The Lazy Photographer: Vacation Pics Without Breaking a Sweat!

Posted on December 3, 2008

Taking vacation photos presents some unique challenges. On one hand, as an aspiring photographer, you want more than simple snapshots – you want memorable pictures that convey the joy of being there. On the other hand, You probably don’t have Richard Branson’s bank account, and unlike the great Ansel Adams, you don’t have the convenience of a pack mule to carry all your gear. How do you prepare to capture Kodak moments of a lifetime?

After a few successful outings, I thought I’d share a few recommendations on what to take to strike that balance:

Introducing: Nigel’s Lazy Photographer Kit!

Whoever told you laziness is a not a virtue was clearly not into casual photography. Professional photography is a noble pursuit, but while on vacation, the goal should be to take great pictures with the least amount of effort. After all, you’re there to have fun, not on a National Geographic assignment (though the two are not mutually exclusive…):

Camera: Entry-level to midrange SLR (Nikon D40, Canon Rebel XTi, Doesn’t really matter)

Lens: 18-200mm zoom, 50mm f/1.8

Other accessories: Flash, 8 GB Memory card.

Pocket-sized point-and-shoots are always nice to have around, but I recommend using an SLR. These days, they’re not much bigger than high-end point and shoots, and not much more expensive (you can get a Nikon D40 for $400 – cheaper than some point and shoots!).

Furthermore, the lack of shutter delay on an SLR makes catching action shots much easier:

Yikes! I didn't mean it, Shamu, I swear!

And an SLR’s better light sensitivity means that your night shots are less likely to turn into a blurry mess:

Best of all, an SLR lets you change lenses to meet any photographic challenge. But most of the time, you’ll only be using two, as I explain below.

The 18-200mm Lens

The usual annoyance with vacation photography is that we can never seem to have the right perspective at the right time. For example, we might catch a stunning vista, and our camera can’t “zoom out” enough. Or we might spot a beautiful animal, but the 4x zoom on our point and shoot is nowhere near close enough. The 18-200mm zoom lens solves this issue by combining the “best of both worlds” – a zoom that goes from a very wide 18mm:

Magic Kingdom Entrance

To a very close 200mm:

This is effectively an 11x zoom! If you’re a Nikon user, you’re in luck – Nikon’s 18-200mm VR lens is the undisputed king of the superzoom lens, and the lens which stays on my D90 95% of the time. If you’re a Canon user, Canon also makes an 18-200mm lens, though I personally haven’t tried it out. They both cost quite a bit of money ($639 for the Nikon, $549 for the Canon), but you can always rent them from a place like if you only need them for a short while.

With such an effective zoom range, is there anything these lenses can’t do? Both the Nikon and Canon superzooms are pretty “slow” (aperture 3.5-5.6) lenses – not an issue in the raging sunlight, but a problem indoors or at night. Though both lenses include image stabilizers meant to counteract camera shake at lower light levels (and slower shutter speeds), your best bet is to switch to this next lens.

The 50mm f/1.8 lens

Remember, the wider the aperture, the more light your camera has to properly expose a shot. And an aperture of 1.8 is as wide as it gets, which is why the 50mm f/1.8 lens is an excellent choice for low-light shooting. Combine this with a DSLR’s native low-light sensitivity, and you can practically shoot in the dark:

King Triton and his Steeds

The other good thing about this lens? It’s pretty cheap. On Amazon, the Nikon version is less than $110, whereas the Canon version is only $85. It’s also weighs practically nothing, and is small enough to fit in your pocket (though I probably wouldn’t put it there!).

There’s no need for a separate camera bag – these items should easily fit into your messenger bag or knapsack, while leaving plenty of space for maps, souvenirs, Mickey Mouse hats – you get the idea. With only two lenses, you’re now equipped to expertly photograph just about anything that catches your fancy!

Having assembled your photographer’s stash, what comes next? Simply put your camera in Program mode (“P”), get out there, and have fun! If you’ve read any of my previous photography posts, you’ll realize one of the biggest mistakes you can make is focusing on your camera, instead of the place and the people around you!

» Filed Under Everything and Nothing, Photography


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