Cut Weight for Your Next Landscape Photography Trip With a Gear Shakedown

Hiking is a natural part of landscape photography. A few friends have spent months “thru-hiking” the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail. In preparation for this life-changing endeavor, they did frequent repacking called “pack shakedowns.”

When every ounce will influence the next months, there’s a fine line between what is essential and what only appears essential. You may not have plans to thru-hike a trail for months, but traveling long-term for landscape photography comes with many similar challenges.

I’m traveling the world for a year to photograph its unique landscapes, and as a minimalist, I never want to ask the question: “should I bring this on my shoot or not?” By discovering what is absolutely essential to my art, my pack is light enough I don’t need to make tradeoffs.

So, like my hiker friends, I regularly do “gear shakedowns” to figure out what I can eliminate from my pack and what is worth optimizing. With a few years of practice, I’ve gone from three bags to one carry-on sized backpack that holds everything I need for travel and photography of any duration.

One carry-on bag for a year of travel and landscape photography! Check out the video for a few new optimizations since I snapped this.

As much as I’d like to switch to a lighter camera system, there are less pricey ways to start cutting down your pack count and weight — wishlist items your friends and family just might be able to entertain for the holidays.

Have you traveled for months at a time as a photographer? What are your favorite ways of cutting down pack size and weight?

Jonathan Lee Martin's picture

Jonathan Lee Martin is a fine art landscape photographer, educator and globetrotting digital nomad. He’s traveling the world for a year to discover unique landscapes and help fellow landscape photographers lighten their load to go further.

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Side note: it's much cheaper to lose body fat than buy lightweight gear. That said, I've bent over backwards to lighten my kit.

true story! But some people can hardly lose anymore body weight (Jonathan looks like he is one of the guys)

*loud cackling in the background*

It's too bad Norwegian doesn't take that into account when my bag is a few ounces overweight 🤷‍♂️

Always have this dillema with my backpack. One body and limiting to 4 lenses (is that too many? Not enough?) Already shooting MFT! 12-60, 35-100 and a wide angle and medium telephoto prime. Then Mavic Air...of course barely any room for the normal accessories; batteries, chargers, filters and stuff. Let's says she's tight and full for a sling backpack, but so far I haven't felt like I needed anything else.

Good stuff! With some trip planning, you might be able to eliminate a lens or two — perhaps filter your library to portfolio images and see if there's a pattern? For example, I found that 95% of my keeper shots were shot in the 24–35mm range (despite having a 24-105). As a result, I bought a 16-35 and left my other 2 lenses behind.

I definitely miss the 105mm frequently, but it was totally worth sacrificing 5% of my shots to razor focus my packing and shoots. I tended to overestimate how much I used the telephoto, but looking through my portfolio helped put things in perspective.

In case it's useful, here are some helpful ways to do this style of planning + retrospective analysis:

The first trip I tried shooting with just the 16-35 was difficult to say the least, but one of the best learning experiences I've had in years:

Hope it helps, happy shooting!

I am SOOO glad you didn't say, switch to ML or MFT or whatever! There's nothing wrong with other systems but I like my mammoth, lead-lined, Full Frame cameras and lenses and wouldn't go if I had to leave them at home. Absolutely LOVE my merino wool clothes, wearing them even when not traveling. :-)

I'm dying to go mirrorless myself — but it's definitely not a good bang-for-buck way to start eliminating, more like a really, really expensive optimization 😂

💯 Yes! Merino wool makes fabulous anytime, anywhere wear (and fun company party conversation too). Especially great for some of us lazier folks who don't do laundry that frequently 🤷‍♂️

I've been traveling continuously for over 4 years doing wildlife, nature and landscape photography. In those four years I've trimmed my kit down each year. The more you do it, the less you can trim, so at the point I'm at right now, I can no longer save pounds, only ounces. I've reduced my carry-on weight by about 2/3 over the years, but I still have over 40 lbs. in my camera pack.

So my tip is for those times that you check in for a flight, and the airline is strictly enforcing a carry-on weight limit. I just flew to Portugal from the US. I had no problems with my first leg from Portland to Boston. But when I went to the TAP counter to get my boarding pass, they weighed my carry-on and freaked out. They only allow 8 kilos (17 lbs). So I pulled out my trusty camera vest and just started tucking things into pockets until they were happy. Then after I got my boarding pass, I found a place to sit down and re-pack everything where it belongs.

If you don't actually like the idea of ever using a camera vest, then the alternative is to get a very cheap lightweight "fishing" vest that you can use just for carry-on "emergencies"

Wow, that sounds amazing! Guessing wildlife was the main weight culprit?

Drat, I tried something like that when a friend's pack was overweight. We were flying a budget airline (Norwegian I think) and on one leg of the flight they weren't too enthusiastic about us "wearing" things to get the weight down. So I guess it's worth a shot, but you need a good back up plan 🙂

I've never had any airline personnel get fussy when I put things in pockets to remove weight from a bag that they decided was too heavy. I'm pretty sure they have absolutely no jurisdiction about what is in pockets of your apparel. Usually it's just some check-in agent that is following some memo about weight in a bag. I would push back (very politely) if they took issue with weight that was in pockets.

I did a Rim-to-Rim of the Grand Canyon with the purpose of shooting stills and video. I'm so glad that I had a M43 camera with a few basic zoom lenses. It seriously saved pounds on my back. I've since ditched my FF DSLR kit entirely for a Sony A6300 and basic zoom lenses. For landscape, the quality is basically identical.

Another tip for longer trips - ditch the camera-specific bags. Use a properly fitted backpacking bag and either wrap your gear in your clothes or use a simple padded cube if you must. Camera bags are over-padded and unnecessarily heavy.

I carry a rather large kit around with me all the time.
I'm all about optimal results, need my very sturdy even in very windy conditions heavy weight tripod, my ultra wide and telephoto lenses, along with my P4P drone and the extra gear ( sliders, astrophotography equipment, etc ).
I don't mind carrying all that weight, it does well for my fitness and I would rather be in position to take that great photo that might require a super telephoto rather than lose it because all I've got is a 24-70 lens with me.
I do photography trips and tours, not tourism, so I couldn't care less about what I carry, the shots are my one and only target.