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My Camera Bag

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One of my favorite parts about traveling is being able to share my experiences with others, and over the years, I've found great photography essential to telling an engaging story. Travel blogging sparked my initial interest in photography and motivates me to continuously improve my skills. I am not an expert in photography - I'm always learning and experimenting. And I love to discuss photography, settings, composition, and gear with others!

The question I get asked most often is, "Great photos! What camera do you use?"

First of all, I'm flattered. Second, you do not need a fancy camera to take great photos! You can capture a great memory whether you have a DSLR, smart phone, or even a polaroid! An expensive camera is not required to compose a quality image.

That being said, I do love to talk shop, and 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!


Yes! I'm starting this "gear" discussion with books! I learned all about exposure and composition by reading these books on the trains between Italian cities while I was studying abroad in Genoa. I'd read, then immediately get off the train and field test my new knowledge.

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. Rule of thirds, golden triangle - whether you shoot with a DSLR or your cell phone, a captivating composition will push your photography to the next level.

Camera Body

Nikon D7100 24.1 MP DX-Format Digital SLR Camera Body
My camera is officially old, guys. The new model of my camera and what I recommend to anyone serious about hobby photography and ready to purchase a DSLR is the Nikon D7500.  It's the highest-quality crop sensor camera Nikon sells. I love its high ISO capabilities which allow me to shoot in handheld low-light situations, as well as its sharpness and quick auto-focus. I've had this camera body since 2013, have used it to photograph many vacations, events, and adventures - seven years later, it's still going strong. Seriously, I've put this camera through a lot. It's gone with me on countless roller coasters, braved the rain, and even waded out to a floating bar. My philosophy on cameras is that I purchase them so that I can use them. I would never recommend spending an amount on a camera that makes you hesitant to use it.

If you're just dipping your toes into the world of DSLR photography, the Nikon D3500 is Nikon's "starter DSLR" at an affordable entry-level price. This is a great option for many people, whether you want to learn manual photography or are just looking for an upgrade from your iPhone for vacation photos. It's also great for older children/teens just getting into photography (it's pretty lightweight compared to most DSLRs). Then there's the middle ground, the Nikon D5600.  This is the camera that I typically don't recommend because the technical specifications aren't far superior to the D3500. Still, it's got some cool features - most notably the ability to flip out the preview screen (like taking a photo in "selfie" mode but with the main/only lens), which is a feature that I think would be great for someone who plans to use their DSLR camera for vlogging.

No matter what camera body you choose, my recommendation is to skip buying the camera kit (comes with one or two starter lenses and a bunch of cheap accessories) and purchase the camera body only. Then purchase your (upgraded) lenses separately. And if you're on a budget and trying to decide between upgrading the camera body or camera lens, I would suggest upgrading the lens. You could always upgrade your camera body later, and unless you're switching from crop-frame to full-frame or changing brands, you'll still be able to use your lenses with the new body.

St. Kitts
Nikon D7100 and Tamron 17-50mm


While camera bodies are constantly improving with new technology and replaced by newer models, camera lenses retain their value for much longer. When choosing a lens, look for lenses with fixed low apertures (ideally f/2.8 or lower). Fixed means that whether your lens is at 50mm or 17mm, the aperture can be the same - unlike a lens with a variable aperture which may have f/2.8 capability at 17mm, but only f/5.6mm at 50mm. A low aperture (low f/ number) allows more light to enter the lens and will give you better low-light shots.

Tamron SP AF 17-50mm F/2.8 Zoom Lens
This lens is my rock. The Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 is my go-to walk-around lens. Perhaps it is on my camera too much... but I find it ideal for most of my shooting situations. The 17mm depth is rather wide which works well for landscapes and interior architecture. The 50mm depth is great for food photos with shallow depth of field, as well as portraits. And the fixed f/2.8 aperture is helpful for handheld photography in low light, and can render fabulous bokeh with a shallow depth of field. If you're looking for an upgrade for your standard 18-55mm kit lens, this is it.

Tokina DX 11-16mm Ultra-Wide Angle Lens for Nikon
Ever wonder how I make my tiny cruise ship stateroom look so large? The Ultra-Wide angle lens is a fun one to use. At f/2.8, it can take sharp photos in low light. I've found this lens to perform really well at night. There is a bit of distortion, but nothing that you can't use to your advantage or correct in post-processing if you must. Without much focal length, it's a bit of a niche lens and not always practical to use, but great for creative shots.

La Piazza
Nikon D7100 and Tokina 11-16mm


Nikon SB-700 AF Speedlight Flash
You know that little flash that pops up around the viewfinder? Shove it back in! 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.

Diffuser Light Softbox for Nikon Speedlight
Okay, so you've got the external flash, but you don't want your subjects to have emphasized wrinkles and pores or harsh shadows on their face. Yes, thanks - how considerate of you! Attach this portable, foldable softbox to your speedlight, and bless your subjects with model-glowy skin. I admit, this attachment can call some attention to you, but I'll pull it out when I'm photographing my family on formal night or whenever someone asks me if I can help them take a nice headshot.

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


Velbon Ultra LUXi L III Aluminum Tripod
After my Mefoto Backpacker broke on me inconveniently when I was attempting to photograph Illuminations from the fireworks cruise pontoon, I ditched MeFoto for Velbon - a Japanese brand which I've been able to purchase only on eBay. This was a big step up for me. It's a lot taller than the Backpacker - I can actually position the camera over my head for a better view. It's lightweight, but feels much more durable. The leg extension cascading is sturdier, and easier to lock out. I took this with me on the Harmony of the Seas, and while it fit easily in my suitcase, it's what I pulled out of my bag at the airport and hand-carried on the plane when I told that my bag was overweight. I will say that the case for the LUXi L III is cheap and pointless - the zipper broke almost immediately, and I tossed it because it wasn't useful or worth repairing. Really no need for a tripod case - they just add bulk when you're trying to pack.

Wireless Remote

Nikon Wireless Shutter Release Remote
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. It's also great for photos that you want to be in yourself, and if you set the shutter release on a 3-second delay, you'll have time to hide the remote in your shot. I used to recommend an off-brand version for this, but after having several give out on me, I've gone back to using the Nikon brand remote.

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

GoPro / Action Cam

Come back soon!

Mirrorless Camera

Back in 2012, I came across the beautiful Nikon 1 J1 on Nikon's website, and took a great leap of faith into the mirrorless camera game..... WAY TOO SOON! I won't say that I regret this decision because owning the Nikon 1 J1 is what lead to me learning manual photography. It wasn't the best tool, but it was a tool for me to learn photography on. And I still own this camera today. I pull it out from time to time when I need something compact but better than an iPhone (the more the smart phone camera evolves, the more obsolete this camera becomes).

Nikon has since removed the Nikon 1 series from the mirrorless game and introduced the *incredibly expensive* Z series. I have not used a Z series camera and am not recommending it. Also, the camera body may be smaller in size, but if you put a huge DX-format (crop sensor) lens on it, are you really saving that much in bulk? I'm not convinced... Sony has been leading the pack with mirrorless cameras for some time now, and I think that Nikon just keeps swinging and missing the missing the mirrorless market.

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

Camera Bag

Come back soon!


Come back soon!

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