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Backpacking around the world

Pyongyang, North Korea:  Arirang Mass Games

Pyongyang, North Korea: Arirang Mass Games

Fiordland National Park, New Zealand: Milford Sound

Fiordland National Park, New Zealand: Milford Sound

Uyuni, Bolivia: Uyuni Salt Flats at Sunset during wet season

Uyuni, Bolivia: Uyuni Salt Flats at Sunset during wet season

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.

Namche Bazaar, Nepal – On route to Everest Base Camp

Namche Bazaar, Nepal – On route to Everest Base Camp

Havana, Cuba: Teenagers play baseball with a bottle cap and stick

Havana, Cuba: Teenagers play baseball with a bottle cap and stick

Varanasi, India: A boy jumps into the Ganges River for his bath

Varanasi, India: A boy jumps into the Ganges River for his bath

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.

Mosca (Colorado), USA : Great Sand Dunes National Park

Mosca (Colorado), USA : Great Sand Dunes National Park

Vilanculous, Mozambique

Vilanculous, Mozambique

Banyuwangi (Java), Indonesia – Ijen Crater where sulfur is mined

Banyuwangi (Java), Indonesia – Ijen Crater where sulfur is mined

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.

Semonkong, Lesotho

Semonkong, Lesotho

Amarapura, Myanmar – U Bein Bridge

Amarapura, Myanmar – U Bein Bridge

Pamir Highway M41, Tajikistan

Pamir Highway M41, Tajikistan

Some advice:

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.

Hurungwe, Zimbabwe: Mana Pools National Park

Hurungwe, Zimbabwe: Mana Pools National Park

Kanungu, Uganda: Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

Kanungu, Uganda: Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

Lalibela, Ethiopia: Saint George Cathedral at sunrise

Lalibela, Ethiopia: Saint George Cathedral at sunrise

If you have an interesting idea for a guest post, you can contact me here.

stanbul, Turkey:  Grand Bazaar

stanbul, Turkey: Grand Bazaar

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  • Eric Calabros

    too much Experience in a single post ;-)
    Thanks for sharing

    • http://nikonrumors.com/ Nikon Rumors

      I guess it should be singular :)

  • Jon

    awesome post and incredible photos! can you please share a photo of your camera? I want to see where you place the duck-tape and how “used” it looks!

    • sneeze

      errrr, REALLY?
      Since the interwebz came along, people like this ‘Jon’ are just plain stupid and lazy. WTF do you think he put the tap! God sakes!

    • Guest

      Photo of the camera. I’ve done it several times now and this time I around I didn’t put as much tape but i usually put more around the barrel of the lens and add some around the memory card door as well as the lens hood. I also have the d800 logo covered up but I was pulling off a lot of black paper tape that I used to cover up most of the camera for burning man and it came off with it. Hope this helps!

  • Aldo

    Well done.. very nice… now where are the leaked d750 photos???

    • http://nikonrumors.com/ Nikon Rumors

      I am asking the same question. Anyone?

      • sneeze

        Yeah thats totally related to this post. well done. Dumb ass.

  • Angers Samuel

    It would be nice o have a picture of the camera and lens with the tape on it. I travel a lot and maybe I will do the same thing!

    • We Call This Home

      photo of the camera posted above!

  • Fly Moon

    Great pictures and great experience! And I thought I travel ;-)

  • atat

    Amazing stuff; thanks for sharing– makes one just wanna go outside and start firing that shutter away. Also good notes on making backups.

  • peteee363

    I like the notes on duct tape camera. I was thinking that is why I like the df. buy the chrome camera, and have a camera painter make it look like a old rusty 35mm camera. we have seen posts of companies who can repaint cameras, and lenses with wild paint schemes, why not a old rust bucket scheme? if it looked like a rusty old camera, nobody would touch that either.

  • Abu Lucas

    With so much traveling and so much gear, I wonder what kind of internal debate Mr. Chang had with himself about going with a D800 over a D7100 – or even a micro 4/3 system. As good as these photos are, I’m not sure I see a lot in them that is beyond the capability of a D7100 – and that camera would save a lot in terms of weight, money, and file storage needs. While I respect the decision Mr. Chang made, I’m curious about the thought process that led him to that choice.

    • adventure photo

      You would love the Fuji X-T1 for what you do, it will change your life.

    • http://www.facebook.com/hessephoto Hessephoto

      I’m sorry but there is no comparison, 7100 is great, but full frame is a lot better, and so is the focusing system on the D800. Maybe you don’t see the differance in IQ but some of those shots might not even have happened with a lesser focusing system. I have had my D800 for years now and it’s rock solid. I tried the D7100 and owned a D7000, and the images I was getting just didn’t impress, depth of field especially, crop sensors do a lot of great things but I feel limited creatively compared to shooting full frame.

      • http://www.iitis.pl/~miszczak Jarosław Adam Miszczak

        I do not believe that the camera can limit your creativity.

        • ZoetMB

          It doesn’t limit creativity – one can get great images with a pinhole camera, but it does limit the nature of the kinds of images one can capture. And if you don’t believe that the camera defines any limitations, then why aren’t just using your smartphone camera?

          • http://www.michaelbrinkerhoff.com Michael Brinkerhoff

            A cell phone type camera wont limit your creativity. It can however hold you back from taking more in focus action photos, cleaner high ISO photographs, obtaining focus in low light indoor weddings, cleaner images which lead to less post production, and ultimately happier clients.

            Most people can agree with this statement, however people begin to become offended when you say the same thing about the D7100 and the D800. Specific photography niches require different tools. A great too makes a photographers life so much easier and productive. :)

          • http://www.iitis.pl/~miszczak Jarosław Adam Miszczak

            I know that each camera has its limitations. And (anyhow) I do use my smartphone a lot for taking pictures.

        • http://www.facebook.com/hessephoto Hessephoto

          Sure it can. If you have a 50mm FF lens and your trying to take pictures of people indoors but your too zoomed in it limits what you can do. If your creativity involves using fast F1.4 primes and letting the beautiful out of focus tones shine then cropped sensor drastically limits what you see. Lastly if you want to shoot wide angles and be “creative” with it utilizing the best lenses available to you (FF ones) then once again crop sensor limits how wide you can go.

      • http://www.iitis.pl/~miszczak Jarosław Adam Miszczak

        I do not believe that the camera can limit your creativity.

    • Espen4u

      m43 is to much of a compromise in IQ. But I would have left the big zoom at home and brought a prime instead. I hope we hear more from Mr Chang.

    • ZoetMB

      If you’re carrying multiple large lenses anyway (like the 70-200mm that he mentioned), does the slight difference in body size and the 4 ounce weight increase between the D7100 and the D800 really make a difference? I wouldn’t give up the better capabilities for 4 ounces.

      It seems to me that if one is really concerned about size and weight (and I certainly hate lugging my D800, 4 lenses and accessories in my typical kit), you go with a camera like the Sony a7 series, which is not only a smaller and lighter body, but has smaller and lighter lenses as well.

      Or you return to the way many people used to shoot years ago: I used to walk around with a Nikkormat or an Olympus OM-1 with a small, lightweight 50mm. Nothing else. Obviously, I couldn’t get the type of shots I can get today shooting with the 70-200 or the 105 macro or a super-wide, but it was a pleasure to carry and as they say, “the best camera to use is the one you have with you.”

      Personally, I’d love to see a Nikon full-frame with pro controls and D800-like performance, but sized like that old Olympus. I’d buy that in a second. Of course, I’d still be stuck carrying around those heavy lenses.

  • sneeze

    Nice story, wish I could do the same but I’m married so my life is now non-existent, instead my life is my wives life!

  • David G.

    A D800, 70-200 plus two other (undisclosed) lenses, a tripod, accessories, and that’s just the photo equipment… Mr Chang must be in excellent shape! I know I couldn’t carry this much weight for so long. The results speak for themselves though!

  • Spy Black

    Thanks for sharing your great life’s experience.

  • http://www.michaelbrinkerhoff.com Michael Brinkerhoff

    This is a great article. I have a friend who does similar trips. Uses wedding profits to fund his trips during the off season. I’m not sure I could ever do it, but I have so much respect for it.

  • We Call This Home

    thanks for the responses everyone!

    Camera dressing – Below I’ve attached the only picture I could really find of my camera because its currently encased in a ziplock bag contraption that took me a hour to make for Burning Man (which I’ve included as well). I will post a picture of how the camera looks usually when I get back for anyone still interested. In the first picture you can’t tell because of the hood but I cover the non moving parts of the zoom the same way (black paper tape and then duct tape over). I cover up all logos as well. And yes that food was delicious (Singapore)

    D800 – I don’t think I would be able to go back to a DX camera. I shoot a lot of things wide and I find myself in very tight quarters so I’m much more comfortable having a full frame camera. I also needed a good option for recording video as well since I’ve been gathering footage for a short film.

    Weight – Yeah it’s a huge pain to carry all the equipment. The two other lenses are a 17-35 f2.8 and 24-70 f2.8. Lately I’ve been leaving the bag at wherever I’m staying as long as I feel its safe and walking around with just the camera and 17-35mm. I carried all the gear almost everywhere I went for the first 1.5 years since it’s really nice to have every option available. But now I compromise and plan what I’ll mostly need for the day and suck it up if I miss something because I didn’t have the right equipment on me. My other bag with clothes etc is smaller than my fstop bag with all the equipment so you really have to compromise on the other essentials otherwise you’ll be one sweaty mess moving around.

    Another useful item to have around is a dry bag to put your camera in if you’re doing any river/lake crossings. Some of these boats in developing countries are really scary to be in and having that sense of security for your electronics is nice.

    • Jeff Hunter

      Please let us know how effective your camera protection for Burning Man turns out to be. I’ve always wanted to attend but wondered about how to protect the camera from all the dust. Enjoyed your website and will check back often to see photos from your future adventures.

      • We Call This Home

        will do! heading out now!

      • wa

        So the conjoined ziplock bag protection worked out pretty well. I would probably recommend taking a prime Len though to minimize any moving parts. Some dust did get in at the duct taped front part of the lens because it started to come off. I took some zip ties and tightened it around the lens and that worked pretty well. The hole I made for the viewfinder also had some dust come in but I covered that up whenever I wasn’t shooting. I also covered up any buttons and went off of memory. I also taped up around the rear end of the lens. The camera looks pretty flawless to me after I did some slight exterior cleaning. I did see plenty of people without any sort of protection as well.

        • Jeff Hunter

          Thanks for the info! Hope to see some Burning Man photos on your website. Happy trails!

  • Camaman

    Wow this is great.
    So many experiences in one post as Eric noted!
    Thank you for the write up, although I hope you will make a big and detailed article about your travel, experiences, advices and such.
    :-)

    I guess I speak for others when I say that I would love to see a picture of your “gettoed” camera and lenses!

    • We Call This Home

      will post that when I get back after labor day!

    • We Call This Home

      posted above!

  • Antoine Moreau

    Congrats Walter, Great post with a lot of information. Your website is absolutely marvelous!
    I just have a question about your bag. Did you manage to travel with just your F-Stop bag? I would love to have a bit more information about how you dealt with this practical aspect of traveling!
    Thanks!
    Antoine

    • We Call This Home

      will get back to you after labor day with more details!

      • Antoine Moreau

        Thank you very much, that’s great! Antoine

        • We Call This Home

          So the loka was perfect to take as a carry on for flights and was just the right size to fit on buses. Sometimes it was overpacked so it didn’t fit under the seat or between my legs but for the most part it was okay. I would think that something bigger would be a bit problematic. I carry very little in terms of clothing and a compromise between light and affordable camping gear but I still need a osprey manta and fstop tripod bag to carry it all. From here on out I’m gonna drop the tripod. It’s nice to have but it’s just too much of a pain to carry and I no longer use it as much as I used to. If you’re going to carry camping equipment as well it might be possible to fit it in a bigger f stop bag but you’ll probably have to attach things to the bag using straps. But again if you go with a bigger bag it’s going to be uncomfortable being on a bus, train, etc. Even if its slightly too big I would never keep that bag anywhere out of my sight. One of the straps are wrapped around my leg or on my lap. If you go with the one bag option I would just recommend carrying some sort of collapsible day bag so you have options to carry a lighter load when necessary. Test out the bags and see what works best for you. The F-stop customer service people are great and you can always take your stuff with you to an REI and check out how it feels if you go with two bags. Hope that helps, Good luck!

          • Antoine Moreau

            Thank you very much Walter for this very comprehensive answer! I wish you many other photographic adventures! Bye! Antoine

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