Packing light is an eternal challenge. Reams have been written about how to roll your clothes, how to use packing cubes and what roller bag or backpack is best. Add a bagful of camera and video gear and you have even more weight to juggle. Taking pictures or video to share with family or on social media is a huge task on its own whether you blog or not. As a freelance travel writer, videographer and after nearly a decade blogging, I’ve struggled with how to do it best. I’ve also spoken with and observed other writer’s strategies, which blogging camera they use, and what other gear is in their carry-on.
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Luckily the overall trend is towards lighter, more durable, and faster gear. Battery life keeps getting better too. My goal is to keep the tech to a minimum so I can travel light and stay flexible; to capture decent images and video on the fly. I don’t claim to be a pro but work to document moments and love video storytelling. How to do it best is an evolving task. Here are some tips that I hope will be helpful. Feel free to gloss over the geeky parts!
What is your end goal?
Not every traveler is interested in toting around the best blogging camera but no one, amateur or professional, wants to invest the time, effort and expense into taking vacation or assignment shots then end up disappointed or worse, without pictures and video to match the experiences.
Decide how you want to share your shots first. Are you only posting on Facebook or are you building up a YouTube channel? That helps determine what gear goes with you. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have options for uploading ‘natively’ onto each platform. Now that Instagram is owned by Facebook you can share on both instantly which is a time saver but much depends on your goal. Facebook no longer shares every video link (especially if you don’t pay for advertising,) so uploading onto the platform directly is best if you want more of your friends to see your videos. I understand that Facebook Live videos are shared the most (Facebook is after the Tik Tok and Snap Chat crowd) but I’m perhaps too vain or too much of a control freak to go live – yet.
Much has been written about which format, shape, is best. Do you shoot landscape, vertical or square? Juggling between those is a headache, so I suggest deciding which works best for you and sticking with that. I love framing my videos as landscapes and post mostly on YouTube, Twitter, or Facebook. However, I shoot photos with an eye to posting in square format for Instagram (wider shots for editing later) and when I think about it shoot video vertically for Instagram stories.
Plan by Destination
A few years ago I had the great luck to travel to Lembeh Straits in North Sulawesi with a group of die-hard underwater photographers. The resort had a sweet, dedicated camera room close to the dive dock. Each diver had their own table with electrical outlets and shelves in an air controlled environment. Several dive buddies hauled heavy camera cases and multiple cameras. Over five days I watched the dance as they serviced their gear, switched out batteries and memory cards, lenses and lights. By the end of the trip my boyfriend’s camera was soggy and undependable. He started diving with his Go Pro and a single light attachment. He loved the freedom from toting all the gear and got some great images. Were they National Geographic worthy? No, but that wasn’t his goal and the pictures grace the walls of our home nonetheless.
Who’s going with you?
I’ve read little about picture etiquette and have to apologize for some of my past behavior before I knew better and photo bombed other’s shots. Believe me I’m sorry! That said, take a moment before you go for any shot to register where your companions are and if they’re shooting too.
Over time my family and travel partners have learned that I brake for photos. Kidding aside, I’ve chilled my beloved when I ducked into a Rio de Janeiro doorway while he turned a corner and then couldn’t find me. I knew where he was, he had no idea what had become of me. We had a ‘spirited’ discussion that could’ve been avoided if we both knew the game plan. Today I find that I have to stop for his shots more often, especially as he’s become a spectacular drone cameraman. It’s a fair bargain.
If you have a family vacation underway make sure that everyone knows you’ll be taking pictures of them at the beginning of the trip and honor anyone who asks to be left out of candid shots. I now start dinners or trips by apologizing up front half in jest about how many pictures I’ll be taking. Sometimes surprising accomplices volunteer and willing models too.
What are you shooting?
Each trip has its own personality. A camping trip in Alaska will demand different gear than visiting a local botanical garden. Alaska has scores of wildlife possibilities. The garden presents more close up subjects like bees and blossoms. For wildlife I make sure to have my Canon camera battery charged, a backup battery ready and plenty of space on my memory card. The zoom works best on a tripod for long distance shots but I’ve used fence posts, stair steps and even my son’s head to steady my camera on occasion. More often I’ve been using my Samsung Galaxy 10S phone for most everything (see below.)
- Notice your surroundings at all times – a precaution for your safety and out of respect.
- Be considerate if you’re taking pictures of others and know your rights for photo use. Public places are usually legal when you are shooting people. Much depends on how you are using the photos. If you’re going to sell your pictures or load them to a public site like Flickr where others may download them, you’d be safest to get written permission.
Are you shooting inside or out?
Each location has it’s own restraints. Over the years I’ve become keenly aware of light. Backlit flower petals expose a pattern; a ship in the harbor at dusk; shadows falling softly on a cheek – each is exhilarating to witness and then capture. Doing it well can take a lifetime to master but I shoot on the fly capturing fleeting moments.
I adore the work of great food photographers like Cintia Soto. and have had the good fortune to travel with her. Watching her work is a lesson in patience. Seeing how much gear she carries to do her food styling well is a shock. It’s no wonder that professional photographers and videographers develop shoulder, back and neck problems. I have no illusions or desire to emulate them.
Whenever possible Cintia uses natural light and that works spectacularly well for food. Faces benefit from soft light so I avoid my flash whenever possible. Cintia showed me how to use my cell phone flashlight wrapped in a white napkin or to bounce it off a plate to get a softer glow. I now carry a Lume Cube with filters whenever I’m going to an indoor event. The original Lume Cubes were waterproof to 30 feet. While not as powerful as professional underwater lights (and a fraction of the cost) they work fairly well on macro, closeup, subjects. The Cubes have 9 light settings, are a bit heavy but small and hold their charge for a long while. Other lights for video are larger and don’t have flexible settings but I’ve seen spectacular pictures from the effort.
Experiment and find what works for you!
Professional vs. Blogging Camera and Cell Cameras
- Dry bags in various sizes
- Lights: Lume Cube and filters
- Go Pro with lenses
- Shoulderpod cell phone holder – one of my most indispensable accessories
- Zihyun Gimble Stabilizer – Great for smooth, traveling video clips
- Selfie stick with tripod – Compact and helpful with Blue Tooth remote control
- External tripod – If you’re planning to use your camera more than cell phone
- Chargers and duplicate chargers
- Batteries and external hard drive
- Memory cards
- USB plug cords
- Multi-plug charger USB included
- Wide shoulder straps
- Fanny pack and collapsible back pack
- Tote by Bagallini– I adore this style for ease of access and zippers for security. I’ve worn out several!
- Camera bag – Here’s an earlier post about some bag options.
Software and Editing
I started editing pictures in Photoshop then tried a series of knockoffs to keep costs down. Nothing surpasses Lightroom, I’ve been told but the ACDSee software allows me to do what I need at a one time fee that’s a fraction of Adobe software. Same with my video software. I started on Windows Movie Maker (don’t laugh – it’s still a good beginner tool although only available as an unsupported download.) Today I use the robust, free version of daVinci Resolve for video editing and I’m looking for another that’s compatible with my new phone videos.
Best Video Tip: Shoot short clips instead of long videos. This will speed up your editing exponentially.
Edit video in your phone! There are dozens of Apps that make it easy and if you’re an Apple fan, you can create videos quickly. They’ll all look like Apple videos though. Find ways to make them your own.
I hosted a podcast on the Women’s Radio Network for years and love my Snowball microphone when I’m in my office recording studio. On the road, I use my cell phone Voice Recorder App and internal mic when I must but when it’s windy the audio is horrible. I carry a plugin mic with a ‘Dead Kitty’ windscreen and have begun using a lapel mic with windscreen for interviews. I used to carry my Zune recorder but again the cell phone has improved and now that’s one less thing to carry. Mind you, this is not going to give me broadcast or professional quality but it works. I use a Snowball mic in my home studio on the road I use the Pop Voice lavalier mic with windscreen.
Editing Software – A Minimalist’s List
- Audacity for audio – free download
- DaVinci Resolve
- Windows Movie Maker – This is more informational – download with caution for Windows
- ACDSee for photos (they have inexpensive video software too which I’m in the process of testing.)
This post contains affiliate links to help you research gear which helps keep this blog going. Thanks!
I’d love to know more about what you use as a travel or blogging camera and what strategies you’ve discovered. Leave a comment below.