Julian Ray Photography

Thoughts on Travel

At long last I am getting around to talking about what I pack and what equipment I take when I am out in the field.

Before I go into the specifics I should talk about my philosophy of travel for photojournalism.

The less you take the more you take!

At first glance this may seem a contradictory concept so let me try to explain what I mean by that.

Typical photojournalism travel scenarios are like this: Train or taxi to an airport to someone’s old car to motorcycle or truck to walking several miles to catching a ride on an old horse, all this in the span of maybe 15 hours.

This IS a common occurrence while working in the Middle East, Asia, Latin America or most anyplace. Oftentimes grabbing last minute flights on military or civilian aircraft with severe weight and space limitations is the only option. Other times the difference between getting “there” (and the shot) or not is dependent on being able to jump on an already overloaded fishing boat, scrambling on top of a cargo truck, or piling onto the roof of a local railroad car.

In short, being able to adapt as easily and quickly as possible to the constantly changing travel opportunity envelope is essential to getting to where the images are.

While having several suitcases full of clean clothes, hair dryers, pillows, espresso makers, and who knows what else may be great for that family holiday to Anaheim those items are more than useless while traveling quickly and efficiently. In fact having all that stuff will almost certainly guarantee you will not be getting on that over loaded train or boat. The only thing those crammed valises will be good for is slowing you down, exhausting you, and attracting all sorts of attention, most assuredly the bad kind.

Having a small, light rucksack and just enough gear to capture the images you will most likely encounter gives you immense freedom. Freedom to move quickly. Freedom to stop and shoot without having to worry about that mountain of stuff and who is riffling through it. Freedom to be as unobtrusive as possible and, most importantly, freedom to experience another world. A world rich in colors, light, architecture, food, music, culture, warm generous people, beauty, and brutality. When you are not spending your energy managing your stuff you are able use that energy to fully see the world around you.

That is why my philosophy is: The less you take the more you take.

The less stuff you take with you the more you are able to experience the world around you and the more meaningful your photographs will be.

Countless times I have been invited into the home of someone I spent the day working with. Having little in the way of baggage allows me to accept their kind hospitality without the imposition of all that stuff. Traveling lightly gives me the flexibility to accept or demure an offer of food or a place to sleep very easily and with little in the way of time and energy expenditure in the logistics of managing that morass of mostly needless stuff. More often than not those humble invitations to tea, a meal, or a floor to sleep on have resulted in wonderful stories, arresting images, and often long and dear friendships. All very unlikely opportunities to encounter in a hotel room.

Of course it goes without saying, what you take varies massively depending on assignment, weather, environment, duration, and subject. However one fundamental concept is a constant.

The less you take the more you take. My goto camera kit is currently one or two Nikon D4 bodies as well as both a 24-70 f2.8 and a 70-200 f2.8 lens, a TC-17E II teleconverter, and cleaning gear. I put the highest quality clear (NOT UV!) filters I can find on the front of the lenses to take the abuse of salt spray, saliva, blood, dirt, and all that is inevitably going to get on them. I also take the tripod cleat on the 70-200 but no tripod. If I need to steady things up I can always improvise something.

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D4 & Lenses

I carry the kit in a holster set up from the great folks at Think Tank Photo which is configured for the particulars for the trip. The great thing about the holster configuration is that I can walk onto the commercial airline, slip it and my ruck sack right into the overhead compartment and I avoid all the luggage lines. Same goes for virtually any mode of transportation I am likely to encounter. The camera is right there, a second away from grabbing that shot. Traveling by camel or motorcycle? It’s right at my side. Always!
Sniper View
If I know I am going to have to go quickly from tight to long action shots then I will take two camera bodies but I will always try to take as little as possible. My kit also includes two media readers (one for the QDX and the other for the CF media) and enough spare media chips to cover the expected shoot. I avoid taking a laptop whenever possible as they are very cumbersome, fragile, and a pain to deal with. In most towns and cities there are places where I can plug the media readers into a computer and view and file the dailies or send the chips off. Chips are relatively cheap, laptops are not.

My kit includes either a 14” or 32” silver/gold folding reflector. Folded they are less than half an Inch thick. The 14” Westcott folds up to a disc about 5 inches in diameter and the LiteDisc is about 10 inches in dameter. I like the colour of both and usually try to have the 14” with me at all times. These reflectors help fill in shadows on faces and also give bystanders something to do. They love this.
I also carry a small water proof 14 mega pixel “rugged” camera that slips into a pocket. My current favorite is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3. These are fantastic for when the big gun is just too obtrusive or you know you are going to get very wet. I have sold many shots taken with one of these little cameras and the image quality is quite usable.
My ruck sack is just big enough to carry one or two pairs of convertible light weight pants, two light weight shirts, a hat, bug juice, a couple of changes of socks and underwear, a sleep sack, my toiletry kit, a first aid kit, and all the necessary documents for the assignment. If I am going someplace that is cold I will augment this basic kit with a pile jacket and maybe some Capilene under layers.

For foot gear I live in Tevas and take a pair of Keens along for when the Tevas are just not enough. The great thing about Tevas is that I can go from mud, sand, dust, hot city tarmac and back and they just rinse off. No need to put up with hot, soggy, heavy, muddy shoes.
Teva Tan
With this kit I can be ready to move at a moment’s notice, always have clean clothes, and am never straining under an unwieldy load. It will serve me well for days or months.

The less I take the more I take.

All the photography products mentioned here (and 1000’s more) are available at
ADORAMA. Same day shipping and fabulous customer service. It’s where I go when I gotta get it.

I look forward to seeing you out there.

Julian Ray

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