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Time Out With Tanya

The Stylish Photographer’s Guide to Traveling Light This Summer

By Tanya Goodall Smith on April 14th 2014

Welcome to Time Out with Tanya, where I’ve put my fast paced graphic design career on hold in favor of adventures in motherhood. I’m capturing every moment on camera and you can come along, if you’d like. Sign up for my weekly email here so you’ll never miss a Time Out.


I’m headed out on a mini anniversary trip for two nights with my other half (we’ve been married for 10 years!) and, since we’ll be going to a really scenic place, I wanted to take my camera, but still pack light. This has always been somewhat of a dilemma for me. I don’t want to lug a bunch of heavy bags around, but I also want to be prepared for any situation. I may be over thinking the whole packing process, but I’ve narrowed it down to a five step check list to ensure I don’t over pack. Here’s my photographer’s guide to traveling light this summer.

1. Have a Plan

In the cult classic film, Joe vs. The Volcano, starring Tom Hanks, the hero of the story, Joe Banks, embarks on an important, life changing adventure. In preparation for his journey, Joe shops ‘til he drops (and gets a make-over) in downtown Manhattan. He gathers everything he think he may need, down to a mini-golf set and portable bar kit, cleverly disguised in a violin case. What to do now? He needs a packing plan, which requires he answer specific questions from a luggage expert, shown in the following scene:

Your “packing light” plan must begin by asking yourself the right questions. Here’s a checklist of questions I ask myself:

• What kind of photography might I be doing (portrait, landscape, etc.)
• Am I shooting for a professional assignment or for my own enjoyment?
• How many days and nights will I be gone?
• What kind of environment will I be visiting (urban, rural, rugged?)
• How might the weather be?
• What is my method of travel (car, airplane, back of donkey?)
• What resources will be available to me after I get there ?

2. Choose Versatile Gear


Now that you’ve asked yourself all the right questions, you can strategically choose your gear. Obviously, if you’re shooting for a professional assignment, you’ll have to take whatever you need to get the job done. If fees for checking bags are going to be significant, try renting larger items at your destination. If you can get away with leaving duplicate items home, do so. But don’t leave your must-have back-ups behind.

If you’re traveling for fun and photographing for your own enjoyment, consider what gear you’ll absolutely need and leave the rest at home. Especially if you’ll be a tourist. For this trip, I simply took my Canon 5D Mark III camera body and Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L Mark II, since it’s such a versatile lens. This setup is pretty heavy, and not ideal for a ‘walking around being a tourist’ camera. I’m still on the fence about which compact camera to add to my kit when I have the time and money to actually do some extensive traveling. I’ll get back to you when I figure it out.

I’m also taking one Canon Speedlite and threw my Canon 50mm macro lens in at the last minute, plus a tripod and my MacBook Pro, in case I have time to do some editing. I’m determined to take some landscapes and try out the HDR techniques I recently learned in the SLR Lounge HDR Photography Workshop. I’ve never taken any HDR photos before and taking a trip for fun is the perfect time to try out new functions on this incredible camera I have.

3. Get Organized


My camera gear and accessories are already pretty organized (check out how I finally got all my little gadgets under control in this article, How I Organized My Photography Accessories Once and For All) so rather than messing them all up by stashing items in little pockets all over my luggage, I decided to take my entire accessory bag. It’s compact and doesn’t take much space and I feel prepared knowing I have extra batteries, my charger, triggers, etc.

Be very cautious when packing personal items in the same bag as your camera gear and electronics, especially if you’ve got liquid toiletries and make-up that might spill in the bag. I like to keep mine separated, but I still take precautions by keeping any liquid items in a bag lined with a water resistant material, like the Cosmetics Bag from Thirty-One.

4. Dress Simply


Here’s where packing light really takes some discipline, especially for the fashionistas out there. Don’t judge me too harshly when I suggest you wear one pair of sensible (but cute) shoes and leave the rest at home (gasp!) Unless you’ll be doing some extreme outdoor activities or attending a black tie affair, there’s no need to bring more than one pair of shoes. For my two night trip, I’m wearing a pair of Crocs brand ballet flats. They’re comfortable, waterproof and go with capris, shorts, a casual dress or jeans. I actually wear these for shooting outdoor country weddings (which happen a lot here in Spokane), too.

5. Choose the Right Bag

I debated whether I should list choosing the right bag as the first step or the last. Should we pack with a specific bag in mind, or choose a bag based on what we need to bring? I think the later is best, and perhaps why I have deemed myself the “bag junkie.” I have a different bag for practically every situation. Having the right bag can make or break your day and even your entire trip.

For this two day trip, I chose to go with the Valencia Camera Travel Tote from Aide De Camp. It’s actually two bags in one, and for this trip I kept my camera gear in the removable bag with padded insert and carried all my personal items in the larger tote. This bag is perfect for an overnighter without having to bring any additional luggage, but it does fit securely over a rolling suitcase handle, if you’re planning a longer trip. I’m totally taking this bag with me in September when I go to Click Away in Salt Lake City (who else will be there? Connect with me so we can meet up!)

Stay tuned for the full review of my new favorite travel camera bag from Aide De Camp, and use discount code “slrloungexadc” on the second page of checkout at for 10% off all orders until May 31, 2014.

Those questions you asked yourself in step #1 will be most helpful in choosing the right bag. If you’ll be camping, hiking or having to walk long distances for an on-location shoot, I recommend a back pack style bag. LowePro has some good options. If you’re being a tourist and taking a smaller camera, something like the Posey 2 from Kelly Moore (another of my faves) is functional and stylish.


If packing light and taking your camera gear along is a priority this summer, I hope these tips help! What exotic trips will you be taking this summer? What gear will you be taking that you absolutely can’t live without?

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Tanya Goodall Smith is the owner, brand strategist and commercial photographer at WorkStory Corporate Photography in Spokane, Washington. WorkStory creates visual communications that make your brand irresistible to your target market. Join the stock photo rebellion at

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Barry Cunningham

    I’ve gone to the extreme for packing photo gear light when I have to fly: Sony RX-100, 5 batteries, 368G of SD cards, and my iPhone 6S. Completely pocketable.
    Sure, there are some kinds of photos I can’t take because I don’t have the right equipment. But I get a lot more photos than I would if I exhausted myself lugging around 20 pounds of camera gear.

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  2. Scot Tumlin

    I’ve gone thru and continue to go thru bags, not just for camera gear, but also laptops and overall travel. But the first step is understanding the addiction :).

    I’m currently digging the ONA “Bowery” bag for my Sony Mirror-less gear.

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  3. Chuck Eggen

    I still battle with this. I’m always afraid I’ll need something else and never do.

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  4. Dana

    Great article! Right now, my husband and I are taking mini weekend trips and I struggle with packing light- especially since we are spending our weekends doing a lot of walking- I want to pack light but just can’t!
    Quick aside– we are currently living in Spokane too! And I’m going to Click Away as well! So excited! (And what a small world to see another Spokan-ite!)

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    • Tanya Smith

      No way! Dana, we should connect. Email me at tanya(at) Packing light is a struggle for most women (myself included)! Adding camera gear makes it even more complicated.

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