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Photography

CNET's ultimate travel photography kit guide

Planning a trip away this year? Our guide to camera gear will help you capture some glorious shots.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Whether you're jetting off to an exotic island, heading into snow-capped mountains or simply taking a long weekend away in the country, your holidays can provide brilliant opportunities for photography. Time is always limited, however, so you need to make proper use of it.

In the first part of our handy two-part guide, we'll take you through the essential kit you need to take with you on your travels, as well as some extras to consider if you want to return home with creative pieces of art, rather than just plain holiday snaps. Look for part two to focus on the mechanics of taking great shots.

Get the right camera

A high-end dSLR like a Canon EOS 6D can take incredible shots and has the flexibility of interchangeable lenses, but its hefty weight makes it a little too cumbersome for travelling. Many compact cameras, such as Sony's RX100 III, can take superb shots, and most will fit in your pocket, but they don't have the in-depth features and flexibility of higher end dSLRs. A solid compromise then, would be a Micro Four Thirds or compact system camera.

Lori Grunin/CNET

On my photo tour of Italy, I took Sony's Alpha 6000, a 24-megapixel camera that's small, lightweight, has interchangeable lenses and takes fantastic shots. Being able to swap your lenses allows you to tailor your shooting for a much wider variety of scenes. You'll want to choose your lenses shrewdly though. I paired the 6000 with Sony's 18-70mm Zeiss lens -- I only took this one lens, but it's wide angle at the 17mm end and has a good zoom range too, giving me scope to cover a range of situations. Carrying fewer lenses means travelling lighter.

Sony's RX1 camera and Leica's new Q have full-frame image sensors -- something you'll typically only find in high-end professional dSLRs -- which allow them to take stunning photos with brilliant dynamic range. Their bodies are extremely small, however, making them brilliant for travelling. They're worth considering, assuming your budget can stretch to their steep asking prices, although bear in mind that the Sony's 35mm and the Leica's 28mm lenses are non-interchangeable, which you may find limiting.

Tripod

A tripod isn't essential for all travel photography, but when the light fades and you need to slow the shutter speed in order to maintain a good exposure, you'll need to secure your camera on a tripod. You'll definitely need one if you want those nighttime shots overlooking a gorgeous bay, or to capture the stars over those snow-capped mountains.

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By using a sturdy tripod, I was able to slow the shutter speed right down to capture these light trails on London's Tower Bridge. Andrew Hoyle/CNET

You don't need a big one though: a Joby GorillaPod will fit easily into your backpack among your sandwiches and will support the weight of a compact system camera. You'll need something more robust if you're taking a dSLR with a heavy lens attached. Look for tripods that are designed for travel (they should pack down small) and are made from lightweight materials like carbon fibre.

I use a Manfrotto carbon-fibre tripod for most shoots I do with CNET. It's light enough to carry around for most of the day without feeling too weighed down, but will keep a heavy dSLR steady during long exposures. Alternatively, the MeFoto Backpacker is small and light enough to fit into a good sized backpack.

Bag

A dedicated photo bag should be high on your list -- after all, you don't want your fancy new kit getting knocked around and breaking, do you? A good bag will have compartments to keep your camera safe and secure, but will let you access it quickly. It's important too to find one that also has plenty of space to keep other items you'll need while out and about.

Crumpler's Proper Roady Half Photo Backpack, for example, gives easy access to camera storage in the bottom half of the bag -- room for a dSLR, plus two lenses -- with the top half providing room for carrying everything else. It's hard-wearing too and has a water-resistant coating, which is handy if you find yourself caught out in a sudden downpour or flurry of snow.

Extras

The kit list above is really the essential stuff you'll need to take with you. How much more you take with you will really depend on how seriously you take your photography. A spare battery (or even two or three) is definitely worth having in your bag. There's nothing worse than getting to a beautiful afternoon destination, only to find you exhausted your power in the morning. Keeping a spare in your bag will let you swap it out and keep on shooting into the evening.

If your goal is to capture stunning landscape vistas, filters called graduated neutral density filters are well worth considering. These will darken only the top half of photograph -- to help control an overly bright sky -- letting you capture an evenly exposed scene. Shop around for square filter sets that will allow you to use adapter rings for a variety of lens sizes.

I used the Big Stopper filter by Lee Filters to achieve an exposure over a minute long, even though it was the middle of the day. Andrew Hoyle/CNET

If you want to experiment with long exposures then you'll benefit from solid neutral density filters. These will dim the light across the whole scene, allowing you to use longer shutter speeds without resulting in a photo that's completely washed out. The Big Stopper by Lee Filters is a superb filter, so dark it allows you take photos several seconds long -- or even longer -- in broad daylight. For capturing cloud trails streaking across the sky, it's worth checking out, although it doesn't come cheap.