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

As a keen 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 photography trip, working away, or on family vacation, I’m sure we all put aside some space for our main camera and a lens or two. What if you left your kit at home and traveled 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 into my hand luggage with my 11” iPad Pro and left it at that. Why on Earth would any photographer choose to leave their kit at home when travelling somewhere beautiful and exotic? Simple, this wasn’t my trip.

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

We booked this trip to Egypt as our last vacation together as a couple before the baby arrives, but really, the trip was for her. Natasha has been getting on with work and home life while growing an actual human being in her stomach and experiencing all the usual discomfort this brings. Needless to say, she deserved a break. So, we booked a trip on the latest date that we could safely fly abroad. We chose an all-inclusive resort for Natasha to be able to lay by the pool, float in the sea, and truly relax before life changes significantly. No day trips, no dune buggies, no temples, no trekking, no exploring, just relaxing for a whole week because she deserves at least that much.

My Little Point and Shoot 

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

I wasn’t completely without a camera. I took what I regard as my point and shoot camera with me, my Fujifilm X100S. If you’ve ever used one of the X100 range, you’ll appreciate how great this camera is. If you’ve ever owned one of the older X100 series of cameras, you’ll appreciate how frustrating this camera can be. The X100S replaced the X100 in 2013. This is a classically styled camera looks and feels like a lightweight version of the old 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 models of car described as “driver’s cars,” which usually means they’re difficult to use if you don’t know what you’re doing. I’d describe the Fujifilm X100 cameras as a “photographers camera” in the same way; they’re superb cameras if you know how to use them. The dynamic range from a relatively small sensor made in 2013 is impressive, the image quality is pleasing, and it’s a joy to use the camera with its various dials and tactile controls. It’s an absolute pleasure, except when relying on the autofocus in anything but perfect lighting. I understand that the autofocus on newer models is much improved, but I can’t currently justify paying $1,400 for a replacement for a point and shoot camera that I rarely use. Whenever I start shooting with the X100S, I remember all the things I love about it, the size, the weight, the Fujifilm raw files, and simply how great it is in a way that you need to experience firsthand to really understand.

Nothing to Shoot?

I love photography, and I’m always going to want to take some photos. Sure, I could just use my iPhone or iPad, but it’s just not the same as the experience of looking through a viewfinder to frame your image, adjusting your settings to get the look you desire, the sound of a real shutter clacking open and closed in the camera, and having a robust raw file to edit later. Even with my little camera, what did I plan to photograph at our self-contained resort? When could I get any photographs which weren’t simply vacation photos of the two of us by the pool or on the beach?

Once we arrived, I had some ideas for photographic subjects, there’s always the sunset right? Our resort was on the Eastern side of the peninsula. We’d get some great sunrises over the Red Sea looking towards Saudi Arabia, but the sunsets over the hotels inland would be less inspiring. There’s also local wildlife to consider. I’m not much of a wildlife photographer, and birds don’t particularly interest me, but it’s always an option. Then, there’s the evening entertainment. The hotel has everything from dancers, to acrobats, to fire performers on stage every evening. No matter where you are, there’s always something to capture, and I can edit the images on my iPad Pro by the pool in place 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 performers show one evening. We got some 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 the autofocus performance of my trusty 5D Mark IV, but I was able to get some perfectly useable shots with the Fujifilm point and shoot. Once I was done shooting the show, I was able to put the camera in my pocket and carry on with our evening, something that’s harder to do with a DSLR, or even a modern mirrorless camera with interchangeable lenses.

Making the Most of the Day

Next on my shot list was the sunrise. Local sunrise was at 5:00 am, and our room was only a short walk from the beach. I set my alarm for 4:30 am, using the taptic vibration alarm on my Apple Watch. I was able to wake myself up without disturbing Natasha. I walked to the beach in the dim dawn light and enjoyed the complete solitude of walking around the deserted resort. The sun appeared over the horizon at 5:02 am. I took a few shots of the sunrise and passing ships before walking back along the beach to the room before 6 am, getting back into bed and enjoying another couple of hours sleep before starting our day together. I was pleased to have fit in a perfectly enjoyable photo walk without disturbing our planned restful week.

Mobile Editing?

Editing on an iPad is somewhat different to editing on a laptop or desktop, not that it’s objectively better or worse, simply a different experience. Lightroom CC on the iPad is familiar enough to my preferred desktop version of Lightroom Classic. It didn’t take long to get into the flow of editing. I even found things like the curves adjustment overlay are very well implemented in the iPad version.

Lightroom CC and Photoshop on iPad are getting more capable with every update, and they’re both perfectly useable for simple edits on the go, although I have recently started to learn Affinity Photo on the iPad, as it’s far closer to a full desktop version of Photoshop than the iPad version of Photoshop, and it’s available for a one-off payment of under $10. Using the Apple Pencil was also a pleasant experience, I think my 11” screen isn’t quite big enough for efficient editing. While a 13” iPad Pro would be better for editing, 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 reach for 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 making do with minimal kit and having no time put aside for photography. I had a lovely time relaxing with my partner on what may well be our last couple’s 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 the shot isn’t crucial for a client or for professional purposes, the light weight and portability of the Fujifilm camera are very much appreciated. More importantly, I had a lovely week and remembered that it’s fine to go on vacation and not feel the need to make every trip all about photography. Sometimes, other things take priority.

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

Do you always take your kit bag on trips, or do you have lightweight options for travel? Have you tried editing on mobile apps? Let me know in the comments.

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