Paul Papanek

Travel | Last Updated: February 16, 2021

I’m a travel and food photographer based in Los Angeles. I’ve been shooting for Cabo Living Magazine for the past 13 years, and since 2011, my wife and I have been writing feature articles for the magazine.

In 2010, I developed – quite by accident – a dream niche: photographing small, boutique passenger boats for the various companies that own them. Most all of them average about 25 staterooms or less. Here’s how it all came about: We were planning a vacation to Egypt, and as part of that trip, we were booking a week-long voyage on the Nile on a wonderful, 6-stateroom boat.

While corresponding directly with the company that owns the boat, they looked at my website and asked if I would be interested in shooting a new package of images for them while onboard. Of course, I said yes! My wife became my art director.

Suddenly, I had a 1-boat portfolio, and I was determined to make the most of it. I marketed the heck out of that one job, and the next year we found ourselves shooting a new boat on the Mekong, which led to boats on the Amazon in Peru, the Chobe in Botswana, the Hoogly in India, the Irrawaddy in Myanmar, the Senegal River, the Sea of Cortez, and the Mediterranean.

The kit pictured – and described below – is the kit that I take almost everywhere. Yikes – that’s a lot of gear! But whether I’m shooting for Cabo Living Magazine or one of my boat clients, I don’t want to be without something I know I’ll need. I’ll likely be shooting interiors, exteriors, people, and food, and need to be ready for anything. More often than not, I do indeed use most everything in those 3 cases.

Have questions? Drop me a note!


Nikon D810 – My non-babied, around the world workhorse. I love this camera and it’s never failed me.

Nikon D700 (not pictured) – Was my primary camera in its day and is my trusty backup now. But because the D810 is so solid, I’ve never had to pull it out of the case.

Fujifilm X100S – My point-and-shoot.

Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 G ED – While I take this on every job, it gets very limited use. I tend to mount it up to accentuate skies at sunrise or sunset over a river landscape.

Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 G ED – Along with the 70-200mm below, this is the lens I tend to use the most. Great for everything.

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 ED

Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6 G – A tack-sharp walk-around lens that gives me more range – and is way lighter – than the 24-70mm. I use the heck outta this lens.

Nikon 85mm f/1.8 – While it’s in the kit photo, I don’t take this one with me much anymore.

Nikon 60mm f/2.8 D Micro – This goes everywhere. I use it mostly for details and food. I love it.

Nikon 50mm f/1.4 D – This little old guy seems to invent light. Always in the bag. Always.

Rokinon 24mm Tilt Shift f/3.5 – When I started out shooting boat interiors, I couldn’t wrap my head around splurging for the Nikon 24mm PCE. The reviews of the Rokinon were good, and I found this one used on eBay.

5 Nikon SB-800 Speedlights – As you may have guessed by now, I’m not the guy who goes out and buys new stuff as soon as it hits the markets. In fact, I tend to see new product intros as an opportunity to pick up used stuff for cheap. The SB-800’s are fine, especially since I tend to use them mostly in SU mode (slave mode triggered by the Elinchrom Quadras) shoved in bathrooms, kitchens, etc..

6 Pocket Wizard Plus Triggers – These don’t get a lot of use these days because I trigger the speedlights off the Elinchroms. That said, they go on every job – just in case.

2 Honl ¼ Speed Grids

Honl Photo Color Correction Gel Kit for Speedlight Flash – Have to be able to balance the color temp!

2 Elinchrom Quadra RX A-Heads and packs with lithium-ion batteries – How much do I love these lights? A lot! Powerful, light-weight, easy to use, incredibly portable – this entire kit – plus the transmitter, 2 chargers, and a sync cable (just in case) – fits in a ThinkTank SKB ISeries 3I-2011-7DL Rolling Case.

Elinchrom Transmitter Pro – What a great improvement over the stock Skyport remote.

Seconic Lightmaster Pro L-478DR-U-EL – Yes – I use a meter. It interfaces perfectly with the Skyport system, and I can change power levels right from the meter. Way cool.

Elinchrom Rotalux Deep Octa 39” – Just a great modifier. A bit bulky to travel with and soon to be replaced by a Rotalux Mini-Octa 39”.

Elinchrom Q-Portalite Octa 20” and Square 16×16” Softbox – So easy to pack.

Elinchrom Q-Reflector Adapter (not pictured)

3 LumoPro LP606S Compact Light Stands – Similar to the Manfotto version, but less expensive. Built really well, and they easily fit into an additional ThinkTank SKB ISeries case along with all my other grip gear and accessories.

2 Matthews Telescopic Baby Stand Extensions – The LumoPro stands are 7 ½’ feet tall, and sometimes, I need a bit more height. These extensions give me an additional 3’, but collapse down to 16 ½”.

Westcott Convertible Compact Collapsible Umbrella – Never leave home without one.

Gitzo heavy duty G-Series tripod (exact model not known) – When shooting interiors, a rock-solid tripod is a must.

Arca Swiss MonoBall (exact model not known) – I generally don’t take this big, heavy head with me, because I take something even bigger and heavier – and a lot more awkward to pack. See below.

Manfrotto 410 Junior Geared Tripod Head – I do a lot of bracketing and strobe light level changes when shooting interiors, and I need to know that the head isn’t going to drift even a small amount. This head, as unwieldy as it is, is my insurance.

SunwayFoto PNL-810R L-Bracket – Does as good a job as L-Brackets three times the price.

CamRanger wireless transmitter – Indispensable when bracketing interiors. And being able to make all camera adjustments, as well as fire it, from my iPad without having to touch the camera is brilliant.

Black Rapid RS4 and Lightweight Series camera straps – OK. These straps literally changed my life. That’s not hyperbole. I used to end every day of shooting with searing pain in my shoulders and neck from using a standard strap over one shoulder. As soon as I began using BlackRapids, the pain disappeared. It changed everything.

2 Samsung Portable SSD T3 solid state hard drives – I have a drawer filled with portable drives that kept getting smaller and smaller, but these Samsungs – which have been significantly updated since I bought these – are so tiny, light, and wicked fast that I’ll never take a mechanical drive on location again.

Hoodman Steel USB 3.0 UDMA Reader – Bullet-proof.

X-Rite Passport Colorchecker – I want to ensure that how I saw it at the moment is how it’ll look later.

Apple iPad Mini – Who needs the big one?

Apple Macbook Air (not shown) – It’s the hub that enables me to offload images to the Samsung SSDs. At the end of every day, I offload the cards onto the Samsungs (stored in separate places) as well as the laptop. Can’t have too many backups.

Lexar cards (not pictured). Never had one fail. Side note: I never shoot over a card on an assignment.

Monster Outlets-To-Go Power strip – The only power strip I’ve ever been able to find that can be plugged into a 240v outlet and not blow up.

Leatherman Kick Multitool – Because everyone should have one (but not in your carry-on!).

Leatherman Micro Multitool – Because it has the scissors that the Kick doesn’t!

Screwdriver- You always need a stand-alone screwdriver.


2 Wimberly Original Plamp clamps – I use these to hold bits of reflector cards when shooting food.

Various pieces of silver, gold, white, and black card (not shown) – Mostly for shooting food.

4×6 black, white, silver, and gold rags, and a 6×6 black net (not shown) – I use these for light control. The black solid has blocked window light countless times.

Blue and black paper tape and black electrician’s tape – Duh.

Small food shooting kit (chopsticks, tongue depressors, cotton balls, q-tips, sponges, tweezers, atomizer, wedges, spoons, etc). I shoot a lot of food on boat jobs, and having a little kit just makes sense.

Suunto M3 compass and Suunto Clinometer – because I’m old school and don’t want to always have to count on my iPhone. I have a paid subscription to and I’m able to enter my destination and dates and print out sun position charts before I go. I know that there are countless apps that do the same thing, but I’m always concerned that I’ll find myself somewhere with no cell reception or, worse yet, with a damaged phone.

Motorola TalkAbout 2-way radios – When I’m shooting a boat, I’m always shooting boat to boat and my art director wife is my communication to the crew.

ThinkTank Airport International rolling case (not shown) – Hands-down, ThinkTank makes the best bags and cases – period. This is the larger roll-aboard, and it’s been all over the world with me multiple times. This one always comes onboard with me. I’m always amazed by how much stuff I can fit inside. The airport security authorities in India were also amazed after they asked me to take everything out.

ThinkTank Airport Security rolling case (not shown) – For jobs where I know I’ll be on smaller aircraft. Just slightly more compact than the International.

ThinkTank Shapeshifter ll backpack (not shown) – A great expandable soft backpack that carries a lot of stuff but doesn’t make a statement.

2 ThinkTank SKB ISeries 3I-2011-7DL Rolling Cases – One for the Elinchroms and one for light stands and other grip gear. Indestructible hard cases with brilliant ThinkTank interiors.

ThinkTank Pocket Rocket card wallets.

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1 Comment

  1. Paul Papanek on January 30, 2019 at 3:59 am

    Thanks for the add, Mark and Zach! I’d love to answer any questions that anyone has!

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