Uncovered: What Goes into My Camera Bag

The 12 Essentials for Your Camera Bag

What to Pack in My Camera Bag?

Every time I start packing for a trip out of town, the first thing that I pick up is my camera bag.

  • I have more than one, including one sling bag that I tend to use on a day trip.
  • Another one is just to carry one DSLR with a single lens.
  • And finally, I have one that is my go-to bag for more serious photo trips. This one has enough space for a camera body, one tele lens, one wide zoom lens, a 15” laptop, a tab and several pieces of accessories, including filters, cables, and a guidebook.

I usually carry two pieces of luggage when I am on a photo trip. These being my camera bag, and that often piggybacks on my shoulders and a trolley. That houses my change of clothes, an extra pair of shoes or slippers and other items of personal nature. You may have your style of traveling and or packing.

Related Post: Best Camera Backpacks

This preparation guide is just a general idea of how I like to pack before heading out.

The bigger question is what goes inside my camera bag?

1. Camera Body and Lens

If I am going on a vacation or a personal trip, I carry only one camera body and a couple of lenses.

Carry-on baggage limits are dwindling these days. In India, you can get a cheaper fare if you have no check-in baggage! Though some amount of luggage is inevitable, I never trust the airport baggage handlers to handle my camera bag.

So, the carry on bag always goes with me inside the cabin. Only 7 kilos of cabin baggage means I have to be very meticulous about what I pack inside the cabin bag. It means one camera body and usually just one zoom lens. When I am traveling on a photo assignment, I always play it safe, and that means two camera bodies and depending on the type of shoot, at least three lenses.

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2. Neutral Density Filters

These are a must have. Natural Density Filters are one of the first things that you should pack when going out on vacation, or even on an assignment of an outdoor nature.

Neutral Density (ND) filters help you slow down the shutter. In other words, they help you use a longer shutter speed. That in effect means the resulting images are created using light captured over a longer period, and thus they capture motion.

You may have seen pictures of waterfalls, clouds, and seascapes that appear that the water or cloud is almost like a haze. That beautiful effect is what ND filters can achieve. These would be impossible to capture using standard exposure timings.

Neutral Density (ND) filters come in varying degrees of light stopping powers as they do in varying types. Different filter manufacturing companies use different systems. But they usually have the system explained on the package. If it is a 0.3 (one-stop) filter, e.g., it means it will stop one stop of light.

One stop of light means the exposure time frame is stretched to double of what would be had you taken that shot without a filter. Lee uses this standard of filter power gradation. There are others. We have a detailed article on the topic of neutral density filters that you can check.

Let’s explain this further. Let’s say that you meter a landscape scene at f/8 and 1/100 at ISO 100. With a one stop ND filter, the exposure would have to be 1/50 at f/8 and ISO 100. With a 10-stop ND filter, the exposure time can be stretched to several seconds. ND filters of 6-stops and above are usually what are used for the purpose of extending an exposure.

3. Circular Polarizers

Circular Polarizers, or CPL as they are more commonly referred to, are equally important for travel and other types of photography. Even in product photography as well as something like photographing automobiles they are very useful.

A circular polarizer will make blue skies look richer and water almost crystal clear. The main property of a circular polarizer is that it cuts down on glare and reflection. It also cuts down on atmospheric haze. Glare coming from reflective surfaces like mirrors, shiny automobile bodies and so on can be reduced to a large extent using these filters.

A circular polarizer is often used together with an ND filter. E.g., when I am shooting waterfalls or any water surface with the sun beating down, I tend to use both the filters. I also use the C-PL when there is a lot of haze in the atmosphere.

Using a polarizing filter also helps me to cut down the haze and saturate the colors in the process. Then again when photographing highly reflective surfaces like a glass bottle, or an automobile the CPL will cut down on the glare.

4. My Laptop

Best Laptops for Photo Editing in 2016
Pack Your Laptop in case you want to do some post editing. To learn more see our post on best laptops for photo editing.

I never leave on a trip without my laptop. It is the primary storage unit for my images when I am done for the day. Also, I do all my sorting, culling, and key-wording before things start to escape me. I do this right after I am back in my room.

Also, I do all my sorting, culling, and key-wording before things start to escape me. I do this right after I am back in my room.

Sometimes I also do simple post-processing like adjusting white balance, adjusting exposure, a bit of this and a bit of that. My laptop is always with me whenever I am out for more than a day.

5. My Tablet

Wacom Cintiq 13HD Creative Pen and Touch Tablet (DTH1300K)
Image: The Wacom Cintiq 13HD – read our post on the best tablets for photography to go fully mobile.

The tab is the most accessible of my devices. It contains my digital maps, guidebooks and navigation apps. I always keep that handy when I am traveling.

Plus, it has the essential star maps that guide me with sunrise and sunset information as well as the direction in which the sun rises or sets.

There are a hundred reasons that I need my tab with me when I am traveling.

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6. My Portable Hard Drives

I always carry at least one good portable hard drive. This is usually when I am planning to stay overnight away from my home/office and need the days’ work to be securely backed up to a second location other than my laptop.

When I am back in my home office, I always revert to my standard backup policy. But for those few days when I am traveling the portable hard drive acts as my second storage apart from my laptop.

7. Card Reader

Card readers would appear like old archaic tools to some. But believe me when I say that technology is always two-faced. It can make things effortlessly easy; and at times it can make things needlessly complicated, even scary.

On some occasions, I had found the built-in SD card reader on my laptop to flounder and flop when I inserted a card into the slot. That’s scary after a hard day of shooting.

After several heart-pounding instances, where I almost broke into tears after watching the engage light blink for a while and then stop responding, I resorted to using the camera USB cable. It does an excellent job of transferring the images to the card. Now, however, I have made it a point to use a dedicated card reader.

8. Cables

And for reasons explained above I always pack my camera cables for tethered shooting or for transferring images at the end of the day.

Cables also include the remote shutter release (I use the cable version which I feel is the most reliable one), and sometimes the sync chord for using a speed light.

9. Extra Batteries

Extra batteries for the camera bodies and speed lights are a must-have.

Always have extra batteries fully charged. Airlines go nuts when they see extra batteries with you these days. So have them properly packed as per guidelines.

10. Powerbank

By Neil Turner
Always carry a power bank with you especially if you travel for several days. Photo by Neil Turner

Sometimes when you are hiking on a mountain trail with no access to electricity or the other material comforts of civilization, you have to pack everything you need and can haul.

As a backup, I always carry at least two power banks with me when I am traveling. These are for my tab and phone. I can still charge my phone or tab when I am going in my car but once I am walking the power banks are all I’ve got. I am planning to invest in a reliable solar charger too.

11. Specialized Photographer’s Gloves

Specialized photographer’s gloves are a must-have when you are traveling to colder destinations. The best quality gloves are waterproof as well as windproof and they would have the removable index finger and thumb to operate your camera when needed.

If you frequent cold weather you will appreciate a glove that protects your fingers from the chilly weather and the razor-like wind. If you have ever tried to operate a cold camera with your bare hands you will realize what I am hinting at.

12. Guidebooks, Maps, and Phrasebook

I love to make meticulous preparations before I even book my cab to the airport. I want to know where I am going, what I need to see (and to photograph), when is the best time to visit each attraction, what is the sunrise and sunset time, the direction of the rising and setting sun, so on and so forth.

For me, when I am traveling, I like to have a list of shots that I need to have in advance and then capture anything else that I may get as a bonus. So, the approach is always a mix of planned plus candid approach.

To help me make my travel preparations, I depend entirely on guidebooks. The internet is a wealth of knowledge. But apart from the web, I would also like to use traditional printed guide books.

I always make it a point to consult at least a couple of sources to ensure I have corroborative pieces of evidence that I am on the right track as far as local knowledge is concerned.

Though I usually carry offline maps of the places that I am about to visit, this is to ensure that I don’t have to ask for directions from strangers when I am on the road, I also make it a point to have an actual physical map with me.

I travel light, and that gives me the option to walk in case the situation comes down to that dire. I remember once I was coming down to catch my flight from Siliguri (West Bengal) after a holiday in West Sikkim, and it rained incessantly for two days completely washing away the roads.

I had to take a detour, and the driver of the cab lost his way! Because of the narrow mountain road, limited GPS was available. I had a map in my hand which helped me find my way.

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