My Camera Bag

One of my favorite parts about traveling is being able to share my experiences with others, and perhaps the most effective way to do that is through photos.  Travel blogging really sparked my interest in photography and is what motivates me to continuously strive to improve.  I am by no means an expert in photography and still consider myself an amateur and a hobbyist (though I recently got my first official paid job as UCLA's Architecture & Urban Design photographer!), but I love to discuss photography and share what I have learned over the years with others.

As I share my travel photos, I often get asked what camera I use.  Now, I completely believe that it is not the camera that takes the photos, but the person behind the camera - you can create quality compositions whether you're using a $3000 camera body or your cell phone.  You do not need an expensive camera to be creative.

That being said, I am more than happy to give you a peek into my camera bag and share the gear that I use to share my adventures!

My Camera Bag

Books

Understanding Exposure, 3rd Edition: How to Shoot Great Photographs with Any Camera
Bryan Peterson's Understanding Exposure is how I learned to shoot in manual mode.  It's always the first resource I recommend to people looking to learn photography.  His voice is very casual, and he includes great analogies which are memorable, as well as helpful example photographs.  The explanations of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO are so clear and easy to understand.  If you want to learn photography, read this book!

Understanding Composition Field Guide: How to See and Photograph Images with Impact
Bryan Peterson explains the rules of composition and when to break them in easy-to-understand language with many examples.  Whether you shoot with a DSLR or your cell phone, a grasping composition will push your photography to the next level.

Camera Body

Nikon D7100 24.1 MP DX-Format Digital SLR Camera Body
The D7100 has recently been replaced by the Nikon D7200 as the "flagship" of Nikon's DX-Format HDSLRs, or in other words, the highest-quality crop sensor camera Nikon sells (at the moment, my student blood is not wealthy enough to afford a full frame camera).  When purchasing a DSLR (upgrading from a Nikon 1 compact camera), I skipped straight over the Nikon D3300 and Nikon D5200 because I was already serious about photography and knew I wanted the best camera body that I could afford.  I love its high ISO capabilities which allow me to shoot in handheld low-light situations, as well as its sharpness and quick autofocus.  While I'm still dreaming of the day that I can move to full frame, I am very satisfied with the quality of photos that I can produce with the D7100.

St. Kitts
Nikon D7100 and Tamron 17-50mm

Lenses

Tamron SP AF 17-50mm F/2.8 Zoom Lens
The Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 is my go-to walkaround lens.  Perhaps it is on my camera too much... but I find it suitable for most of my shooting situations.  The 17mm depth is rather wide which allows for creative shots and is very practical in landscape and theme park shooting.  The fixed f/2.8 aperture is helpful for handheld in low-light.  It's a great upgrade from the typical 18-55mm kit lens.

Tokina DX 11-16mm Ultra-Wide Angle Lens for Nikon
The Ultra-Wide angle lens is a fun one to use.  At f/2.8, it can take sharp photos in low light, and I've found this lens to perform really well at night.  There is a bit of distortion, but I often find it to be enjoyable and more interesting.  Without much focal length, it's a bit of a niche lens and not always practical to use, but great for creative shots.  It's also great for making your tiny cruise ship stateroom appear much bigger than it actually was.

La Piazza
Nikon D7100 and Tokina 11-16mm

Flash

Nikon SB-700 AF Speedlight Flash
Except in cases of extreme emergency, I avoid using the pop-up flash on my D7100 at all costs.  An external flash is a necessity for indoor photographs of people and food photos.  I like the SB-700 because the head position is very adjustable, TTL exposure is very accurate, and it comes with a diffusion dome and filters.

Crystal Palace
Nikon D7100, Tamron 16-50mm, Nikon SB-700 Flash

Tripods

Mefoto Backpacker Travel Tripod
The Mefoto Backpacker is lightweight and easy to carry.  The legs telescope out from the compact carrying position, so it takes a little bit of time to set-up, but it's very sturdy for such a small tripod.  The Backpacker only extends to 5-feet, and so for people taller than me (who isn't?), I would recommend the taller MeFotoRoadtrip Travel Tripod, which I wish I had gotten myself so that I could shoot over my head in a crowd of people.

Joby GP3 GorillaPod SLR-Zoom Flexible Tripod
For a less conventional small, lightweight tripod, the Gorillapod will wrap around a handrail or sit nicely on a table.  The ball head has a bubble level, so you make sure the camera is straight, no matter how wacky you wrap it.  And used with a remote or timer, it's perfect for taking group photos or self portraits, sans selfie stick.

Wireless Remote

FotoTech Wireless Shutter Release Remote For Nikon
To prevent camera shake with long exposure shots, I use a wireless remote to release the shutter.  When I photograph fireworks or 30+ second exposures, I set my camera to bulb and use the remote to open and close the shutter.  The wireless remote is an inexpensive accessory that makes a huge difference.

Santa Monica Beach
Nikon D7100 and Tamron 17-55mm, 10s exposure

Compact Camera

ikon 1 J1 Digital Camera System with 10-30mm Lens
My first jump from the point-and-shoot camera was the Nikon 1 J1, and excited for its arrival in 2012, I paid about three times the price that the camera runs for now.  The Nikon 1 series is Nikon's shot at the mirrorless, interchangeable lens camera.  There have been three successors to the J1, and the most recent is the Nikon 1 J5 Mirrorless Digital Camera which was released in 2015.  I keep the J1 because it's lightweight and small, but still takes quality photographs and allows the exposure to be adjusted manually.  It's a little less obtrusive than a DSLR for informal settings like parties or dinner, and lightweight and easier to handle in more adventurous situations like hiking or biking.  But ultimately, I would recommend the Nikon 1 V2 Digital Camera Body because (albeit more expensive) in addition to its compact size, it has the ability to mount an external flash, and also has a viewfinder and hand grip.  Another neat feature of all of the Nikon 1 cameras is that it is compatible with other NIKKOR lenses using a Fotodiox Lens Mount Adapter.

Nikon 1 NIKKOR 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 VR
Great focal length in a tiny little lens.  The downside is the varying aperture.  At 110mm, the f/5.6 aperture can be a little challenging to get crisp shots in low-light situations, requiring a higher ISO to maintain a faster shutter speed.  But for a lens that can easily fit in your pocket, its performance is pretty great.

"Wait a minute - this is MY dream!"
Nikon 1 J1 and Nikon 1 30-110mm

Camera Bag

Kelly Moore Chapel - Hot Pink Camera Case
The fashionista in me refused a rugged, manly camera backpack in search of something more feminine.  Kelly Moore is a mom-tographer with her own line of functional, yet attractive camera bags which don't look like camera bags.  The Chapel bag has convertible straps so that it can be carried as a backpack or a messenger bag.  This bag was incredibly practical for me when I studied abroad in Italy because it zips and buckles over the main pocket, and there is also a flat pocket for cards and memory cards that rests against the body when carried - very pick-pocket proof!  The padded camera case inside is removable, and I'll take it out and put it inside of a backpack if I need a larger bag or something more rugged.  The bag itself is beautifully made and can easily function beyond a camera bag.

Software

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 6
I (most often) shoot RAW and do the majority of my post-processing in Adobe Lightroom.  It gives me great range of control with color and exposure.  Sometimes I can salvage a photo that was underexposed, and I can bring down blown highlights.  Knowing what the program is capable of, I can expose in camera accordingly.  It's also a great program for cataloging and rating photos.

Adobe Photoshop CC [Digital Membership]
Photoshop is where I go to make more serious alterations to an image.  If I want to clone something out of the background or isolate a subject and remove the background, I'll use Photoshop.  But for the most part, it's too fussy for my travel photography style.

Adobe Creative Cloud Photography plan (Photoshop CC + Lightroom) [Digital Membership]
I made the jump to Creative Cloud when I got a new laptop, and I absolutely love it.  Creative Cloud notifies you of program updates as soon as they are available, so your software is never out of date.  Rather than receiving the software on hard disks (my new laptop doesn't even have a disk drive), programs are downloaded through the Creative Cloud app.  The software then exists physically on your computer, and you do not have to be connected to the Internet to use it. (And students and teachers can get the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography plan (Photoshop CC + Lightroom) Student and Teacher Edition, or join the Teacher Edition Creative Cloud [Digital Membership] for only $20 per month... which gives you access to all of Adobe's programs, including Illustrator, InDesign, After Effects, Premiere Pro, and more!)


If you're considering buying any photography gear listed above, I'd greatly appreciate it if you use the links in this post to make your purchase.  It won't cost you a penny more and helps me fund the site and continue to share adventures.  Thank you!

*This post contains affiliate links.