Robert Schrader

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Travel Photography

In the wake of my Indonesia photo post going mega-viral last week, I received a glut of emails, tweets and Facebook messages. The most common question I received was, without a doubt, “What kind of camera do you use?” or, more generally, “Which is the best travel camera?”

The answer to this question is a very important one, but it’s only the beginning of the questions you need to ask yourself if you want to become a better travel photographer. Below, you’ll find the answers to all of the most common travel photography questions I receive.

Yes, You Need a Professional Camera

I shoot with a Nikon D750 body and three lenses: A 28-300mm zoom lens, a 16-28mm wide-angle lens and 50mm prime lens. Most travelers who learn this, whether they see me on the road with my camera family or glean it via email, respond in the exact same way: “Gee, I don’t know if I want to carry all that bulk around.”

Allow me to be frank: If convenience and ease are the first issues that come to your mind when you think about travel photography, you will never take great travel photos.

To play Devil’s advocate, simply having a professional camera does not guarantee your travel photography will improve. I know this personally, because the majority of people I’ve asked to take photos of me with my camera produce results that appear taken on a disposable. (This is a huge part of why I’ve become so good at travel selfies, FWIW.)

On the other hand, dropping a huge wad of cash of something tends to be pretty good motivation to use it often and master it. Additionally, for me, the tactile nature of professional cameras, particularly when used in manual mode, keeps me much more engaged than if I were simply tapping on a screen to zoom or focus.

Do you need a DSLR camera, i.e. a digital camera that can accommodate different lenses? There are multiple schools of thought on this. Some argue no, since imaging technology on point-and-shoot cameras, from megapixel resolution, to image sensor size, to manual setting options, has improved a lot over the past few years. There’s also the fact that mirrorless cameras a re a thing now, albeit not one I’ve felt compelled to get into.

Others, including myself, recognize that dealing with the “hassle” of carrying large, heavy equipment and changing lenses several times per day (or even hour!) is the only way to achieve a diverse, inspiring and, if it’s important to you, commercially viable travel photography portfolio.

 
 
 
 
 

No, a Smartphone is Not a Professional Camera

Much is made of camera capability every time a new smartphone edition is released, whether we’re talking about the iPhone or Samsung Galaxy. Or, as I learned when I complimented a fellow traveler on his fluorescent yellow phone recently, the Nokia Lumia.

“Yeah man,” he bragged as he held the device up and nonchalantly snapped a landscape shot. “It’s got a 41-megapixel camera, probably takes as good of photos as that thing.” He pointed at my Nikon.

You can probably guess what I’m about to say: His photos looked terrible, even on his high-resolution screen. Now, I wouldn’t doubt if this is partially to do with what a douchey bro he was, but it’s also because megapixel resolution is not nearly as huge a part of image quality as people believe it to be. It is, however, just about the only thing smartphone cameras have going for them.

Now, I won’t say it’s impossible to take a great photo with a smartphone. My friend Cory, for example, has an incredible eye and, in spite of the fact that he shoots exclusively with an iPhone, has gained more than 20,000 Instagram followers for it. (This might also have something to do with how incredibly attractive he is, but that’s a topic for another post.)

Thing is, I believe the convenience of shooting with a smartphone is not its greatest strength, but a huge weakness. Due to the size and weight of my DSLR, I have to deliberately, intently go out shooting with it, which usually motivates me to seek out interesting subjects, to say nothing of how it has impacted my practice RE: composition, framing and other techniques.

Although having a smartphone at the ready might enable you to snap a really cool shot of street art or your breakfast, you’re probably not going to go out for an afternoon of photography armed with your HTC. And if you do, I’m sorry to say, you’ll probably look like a tool.

 
 
 
 
 

Why I Prefer Nikon vs. Canon

Before I begin this section, allow me to state that Nikon has not (yet!) given me a single cent to articulate my opinion. Rather, I’ve come to this conclusion based on extensive personal use of professional DSLR cameras and also, examination of the fruits of others’ labor.

Canon cameras take great photos. I should know: I can spot them from a mile away. See, something about Canon’s imaging technology (which, as more of an art person than a technical one, I can’t really expand upon at my current level of knowledge) makes all Canon images look, well, the same. There’s a certain softness, for lack of a more specific term, to Canon photos, which makes them easily distinguishable from any other type of photo.

Having used Canons on several occasions, I can postulate this is because, even in manual mode, use of them is rather constrictive. On the contrary, Nikon DSLRs, when used in fully manual mode, are almost reminiscent of film cameras in the way they respond, which says nothing of their amazing color and sharpness.

Obviously, the only way to resolve the Canon vs. Nikon debate for yourself is to shoot with both, whether you have the resources to purchase one of each or, like me, are not shy about asking to test devices when you’re camera shopping.

 
 
 
 
 

Uploading, Storage and Backup

My Nikon DSLR isn’t the only heavy piece of electronic equipment I carry with me on the road. I also travel with an Apple MacBook Pro (and, in the past, a long list of other laptops). The reason for this is not only that it enables me to work from wherever I am in the world, but also one that relates directly to travel photography.

Having your own computer enables you to upload your photos, whether you put them onto a free public site like Flickr, your own server or simply your hard drive, at your own leisure. In addition to the fact that computers at Internet cafés are usually poor quality and often in high demand, some of them lack the necessary ports and drives to accommodate cameras and memory cards, preventing you from uploading your photos.

It might seem strange to you that I mentioned storing images on a hard drive as an option for “uploading” them, given how prone computers are to crashing, being stolen and information on them otherwise becoming accessible. One way to circumvent this sort of problem is to install a program on your computer (I like Carbonite) which automatically backs up new files on your hard drive to a remote server whenever you’re connected to WiFi.

About The Author

is the author of 745 posts on Leave Your Daily Hell. Robert founded Leave Your Daily Hell in 2010 so that other travelers would have an entertaining, reliable source of information, advice and inspiration at their fingertips. Want to travel more often? Subscribe to email updates today!

 

informs, inspires, entertains and empowers travelers like you. My name is Robert and I'm happy you're here!

 
 
 

Get Email Updates

Like what you're reading? Sign up to receive my weekly email newsletter – it's like a trip around the world to end every week!

Upcoming Trips

  • Krabi, Thailand April 28-May 1
  • Chongqing, China May 11-15
  • Chiang Mai, Thailand May 26-29
  • Phnom Penh, Cambodia June 9-12
  • Sukhothai, Thailand June 23-26
  • Ireland July TBA
 
 

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Guest March 10, 2014 at 11:43 am

I agree that smartphones do not replace professional camera equipment when travelling. They make pretty damn good photos when as far as composition go, but for technicalities it just doesn’t cut it. I use Canon 50mm most of the time because I like the quality and glossy look of my photos.

Melanie Fontaine March 10, 2014 at 1:57 pm

Great post! I’m planning to update my photography equipment soon and I’m just trying to soak up all the information on Travel Photography that I can find. I’m shooting on a Panasonic Bridge Cam at the moment and while it has taught me a lot about shooting in manual, I now miss the possibility to switch out lenses. It’s frustrating to be in a situation where you know that your results are not as good as they could be, because you’re missing the right equipment!

I’m wondering: Was there a particular reason why you chose the D7100 over another Nikon model? The selection of cameras – even just from one brand – is so big these days, that it’s quite confusing to figure out what camera is best for what.

Edyta March 10, 2014 at 10:14 pm

Awesome post Robert! Very informative. I totally agree that no phone camera can substitue a real camera. Some people don’t care though. They don’t appreciate the art and frankly I think that’s a bit sad because they dont have amazing photos to look at years from now and reminiscence of beautiful places they have visited.

Funny part about looking like a tool haha

Edyta

Robert Schrader March 11, 2014 at 9:05 am

I aim to be funny sometimes 😉

Robert Schrader March 11, 2014 at 9:06 am

Melanie, thanks for the comment. I chose the Nikon D7100, because I have used the “entry-level” DSLRs under it and needed something more powerful and with more potential settings. On the converse, I didn’t “upgrade” to full-frame Nikons because, according to reviews I’d read, the astronomical additional costs were not worth it.

Robert Schrader March 11, 2014 at 9:06 am

Good choice. I need a 50mm lens!

Edyta March 11, 2014 at 12:14 pm

hehe.

Btw, do you use a special padded camera backpack? or just some sort of an padded insert to keep your camera and lenses safe?

If so, do you recommend any brands or specific products? thanks!

Edyta March 12, 2014 at 11:03 am

One more question – do you use Photoshop or Lightroom or any other program? thanks.

Robert Schrader March 12, 2014 at 11:37 am

I don’t use those programs. I do minor touch-ups in “Preview” for Mac, but nothing significant.

Robert Schrader March 12, 2014 at 11:38 am

I have a Nikon camera case, which I put inside my Swiss gear backpack 🙂

Raphael Alexander Zoren March 12, 2014 at 5:04 pm

Interesting perspective, personally I believe that a talented travel photographer can use any sort of camera (even a disposable 1 USD one) and still take an interesting photo. Although we can all agree that the quality of said photo is going to be better with a professional camera.

Robert Schrader March 12, 2014 at 5:59 pm

Yes, I agree with your point, but my point is mainly about quality, detail, etc, which IMO is what separates “interesting” photos from extraordinary ones.

Edyta March 12, 2014 at 10:21 pm

That’s good to know. Your photos are great as they are.

Robert Schrader March 13, 2014 at 9:33 am

<3

Hafiya March 14, 2014 at 5:03 am

Hi Robert!!
A few weeks ago I stumbled upon your essay about Indonesia.Please excuse my poor English, I myself is from Indonesia and also an 8th grade student who was inspired by your photos and essays and your sense of humor. A few weeks from now, my class will have a field trip to Jakarta and I really want to take photos there, good photos, so people will compliment me- no I’m just kidding, I just want to take photos. Since I’m not allowed to take my parent’s DSLR (bummer eh?), and I don’t have a smartphone, I will be using a canon digital IXUS 950 IS. So I want to ask : any tips for a beginner like me? Any kind of tips will help, such as what things should I take photos of, how should I take it and is there any places in Jakarta that is the perfect spot to take pictures? Once again I apologize for my poor English (and if I wasn’t worth your time) and thank you so so so much for inspiring me. 😀
Sincerely, Hafiya

Robert Schrader March 14, 2014 at 1:11 pm

Your English is not poor at all! My only advice to you: Study the “rule of thirds” (Google it) and practice, practice, practice. There is no “right answer” when it comes to photography!

Edyta March 17, 2014 at 4:24 pm

Hi Robert, one more question – do you backup your photos online? if so can you recommend a website? Heard good things about Crashplan… Thanks!

Robert Schrader March 20, 2014 at 11:36 am

I use Carbonite, which automatically backs up my hard drive in the cloud.

Marta Kulesza November 15, 2014 at 3:22 pm

Some like apples others like oranges (from a Canon user:)! Great post and I do agree with many points. I carry my heavy Canon 6D around my neck and I occasionally use my iphone, but whenever I compare the photos I have to laugh to myself. I have seen many great photographs taken with Smartphones, but they will never ever achieve the level of sharpness and contrast that a DSLR will. On the other hand though, owing a great camera doesn’t make one a great photographer and I can’t tell you how frustrated I get when I see people taking a photo of a subject that is hundred meters away from them with a built-in flash thinking that is going to help. I have seen way too many people with DSLR around their necks and clearly not knowing what to do with them and not even trying to learn! I considered it a waste of money.

I also think that as important as camera may be, lenses are extremely important too. On my first backpacking trip through SOuth America I had a shitty DSLR with me, but two really good profesional lenses and people could not believe that the photos were taken with an amateur camera.

Robert Schrader November 16, 2014 at 10:38 am

I definitely agree RE: lenses, although on the other hand, having multiple lenses has made photography positively maddening for me, ha. It seems I always need my zoom after I change to my 35mm.

Great perspective (no pun intended) on your comment!

Yo Man March 22, 2015 at 1:13 am

That’s a nice post with interesting and vibrant pictures and great suggestions.

I too compiled a list of cameras suitable for travel: – http://www.camerasfor.net/cameras-to-buy-for-travel-photography/

Katrina of The Two Week Travel March 27, 2015 at 10:55 am

What are your thoughts on the Sony NEX-5R?

Bull Winkle March 27, 2015 at 12:07 pm

What kind/size of bag do you use? I’ve been traveling about /w a Tortuga, but am interested in photography. I can’t imagine I’ll be able to fit all of this equipment into my 44 liter bag. I was looking at a 55 liter bag w/ detachable 15 liter daypack. What would you recommend?

Robert Schrader March 31, 2015 at 7:49 am

I actually don’t use a big bag at all – I travel with a regular-sized Herschel pack (for electronics and other valuables) and a “weekender” bag for clothes and soft items. I’m actually be preparing a post on packing for men in the next couple weeks!

Robert Schrader March 31, 2015 at 7:49 am

Mirrorless cameras are the wave of the future!

{ 3 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: