How to travel light for holiday vacation photography
by Chris Gampat -  12/9/2010

We're knee deep in the holiday season, and many photographers are getting ready to pack up gear and head out of town. Here are a few tips on keeping your photo bag light for the holiday travel season.

Get Over Your Tripod
Tripods are three legged monsters that tend to cut into your back and smack people in the body when you're packed into a subway on vacation. There are ways to take sharp photos without carrying tripods and by carrying less weight on you. For starters, hold your breath and bring the camera in close to your body to prevent your arms and hands from shaking. Also, try to physically get close up to your subject. When you zoom in to the most telephoto focal length, you'll be prone to camera shake. Additionally, raising your ISO can help at the expense of grainier photos.


If you really have to take a tripod of some sort, I recommend using a Gorillapod. These little gymnasts have legs that will be happy to bend over backwards for you. They're also great for holding off-camera flashes in place. Be sure to get the one meant for your camera. When you're all done using them, they can be bent into almost any shape to fit into a pocket of your camera bag or even your coat pockets.

Carry a Couple of Lenses
When out on the town, it's best to bring a couple of lenses with you of multiple focal lengths and apertures.

Samsung NX Lenses

Let me explain:

One cold night, I went to the top of Rockefeller Center in NYC and met a tourist shooting with a D700 and a Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 (who is also the inspiration for this story.) He shot the camera in Program mode. While there isn't necessarily anything wrong with this, it was causing the camera to shoot at ISO 100 with very long exposure times. Said tourist's wife yelled at him for buying such an expensive camera with such an expensive lens and not getting excellent photos.

So what was the problem? ISO 100 is too low for shooting from a rooftop in the low light of NYC's night. Sure, the city is very well lit up, but ISO 100 will not do it even with f/2.8.

I helped the guy out by switching the camera into manual mode and cranking up the ISO. When he asked me to use his camera for a portrait of him and his wife together, I recommended him to bring another focal length with him next time because wider angles like 24mm aren't so flattering for portraits.

The moral of the story: bring multiple focal lengths. It would've been very advantageous of him to bring an 85mm f/1.4, 50mm f/1.4 or 35mm f/1.4. Carrying these three lenses may also be a lot lighter than bringing along a heavy 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. While there are variable aperture lenses that are light as well, they can be problematic in certain lighting. A larger aperture could have helped him when shooting in program mode because it would've let in lots more light and made the camera automatically set a faster shutter speed.

For beginners, this is very important. If you're like the tourist I just talked about, you should really pay attention to and learn to read your meter. For starters:

Your shutter speed ties into the focal length of your lens as well. If you're shooting at 100mm, then the slowest shutter speed you should be shooting at is 1/100th. This is called the reciprocal rule of shutter speeds. But this isn't always the case. If you're shooting with a camera like a Nikon D7000, Canon 60D or Pentax K-5, then you'll need to do some math. Nikon and Pentax use APS-C sized sensors in these cameras that have a 1.5x crop factor. This means that you'll need to multiply 1.5 x 100 which equals a 150mm field of view. So your shutter speed should be above this to compensate.

For the Canon shooters, multiply your focal length by 1.6x.

Leave Your Laptop At Home: Bring Multiple Cards
Your laptop can be a very expensive piece of equipment to bring with you. What if it gets stolen or broken? If this unfortunate event does happen then you'll probably be in credit card debt for a bit when you try to buy a new one. Try this: bring multiple memory cards. This can be much more affordable for you. For best results, try to get the photo right in one to three shots.

If you've got a camera that uses SDHC cards, then consider an Eye-Fi card. These little wonders wirelessly send your images to your computer at home with the option of your favorite photo sharing services as well (even email.) The company promises, "Endless memory" with this tactic. If you're an Android phone user, you can send the images to your phone using an app on the Android market.

Eye Fi

For best results, bring an extra battery with you or charge your battery every night. Sending your images can drain battery power a bit more than you may like. To be fair, you can pick and choose which images to send.

If you're like me and shoot RAW, it will also force you to spend more time shooting than in front of a computer screen editing. More shooting time adds up to more fun time during vacation rather than being cooped up in your hotel room.

Think Outside of The Picture Frame
Challenge yourself to shoot everything with just one focal length prime for traveling the absolute lightest. This can be easiest with a 50mm lens equivalent on your camera.

55mm Lens

There are so many iconic photos that are copied by enthusiast photographers and their mothers. When you post these on Facebook, Flickr, or your other favorite photo sharing service, they won't necessarily stand out. So when you're going to shoot the Statue of Liberty, try using a totally different angle or focal length. Also, try to compose your image differently using the rule of thirds.

If this is too difficult to do, try applying a different filter of some sort in the post-production process. People love looking at photos with different film looks: Polaroid, Kodachrome, and Cross Processing are popular looks. These film emulsions give your photos a nostalgic look that reminds people of happier times - which goes perfectly with vacation time since you're out having fun!

Do you travel often? What tips can you contribute to this list?