Darren James

Travel | Last Updated: April 5, 2021

I’ve been a photographer for several decades in various guises. Through photography I have experienced so many other walks of life and ways of living, had some mind-blowing experiences and met wonderful people while doing what I love to do. I feel very fortunate.

I worked for small newspapers and freelanced in London and Belfast before settling in Melbourne, again working in local newspapers before going freelance in 2014.

I have been working a lot in Pacific Island countries for a number of clients who are doing great things in healthcare, education, sustainability, and climate change adaptation. I get to document their work sometimes. I like spending time on remote coral atolls with small communities.

I think about what equipment to take. It makes a big difference to how well I can do my job. I’m often in very hot places in conditions that are hard on equipment and challenging to get around. Unnecessary gear becomes a burden that prevents me doing my best work.

Not taking enough of the right gear is just as bad. I pack a little differently each trip depending upon the brief but what’s in my gear photo is working quite well and is what I will describe.

I have swapped a few times; from Nikon to Canon then Fuji and back to Nikon. There has been good and bad equipment from all of them.

For about 3 years I used a Nikon D750 and D600 and I like both of them, but I have recently changed to a D850 and it’s now my favourite. The image quality is great, the buttons are well placed, it has a large viewfinder image and good clean whites.

Twenty years ago, zoom lenses were not so great and I would travel with a 20mm, 35mm, 50mm 85mm and a 135mm. Now I use one zoom to effectively cover that range and still get the quality I need. For several years I used a Sigma Art 24-105mm f/4 which I still love and recommend.

Recently I changed to a Nikon 24-120mm f/4 and I like it also. They do wear out faster than prime lenses and I’ve had to buy new ones more often, but I still prefer them.

I’m often in confined and crowded spaces and I would miss too many shots changing lenses, so again, the zoom lens suits me. I figure if I can’t do the job on a 24-120mm then it’s not the fault of the lens.

Often, I use 3, 4 or 5 flash units but shoot around 1/30th, f/4.5, ISO 320. I try to achieve a look that the viewer will perceive as a good available light shot, or preferably not think about the lighting at all and appreciate the subject as I had intended.

So, I bring along up to 5 speed lights, any type. I have old Nikons, Yongnuo, and Cactus which I pick up cheap second-hand. I use Yongnuo triggers to fire them if they don’t slave optically. I like the Godox AD200, it’s powerful and compact.

[Related: Do you need a flash for travel photography?]

Backup gear is essential of course and I effectively always take two basic kits. The D600 with Nikon 50mm f/1.4 and 3 flash units go in checked luggage and the D850, 24-120mm with 2 flash heads stay with me. If I were to lose one kit, I could still get the job done.

Secondary cameras and gear are spread between my carry-on luggage (an old discontinued LowePro backpack) and my checked in LowePro rolling backpack, also discontinued (check alternative rolling camera bags here).

I try to have only two bags and a belt mounted LowePro Toploader Zoom 50 AW which holds a whole camera with lens or up to 3 speed lights.

The smaller pockets are for SD cards (in a Tenba Reload SD 9) my wallet, passport, spare camera battery, lens cleaning cloth (see guide), Band-Aids, Leatherman or Swiss Army knife, pen, notebook, elastic bands, alligator clips, lucky rock (from my daughter Marly), ear buds, phone charge cable, piece of rope, paper napkins, etc.

It goes everywhere with me and I have a dry bag it fits in for boat rides and wet locations. Sometimes I’ll have a 2nd smaller Toploader.

When shooting, I try to leave my main bag somewhere safe and just use the Toploaders, pockets and one simple unpadded shoulder bag (small light stands, reflector, brolly), rather than carry a heavy bag.

I shoot to 2 cards, put one in the SD wallet, one elsewhere and back up to external drive. Then reuse one of the cards if necessary.

I modify gear to suit my needs and I improvise with affordable options. Bigger wheels on an old Lowepro rolling backpack so I don’t scrape a layer of dirt along when there’s no footpath which is most of the time.

A $4 hot shoe mount screwed to a $3 spring clamp holds a flash on just about anything including a flat wall if I have some strong tape.

The best camera straps I’ve ever had are $3 pieces of yachting rope. Car sunshades can make great reflectors, repurposed plastic juice bottles work as flash diffusers, white loose weave fabric as scrim, reflector and mosquito net, stubby holders for snoots.

The one thing I’d most like to recommend is not actually camera gear. I’m horrified by plastic pollution and try to contribute as little as possible. The Fill2Pure Extreme stainless steel filtered water bottle treats pretty much any water for drinking. I’ve used one for 4 years and avoided wasting 800 plastic bottles and I’m $1500 better off.

If I’m going somewhere of extra concern, I also take a CamelBak All Clear UV bottle and double up on the treatment. Many times, I have used water known to be dodgy and I’ve been fine. Also saves a lot of time (looking for a shop) and weight, just fill up when you need to.

Nikon D850
Nikon D600
Nikon 24-120mm f/4
Nikon 50mm f/1.4
Godox AD200 and X1 Trigger
Yongnuo RF603N II Triggers x3
DJI Mavic Pro Drone
Gopro H6 and Go Pole 6” dome
Manfrotto Nano stand (cut down to fit my bag)
Manfrotto mini tripods (old style)
METZ Mecalight L1000 LED video light
Zoom H1
Rode Lav mic
iPhone 7plus (roaming)
iPhone 6 (local SIM)
Macbook Air 11”
Brolly (white inside)
Small reflectors
Prography Foldable beauty dish speed light diffuser4 various speed lights
External HD 2TB
Lowepro backpack (discontinued)
Lowepro rolling backpack (discontinued)

Additionally (most trips) – first aid kit, surgical style scissors, wide brimmed hat and a cap, dry bags x2, sewing kit, battery banks, pegs and clips, masking tape, rope and small carabiners, small tool kit, lens cleaning fluid, backup chargers, Nitecore MH27 torch.

I hope that some of this information has been helpful, feel free to email me if you would like to know more and good luck with your adventures.

www.darrenjamesphotography.com | @darrenjamesphotography

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  1. Darren James on May 20, 2019 at 3:25 pm

    Thanks Mark and team, I’m very happy to be included on your fabulous site. Just wanted to mention a change I made recently. After reading your review of the Sony A6400 I decided to get one with the Zeiss 16-70mm f/4. It’s now my main video and backup camera. I’ll also use it in the water with an Ikelite 200DLM housing and 6″ dome port. Thanks again.

    • Mark Condon on May 21, 2019 at 9:13 am

      Thanks Darren, that’s an interesting combo! What made you choose that lens in particular? I’ve actually got an a6400 in my hands right now – it’s a great little camera! Haven’t tried it with underwater housing yet though. By the way, you might find this interesting: https://shotkit.com/sony-a6400-lenses/

      • Darren James on May 21, 2019 at 10:50 pm

        Hey Mark. It was the best all round lens with acceptable quality (as confirm in your review – was pleased to see) and balance of range, weight and size. Yes the camera is a beauty, especially for its size! I’m struggling a little working out the best focus options for me but I’ll get there. I hope. I have a lot coming up. Thanks again.

        • Mark Condon on May 22, 2019 at 11:29 am

          Ah good to hear Darren. Keep up the great work!

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