Walter Chang (website | Tumblr | Instagram | Twitter) shares his experience on backpacking around the world for over 2 years and documenting his travels with Nikon equipment (first with D700 and then with D800, click on images for larger view):
Discovering what we call home
I started traveling when I quit my job back in September 2011 with the idea of roaming around South East Asia for three months. What would begin as a short break has eventually turned into two and a half years of traveling around the world in over 50 countries.
The one great thing about capturing my travels is being able to experience a lot of different types of photography. I’ll photograph landscapes on a multi-day trek and have to worry about what to carry in order to keep things as light as possible. Then I’ll dabble in wildlife photography on a safari in Africa, photograph the street life in bustling cities, and grab some starscapes while camping.
Since I’ve been home a few times I’ve been able to change out equipment and leave things before my next stop. I first left with a D700 but soon upgraded to the D800, which was infinitely more convenient because I could take photos and record video. With the D700 I had to carry a canon body with adapter to record video. I usually carry three lenses including the 70-200 VR II for half my trip, various filters, and a tripod/slider, which all goes inside my f stop loka backpack. Despite being a bit pricy this thing can take a beating and doubles as a trekking bag. It can fit as a carry on and isn’t conspicuous as a camera bag. I highly recommend it for traveling. Carrying all this equipment gets very heavy but I think as a photographer you’ll be very glad that you have all your necessities at the right moment.
I also carry 3 portable hard drives and backup every few days. I keep two in my f-stop bag and one in the bag that gets checked in on planes/buses. I use a WD rugged case for that hard drive. I recently started to carry 32gb SD cards in my security belt which has a hidden zipper. I’ve got all my bases covered unless some jerk steals everything and leaves me naked on the side of the road.
How can you afford this?
I worked long hours and basically lived in the building I worked in. I also made some investments that paid off. But really you can operate on $20 or less in a lot of countries by making compromises (obviously Western Europe would be pretty hard this way). As a backpacker I either find the cheapest hostel, couchsurf, or camp. I end up sleeping in airports, train stations, bus terminals, and parks as well. I’m usually hitting up street food vendors and occasionally hitchhiking. The main point is that it’s possible. The flight is always the most expensive part. Once you’ve got that covered you can travel in virtually any manner possible to match your budget.
Carry toilet paper with you at all times. This has saved me several times. Forgetting it has also caused many moments of horror.
Also don’t forget to enjoy the moment. Sometimes I get carried away with shooting and making sure I get the best shots. I have to remind myself sometimes that it’s just as important to stop and enjoy that fleeting moment in front of me.
I personally cover my camera up with duct tape so it looks like it’s broken. I do this with lenses as well. I first put black paper tape and then cover it with duct tape since it leaves a residue. After a couple of months the tape strips end up looking a bit dirty and unappealing.
Before I started my travels one of my main concerns was the risk of wandering about with such expensive equipment. As a backpacker I usually take public transportation to keep costs low and don’t always keep to the safest path. Staying out of the tourist bubble has obvious advantages in experiencing a culture and presenting wonderful photographic opportunities.
However traveling with expensive equipment will always be fraught with some risk. Other than dropping a lens and a couple filters I’ve had two bad experiences. The worst occurred while traveling in Chile. After a long 24 hr bus ride to Calama I waited with a friend I had just met at a small bus station to wait for my connecting bus to San Pedro de Atacama. Many thieves in South America work together. One will distract you and another will grab the bag as your attention is diverted. This is what happened to me. It was the one moment where my guard was down and my photography pack wasn’t directly in front of me. The worst part was losing all my work for the past 1 ½ months. One of my three drives had corrupted and I forgot to move a backup drive into my clothing bag. I was absolutely devastated. I spent four hours at the police station using google translate, borrowed some money from my new friend, and then spent the following 24hrs on a bus back to the capital to get a new passport.
Being scared of losing your material possessions is a silly excuse not to bring your gear and capture your travels. And even if you do get extremely unlucky and are a victim of theft your experiences and memories during your travels far outweigh a digital file. So don’t hesitate to take your gear. In all likelihood the trip will be incident free and you’ll be able to capture some amazing photos. Doing so will hopefully inspire others in your life to travel more.