What Camera Equipment Should I Bring on a Cruise?

Panorama of a boat on the water with mountains and a golden sunset in the background

This two-image panorama, shot with my 70-200mm lens, was a challenge to balance the moving boat and the sunset.

A cruise ship offers the best ever-changing views of mountains, glaciers, beaches and wildlife. On our Christian cruises to Alaska, New England, the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, we constantly see travelers photographing essential memories as they take in God’s creation. With that in mind, we decided to solicit a few expert tips about travel photography. We turned to one of our favorite travel photographers, Joshua Smith, the Creative Vice President for Inspiration Cruises & Tours. He recently returned from a trip to Alaska and shares some insights—and photos—from his travels.


People often ask me what kind of equipment they should bring on a Christian cruise. That’s a challenging question to answer because there are so many things to consider. Here is how I help people determine what might be best, which I shared recently in the Facebook group We Love Christian Travel. Enjoy!

First, take some time to think about the destination and your personal goals. These are a few questions to get you started:

  • Where are you going—will you be photographing wide-open vistas like the ocean, beaches or mountains, or smaller spaces like city streets or forests? 
  • Who will be viewing your images? Are they something you want to keep in a folder stored on your computer? Will you show them to friends and family using your phone or by posting on Facebook or Instagram?
  • What do you plan to do with the images after the trip? Are you doing something more official, like posting online, creating physical prints or even selling them? 

Regardless of whether you’re using a nice DSLR camera or the built-in camera on your smartphone, photographing the moments you’ll look back on with the most joy is the best way to get good photographs.

Glacier and surrounding mountains in Alaska.

The wide angle of my 24-70mm lens was able to capture the fullness of the glacier and surrounding mountains.

When it comes to packing, knowing what you want to capture helps you select the right gear to bring. As a professional photographer, I plan on selling my images. This decision requires me to bring multiple lenses and my tripod, for when I’m off the ship in port. Most photographers are extremely particular with how and why they choose their gear. I rarely recommend a specific brand over another, but when traveling it’s important to think light. I like to recommend bringing the fewest items that will give you the biggest range of possibilities. 

My own standard gear list for travel photography is a camera bag or backpack. The smaller, the better. I prefer this so my camera gear isn’t mixed in with my toiletries and clothes. I always carry this bag on flights so that nothing happens to it (you never know what other bag they’ll stack on top of yours under the plane). And I try to keep it inconspicuous—anytime you travel, regardless of the destination, you don’t want to advertise that you have expensive equipment with you. As for lenses, I can capture most anything I need with a wide-angle lens and a telephoto lens. 

Alaska is one of the most beautiful places I visit. The moodiness you can see from the ship is dramatic and ever-changing. I want big pictures of those scenes and I love to photograph landscapes, so the wide-angle tends to be my favorite. I currently use a 24-70mm lens. But for even wider scenes, especially ones I may visit only once, I’ve had my eye on a 16-35mm lens.

Alaska

This unique sunspot reached down far, far off the side of our cruise ship—my 70-200mm lens was required to zoom out to capture it.

My second-most-used lens is my 70-200mm, which lets me get in close for subjects very far away. You can find telephoto lenses that reach farther, but I’ve specifically chosen this one for sharpness at a distance that I commonly shoot.


Frequently Asked Questions

 

If someone wants to buy or bring only one lens, what do you recommend?

That’s a really great question. For most travelers, a camera with a single lens is probably optimal. You can get pretty good lenses in a variety of telephoto options. For instance, I saw one online recommendation for a lens that was 28-300, which would cover just about everything you could imagine. But there can be a catch. Some telephoto lenses aren’t as sharp since they have so many moving parts. For me, it’s why I bring two lenses: I want my images as sharp as I can get them, so I’m willing to carry extra gear.

Not to get too technical, but do you ever use filters?

Sometimes. I consider filters an added accessory—they aren’t an absolute must, but they are lightweight and small so I frequently bring them with me. They can help reduce brightness in the sky or shift the color of various hues. While we’re at it, make sure to bring all your other accessories, like extra batteries, cables and chargers. These are easy to forget but essential to have; you don’t want to get stuck away from home without them. 

If you’re traveling overseas, make sure you plan for the specific outlet of the places you’re visiting (although, being on a cruise fixes this as most ships have U.S. style plugs). And don’t forget a tripod! These aren’t particularly helpful on a cruise ship, which is always moving, but in port it can be essential for landscape photography.

The New Eddystone Rock jutting from a small island wrapped inside a bay in the Misty Fjords.

The New Eddystone Rock juts from a small island wrapped inside a bay in the Misty Fjords.

You mentioned trying to keep your gear bag inconspicuous. Have you ever lost or misplaced gear while traveling?

Unfortunately, yes. Once I left a tripod sitting next to our other bags. It was there one moment and gone the next. Thankfully, that’s the only time I’ve had anything stolen. I just always caution photographers to travel light and never leave your gear bag open. Take the extra time to put items away and shut your bag. Try not to draw unnecessary attention to yourself (this is easier said than done). Wear the camera strap around your torso or arm, and consider a bag that has the zipper against your back so people cannot get into it when you’re standing in crowded areas like buses or trams.

Any other suggestions for photographers?

“Take only memories, leave only footprints.” I love this iconic quote attributed to Native American Chief Seattle as it reminds me of why I take photographs. These are my lasting memories of the amazing trips and places I’ve visited.

The setting sun over this distant ridgeline at Icy Strait Point.

The setting sun over this distant ridgeline at Icy Strait Point still amazes me.


We hope you enjoyed these insights from Joshua Smith. As Christian travelers, our memories of times spent in creation can remind us of our loving Creator and all the unique beauty He’s filled our world with. Photos help us recall favorite people, places and moments even when memories fade. They’re such a joy to look back on and share with loved ones after a trip. 

What are you looking forward to photographing on your next cruise?

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