Updated: January 23rd, 2019
I’ve always been interested in photography and have a real desire to get better at it… but… I just don’t think it’s gonna work out. The more I learn about serious photography the more turned off I get. Learning about f-stops and EVF and ISO got me like OMFG, WTF, L8R. Aperture, white balance, shutter speed? My camera might as well be arguing with the waitress over the extra charge for ranch dressing or living with its mother. No, I will not be calling you.
For the way I travel I need great pictures but quickly. I’m in a hurry, like, all the time… but especially when I travel. I don’t have time to manually adjust my camera settings for each shot—I’ve got a train to catch! I can’t be bothered with huge tripods and heavy equipment—I’ve got a mountain to climb! I don’t need multiple shots of myself with a variety of backdrops and lighting—one shitty selfie will suffice! Travel happens fast and you need to keep up. Don’t go chasing those perfectly slowed down waterfall pictures.
BEST TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY GEAR FOR NO-NONSENSE TRAVELERS
I want great pictures, but not at the expense of enjoying my trip. I want the best travel photography gear, but not at the expense of, well, money. I want great results, but by doing only the bare minimum. I’ve absolutely considered strapping a GoPro to my head and calling it a day. I’ve come to terms with the fact that my photography will never reach the level of Tim from Annual Adventure or Matthew from Expert Vagabond and I’m fiiiiine with that. I prefer to focus on getting as great a picture as I can, as fast as I can.
I’m an active traveler who prefers a no-nonsense approach to travel photography and I have a feeling you are too. Anything to keep my trips easy, effortless, and devoid of all evidence that I really tried works for me. And, you know, I think my pictures come out pretty decent, right? RIGHT? I’m not trying to feature in National Geographic or sell prints in art galleries—I just want to remember my trips, show you things on this blog, and make some old high school frenemies a bit jelly on Facebook. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Being the time-budget traveler that I am, most of my pictures are taken while running past monuments, trying to keep up with tour guides, or tempting fate while the train doors are closing. I need simple, no-nonsense photography equipment I can work with in a rush, but with quality that says, “Just strolling through Paris on a beautiful summer day, nbd.” and not, “God dammit I forgot to ask what that building was but it’s probably something important, right?”
CAMERAS + LENSES
FOR EVERYDAY TRAVEL 📸
Hey guess what? Did you know—you get what you pay for? It took me a loooong time but I finally upgraded to a real camera last year. And by ‘real’ I mean the lenses are interchangeable and the instruction manual is as thick as a late model Harry Potter novel. Like, maybe only the Bible has more pages and perplexing phrases. After seeing what this camera can do, I’m pretty disappointed I waited so long to upgrade but, you know, I had other things to buy… like Harry Potter novels, a college education, food. Okay, it doesn’t cost that much but it was an investment and one I plan on holding on to at least until Harry Potter’s 20-year Hogwarts reunion.
⇢ OLYMPUS OM-D E-M5 MARK II | And no, I have no idea what any of that means.
Things to know about the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II:
- It’s mirrorless. – All you need to know about that is that you get the same (usually better) quality and features of a DSLR but without the size and weight. Just think of how much less size and weight you have when you’re not in front of a mirror. See how that works!?
- It does a lot. And even though I don’t need it to as this point in time, when I’m eventually ready to grow beyond the bare minimum, my Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II already has everything I’ll ever need. (Currently, I’m still at the “I do want to express myself, okay. And I don’t need 37 pieces of flair to do it!🖕🏼” stage of photography.)
- The video quality on this thing is the best I’ve ever seen. Forget magnification mirrors – if you really want to see all your flaws, film yourself on this puppy.
- All the technical mumbo-jumbo: here
Why I love the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II:
- I can (and do) take it everywhere. It’s my everyday travel camera that I always have on me. It’s not enormous; it’s not heavy; I can simply drop it in my purse when the serious drinking starts.
- It’s Ashley-proof. I’ve lost more cameras to frustrating shit like water, sand, sub-zero temperatures, my husband dropping it, and getting robbed BUT NOT ANYMORE. The Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II is splash-proof, dust-proof, and freeze-proof (unfortunately it’s up to you to keep husbands and thieves away). I no longer have to stress about my camera when it starts to rain and I’m sky-high on an observation deck. I don’t have to worry about sand getting into the lens while taking shore selfies in a windstorm. And I can even use it in Canada!
- The picture quality even on AUTO is worth every penny alone. God bless you, Olympus, for allowing me to slack off as much as humanly possible when it comes to photography.
- The swivel screen. The digital screen rotates up, down, and around 180° so taking pictures at any angle is super easy. If you’re a selfie-taker, you need dis.
- I love the presets and art effects. My bare minimum effort is rewarded by the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with its range of scene-specific presets and fun art effects like diorama, my personal favorite.
I have two lenses I use with it depending on what I need to see. The 12-40mm is almost always on my camera–I use it for cityscapes, landscapes, indoor, almost anything. The 40-150mm I use on observation decks and other high places, when I really want to capture detail, and when shooting animals and people at a distance so they don’t know I’m doing it.
⇢ OLYMPUS M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12-40mm F2.8 PRO LENS | The wide angle one
Here are some pictures I took with the 12-40mm lens:
⇢ OLYMPUS M. 40-150mm F4.0-5.6 R ZOOM LENS | The zoom one
Here are some pictures I took with the 40-150mm lens:
FOR ACTIVE TRAVEL & FESTIVALS 📸
⇢ CANON POWERSHOT SX710 | Pocket-sized point & shoot
I have a pretty serious issue with needing to take a camera everywhere I go but, again, I need to be able to take pictures without it interfering with total travel fun time or the ability to lift a German-sized beer. I got the Canon PowerShot SX710 specifically for events like Oktoberfest and the Epcot Food & Wine Festival when I don’t want to bring anything that won’t fit in my pocket but I for damn sure need to document the shenanigans taking place. Basically any time the word ‘festival’ is involved, the Canon PowerShot makes an appearance. It takes great pictures with minimal effort—the theme of today and basically my entire photography game plan. I can keep it in my pocket or around my wrist and I won’t be heartbroken or homeless if it ends up at the bottom of a beer stein.
FOR ADVENTURE TRAVEL 📸
When your life literally depends on the use of both your hands, a GoPro is the way to go. If you’ve got any kind of adventure planned for your travels, a GoPro is such a fun way to capture all of it. You can take images and videos without any effort whatsoever (the BEST) and the results are phenomenal. I’ve used mine on the flying trapeze, snorkeling in Belize, and ice canyoning and tobogganing in Canada. Going hiking? Biking? Swimming? Boating? Floating? Skydiving? Juking and jiving? Log rolling? Axe throwing? Bowling? Barrel rolling? GET A GOPRO. For all the places and times you desperately need a camera and a traditional one won’t do, get a GoPro.
FOR BARE MINIMUM TRAVEL 📱
I admit I’ve been curious about clip-on smartphone lenses for a while but never really got it. The same goes for skiing and using essential oils for basically everything—like seriously, what’s all that about? Well, I finally got to try some when phone-lens-manufacturer Pixter suggested we work together and I admit I was seriously surprised as how high-quality they can be.
I just returned from a long weekend in New York City with my husband where I had no work obligations, no itinerary, no pressing need to bring a professional level camera, and absolutely no idea what makes pizza from Artichoke Basille’s basically sex on wax paper. The idea was to spend an entire carefree weekend together without the driving need to create digital art. I decided I was going to bring nothing more than my cell phone and a couple of clip-on lenses provided by Pixter. Keep it simple, stupid! Also, give me your pizza recipe, jerks!
I went with Pixter’s Super Fisheye and Telephoto lenses – because zooming and getting an entire scene into a shot are two shortcomings of smartphone photography. Well, those and the ability to drunk text images in real time. The lens quality is more than your cell phone probably deserves, they come with carrying bags and cleaning wipes, and are compatible with all smartphone brands. Finally we Android users can have something cool too! They have a wide range of lenses, pro lenses, and accessories beyond what I’m about to show you.
⇢ PIXTER SUPER FISHEYE SMARTPHONE LENS
- 235° capture angle (whatttt!)
- Absurdly perfect for places like New York City that have incredibly tall skyscrapers and incredibly tight indoor spaces.
⇢ PIXTER TELEPHOTO PRO SMARTPHONE LENS
- 2x optical zoom gives you a zoomed-in photo but maintains original quality.
- 60mm focal length
- Get that blurred background!
ACCESSORIES + CARE
FOR EVERYDAY TRAVEL 📸
⇢ CAMERA STRAP
Last year my friend Amanda and I got each other the same Christmas present. It was hilarious at the time yet not all that surprising really–we’re constantly asked if we’re sisters and we have similar tastes in fine art, Italian gelato, Spanish guitar, and are both absolutely repulsed by the song Don’t Stop Believing. Last year we got each other custom-made camera straps because I know she likes pretty things with flowers and she apparently knows I hate neck sweat.
Why you need to upgrade to a scarf-style camera strap:
- Umm hello? They’re cute!
- They’re so soft and comfortable you won’t even know you’re wearing a camera.
- Because they’re virtually weightless my camera never feels like it’s pulling down on my neck.
- They make your camera look more like a fashion accessory and you less like a tourist.
- Your neck won’t sweat profusely like it does under your stock strap.
- They’ll never scratch or irritate your neck.
- The colors + designs are endless–they can go with anything.
- Makes packing up my camera a snap.
⇢ LENS PEN
…because I’m always looking for something to safely clean my camera lens with and my Cheetos crumb-covered shirt just doesn’t cut it. The lens pen has a retractable brush on one end for removing sand, dust, and Cheetos crumbs, and the other end has a felt pad for removing smudges and, let’s be honest here, Cheetos fingerprints. It ain’t easy being cheesy… but the lens pen helps!
⇢ SD CARDS
If you took away anything from the 90s, it’s that a Beanie Baby is worth nothing without that little red tag. The same principle is at work when talking about best travel photography gear – your camera is worth NOTHING without an SD card. It’s a tiny thing that gives the whole package a purpose. The difference being that your camera actually does have a purpose and when are these stuffed animals gonna pay off my student loans already?!
I prefer the bigger SD cards that hold, no joke, 9,999+ pictures (according to my camera screen) but always, always, always have a backup (or two or three) on me. Ain’t nobody got time to run to Walgreens or its foreign equivalent.
⇢ EXTRA BATTERIES
I admit I’m the biggest hypocrite when it comes to this. Having a spare battery for your camera is so important when traveling and I have yet to purchase one. My Olympus will last a couple of days without needing to be charged, even while traveling when it gets hella used. Typically I charge it every night so running out of juice isn’t really an issue but THAT ONE TIME I didn’t, I really paid for it on the Harry Potter studio tour in London. I’m still irked about that one. And honestly, sometimes there just isn’t time to charge your battery.
Go here and search for your camera model to find extra batteries.
⇢ TOTALLY DOABLE TRIPOD
You’ll never find me hauling around a tripod because, frankly, I just don’t care enough. How am I supposed to take long-exposure shots when I don’t even get long exposure to most places?
However, every now and then I need a place to put my camera when my friends and I want a picture of ourselves after climbing a mountain in the Swiss Alps, hiking through the forest, or posing with our mountain of Beanie Babies. The Joby Gorillapod is awesome because it weighs practically nothing and takes up almost no space. You can use it as a stand, wrap it around tree branches or rocks or fence posts, whatever. It’s bendy; it’s grippy; it’s quick and easy to use and the only practical tripod I’d consider best travel photography gear.
For my Olympus I use the Joby Gorillapod SLR Zoom model but they have a huge range of tripods for all sorts (and sizes) of cameras.
⇢ CAMERA CASE / BAG
I don’t typically explore with a camera bag–I just wear my camera out all willy-nilly–but I do keep all my camera gear in a nice camera bag during plane/car/train/boat travel and when not using at home. It’s great knowing where all your camera gear is at any given time and that it doesn’t run the risk of being chewed up by your dog.
I got mine on Etsy from a store called Shutter Totes because I wanted something that looked like a purse and not like a camera bag stuffed with potentially thousands of dollars worth of equipment. I feel like a thief would go straight for an obvious camera bag over my purse since they don’t know what’s in there. And my purse they can have–there’s absolutely no cash in there whatsoever but there is a library card and like 15 half tubes of chapstick. There’s literally nothing else.
For a camera bag you’ll want one with a soft, cushiony interior (with dividers, preferably removable) and like a gazillion pockets.
FOR ADVENTURE TRAVEL 📸
⇢ GOPRO HEAD STRAP | Best for activities when you want more control over what you see–like exploring caves, skydiving, hiking the via ferrata, or anytime a fabulous landscape is involved. Having the camera on your head allows for more range of motion since you can capture exactly what you want to see. Like the faces of your friends who are also doing the via ferrata, probably against their better judgment.
⇢ GOPRO CHEST MOUNT | Best for activities when the action focuses on your hands, arms, and other things at that level–like kayaking, biking, dog sledding, lion taming, or, if you’re a real grab-life-by-the-balls sort, knitting.
⇢ GOPRO FLOATY HANDLER | When you need a lot of control, it’s best to just use your hands. I bought this specifically for snorkeling but now my GoPro is always on it unless I’m swinging from a trapeze bar or doing some other heart-attack-inducing activity for my parents.
It gives you perfect control underwater so you can film whatever you want, it has an adjustable wrist strap (so if a shark grabs your GoPro, I’m sorry to say but you’re going with it), and if the strap does come off your arm (like if you try to throw the camera to your husband underwater forgetting that you can’t throw things underwater), it floats.
⇢ GOPRO RED SNORKEL FILTER | I can’t emphasize this enough: if you are going snorkeling in the ocean with a GoPro, GET. A. RED. FILTER. (Mine is for the GoPro Hero 4, but they now have them for newer models.) When you film in the ocean the camera picks up all the blues and greens in the water, even if it doesn’t look like that to you down there. When you add a red filter (it just pops on and off in a snap) it balances out the blues and greens and gives you a picture closer to what you see in real life. Observe…
…the picture on the left is WITH a red filter. The picture on the right is WITHOUT a red filter. Same scene. If you’re going to buy a GoPro and take it snorkeling, don’t you want it to be worth it?
How deep you dive determines which shade of red you need–I have the shallow water snorkel filter and they also sell multi-packs for multi-level diving.
EDITING SOFTWARE + MANUALS
FOR FREE 📸
⇢ PICMONKEY.COM | I use picmonkey.com to make my featured images and Pinterest pins, make quick edits to photos, create collages, resize photos, and to delete zits because I’m a 21st century woman and dammit if I want a blemish-free vacation photo I’m gonna get it! You can Photoshop-shame me all you want but I’ve been trying to do it in real life for like 20 years and it’s never not been a massive failure.
Picmonkey.com has standard photo editing options and filters and paying for the membership is worth it 100%. You get so much extra, it’s all so easy to use, and, best of all, you can save a gallery full of templates! It now takes me just a couple minutes to create new pins, etc.
FOR GREAT RESULTS 📸
⇢ ADOBE LIGHTROOM | I’ve never wanted to go full-on Photoshop because there are just too many bells and whistles and ways for me to funk shit up. Adobe Lightroom is like Diet Photoshop, Photoshop Light, Photoshop at an all-inclusive resort and by that I mean watered-the hell-down. But the thing about a higher ratio of cranberry juice to vodka… it’s totally drinkable and there’s less of a chance I’ll do something terribly wrong before posting it on the internet.
Lightroom is so easy to use but, more importantly, the YouTube tutorials are super easy to follow along with. I can do everything I need to in Lightroom since, as I mentioned, I’m not trying to feature in an award-winning photography magazine or put my face on Kate Upton’s body. I have created my own presets so editing photos is a freaking breeze and actually pretty fun.
If you’re looking to really improve the quality of your pictures but don’t even wanna go there with Photoshop, Lightroom is perfect! I mean, it won’t land you the cover of Sports Illustrated but almost nothing ends up on this blog without a dip in Lightroom first.
FOR VIDEOS 📹
I used to use iMovie for all my film-making needs… until I discovered there was something out there that’s so much easier, more fun, and user-friendly. By a million. Filmora by Wondershare has been infinitely useful for creating the short, simple, shareable videos for social media + blog posts.
In regards to my effort in video making, we’re back to the bare minimum. I’m much more a photograph person (where I can edit out my zits) but I do love making the occasional video (where I haven’t mastered zit removal yet).
Filmora is perfect for creating simple travel videos. You can add text, music, fun wipes, themes, and probably a lot of other stuff I don’t know how to do yet–like putting my face on Lady Gaga’s body in the “Telephone” video. I wanna see what it would look like if I could actually handle choreographed dance moves.
⇡⇡⇡ Not my video but go ahead and pretend that’s me.
One of my actual Wondershare Filmora videos ⇣⇣⇣
FOR WHEN YOU WANT TO LEARN MORE 📸
⇢ GETTING OUT OF AUTO eBOOK
As in-a-hurry as my photography style is, I really do want to get better at it and figure out what all those symbols mean on my camera. I purchased the Getting Out of Auto ebook by Beers and Beans last year and it has really helped to understand just what the hell aperture, shutter speed, and ISO do. It gives great examples of shots using different settings and explains it all in a way even beginners (ahem, procrastinators) can understand.
Best of all, it’s only $9.99. If you want to use more than just the auto function on your camera, this ebook is a great place to start. Let’s be camera buddies and learn together!
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