The Digital Photography School – Backpacking as a Photographer

I hammered out a 600 word article for the Digital Photography School about travel photography, backpacking and packing light last week. It is something I knew about, something I felt like I could really contribute to the photo community about. After five months backpacking as a photographer across China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and back to Canada for a bit of a roadtrip I had the pack/unpack/repack down.


There was some great feedback and even a follow up post written by photographer Peter West. But as I re-read the article I realized I had left a few things out and I hope I can expand on them and answer any unanswered questions here.
backpacking as a photographer


I started my trip with a 80L backpack but after a few weeks of lugging it around I left it in Thailand in favour of a school sized backpack (left) and a tote bag (right). I didn’t need anything bigger even with the photo gear I brought.

Backpacking as a Photographer


So let’s do the photo gear questions first:

1. What I left home with

  • Canon 5D
  • Canon 35mm f1.4
  • Canon 135mm f2.0
  • Canon 85mm f1.8
  • Canon 45mm Tilt Shift
  • Two Batteries
  • Five 8gb memory cards*
  • Card Reader
  • 2 external hard drives for backup
  • Camera Battery Charger and Power Adaptors
  • A Mini six inch tripod.
  • Canon 580 EX flash
  • Canon AE-1 film Camera with 50mm lens
  • Maybe 15 rolls of film
  • 13″ Macbook
  • National Geographic Tote Bag
  • Case Logic SLR Camera Backpack

2. What I shipped home because I felt it was redundant in my kit or unnecessary. 

  • 580EX Flash
  • Canon 85mm f1.8
  • Canon AE-1
  • Film … You can buy it overseas.


Now this kit wouldn’t be for everyone. As Peter pointed out I shoot weddings professionally all summer long and I have travel photos in the process of getting published. I have professional gear. Not everyone backpacking will have access to this kind of gear or want to carry it.


My shooting style is another determinate of what I brought. Joey L, One of my favourite travel/documentary/commercial photographers uses off camera flash and this kit just wouldn’t do it for him. I understand it isn’t for everyone but it did work for me. Finally It may seem like a big kit to others but for me this is minimal to what I carry around on a wedding day and if well packed doesn’t take up that much space.


Next let’s talk about lens choice.

I narrowed my kit down to three lenses


  1. Canon 35mm f1.4 – I wanted something wide for landscape and street scape work. I met a great landscape photographer Hugo on the road in Thailand who promptly reminded me that a 35mm lens is not wide. Though I still used it for this purpose it did have its limitations. The 35mm lens turned into my everyday lens and though it wasn’t my favourite before I left I now use it for almost everything.
    Canon 35mm travel photography lens
  2. Canon 135mm f2.0 – I wanted a longer focal length while traveling for two reasons. The first being candid street photography. Being able to step away, not to interrupt a scene and yet be able to capture it in an organic way. The second reason I wanted a longer focal length was the compression of the scene. To bring the background closer to the subject giving them more of a relationship within the photograph.
    example travel photography 135mm canon f2.0
  3. Canon 45mm Tilt Shift – The tilt shift was also a dual purpose lens for me. With no tilting/shifting it doubles as a 45mm focal length lens. The shifting capabilities were great to take photos of building and temples – keeping lines straight from a lower angle. The tilting capabilities are really my personal favourite and allowed me to isolate a subject within a larger scene.
    tilt shift travel photography


Everything Else


I also had a few questions of what else I had with me.

  • 3 T-shirts
  • 1 pair of pants
  • 1 pair of shorts
  • 1 Dress (This ripped in Pai – Thailand and I got rid of it)
  • 1 Sweater
  • 1 MEC raincoat that packed really small.
  • 1 bathing suit
  • A weeks worth of underwear
  • An ipod for long bus rides
  • A journal – When I filled it I shipped it home and bought a new one
  • 1 pair of sandals
  • 1 pair of closed toed shoes
  • Passport and travel documents (two copies of everything and photocopies of my passport)
  • 1 padlock to lock my bag up if necessary
  • Toothbrush, mini-toothpaste, shampoo, a little make-up and I can’t believe I am admitting this to the world but a hair straightener. But then I cut all my hair off in Vietnam for $3.00 and I shipped it home from Thailand.


I  shipped home clothes, souvenirs and other things I acquired though out the trip three times. (Shipping was fastest from Thailand fyi). I would carry a book at a time, when I finished reading it I would trade it in for another one with another traveler or at a hostel, until I was introduced to the world of e-books and started reading them on my ipod. Genius.


To find out why I made the choice to travel so light check out the original article:


If there is anything else that you would like to know just leave a comment below and I’ll try my best to answer it.


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