Hitting the road with your DSLR? It's wise to plan carefully to make sure you take the best possible combination of camera accessories. Alex Kidman Outside of your camera body (or bodies) and lenses, there's an entire world of accessories to consider.
The benefits of using a tripod (or monopod) for photography are fairly obvious, whether you're reducing motion for quick snaps or taking advantage of extremely long exposures.
When you're travelling, however, you want to keep things as light and simple as possible. There's no shortage of compact tripod choices at your disposal depending on your budget. At the cheapest end of the travel tripod scale you'll find aluminium tripods. They're inexpensive and relatively light, but the consequence of their construction means that they're not that sturdy, which has consequences for both stability while shooting and long-term durability.
If your budget is tight and you're buying your first tripod there's something to be said for a simple and cheap tripod — but don't expect it to last long. If you're after a lighter but tougher travel tripod, carbon fibre is the way to go, but you will pay more for a tripod with carbon fibre legs — easily into the hundreds of dollars versus a simple aluminium tripod.
Then there's the truly compact flexible tripod crowd, best exemplified by the Gorillapod brand, although there are off-brand imitators as well. They're great in terms of flexibility and packing space, but you need to be extra careful when setting them up to ensure your precious camera gear doesn't topple while shooting. If you're planning a lot of nature photography where a superzoom lens is a must so as not to disturb the natives, you'll need to ensure that you pack a heavy enough tripod to take your lens without tipping over — and again secure feet are a must.
For travel, the lightweight alternative to a tripod is to opt instead for a monopod.
You don't get the full support of a tripod, so you'll still need steady hands, but a decent monopod will take the brunt of your DSLR's weight out of your hands, allowing you to concentrate on your photography. It's not just a question of construction but also of size that's worth bearing in mind when considering travel photography equipment. That has a bearing both on packing considerations, because ideally you don't want to assign any of your precious photography gear to baggage handlers as checked-in luggage, but also the kinds of photography or videography you're planning to do at your destination.
The combinations are near-endless, but within the travel sphere you've got to consider whether your tripod suits your plans for shooting, as well as any ad-hoc shots you might choose to take. So for example, a flat footed tripod may be fine if you're shooting street scenes, but if you're taking to the great outdoors, spike feet may be more suitable for purpose. A pistol grip on a monopod will add some bulk to your packing, but can make it much simpler to keep your camera steady while taking your shot.
Equally, while you'll typically pay more for a monopod that has more segmentation, that may enable a smaller packing size, leaving more space for lenses, batteries, filters or other gadgets.
Nothing ruins travel photography faster than running out of power while you're still partway through a shoot.
There's a simple rule of thumb here. You should always pack for more power than you think you'll need, because when you're trekking through the hills you're unlikely to come across either a power point or a handy camera shop selling batteries, but you are more likely to spot more points of inspiration than if you'd stayed at home.
At least two spare batteries — which typically won't add much bulk to your travel pack — should be a bare minimum. If your camera can charge from a mobile-style charger then an external battery pack can also be a wise investment, although you've got to weight that against sparing some power to keep smartphones or other mobile gadgets properly charged.
Depending on your DSLR model, it may also pay to include a battery grip rather than (or if space permits, as well as) additional batteries, because they provide a simple all-in-one way to boost your camera's shooting power while also extending the grip range.
The other thing that can stymie your shooting while out on the road is running out of storage space.
Pack a couple of SDHC cards, preferably class 10 if you're capable of shooting video (even if you think you won't) at a bare minimum. There's also the option of an Eye-Fi card if you want quick transfer and backup out of your camera while you're out and about, or a full external storage solution such as WD's MyPassPort Wireless, which includes an inbuilt SD card reader and one-button backup for your photos.
Bags and Straps
Just as there's a million tripods to choose from, so too are there millions of carrying accessories to compliment your camera.
Your DSLR will have come with a basic functional strap, and at a simple level that should be enough to carry it around with, but standard camera straps can be quite fiddly to shift off your shoulder or neck when the perfect camera moment arrives. A more robust camera strap can make carrying a DSLR around for a long time while travelling considerably more comfortable, as well as offering additional features such as inbuilt tripod mount attachments to ensure a strong hold on your camera equipment.
Likewise, there are literally hundreds of bag combinations to choose from. In most travel situations you're arguably better off with a backpack style case to enable simple movement rather than a full hard case, although for more extreme travel situations a genuine hard case might be your only option.