My Love-Hate Relationship

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As I write this I’m sitting in the airport on my way to do some work for onOne Software at a Kelby Training event happening over the next few days in both Dallas and Phoenix. Since I’m only away for a couple of nights it meant I will need no more than a small carry-on and a back-pack to haul my laptop and miscellaneous gear. Two bags, that’s it. I’ll have no time for photography, so I didn’t bring a camera (well, I do have my iPhone). Feels … nice … to be traveling so light.

My typical MO when doing any type of travel means carrying my “normal” luggage, plus at least one bag filled with camera gear. That usually consists of my Pelican case plus a ThinkTank messenger bag (the Retrospective 10, here’s the product on Amazon) I use for carry-on stuff like my wallet, Kindle, etc. That camera gear alone equals the amount of luggage I’m traveling with right now, so add to that a suitcase and backpack for my laptop … well, it ends up being a lot to travel with.

The more I travel the more I learn what camera gear I can live without. I photographed the image in this post while I was in Vietnam with my Canon 5DMkII and Canon 70-200mm lens, a camera/lens combination I ended up using for over 90% of the still photographs I took during my trip. That will always be in my bag, and I could probably even get away with traveling with just that setup for most photography trips. However, knowing what to bring can still be tough—when you don’t know what you’ll be encountering on your travels or the types of opportunities you’ll have you tend to want to bring it all. And when you do other types of photography like I do, such as timelapse, then an additional camera body and at least on wide-angle lens is required (plus a tripod). It never ends.

My attitude towards camera gear is akin to a love-hate relationship. I need gear to do my work, and I need different lenses and camera bodies depending on what I’ll be photographing. Yet I hate hauling it around, especially when I’m traveling overseas or on vacation. I hate being the person who looks like I overpacked when the majority of the luggage I have is camera-related.

I wish I could travel light wherever I went, just like I am right now, which is probably why I’m always trying out new bags for my gear and luggage. I’m trying to make my life much more “minimalistic” and the fact that I’m a photographer doesn’t really help. It’s a constant struggle, trying to find that balance with what you think you’ll need versus how much you want to bog you down.

I’m finding that in my life I can live with so much less than I used to think I needed, and I’m trying to integrate this thought-path in my career as a photographer as well … it’s not really an issue of “less stuff” as it is with having “just enough” stuff. Camera companies and photography stores will tell us over and over that we “need” to have the next big thing, or another lens, or another accessory. Is there ever a point when it ends, when we have all we’ll ever need?

Okay, ramblings over. Time to board my flight :)

By | 2016-12-18T17:01:08+00:00 February 20th, 2012|13 Comments

About the Author:

My name is Nicole and I'm a photographer, author, & educator living in Portland, Oregon, USA. When I'm not making photos I'm writing books and tutorials for my online store, Learn more about me and my story here.

13 Comments

  1. Bryan February 20, 2012 at 12:38 pm - Reply

    i hope you had a good flight? i guess that is why photographers tend to grow old with bad backs, dicky shoulders and all the other fun things that we can look forward to,
    I am getting better and tend to use almost all of what i now take but that is only after lugging way too much gear that never came out of the bag through too many airports. It is really tempting to take the kitchen sink and all.

  2. sm February 20, 2012 at 12:39 pm - Reply

    I completely agree. Carrying a full frame camera (d700) and lenses is getting old fast. With all the tech advances, its time for a radical change in the heft of these things. Micro four thirds and Fuji x1 pro are probably the way to go. I am not buying any new full frames ( d800/ d4, etc). Time to go lean.

  3. Doug February 20, 2012 at 12:50 pm - Reply

    I’ve battled with this as well and learned the hard way- accidentally checking 70-200 lens in a bag that was never seen again along with my wife’s clothes! For me it’s just a hobby. I now pick one lens and a body for my trips, I make it a challenge so to speak. I usually have my iPhone with me in case I need something my lens won’t be able to do. It’s definitely lightened the load and made it fun along the way. I’ve even done a few trips with my iPhone.

  4. Dale Welcome February 20, 2012 at 4:39 pm - Reply

    Hi Nicole – I know what you mean as I travel internationally and always want to have my gear with me. I am in Malaysia now and don’t want to miss a photo opportunity. I always remember what Jay Maisel says “you can’t take a great photo if you don’t have your camera with you!”

    I always carry my gear in a camera backpack that I take as a carry-on. I never check my camera gear but keep it with me at all times. I usually carry a camera body and 3-4 lenses, batteries, charger, etc. I also carry-on a business bag with me kindle, laptop, plug adapters, toothbrush and light clothes (in case my suitcase gets lost). I have one checked bag with the rest of my clothes so I have three in total. All in all, it is not too bad and I have been all over the world.

    Anyways, it works for me. I hope you are doing well in Seattle. Let me know if you ever make it down to LA, look me up.

    BTW – your print of the Great Salt Lake I bought from you at the church auction is hanging in our home and reminds me of the great photowalks in SLC.

    Cheers,
    dale

  5. Andy Stanislav February 20, 2012 at 4:56 pm - Reply

    Great little post, I think many people deal with this issue all the time.
    Battle was on this past Fri packing, I am now down here in Memphis walking around shooting with my iPhone, yet my Kata bag packed with Canon gear sits back in the closet of the hotel. Last Oct I took a 10 day tour through Italy and decided to travel strictly with my iPhone and had a great time and I thought I got some great images:

    http://andystanislav.photoshelter.com/gallery/2011-09-Italy-by-iPhone/G0000_I.Ygk6Z338/

    I don’t get paid for my images as I am just a hobbiest, but the main thing I think is to shoot and shoot lots. Nobody wants to be packed down like a mule as it’s not that much fun and the added stress of babysitting your gear.

    Thanks for the blog.

    APS

  6. Jim February 20, 2012 at 6:02 pm - Reply

    I agree…carrying a whole arsenal of photo gear just gets in the way. For most travel, I just stick my Canon S90 in my pocket and shoot on RAW. The results are great. For more serious work, I’ll often just use my 18-200mm, which effectively replaces a whole bag full of lenses for my Nikon.

  7. Joe Wilson February 20, 2012 at 10:47 pm - Reply

    I’ve been doing the minimalist thing lately. If I am traveling out of country for a week or two, I only take my Fuji X100 and its little brother the X10. Between those two cameras, many great photos can be made. In fact, I’m taking those two guys to Mexico with me in a few weeks.

    Happy travels!

    Joe

  8. Thomas February 21, 2012 at 1:37 am - Reply

    Hi,

    I’m travelling a lot (not photography related though) and I leave my 5DMKII with all of the wonderful lenses at home. Instead I now own a Nex-3 with a Voigtländer 1.4/35mm – 1.5 crop, 720p video. Great camera, always in my coat pocket.

    Good compromise if you do not need to lug your gear around for business!

  9. Iza February 21, 2012 at 7:31 am - Reply

    I agree with you, love – hate relationship probably explains it best. I actually went (and I am probably still going) through phases. First was initial gear buying frenzy when I first started shooting with DSLR, when I was carrying everything I had, all the lenses, filters etc. on photo walk in the park across the street. I went far from there, and even for a longer vacation I take only what I think I will need. The walk in the park is typically with 18-350 mm zoom only, and it is also the lens I would take on a trip like yours- just few days out of town. I am still hesitant on using the iPhone, or more like showing those images.

  10. Mike Sweeney February 22, 2012 at 8:55 am - Reply

    I learned this truth two years ago. I went to the UK for a week, ended up there for almost a month since I got stuck because of the volcano that blew ash into the skies for a few weeks. I had my D300 and all the stuff that goes with it. I also had my new G11. I used the G11 the entire trip and the D300 never left the Thinktank bag until I got on the QM2 to go home. Since then I’ve made the effort to be light.. even though I like I’m a traitor to my DSLR :) My iPhone has seen heavy use as a camera, maybe more than as a phone.

  11. Robert Linthicum February 26, 2012 at 9:54 am - Reply

    I have hit sort of a middle-ground in that I take a pretty full bag of photo kit with me on travels, but I also take a few Pacsafe mesh ditties and lock up whatever I won’t be using on a particular day in my hotel room.

    This means that I get my exercise coming and going, but have my cake and eat it too in the middle days.

  12. engloy March 4, 2012 at 7:45 am - Reply

    I came across your site from This Week in Photo. I totally agree with the dilemmas of packing. I was forced to give up on my 7D and lenses for a year after I moved from Singapore to London due to baggage constraints. I eventually settled for a micro 4/3 system (Panasonic Lumix G3). I do miss the 7D and my L lenses, however, the joy of travelling light is making me think twice in the future about which camera system I should carry with me on shorter, less photography-orientated trips.

  13. Reba March 19, 2012 at 9:33 am - Reply

    It is hard. I am going overseas in a month and I am going back and forth as to what I really need/want to take. I wish I had the money to invest in a micro camera system. I love the look of them and they are just so lightweight but I am not quite ready to part with my Nikon gear yet either.

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