How To Photograph Real Estate and Vacation Rentals

The Fstoppers Guide to Traveling Light (Without Sacrifices)

One week from today I’ll be on the other side of the world, shooting a personal project that’s been years in the making. On the one hand, I have to be prepared for all kinds of situations. On the other, I can’t bring a suitcase. What do I bring… what do I leave behind… and can I get away with only one shirt?

Living in New York, you become a master of your domain, fitting your things as efficiently as possible into limited space. I am especially proud of this skillset – think of it as grownup, real-world Tetris. After weeks of researching travel tips and Amazon reviews, I have compiled what I believe to be “THE ULTIMATE, PORTABLE TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHER’S BAG WITH SMALL, YET EFFECTIVE (AND REASONABLY PRICED) GEAR THAT WON’T RAISE MUCH ATTENTION” (all rights reserved).

Before we begin listing the contents of this particular bag, I need to stress a couple of important things. First, insure your equipment. Myself and several other writers use Hill and Usher for our insurance. They are very reasonably priced – especially for the peace of mind that insurance gives. Secondly, make good decisions. Be safe and careful out there. Part of my reason for building a bag like this is to be as inconspicuous as possible. I don’t want anyone targeting me as having lots of expensive equipment (especially if one plans to be in rough areas).

Many of the individual components can be switched out per your personal preference, and several of these items I’ve had for several years. I’ll include updated models and options where applicable.

Let’s begin with the outer bag itself. Since I am not bringing any luggage, I needed to treat this like a backpacking expedition (which it is), so I had to get something that was big enough for everything but not so big it would be uncomfortable to have on my back for over a week. I decided that a pack between 40-60 liters would be ideal for this trip, and tried on several on backpacks ranging from Osprey (very expensive) to Arc'teryx (still pretty expensive) to Northface and even backpacks from a military surplus store. I decided on a Kelty Redwing 50L. Comfortable design (with a good support structure and airflow), lots of pockets, well-made and a fantastic price (around $115-125). It also comes in black, although I was informed by a seasoned hiker that the reason most packs don’t come in black is because they absorb heat. He was right about that; I look hot with this bag.

fstoppers-travel-guide-kelty1Bag closed.

fstoppers-travel-guide-kelty2Top of the bag.

fstoppers-travel-guide-kelty3Back of the bag.

fstoppers-travel-guide-kelty4Bag open.

Knowing that I wouldn’t be carrying the full pack around all the time, I wanted to have something smaller and less obtrusive for walking around. For this, I went with the very reasonably priced Lowepro StreamLine Sling Bag. It holds a few accessories, but it’s not really a good option when planing to shoot with lights. That said, it’s still good enough for a small camera body. Don’t expect full size SLRs to fit in this bag, so if you plan on bringing a body of that size, you will need a bigger sling.

fstoppers-travel-guide-slingbag

For me, a large part of what is making this trip possible is my love for the Fuji X-T1. I’ve owned this camera for about a month, and I haven’t picked up my DSLR in that month. Image quality, speed, durability and weather sealing…it’s an absolute pleasure to shoot. I will be bringing with me a 23mm (35mm equivalent) and a 56mm (85mm equivalent). I will also be renting a wide angle and a telephoto to add to the bag. With this camera, I’ve finally felt like I wasn’t losing anything to not be on a DSLR.

fstoppers-travel-guide-fuji

One can never have enough batteries.

fstoppers-travel-guide-batteries

To charge the batteries, be sure to include a universal converter. Many electronics support both 220 and 240 volts, so all you will is an adapter. If not, you will need a step down voltage converter. I’ve also got a Monster Outlets To Go power strip to charge multiple devices from the same adapter.

fstoppers-travel-guide-final-converter

You can also never have enough memory cards. The cards are stored in Pelican’s 0915 SD case that is water resistant and pretty damn durable overall.

fstoppers-travel-guide-pelican

i.Sound Portable Power for anything that can be powered or charged by USB.

fstoppers-travel-guide-charger

Although I will not be bringing a laptop with me (there is a slot in the backpack for it), I will be bringing a card reader and hard drive to backup images using computers in the hotels’ business centers.

fstoppers-travel-guide-drive

Two, three-stop neutral density filters and Tiffen case.

fstoppers-travel-guide-filters

Blackrapid Camera Strap. Get a bigger size for your SLR.

fstoppers-travel-guide-strap

Joby Gorillapod for SLRs with ball head and bubble level.

fstoppers-travel-guide-gorillapod

My flash system comprises of a Canon 580ex (600EX is the current model), Quantum Battery Pack (new version here), Fuji Flash and an Impact Powersync System (because they are smaller than my Pocket Wizards).

fstoppers-travel-guide-flashes

To go along with the flash, a CowboyStudio collapsible light stand that folds down to 21” and slides nicely into the side of the bag.

fstoppers-travel-guide-stand

A 43” Wescott Collapsible Umbrella that is about 10” when closed.

fstoppers-travel-guide-umbrella

The Fstoppers Flash Disc

fstoppers-travel-guide-flashdisc

CowboyStudio Umbrella Mount Bracket (mostly metal and very solidly made).

fstoppers-travel-guide-speedlight-mount

DiCAPac WPS10 Waterproof Case for in (and maybe under)water work.

fstoppers-travel-guide-underwater-casing

Cabeau Memory Foam Travel Pillow. I have the worst time sleeping on planes. This one folds up into a tiny bag and supports my head amazingly.

fstoppers-travel-guide-pillow

fstoppers-travel-guide-pillow1

Ridiculous looking hiking / trail running shoes. If you’re going someplace hot, avoid waterproof shoes and opt for something that breathes. Superfeet inserts will save your life.

fstoppers-travel-guide-shoes

Get a journal. Buy it from any bookstore. Write everything down. Save receipts. Get postcards. Shove stuff into it.

fstoppers-travel-guide-journal

After all of this is crammed into the bag, I was worried about how much space I would have left for clothes. How many Speedos could I realistically pack?

Everything but the sling bag fit into the outside pockets, and the sling bag fit horizontally in the main compartment.

fstoppers-travel-guide-final-packSo much space for so many Speedos.

The final weigh-in (without any clothes) came in around 18 lbs, and the sling bag takes up about five of those pounds. I am anticipating a few more pounds for the additional rented lenses, but even with those, I am more than pleased with the final result.

Here's what's in the bag.

1. Kelty Redwing 50L ($115)
2. Lowepro StreamLine Sling Bag ($39.99)
3. Fuji X-T1 ($1,299)*
4. Fuji 23mm ($749)*
5. Fuji 56mm ($999)*
6. Fuji Batteries (4 x $19.95)*
7. Voltage Adapter ($3.24)
8. Monster Outlets To Go PowerStrip ($12.99)
9. Sony 32gb Memory Cards (4 x $36)*
10. Pelican’s 0915 SD case ($17.49)
11. i.Sound Portable Power ($54.95)
12. Lexar SD Card Reader ($24.50)*
13. G-Technology 1TB Portable Drive ($193.99)*
14. Hoya 62mm NDX8 Filter (2 x $27.15)*
15. Blackrapid Camera Strap ($39.99)*
16. Joby Gorillapod for SLRs ($65.20)
17. Canon 600EX-RT ($549)*
18. Quantum Battery ($659.95)*
19. Impact Powersync System ($119.99)
20. Collapsable Light Stand ($32.44)
21. 43” Wescott Collapsible Umbrella ($19.90)
22. Fstoppers Flash Disc
23. Umbrella Mount ($15.99)
24. DiCAPac WPS10 Waterproof Case ($69.60)
25. Cabeau Memory Foam Travel Pillow ($39.99)
26. Superfeet ($25-45)
27. Journal ($30)

*You probably already have a camera system and won’t be purchasing another one.

So here it is…the best pack I could come up with after weeks of planning and obsessing. I can’t wait to schlep it to the other side of the world and put it through the ringer. Most importantly, there is still plenty of space for bigger bodies or even extra cameras and flashes.

Am I missing anything crucial? What would you add?

If you're feeling especially adventurous, follow my trip on Instagram.

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40 Comments
Spy Black's picture

Nice article. Did you weigh your entire ensemble? Also the individual day setups? I'm curious as to what kind of weight we're dealing with.

An alternative to the journal is a pocket audio recorder. You can whip it out and record the moments events on a heartbeat and get more detail without having to stop to write everything down. I use one whenever I occasionally shot with film.

Yeah, the XT1 is rockin'...

Chris Knight's picture

Thank you and a great question about the weight. I'll definitely add that to the article. I just weighed it out and, without clothes and the two rented lenses, it came in around 18 lbs. Having regularly hiked with 50lb bags, I was pretty astounded.

Yonathan Russak's picture

I just finished a trip to india and nepal last month, i had trouoble downloading my files to my 1TB HD because the computers won't recognize the 64GB cards i was using. i had to find someone with a new enuogh computer to do my backups!

Dave Meall's picture

Could you tell me what kind of journal that is and where you got it please? It just looks like a quality leather and would prefer something like that. thanks.

Marcos Villaroman's picture

Very nice setup. Thanks for the detailed descriptions and pictuers. Giving me some ideas to put a similar kit together.

One suggestion on the portable hard drive: Consider buying a Hyper iUSBPort HD drive enclosure for $159 at Amazon plus a 2.5mm drive. Has built-in battery, SD card reader, USB 3 ports (including host), WiFi capability. Backup your cards without going to a hotel's business center and if you have a smartphone, tablet, or laptop, you can hook up via WiFi and do data transfers that way.

Chris Knight's picture

Fantastic idea! I've never seen this before. Do you have one, and has it been reliable for you?

Marcos Villaroman's picture

I bought the company's older Hyperdrive line way back when --- still going strong. Two friends picked up the more recent options: UDMA2 (has CF and SD slots and a screen) -- bulky, but, really held up; iUSBPort HD -- is about to go on a few trips. User manual is skimpy, but, their USA tech support has been very good over the last 8 years I've dealt with the company. They also sell the iUSBPort for $100 without the ability to hold an internal drive --- handy if you want to transfer between two USB hard drives or between a USB SD reader and a hard drive.

Moe Film's picture

Monster also has a 'personal cloud' device that sales at Frys and other sites as low as $60. It advertises that you can move the files with your cell phone. Otherwise, how do you get the files from the SD cards to the Harddrive?

Spy Black's picture

"It advertises that you can move the files with your cell phone."

That's a slow boat to China...

Marcos Villaroman's picture

If this monster device is like the iUSBport HD, it would a web interface (it recommends Chrome or Safari browser). So if you are transferring files between the unit's internal drive, card reader, or a storage device plugged into its USB ports, it is a lot faster.

I've noticed that there is a lot of very inexpensive WiFi OTG devices out there. A lot of them uses special apps you download on iTunes and google play stores. Found them to be really buggy.

I haven't tried that monster digital sky device yet. What's interesting about it is that it supports Wifi repeater or can serve as a hot spot, using its Ethernet connector. What's interesting to me is that I don't see this unit sold at Amazon.

A similar unit I tried is this one from Amazon for $35:
http://www.amazon.com/EZOPower-Portable-Wireless-External-Smartphone/dp/...

It only has one USB port, but, it does have a 2.6 Amp-hour battery, SD port and does have the Ethernet port for WiFi hotspot use. I haven't tried hooking it to a small USB hub so that I can transfer between two USB hard drives.

Rob Barnes's picture

I have the UDMA2 and bought specifically for my trip to Italy to shoot a wedding. I have a 500gb hhd in it and its a wonderful device. It also comes with a usb dongle that lets you connect your ipad to it to view images on it as well instead of the screen. I couldnt recommend this product more. Do yourself a favor and pick one up.

Spy Black's picture

How long does it take to charge that battery on that iUSBPort HD, and how would it transfer files to another external HDD? There doesn't appear to be any kind of menu controls.

Marcos Villaroman's picture

Not sure how long it takes to charge the battery from completely empty. My buddy just bought one and is now on a trip with it.

You hook up to it initially as a wifi hotspot. The unit acts like a web server and you use a web browser (chrome & safari preferred for maximum menu compatibility). The web interface lets you setup the unit's passwords, etc., and lets you do file transfers. All connected storage devices are listed, so you can easily do file transfers.. It also supports SMB, FTP, DLNA, etc., and so you could use those methods to move files around as well.

On an Android device, I use the free ES Browser app that brings up all attached storage to the devices. I can then stream movies or go through my image collection without downloading them to the Android device first.

You could configure it to log into an existing WiFi network instead of setting up a hotspot. When you power on the unit, it'll try to hook up to an existing network it knows about first; when it fails to do that, it'll setup its hotspot. All the connection info is on the LCD so there's never any guessing what the unit is up to --- a major flaw with all the other units I've seen out there.

Lastly, when you put in a card into its built-in card reader, the LCD on the unit briefly puts up a dialog that allows you to perform a card backup directly to its internal hard drive --- you don't need to initiate file transfers from memory card using a laptop, smartphone, or tablet.

I still need to do my own benchmarks with this device when my friend gets back from his current trip. I'm curious to see how fast it transfers files. Also curious to see how well it holds up if two or more devices are accessing it at the same time.

Moe Film's picture

Can you check those light stands as a carry on? The umbrella?

Chris Knight's picture

They fit right on the side and hide nicely...smaller than the height of the bag.

Moe Film's picture

I was thinking more about TSA for those stateside

Chris Knight's picture

I can't speak to this personally....I've never encountered an issue with that. Has anyone else?

Manny Tejeda's picture

I was actually able to check a Westcott X-Drop plus my Incase Camera backpack to and from Brazil. I hid the X-Drop under a row of seats. It is longer than the light stand.

Anonymous's picture

After your trip, it would be nice to know what you used the most, if there was something missing or if you had too much.

Don't forget the sunscreen ;)

Mr Blah's picture

YES! Good idea!

Alan Smith's picture

Hey Chris save your self a bit more room and use an apple charger end on your Fuji Charger instead of the cable. I've been doing with for 2 years with all my X camera chargers including my X-T1. You will love it trust me!

Chris Knight's picture

Can you explain this one a little bit more? I'm not sure I understand....

Sunny Chen's picture

he means using the apple adapter instead of the cable that came with your charger (since all power adapters are the same)
http://petapixel.com/2010/10/07/toss-your-battery-charger-cable-with-a-a...

Alan Smith's picture

Chris I tweeted you a picture of how it looks my twitter is @alsmith I tried to post the picture here but it wouldn't' do it. You just pull the plug piece off any apple computer charger and stick it into the end of your charger in place of the cable :)

Chris Knight's picture

Thanks for the tip!

Chris Cameron's picture

I made a cable octopus that uses the Apple plugs, so can also forego the Monster power strip thingie. Pictures in this blog entry...

http://www.chriscameronphoto.blogspot.co.nz/2009/08/power-octopus.html

Marcos Villaroman's picture

Going over how you packed you backpack again: so your camera and lens went into the Lowepro sling which then went into the bottom of the main compartment? Everything else went into the backpack's outer pockets and not the main compartment?
How bulky did that make the backpack? Would it still fit in the overhead bin on a plane or in the shallow overhead shelves on trains?
Between this article and Zack Arias' camera bag article, I'm actually thinking about brining external lighting next time I go visit family or on family vacations.

Chris Knight's picture

Yes...that's how I packed it. It didn't make it bulky at all. The bag is designed to be stuffed to that capacity.

Sandro Sandrini's picture

Android tablet, otg adapter w/cardreader, 2 usb HD's powered with the same charger for the tablet. Apps: ES File Explorer for file management, Photo Mate R2 for the occasional on the fly raw edit.
I have had to many bad experiences, with hotel computers to rely on them

Nadja K. Rutkowski's picture

Can you advise on which insurance you have or would recommend? Thanks!

Chris Knight's picture

Hill and Usher

Carey Nash's picture

I'm in Ethiopia, Africa at the moment and I packed very similar (d800 and two lenses) to you but brought a x100 as well as I would be devastated if my main body went and I had no camera at all. In fact like your XT, I've shot more with my x100 as its light and unassuming, giving me a little more freedom in sensitivepplaces like markets. Great article and fantastic info

Chris Knight's picture

Thanks Carey!

alvin lescano's picture

When are they coming out with a new batch of flash discs? :D

jniz22's picture

Well... As much as I claim to be an expert in traveling lightly, desperate times call for desperate measures:

Im currently in western Mongolia on what is likely my last holiday for some time so i opted against going light in clothing ( which made for a miserable 3 day drive in the porgon) and going heavy in camera gear. This is what im rolling with... Rb67-50mm and 127mm lenses, canonet qlg17iii, zeiss ikon with zeiss biogon 2.8 and sonnar 1.5, bronica rf645, and finally a 5dmkii with 70-200 mkii (with 2x teleconverter) and 24-70. Finally a tripod and heaps of film! I opted out of the strobist kit this round... Already stressed enough:P

Its all actually manageable within a medium sized pelican case and a medium sized lowepro bag. Have an old blackdiamond climbing pack for clothes and another little canon bag inside of it to take out for walking around

Origamy's picture

Nice. But if I were travelling on such a vital trip, I'd pack more than one camera body. An XE-1 would be a cheap safety measure, and compact enough to fit into a side pocket.

Phil Bautista's picture

Get an adjustable/convertible tripod over the gorillapod, like a Benro Travel Angel or something light like that. Gorillapods may be flexible but you'll rarely try to mount your setup on trees or fences. More often than not, you'll be mounting it on the ground and gorillapods are notoriously short. They're also a bitch to get level so the way I see it, they'll be more trouble than they're worth. By getting one of those travel tripods that can convert to a monopod too, you get more flexibility in terms of where you can use your equipment. Even better, if the feet of your tripod/monopod are replaceable, get one of those monopod accessories that screw on to the foot and allow it to stand on its own. This will allow you to get away with using a monopod wherever tripods aren't allowed.

As far as lighting goes, I understand you already own your equipment but if you're recommending flashes, a better alternative would be the Godox Ving V860C kit. It's powered by a rechargeable battery that has ETTL with Canon cameras, gets you 650 pops at full power every 1.5 secs and has nearly the same output as the 600EX (Considering you're using a Fuji, the V850 might make more sense since this is full manual). This makes for a lighter option than the Quantum battery pack. It also has a proprietary wireless connection that is much smaller than what you have, although it will work with other wireless options as well should you so choose.

With regards to filters, may I recommend a Cokin type system over screw on type filters if you plan to take a lot of landscapes (which is quite common for traveling photographers). These will allow you greater flexibility when working with ND grads as far as adjusting horizons are concerned. They will occupy more space than your screw ons but I already saved space for you with my flash recommend.

Skip the waterproof case. That thing is just too bulky and very difficult to use. I bought one for my DSLR but I rarely use it and consider it one of my worst buys. You wouldn't buy a cheap UV filter for work above water, why do it when in water? While it may cost more, just get an underwater camera if you want to take pics in or under water. I highly recommend the Nikon 1 AW1 (the first underwater interchangeable lens compact system camera) but Panasonic and Sony make good underwater P&S cameras too, and all these options will save you space over the DiCaPac. For even more space savings, get a GoPro.

I like wearing Crocs cos they're light, comfy, provide good protection, and they slip on and off quite easily. This is a personal preference though so to each his own.

Finally, why no remote? Most remotes nowadays are so light and take up so little space that I would think they should be part of any serious enthusiast's kit, particularly for landscape work, but even for other types of photography, specially when working with a tripod. I always travel with one or more and my current one right now is the CamRanger, a wireless trigger and viewing system which provides a wi-fi signal and works with iOS or Android. It's a nice accessory that works out great when taking time-lapse, macro, nature and, of course, selfies. If you don't take the iPad I use with it into the equation, it's actually pretty light too.

jose pablo chavez's picture

i prefer losing a 8GB card than a 32GB Card.

Ryan Bartels's picture

I love the Canon AE-1 pictured at the top. Too bad it's not mentioned anywhere in the article. Fun little camera. I take it along with me when I travel internationally along with my m43 gear. Love not carrying the D4 and the massive lenses anymore. For my needs the smaller gear is plenty right now. I'm lugging it in the Mountainsmith Borealis AT these days. Used to carry the Tamrac Expedition 8, but that's overkill for my needs. I can get my EM1, 5-6 lenses, grip, two speedlights, the Canon AE-1 w/50 1.8 attached, 8 rolls of film, my MacBook Air 11 w/ charger, change of shirt and underwear, plenty of cards, camera plages, filters, step rings, iPhone, headphone splitters, headphones, card readers, mini external drive and a few other odds and ends with no worries. I also take collapsable stands and umbrellas, but I put them in my checked bag. Good stuff...