I Tried Traveling Light. How Did I Get Along Without My Kit?

As an avid photographer, whether professional or amateur, one of the best parts of traveling to unfamiliar places is being able to capture new and interesting images. Whether you’re going on a dedicated photo trip, working, or going on a family vacation, I’m sure we all have room for our main camera and a lens or two. How about leaving your kit at home and traveling light?

In early May 2022, I went on vacation to Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, and I intentionally left my camera bag at home, choosing not to take a DSLR or laptop with me. Instead, I dropped my old Fujifilm X100S in my carry-on along with my 11-inch iPad Pro and left it there. Why on earth would a photographer choose to leave their kit at home when traveling somewhere beautiful and exotic? Simple, it was not my trip.

My partner, Natasha, and I are expecting our first child this summer. It’s a wonderful, scary and thrilling new adventure we’re embarking on. Hopefully, I anticipate being able to do a lot more newborn photography in the months to come. Realistically, I expect to learn the true value of sleep.

We booked this trip to Egypt as our last couples vacation before the baby arrived, but really, the trip was for her. Natasha continues her work and her family life while growing a real human being in her stomach and feeling all the usual discomfort that entails. Needless to say, she deserved a break. So we booked a trip on the last date we could safely fly overseas. We chose an all-inclusive resort so Natasha could lay by the pool, float in the sea and really relax before life changed significantly. No day trips, no dune buggies, no temples, no trekking, no exploring, just relaxing for a whole week because she at least deserves that.

My little point and shoot

As photographers, I’m sure we’ve all been on a trip or vacation and annoyed our family or friends just waiting for “the shot” or walking around looking for photographic inspiration. So this time I left my kit at home to be completely present and enjoy this week with my pregnant wife.

I was not completely without a camera. I took with me what I consider to be my compact camera, my Fujifilm X100S. If you’ve used a camera from the X100 series before, you’ll appreciate how awesome this camera is. If you’ve ever owned one of the older X100 camera series, you’ll appreciate how frustrating this camera can be. The X100S replaced the X100 in 2013. It’s a classic style camera that looks like a slimmed down version of the older Canon AE-1 SLR. It has a 16.3-megapixel APS-C sensor and a fixed 23mm f/2.0 (35mm equivalent) lens. I’ve often heard certain car models described as “driver cars”, which usually means they’re difficult to use if you don’t know what you’re doing. I would describe the Fujifilm X100 cameras as a “camera for photographers” in the same way; they are great cameras if you know how to use them. Dynamic range from a relatively small sensor made in 2013 is impressive, image quality is pleasing, and it’s a pleasure to use the camera with its various dials and touch controls. It’s an absolute delight, except when you rely on autofocus in anything but perfect lighting. I understand that the autofocus on newer models is much improved, but I currently cannot justify paying $1400 to replace a compact camera that I rarely use. Every time I start shooting with the X100S I’m reminded of all the things I love about it, the size, the weight, the Fujifilm raw files, and just how awesome it is in a way that you have to experience it first hand to really understand.

Nothing to shoot?

I love photography, and I will always want to take pictures. Sure, I could just use my iPhone or iPad, but that’s just not the same as the experience of looking through a viewfinder to frame your image, tweaking your settings to get the look you want , the sound of a real shutter slamming open and closed in the camera, and having a robust raw file to edit later. Even with my small camera, what did I plan to photograph at our self-contained resort? When can I get photos that weren’t just vacation photos of the two of us by the pool or on the beach?

Once arrived, I had some ideas for photographic subjects, there is always the sunset, right? Our resort was on the eastern side of the peninsula. We would have great sunrises over the Red Sea towards Saudi Arabia, but sunsets over hotels inland would be less inspiring. There is also local wildlife to consider. I’m not much of a wildlife photographer and I’m not particularly interested in birds, but that’s always an option. Then there is the evening entertainment. The hotel has everything from dancers to acrobats to fire performers on stage every night. Wherever you are, there’s always something to capture, and I can edit the footage on my iPad Pro by the pool instead of reading a book, all without taking anything away from our relaxing week together.

Enjoy the freedom of a small camera

I took my little X100S to the fire department show one night. We got great seats at the front of the stage and enjoyed the show while I got some shots of the performance. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss out on the autofocus performance of my trusty 5D Mark IV, but was able to get perfectly usable shots with Fujifilm point and shoot. Once the shoot was done, I was able to put the camera in my pocket and continue our evening, which is harder to do with a DSLR, or even a modern mirrorless camera with interchangeable lenses.

Make the most of the day

Next on my list of shots was sunrise. The local sunrise was at 5am and our room was only steps from the beach. I set my alarm for 4:30 a.m., using the taptic vibration alarm on my Apple Watch. I was able to wake up without disturbing Natasha. I walked to the beach in the dim light of dawn and enjoyed the complete solitude of wandering around the deserted resort town. The sun appeared on the horizon at 5:02 a.m. I took a few shots of the sunrise and passing ships before walking back along the beach to the bedroom before 6am, getting back into bed and enjoying a few more hours of sleep before start our day together. I was delighted to have been able to take part in a perfectly pleasant photo walk without disturbing our planned week of rest.

Mobile edition?

Editing on an iPad is somewhat different from editing on a laptop or desktop, not that it’s objectively better or worse, just a different experience. Lightroom CC on iPad is familiar enough with my favorite desktop version of Lightroom Classic. It didn’t take long to get into the publishing flow. I even found things like the curve fit overlay which are implemented really well in the iPad version.

Lightroom CC and Photoshop on the iPad get better with every update, and they’re both perfectly usable for simple on-the-go editing, although I recently started learning Affinity Photo on the iPad, as it’s much closer to a full desktop version of Photoshop than the iPad version of Photoshop, and it’s available for a one-time payment of less than $10. Using the Apple Pencil was also a pleasant experience, I think my 11 inch screen isn’t big enough for effective editing. While a 13″ iPad Pro would be better for mounting, I’d rather have a 13″ laptop if I have to carry a 13″ device. The 11″ iPad Pro is the best lightweight option. At home, I often use the iPad Pro for video editing using LumaFusion, but I would rarely use the iPad over the MacBook Pro when it comes to photo editing. It’s absolutely capable and saved a significant amount of weight in my carry-on luggage by leaving the laptop, charger, mouse and SSD at home.

All things considered, it was an interesting experience to be content with minimal gear and not having time to devote to photography. Had a great time relaxing with my partner on what may well be our couple’s last trip for quite some time. I may even choose to leave my main kit at home more often, especially knowing how capable the X100S can be. In situations where shooting is not critical for a client or for professional purposes, the lightness and portability of the Fujifilm camera is highly appreciated. Most importantly, I had a great week and remembered that it’s good to go on vacation and not feel the need to make every trip about photography. Sometimes other things take precedence.

For now, I’m going to enjoy my full nights of sleep and start planning articles on how to photograph sleep-deprived newborns.

Do you always take your kit with you when traveling or do you have lightweight travel options? Have you tried editing on mobile apps? Let me know in the comments.

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