Introduction to Travel Photography

 'Land-diving' on Pentecost Island, Vanuatu

Travel photography is a fairly unique discipline. It encompasses just about every style of location photography that you could imagine, with the logistical burden of getting yourself, and all of your gear to a foreign locale in a fit state to work, and hopefully getting it all back home again!

Over the last 25 years or so as a professional travel photographer I have traveled to some 87 countries. I have snowmobiled in the Arctic, trekked in the Sahara, swum with sharks and photographed the largest gathering of humans ever on the planet. I have worked in sweltering rainforests, ancient cities, amidst breathtaking mountains and even hanging out of planes.

Travel photography suits my low boredom threshold. One minute I can be a landscape photographer, the next a documentary photographer. In the same day I can be shooting wildlife, portraits, architecture, interiors, macro, documentary, food, action and even underwater.

So much of travel photography revolves around getting to your destination with the equipment you need. There is a fine line between having enough equipment and too much. Airlines have restrictions on both checked and carry-on luggage luggage, and once on location, you'll actually have to be able to carry all of this gear.

Over the years I have settled on a standard (and fairly comprehensive) kit with which to shoot. I might supplement this with a few things - a more powerful telephoto for wildlife or an underwater kit for diving. If I have to use smaller planes or anticipate more difficult shooting conditions I will pare things down accordingly.

With regard to cameras and lenses, there is little that you can do about weight. Professional gear is bulky and heavy, and I always bring backup equipment. That means at least two camera bodies and a range of lenses (in duplicate) covering wide, middle and telephoto focal lengths. If this seems excessive, it's not. Theft, damage or mechanical failure can all render you incapable of taking pictures. In fact, if I come back from a trip having used only half of what I have taken, I consider that a good thing. It means I haven't lost or broken the other half!

My lenses range from a 10.5mm fish-eye through to a 300mm f4. Most are Nikon pro-zooms: 14-24mm, 17-35mm, 24-70mm and 70-200mm. I also carry a 60mm micro, a 50mm 1.8 for low light and 1.4x and 2x tele convertors. All the lenses have B+W UV filters and lens hoods attached. I also carry a Lastolite reflector, flash and sometimes a ring-flash adapter, which is perfect for fill-in flash.

The gear is transported in a Lowe-Pro Phototrekker AWII. This conforms to most airlines' carry on restrictions. If there is a problem with carry on weight, then I always have a Domke photographers vest which is perfect for stuffing heavy gear in at check-in. After all, as I have pointed out to a few check-in clerks, nowhere does it say that they can weigh my pockets!

When I arrive on location, I typically use a smaller Domke Original canvas bag for shooting, leaving my spare gear back at the hotel room for safety. One drawback with pro zooms is that they tend to have a more limited focal length range than their consumer counterparts. I find this a worthwhile sacrifice for the image quality, but it does mean I have to change lenses more often. So I also use a couple of ThinkTank modular system lens pouches to speed up the process of changing lenses.

All of my electrical gear is fitted with the Euro-style 2 pin plugs. These are far lighter than the bulky 3 pin UK versions, and more universal than US fittings. A Euro 3-way adapter is small, and hardly weighs a thing. I have the camera charger, laptop charger, battery charger for the flash and flashlight and an adapter the the backup drive fitted with them. I also have two fast card readers, a GPS unit for tagging images, B+W polarizing filters, wireless and wired remote releases, four spare camera batteries, spare batteries for everything else, a fused travel adapter with spare fuse, an Xrite Colorchecker Passport, spare lens caps and a comprehensive cleaning kit.

Equipment is only a means to an end. The ultimate aim is to capture images that convey the emotion you experienced. The first time you see the Taj Mahal, for example, it's all too easy to get excited by the ambience and snap away. But remember, you have the adrenaline rush and sensory overload of actually being there; an advantage that friends back home looking at your pictures won't have. It is a bit like the bottle of local booze that you bring back from your travels. It tasted great when you were on the road, but like washing up liquid once you're back at home!

Corcovado, Brazil

When I looked out of the hotel window before dawn and saw the overcast night sky, I was tempted to go back to bed, but persistence and dedication are crucial traits that can pay huge rewards. At the top of Corcovado, the scene that greeted me was overcast, but by shooting into the light, I still managed to get light and shadow. If I had been shooting with the light the image would have been very flat and dull. The result was an image which was the cover of my first book, in most of the thirty co-editions (although not on the US edition) and is probably the image I am most associated with. And to think – I nearly stayed in bed!

Sugar Loaf Mountain from Corcovado, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
It doesn't matter what the light does – you can often find a way of taking great images. You just have to be flexible and creative.

Allahabad, India

Crowded pontoon bridge at the Mahakumbh Mela, Allahabad, India

The Mahakumbh Mela in 2001 was the largest gathering of humans that there has ever been on the planet. Ever! The scale was immense. On the most auspicious bathing day, when Hindus believed they could wash away their mortal sins by bathing in the river at a sacred point called the sangam, estimates for the number of pilgrims were as high as 35 million. The next equivalently auspicious date will not happen until 2145.

The festival is a unique mix of the ancient - with legions of naked sadhus or holy men who are trained in martial arts - and the modern. Just down from the ashram I was staying in was a Nescafe vending machine and an Internet cafe in a tent. Just opposite was a holy man meditating on a swing of nails above a fire. I was shooting for Geographical Magazine in the UK, and was illustrating a story that focused on the town planning aspect of the festival. The Indian authorities had built what was, for a single day, one of the most populated cities in the world.

Agra, India

Taj Mahal, shot through reeds, Agra, India
No matter how familiar the subject, it is always possible to take a unique and interesting photograph, if you work hard and use your creativity.

Some of the best views of the Taj Mahal are from the far side of the Yamuna River. Heading down there at sunrise I was able to take this image of the Taj Mahal through reeds.

This was just after sunrise, and so the light is misty and warm. Shooting with a telephoto lens, from some distance, I was able to control the relative size of the reeds and the Taj. I actually had food poisoning when I took this shot, and so I actually threw up between shots. Despite this, it is one of my favorite pictures.

Steve Davey is a professional photographer and writer based in London. He is the author of Footprint Travel Photography, which covers just about everything you could ever want to know about shooting on location. Steve also leads his own unique series of travel photography tours to some of the most exotic parts of the world, and runs photography courses in London. More information on  Steve's professional website can be found at

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions held by or any affiliated companies.


Total comments: 40
By isaacoomber (11 months ago)

Great Information.v Thanks for sharing this.

By Bookholiday (11 months ago)

good these

By Codik (Aug 14, 2012)

Lovely pictures. I would love some tips for the tourist trying to take travel pictures that I am.

By vidisha (May 15, 2012)

Hi, thanks for this article. Interesting read. I have been to Agra and here’s my capture of the Agra.
Also photographing the people, culture and food is also an integral part of travel photography. I suggest you share some tips on those as well. Here’s a good example of what Indian food can look like

By bwhues (Oct 16, 2011)

Thanks for sharing your experiences and methods for travel photography Steve. Even though I am still an amateur photographer, I totally agree with how diverse and adaptable you have to be while travelling and the different sets of skills you need to develop.

Its interesting to hear you talk a lot about the logistics of travelling with a whole stack of equipment and what difficulties and challenges that may be encountered. I suppose its all the prep and organisation that really pays off when you are on location. I’ve only ever been really minimal when it comes to equipment, at present my Fuji X100 with a couple of filters will do me, but I’m grateful to see how professionals travel and what the emphasis should be on when choosing what gear to take.

The Allahabad shot is amazing!

By Terrera (Oct 12, 2011)

I love travelling and photography. But unfortunately I haven't got the money for both: travel all the time and have pro equipment. So I have to content myself travelling less than once a year and carrying my D60 + 18-200 LoL

James Gaston
By James Gaston (Oct 1, 2011)

Thanks for sharing, Steve. I like reading about how others travel with gear. When I travel I want to take my good photo gear, because that for me is the highlight of my photographic year. I especially like hiking, and even on multi-day treks you'll find me with a d300, a spare body, a 10.5, 12-24, 17-55, 70-300, and maybe a micro, too, not to mention batteries, charger, and various odds and ends. My hiking friends think I'm nuts. But they are always eager to see my shots once I return home.

By PhotoChallen (Aug 15, 2012)

My hiking friends say the same! They are always happy that I bring two heavy bags into the Tien Shan mountains in Kazakhstan, but they don't offer to help carry them! haha

Lisa O
By Lisa O (Sep 30, 2011)

Interesting get your feet wet intro to travel photography. I read through the comments too. DPReview comments are harsh. The title does say "Introduction" folks, lighten up. Thanks for the article Steve.

By SM7 (Sep 29, 2011)

"After all, as I have pointed out to a few check-in clerks, nowhere does it say that they can weigh my pockets!"

Keep pointing it out, and they'll change the rules. Be smart, keep quiet about it, pls.

elefteriadis alexandros
By elefteriadis alexandros (Sep 29, 2011)

Huh only digital, no film, what a waist.. digital its for commercial work not for art!! the picture is like a fake, i wonder how more bad they look in real paper without the tonality and dynamic range of film.

1 upvote
Steve Davey
By Steve Davey (Sep 30, 2011)

Pst - want to know a secret - as an introductory article to my work over the past twenty or so years three out of four of these pictures are scanned film! Answers on a postcard please...

elefteriadis alexandros
By elefteriadis alexandros (Oct 1, 2011)

Thank you, this is good to hear!! so this three photo they look good in paper.

By pebbles575 (Oct 2, 2011)

Most pros used to shoot slide film and not neg. The reason is when they scanned the film, they got better quality from slide film since slides are a first generation(original) and negs. had to be printed before they could scan it and the print would be a second generation(copy) of the original. If you remember, slides had a much narrower dynamic range than negs. did. The dynamic range of the cameras today is incredible. As long as you process it correctly, digital should look great...

By thielges (Sep 29, 2011)

Thanks for the article Dave. Though not a pro I learned a few tips from this article.

For those who are interested in ideas for travel photography without the expense/weight/bulk of pro gear the key lies in quality small sensor equipment. The smaller the sensor the smaller the lens needed. There's a recent crop of products that can produce some amazing results from small packages. I've been experimenting with using a pair of digicams that allow low light shots from 24mm F1.8 all the way to 350mm (though not f1.8!). They share the same battery and charger so the entire kit (charger and all) is smaller and lighter than a basic enthusiast grade DSLR body. And cheaper to boot. Plus if one camera fails or is lost you've got a backup.

Though this rig can't quite compete with pro DSLRs in IQ it does get pretty darn close. And the small bulk and weight allows you to move a lot faster and farther possibly capturing images that would have been missed with a larger pro rig.

By fgrau (Sep 29, 2011)

Rio is my hometown, and the picture above is awesome! Congrats, never seen such light conditions myself, obviously, because I never climbed up the Corcovado to take a shot in such horrible foggy day!
That was the take away point for me in this article. Persistence to get unique shots, even under "bad light".
... and the equipment detail is very interesting, loved the check-in tip on how to better use our pockets! :-)
Many thanks for writing, it was reassuring to read that real photos don't come by easily as new cameras loaded with features might otherwise suggest.
BTW I am not pro or anything, I am just a dude that keeps trying, trying and trying... :-)

1 upvote
By DaveMarx (Sep 29, 2011)

Tripod, monopod, etc.? Oversight in cataloging, or something you simply haven't found sufficiently useful?

I did on-location concert recordings (classical and jazz) for 15 years. Gear had to fit in the trunk of a car and be carried by a team of one or two. No rehearsal, one performance. As much as a gear list may seem boring or beside the point, its importance is driven home the first time something goes wrong with no way to recover. Packed correctly, the job will succeed 99% of the time. What you carry determines everything you can or can't do in the field. Selecting your kit is part of previsualization, as defined by Adams. If you aren't thinking about the job well before you arrive on the scene, you won't be ready for the money shot. Anyone can click a shutter. Not everyone will be ready to click.

The gear list is not a recipe. But there's usually something to be gleaned from someone who's doing the job successfully, even if it's just one obscure ingredient.

Steve Davey
By Steve Davey (Sep 30, 2011)

Oversight. Manfrotto Carbon fibre, but with standard steel head for stability.

Thanks for the understanding about the equipment list. Yes, someone could cover most of my entire range with a 10-20 and an 18-200mm on a crop sensor. I carry so many lenses for quality and back-up.

From the sound of it, you will also understand that the preparation and protection of the gear is a vital part of the job.

By Canyongazer (Sep 28, 2011)

tsk, tsk...
all the above posters should demand a refund.

Bill Lockhart
By Bill Lockhart (Sep 28, 2011)

Pithy. Not much here. Seems to be the norm of this new feature at DPReview.

It is too short, needs lots of examples, and for gosh sakes talk about all the prep, the planning, the packing, transport of stuff. Not much here that I can read. I have written better.

Talk about the how, the what, the specific. Nothing here that would help anyone going on a travel adventure.

In sum, a blah blah blah article.


By Simon97 (Sep 28, 2011)

The article started well and then descended into a name-brand this, name-brand that grocery list of gear. I think that part could have been generalized and without the branding.

By Telefoto (Sep 28, 2011)

Appreciated this article. Most pro photographer books or articles make the mistake of being mostly directives to their audience - photograph this, don't photograph that. No serious photographer, beginner or veteran, should want to be told WHAT to photograph. Instead, the best value the pro can add is by explaining in detail exactly how they work, with what equipment, and why. Then we can take from that the elements that are useful to us in our work (which of course will be different from theirs). So, thanks for doing that well here.

I was surprised that Steve's work revolves around just the holy triumvirate of pro zoom lenses. I guess that attests to just how capable and flexible they are. Still, I expected someone who's job is to "capture anything and everything" while on the road might require a dozen or more lenses. Interesting. Thanks also for the advice about travel packs. Over the years that's been a surprisingly persistent challenge to us all, it seems!

Les Berkley
By Les Berkley (Sep 28, 2011)

Huh? List of equipment? WHO CARES? First three shots are okay, but no more. A slower shutter speed on the first one would've made it a lot better. Taj shot is good, but I wish the foreground had been in focus.

The most important thing to have on location is not gear--it is an advance plan and/or a local guide who really knows the area. Having the proper clothing and medications is a lot more important than what lenses you are carrying.

See for some images that actually TAKE you somewhere.

1 upvote
By Ralph46 (Sep 28, 2011)

What I feel is missing is the clear understanding of why Steve is travelling in the first place. If he is doing it for commercial gain (which seems to be the case) I agree with his opinions. It is a hard job.

For "normal" holiday travellers I consider his recommendations will leed to a nightmare. Aside from lugging a back-breaking load everywhere you will become the focus of every shady individual in the vicinity. Your complete hand luggage is only photo gear? How comfortable will you be if your suitcase misses the plane and turns up 3 days later? To best use all your equipment you will need to turn up everywhere only at the best light - and wait - and wait. You like travelling alone? If you started off with a travelling companion you will soon be alone!

My pictures with my compact or DSLR plus 1 or 2 lenses (with backup compact!) will not be as perfect as Steve's. But I will have had much more fun and peace of mind.

By liberace (Sep 28, 2011)

Traveling with 2 camera's and a lot of lenses in a third world country is almost suicide. It would be better to give advice how a amateur photographer can make tacceptable photo's with the most simple equipment.

By EvaMLG (Sep 29, 2011)

Hello liberace
thanks for your comment. I have had the same problem for years as I trek through deserts for 8-12 days, up mountain passes of 5000m and more. I do not have the luxury of "paring down" my equipment for a few days and pick it up again later. A DSLR with even just 2 lenses (= 3 kg) is too heavy for lugging it around for 8-10 hours in addition to the other travel necessities (Canon full format with 28-70mm f 2.8 and 100-400mm f4). So I was pleased when the Four Thirds cameras came out and I decided on the Panasonic GH1 with a 14-140mm lens (28-280 equivalent). it's obviously a quality compromise, but at 2 kg less and readily handy slung around my neck, I have been pleased with it for the last five trips.

1 upvote
By cfh25 (Sep 28, 2011)

"Land diving" photo could have been improved by a portrait aspect showing the top of the tower - in my humble opinion. Like the remainder

Steve Davey
By Steve Davey (Sep 29, 2011)

On one level I agree with your point, but the tower was almost 60ft high. To get the top of the tower in the frame, would have made the jumper much too small. I thought about shooting near the landing point with a wide lens tilted upwards to get close up of the jumper and the full tower in the background. Discussing this with the chief of the village I realised that it would be too dangerous to put a camera in the landing zone, and also too unpredictable where they land.

By thistle (Sep 28, 2011)

What kind of contribution is this one? A suggestion about bags? About the type of equipment (basically every lens you can imagine)... It is far too easy to publish an article on "Travel Photography" with pictures of such wonderful places.

I do not know what specific type photography is 'Travel', but this kind of articles do not add anything to what amateur photographers know about photography. It is only a way to put a link to a photographer's website.

By Looleylaylow (Sep 27, 2011)

A companion piece for enthusiasts would be appreciated. So many people make forum posts along the lines of "best gear for trip to X..." Suggestions for those whose travels aren't entirely about the photography and who want to travel relatively light and inconspicuously would be appreciated.

By penguinman (Sep 27, 2011)

It was disappointing to find out that the recommended camera pack, Lowe-Pro AWII is not available anymore.

Steve Davey
By Steve Davey (Sep 28, 2011)

Hi Penguinman - my apologies. Had a brainstorm... that was my old bag. Recently replaced with the Pro Trekker 400 AW. This is a great improvement. Same great harness, but much better organisation of everything - including accessories. There is even a pocket for a hydration system, which fits a 400mm lens at a pinch!

By rickspencer4 (Sep 28, 2011)

Nice Steve, reading down I'm thinking what a bashing your getting and how I would be replying to some of the wanna bees, I liked your shots. and I'll never be professionally traveling, I do shoot local events and found a few suggestions from your post.

Happy shooting....

By danm_cool (Sep 27, 2011)

amazing pictures and experience!

By MarinoDiMare (Sep 27, 2011)

I love these articles, but oftentimes when I get to the end I feel that they're not actually finished. I'm not complaining about quality, rather quantity. I know, I know, it's not a book and it's not even a payed service, but I would actually seriously consider to pay for more extensive articles.

Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (Sep 27, 2011)

watch this space, there's going to be more from Steve in the future.

By taotoo (Sep 27, 2011)

The authors are doing it for free, so as long as there's enough there to give them some exposure (and a link to their website), then job done as far as they're concerned.

Credit to DPReview though, as the articles seem to be improving.

By photocine (Sep 27, 2011)

I Love Traveling!


Richard Shih
By Richard Shih (Sep 27, 2011)

Depends on where you are.

The Commonwealth tends to double up on the trailing letter.

By JackRoch (Sep 27, 2011)

As I read your link (and from there to: it depends on whether you consider the word to be a verb or an adjective. If the latter it should be a double L.

1 upvote
Total comments: 40