Choosing “The Right Camera” for Travel Photography

Choosing “The Right Camera” for Travel Photography

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I’ve had this experience, and perhaps you have, too.

You show someone the photos from a trip you’ve just returned from and they say “Wow, what great shots! What kind of camera do you have?

 A Picture is Worth How Many Words?

I owe the launching of my career as a traveler writer in large part to photos I took during a two-week trip through Southeast Alaska in June of 2008.


A few months after the trip I submitted a story about touring glaciers in that part of the 49th state to a San Francisco Bay Area newspaper.

The travel editor’s response contained both good news, bad news.

The bad news: “We only publish one Sunday Travel section on Alaska per year, and we just finished work on it so we can’t use your story.”

The good news: “Your story is good, and your photos are great! You should shop the story to other papers.”

“Tidy Bowl Blue” Iceberg, LeConte Bay

And so, I did, and that story and photos were published about eleven months after my trip.

And then another story based on the same trip, and other photos I’d taken during my journey through “Southeast” ran in another newspaper.

And about a year later, a third Alaska travel story and yet more photos ran in Sunday edition of yet another paper.

I’m a pretty decent writer, at least at times.

But it was those photos that sold my story.

So, what camera did I use?

It’s Not “The Camera”

While browsing through a bookstore in Sitka, the first stop on my trip around the Alaska Panhandle, I perused a book titled The Blue Bear. It sounded interesting, but for some reason, I put it back on the shelf.

From Sitka, I sailed to Juneau by ferry, stayed two nights, then flew to Glacier Bay in a small plane, stayed three nights, then flew back to Juneau and boarded Taku, an Alaska Marine Highway ferry, for an overnight trip south to Petersburg.

Alaska Marine Highway Ferry “Taku” at Juneau

Before dinner that evening, my wife and I checked out the ferry’s gift shop. It carried copies of The Blue Bear, so I bought one and from reading it, learned one truism of photography.

The book chronicles the meeting and friendship that developed between the author, Lynn Schooler, a guide who often took still photographers and filmmakers around Southeast Alaska on his boat, and photographer Michio Hoshino from Japan.

While making camp on the first night of his second trip with Hoshino, Schooler showed Hoshino borrowed camera equipment:

 “It’s the same kind as your camera, [Schooler] explained rather foolishly. I ought to get some good photos this trip”

“Michio shook his head emphatically and pointed: ‘The camera won’t take the good pictures.’”

 * * *

“As if reading my thoughts [Schooler wrote], Michio held up an imaginary camera to explain: ‘The camera is just…,’ he groped for a word. ‘Just a box.’”

To paraphrase one of my mentors, award-winning travel photographer, Robert Holmes, regardless of what camera you use, you must be able to “see” with a “photographer’s eye” to capture remarkable images.

What this means is that you could purchase the most sophisticated, expensive, “professional” camera gear available, and still take uninspiring photos.

Suppose I sent you, untrained in the art of photography, on a “photo shoot” along with a true “pro.” To “level the playing field,” I’d give you the professional’s camera, while the handing the expert a “throw-away” film camera bought at a drug store.

(Alfred Flickr Photo)

Guess who would bring home the best photos?

Having “The Right Camera” When on the Road

I’m not sure who coined this phrase, but it’s definitely true when you are traveling away from home: “The best camera is the one you have with you.”

In order, words, even the highest quality camera is worthless if you left it in your hotel room or rental car, unavailable when those “Kodak Moments” happen.

Many professional photographers, and ordinary folks like me, used film SLR (Single Lens Reflex) cameras in the last decades of the 20th century.

(Akairom Flickr Photo)

Finally, tiring of lugging several pounds of camera, lenses, filters, and accessories on trips, I began using a much lighter, simpler “point-and-shoot” camera.

But while riding in a van operated by the lodge where I was staying in near Glacier Bay, I had a “photography epiphany.” As the driver used his right hand to show off his iPhone the very first model Apple made—while steering the van with his left, I exclaimed “I need one of those!”

(Josh Hallett Flickr Photo)

A year later I purchased an iPhone 3GS, not so much for its built-in camera, but for its communication and Internet capabilities.

But as I’ve found over the past eight years, and owning three successive models of Apple’s iPhone, a smartphone is the “best camera” because you always have it with you.

I’ve written a number of stories for Tales Told From The Road about iPhone photography and videography.

But I don’t think any of those pieces showcase the iPhone’s ability to help you take great photographs when you travel as well as this short video by professional photographer Jack Hollingsworth.


Hollingsworth has created thirteen more iPhone photography “tutorials,” not all of which are specifically related to “travel,” but each contains great tips of how to get the most out a smartphone’s camera so you can come home with better photographic memories of your journeys.

(You can purchase The Blue Bear: A True Story of Friendship and Discovery in the Alaskan Wild” by Lynn Schooler, and a myriad of iPhone photography and video accessories from Purchasing such items through links on this pages helps Tales Told From The Road to continue providing you with a wide range of travel-related stories.)


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