How to Pack Light and Shoot Like a Pro

Liftoff is in a few days and my photography gear is carefully packed in a Lowepro backpack. Our destination will be the many remote regions of the British and U.S. Virgin Islands. For three weeks I'll be leading a cruise based photo workshop for 150 passengers. The voyage, dubbed "The Hidden Caribbean" will include a wide variety of photo opportunities including hikes through semi-tropical rain forests, kayaking, underwater, avian life, and scenic landscapes. I wanted to keep my bag light, but also have the required tools to capture the diverse beauty of the region. Here's what my carry-on bag holds.


My primary camera will be the Canon 6D body with attached EF 17-40mm f4 lens. This wide angle zoom is one of my most heavily used lenses. It's razor sharp, focuses fast even in low light, and costs far less than the 16-35mm f2.8. With the full frame sensor of the 6D, 17mm is ultra wide, enabling me to capture big sweeping landscapes. 

Whether shooting a travel assignment or a nearby job, it's beneficial to carry a backup camera. In the event of a major malfunction, I have a second DSLR, the Canon 40D, packed as well. Although it's an older model, the 40D is a highly capable camera with a tough magnesium alloy body, and a fast burst mode of six frames per second. Paired with the Canon EF 70-200mm f2.8, it becomes an effective 320mm at the long end with the 1.6x crop factor. The extended focal length is ideal for birds and wildlife.

In addition to the above mentioned zooms, I'm packing one prime lens, the Canon EF 85mm f1.8. With its super fast aperture, it's possible to shoot in near darkness, especially on the 6D camera which offers usable ISOs up to 12,800. On previous trips, this has proven very helpful in cathedrals, museums, forests, and other dimly lit areas. Since it's a fixed focal length lens, it features high quality optics without adding unnecessary weight.

I keep packed accessories to a minimum, only carrying the essentials like SD and CF cards, extra camera batteries, and battery chargers. Of course there is always room in my bag for a circular polarizer, and three graduated neutral density filters in various strengths. These filters allow me to enhance skies as demonstrated in this video.

One of our excursions involves  snorkeling around a ship wreck on Salt Island. To capture this in both stills and video, I'm using the Go Pro Hero 3. It's the black edition with the underwater housing. This powerful little device is packed underneath my memory cards, weighing less than one pound, making it an ideal travel companion. 

With this setup, all of my equipment fits in one photo backpack. As a legal carry-on bag for both domestic and international flights, I don't have to worry about gear being broken or mishandled in transit. Larger and more rugged items like my tripod are checked along with my clothes in a suitcase.