Hey Travel Photographer, What’s In Your Backpack?

When I decided to take my photography to the next level and invest in a DSLR, I did extensive research and reading. I knew the type of photography I was interested in. I believe that’s really the starting point before buying any equipment.

I was about to embark on a sabbatical to the Caribbean, and I was aware that I would be shooting quite a few reggae concerts in Jamaica. So, it was clear from the start that I needed fast lenses for the long run. I contacted friends (both pro and amateur photographers), asked questions, went into stores to test lenses and bodies, and read up some more. The entire process actually helped me learn about SLR’s more than I realized.

In the end, I am very happy with my current camera body and my lenses.  Below is a list of what I have in my backpack. Some I started off with, and others (like the wide angle and external flash) I added some months later.  I’ve also included a wishlist, because like most photographers, I am always lusting for more!


Body: Nikon D-90. I can’t say enough about my D90. I love it. It’s a great DSLR for beginner-pros as well as the more advanced. It’s more compact than the D300, for instance, and fits nicely wherever I go. It also has a pretty neat video feature (though honestly it wasn’t a deciding factor for me).


  • 17-55 f/2.8 VR Nikkor Zoom Lens: My all around or walkabout lens. Oh how many ways do I love it! It is on the heavier side, but completely worth it and good for many scenarios, from landscapes to portraits and low-light shooting. Those who know me know I never go anywhere without it.
  • 70-200 f/2.8 VR Nikkor Zoom Lens: A telephoto beast. It came in handy when I shot my first assignment ever – the 2008 Reggae Marathon in Jamaica. It also takes amazing portraits – light or no light – and I often use it for my concert photography (as one option).
  • Tokina 12-24mm: My wide-angle, which I will never again travel without.  I left it at home this past sabbatical and boy did I end up kicking myself (and renting one for an assignment, which adds up very quickly).
  • 50mm f/1.8 Nikkor Prime Lens: A prime lens and a must-have. Not only because it’s the most affordable glass you can get and it’s small, but it also shoots amazing portraits and is super in very low-light conditions.  Of course you have to use your feet as the zoom, but I learned to appreciate this lens when my 17-55 2.8 went out of commission on me towards the last couple of weeks of my trip this year. (More on that later! But thank God for Nikon – now it’s back to normal.)

Flash unit: Nikon SB-800.

Other Accessories: Polarizing filter, UV-filter, flash filters, memory cards, external drive for photo storage (in fact I have 3 and double back everything), CD’s for storage the old-fashioned way, and Gary Fong light diffusers.


A photographer almost always has a wish list. Because photography is such an expensive endeavor, most of us cannot purchase all the lenses or the particular body we want in one go. Plus, new technology means there’s often something new on the market, or better. And as you grow more familiar with your preferred type of photography and gain experience on the road, you become aware of what additional gear would improve your performance. My current wishlist is –

  • An extra camera body: Traveling means more wear and tear on equipment. Also, there were many times during assignments that I wished I had a second body on me (mounted with a different lens) so I could capture all the shots I need without going through the time-waster of switching lenses in the middle of all the action (particularly for concerts or action-packed events). And finally, it’s always safer to have a second body in case something happens to the first and you need to travel, say, tomorrow! For now I’m thinking it would be nice to add the D-300 or D-700 (for high-speed shooting). But I would have to do additional research once I’m ready to purchase, to ensure the type of body I need and what’s new out there at the time of my purchase.
  • 28-70mm 2.8f VR Nikkor Zoom Lens: I’ve lusted for this lens for a while now. Aside from being a great one for travel and photojournalism, which is what I wish to do more of,  this lens would provide me with a more flexible or bigger range than my current 17-55 f/2.8, in addition to also being a fast lens. But I can’t afford it quite yet (or justify the expense at the moment since my 17-55 2.8 is pretty awesome already).
  • 10.5mm f/2.8 Nikkor Fisheye Lens: I’ve always wanted to have a fisheye to take some of the more creative images I want to capture, particularly at major festivals, events and concerts. I love the creativity that’s possible with a fisheye.
  • A full tripod that is lightweight enough to place in my luggage. I’ve always kicked myself on the road – particularly in Grenada – for not having a tripod to capture those amazing night scenes in the islands.


Investing in gear is definitely worth it if you’re going into photography at a professional level. At the end of the day, however, the person behind the camera is the one who will make the difference in the image produced. All the lenses and equipment in the world will not give you the skill or eye to shoot.

All in all, I am very happy with the inside of my travel photographer’s backpack!  It may be a toll on my back when I travel, but it’s well worth the results. And by the end of the year, I hope to add at least two items from my wishlist.

What type of camera do you carry on your travels?


  1. Lily, you are a pro already, impressive gear you have in your back pack! Well, at least its impressed me :-)
    I am like a baby here, still learning to take steps

  2. Thanks for the info, I have a Nikon D60 and I’m just learning to use.

    Your shots are always awesome!

  3. If I already have

    17-55 f/2.8 VR Nikkor Zoom Lens do I need the 50mm f/1.8 Nikkor Prime Lens for protraits.

    I understand shutter speed is faster but do I really need?

    I’m new too baby steps,baby steps!

  4. No you really don’t. The 17-55 is fast also, and is perfect as an all-around lens. I would just use that for a while. Am glad this piece was helpful to you!

  5. Oh and thank you for your kind comments, RM. :)