Every photographer knows that unless you’re strictly shooting with a compact camera, photography equipment can be a pain to lug around. Carrying around a camera body, several lenses, and all those accessories—especially when you’re out on the field or when you’re trying to get through airport security—does take a bit of maneuvering and mastering, but it’s something we all have to put up with to get the photos we want.
Yet there are times when packing light is as essential as getting excellent results. It could be that you’re backpacking through the wilderness and limited to only carrying about 20 percent of your body weight. Or you could be going on an extended trip around the world, during which a more minimal photo arsenal is ideal.
Whatever your reason, you have to find the right balance between packing light and having the right gear you’ll need for your shoots.
Invest in lightweight equipment.
The easiest way to packing light is by simply investing in more lightweight equipment. It would also make sense to invest in compact ones, which take up less space so you can either pack a smaller bag or have more space for other important things like an extra lens or clothing.
Some might think that lightweight equipment generally cost more. That’s not necessarily true with camera bodies and lenses. The Nikon D850, one of the best DSLRs out there, is 2.02 lbs while the new Nikon Z7, the manufacturer’s full-frame mirrorless release, is about 0.50 lbs lighter, and both cost about the same. On the other hand, the Sony a7r III, another full frame mirrorless, is just a tad lighter than the Z7 and about $600 cheaper.
Plus, if you don’t have to go full-frame, APS-C cameras like the Fuji X-T3 and the Fuji X-T20 are excellent cameras that are lighter, more compact, and much more affordable. The celebrated X-T3, for one, which not only takes great photos, but also offers amazing video capabilities, is only 1.19 lbs and will only set you back $1,499.
As far as lenses, let’s take a look at E-mount lenses for Sony bodies as examples. A Sony FE 24-70 mm F2.8 GM lens ($2,200) might be an incredible, high quality lens yet that doesn’t mean that you cannot get excellent results with the more affordable Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 24-70 mm F4 ZA OSS ($900) or Tamron 28-75mm F/2.8 Di III RXD ($800). What’s more is that this G Master lens is actually heavier at 1.5 lbs than the other two at 0.95 lbs and 1.19 lbs respectively.
When it comes to accessories and lenses, the price does matter if you really want the good stuff. Lightweight, heavy-duty tripods that are also made for travel like the carbon fiber-made Really Right Stuff TFC 14 Series 1 Mk2 (2.3 lbs) is pricey if your tripod budget is below $200.
Not to worry, though. There are still other lightweight options. MeFOTO’s GlobeTrotter Aluminum Travel Tripod is only 4.6 lbs and 16.1 inches long when folded, and will only set you back $197. If that’s still too heavy for you, the tiny JOBY GorillaPod 5K is only 1.63 lbs, can carry a maximum load of 11 lbs and will cost you $129.
Packing light with the right camera bag.
Same is true for camera bags. Bags that are made of excellent lightweight materials might cost more, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find good ones that fit your budget.
When it comes to choosing the right camera bag, it really depends on what meets your needs—Does it fit all the gear you need? Do you need one with enough compartments to keep you organized? Will you need quick access to certain things?— and fits your physical frame. After all, you’ll be carrying that thing around on your back/shoulders, and if it doesn’t feel right, it will only end up becoming a burden.
To find the right camera bag for when you are packing light, try to find one that’s relatively lightweight, compact, has enough space for what you need to bring, gives you quick access to your gear for when you’re shooting, and has compartments to keep you organized.
Or it could be that you just need an internal camera case. These cases are basically padded packs with compartments to house and protect your gear. They come in different sizes and shapes, and are ideally packed away in your backpack or carry-on luggage.
F-stop has a pretty good small ICU for $89, and it can fit your camera body along with three lenses. For an even more compact padded case, TOPO’s adorable Camera Cube is only $59 and will fit one body plus a couple of lenses.
For a padded backpack that fits as much plus your laptop and some personal items, the 3.5-lb Lowepro Fastpack 250 DSLR Camera Backpack is even cheaper at $68. As a bonus, it has fast and easy access to your gear so you take them out and stow them back quickly.
If you want a backpack that is small and stylish, we love the Mini Tog Bag (about $101), which fits one camera body and a couple of lenses, as well as additional small accessories and small personal items like your IDs, passport, and credit cards.
Bring only what you need.
Once you’ve found the right camera bag for you, it’s time to focus on what gear to bring. Bringing the more lightweight gear, after all, can only take you so far. You also need to minimize the number of gear you’re taking with you. To do so without limiting your creative process during your actual shoots takes a little bit of planning and research.
If you’re a travel and/or landscape photographer on assignments, do research on your destination/s and the landmarks you’d like to capture then plan how and when you’d like to take those shots. This should help you narrow down the lenses you’ll absolutely need—a couple of wide angle primes perhaps, plus a 16-35mm and a 70-200mm.
If you’re traveling to photograph a wedding or do portraiture work, narrow down your lens checklist to those that are necessary to get the job done. If you’re traveling for the sake of traveling, then maybe leave the 85mm and perhaps that bulky tripod at home, and simply take with you a standard zoom lens and a telephoto.
Select your most versatile gear.
Doing your due planning and making some creative decisions pre-trip not only helps you decide what gear is essential. It should also help you identify which camera, lenses, or even your portable backup you have in your arsenal that are the most versatile and can tackle the job of two. This way, you might be able to reduce the number of gear you’ll take with you.
Instead of bringing two camera bodies—Fuji’s flagship X-H1 for videos, the newer Fuji X-T3 for stills, the more compact X-T3 should be able to handle both tasks swimmingly as long as you don’t have to do them simultaneously. Instead of bringing three lenses, perhaps you can opt to bring your most versatile lens and reduce that list to one.
Or if you don’t need your laptop and external hard drive for anything other than to backup your SD cards, then a portable backup system like the Gnarbox will save you a lot of space and keep your baggage weight down. It’s a little pricey at $254.99, but it more than pulls its weight so it’s a worthy investment.
Indulge in an extra gear or two.
Packing light without compromising your creative process takes some planning and forethought, but with a little bit of practice, you’ll definitely have it down to a science in no time.
When you do, you’ll even find yourself a little extra space to bring an extra gear or two. Go ahead and indulge; even if you don’t end up using it, it won’t feel like you’ve overpacked.