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Travelling Light: Photography Equipment Tips from Michael Coyne

Posted by Fujifilm Australia


As a young man I once had the opportunity to assist a National Geographic photographer. He travelled with cases and cases of photographic gear; whatever the photograph that presented itself, be it a moonscape or an ant’s head, he was ready! Conversely, enigmatic photographer Josef Koudelka claims he travels only with cameras, film, a spare pair of glasses and two shirts with money and a passport in the top pockets. And we’re talking seriously lengthy journeys here. I’m definitely not as spartan as Koudelka, I like my luxuries too much. But neither do I require the many cases the Geographic photographer felt he needed to get the job done.

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Recently I had a three-week shoot in South East Asia. The packing was mostly done because I always keep a bag ready for any quick trips I might have to make.  I keep four of everything in my bag, socks, underwear and shirts. They are wrapped around any pieces of equipment I keep in my check-in luggage. Things like cables, chargers, spare batteries, the occasional extra lens and a Swiss Army knife, a tool that has come in handy on many an occasion. Also shoved in amongst my socks are two Sunpak VL_LED-09 Compact Video Lights. They’re just strong enough to kick a small amount of light into the dark corners of a room without overpowering the natural light. Because they are only slightly bigger than a cigarette pack, they don’t take up much space in my case.

For this project I travelled with 2 x Fuji X-Pro1 bodies, a 35mm lens, 18mm lens and a 14mm lens. I also had the Fuji X100S camera with me; I like to have it in my pocket even when I’m not working.

I always keep my cameras, lenses, several spare batteries, memory cards and laptop in my carry-on luggage.  If I’m on a long trip or I know I’ll be shooting a lot of images I keep a spare hard drive in there as well a second hard drive wrapped in underwear in the check-in bag. Incidentally, the carry-on bag is a Crumpler backpack, which is just big enough to contain all my photo gear, my Kindle, spare glasses and the small medicine kit I travel with. It’s handy to have a bag you can carry on your back; this frees up your hands to shoot.

For most of the trip I knew I would be in isolated places so before leaving I took a few test shots just to be certain the equipment was all in good working order.  I know the camera gear works well but there’s nothing wrong with being overly cautious before a big shoot.

Over three weeks I photographed orphans in slums and women exercising in the camps of anti-government protesters. I travelled to the hills of Thailand to document the lives of tribal people and then finally sailed out to an island in the Andaman Sea where I shot images of the Sea Gypsies.

What I needed for this assignment were cameras that would operate quietly in an orphanage, quickly enough to capture demonstrators, be unobtrusive enough to be non-invasive in different cultural contexts and sufficiently robust to travel in varied conditions.

Although I didn’t have the enormity of the National Geographic photographer’s equipment or the sparseness of Josef Koudelka’s routine, I did have the right camera gear.

This meant that all I needed to do to get my pictures was follow the philosophy of the American photographer Weegee: “F8 and be there.”


Michael Coyne, who is based in Australia, has worked on assignments and appeared in magazines such as: Newsweek, Life, Time, National Geographic Magazine, New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Smithsonian, German Geo, French Geo, Paris Match, Madame La Figaro, London Observe Magazine, London Independent Magazine, Travel Holiday, and Vogue.

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