn’t need flash. And there’s one last benefit to going light like this. No one thinks you’re a professional photographer. People with large cameras, lenses and bags get more attention, which isn’t always good. I just looked like the average tourist.
Italy was beautiful, the people and food great. We had a wonderful time. And I got some nice photos, without making a lot of work out of it. That’s a great combination.