Tips for Shooting with Only One Lens While Traveling

If you’re limited on gear and still want to take compelling images while traveling, then I have some fun ideas for you! Here is what I’ve learned by carrying less and taking advantage of every shooting opportunity.

Choosing the Gear

This past June, I packed the bags and headed out to Cuba. Needing to keep things relatively lightweight, I rented a Nikon D750 and a Tamron 28-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di VC PZD lens to go with my Nikon 70-200mm. I own the Nikon D3s and D810 but I wanted a camera somewhere in between those. I wanted a camera with few megapixels than the D810 but more than what the D3s has.

The D750 seemed like the perfect compromise. At 24 megapixels, with great video and an articulating screen, I figured I’d be best set on vacation with that camera.

Download a few RAW files from this camera to play around with and see if it’s possibly a good fit for you:

Cuba-Vacation (86.8MB)

Travel Shooting Tip: Get Low

Sitting and making a shot with the Nikon D750 in Havana, Cuba

On the streets of Havana, rain constantly chased us out of shooting opportunities. But we didn’t pack away the camera and stay indoors. I think having wet foreground elements add interest to images. Make sure you explore that! We noticed a cool car and background. Ducking into a building’s covered overhang, I was able to sit down to see if I could take a shot while safely protected from the elements.

A closeup of the Nikon D750 screen in Havana, Cuba

Why You Should Consider a Camera with a Swivel LCD

Setting the camera low when making a composition gives the subject a more commanding presence. The problem her usually is that you can’t see what you are trying to shoot! This is where having an articulated LCD can really be helpful.

I sat crisscrossed and placed the camera on my shoe for some stabilization. Tilting the screen up, I was able to set the frame that I was looking for using the D750’s Live View feature. Once that was set, I just clicked a couple of pictures and we were good to go.

A car after a rainstorm in Havana, Cuba

With the ground wet, some of the elements at the top part of the frame are reflected in the bottom of the frame. It also highlights some of the grit that you normally have in the street. This, along with a little clarity adjustment in Lightroom, and you can get some good detail out of your picture!

Getting the Most from One Lens: Sacrificing Speed for Zoom

A closeup view of an old car in Havana Cuba - Shot with the Tamron at 300mm

Whenever I talk to photographers who are going out for a trip, most want to rent the fastest lenses they can. They often opt for an f/2.8 or wider max aperture lens. I normally agree with that. But I think it’s wise to consider your shooting conditions. See if you can forgo the extra stops for more zoom range instead.

Let’s take this trip for example. One of the things I want to emphasize while in Cuba is the scenery. A lot of my travel photography isn’t really going to have a lot of subjects with blurry backgrounds. The backgrounds are part of the ambiance of the environment I’m in!

Why Choose a Slower All-In-One?

Something like the 28-300mm with a maximum aperture range of f/3.5 to f/6.3 on the long end may seem very slow but it can be good enough when outside shooting mostly scenery. This variability still gives you a little bit of shallowness on the wide end, but the sacrifice you make at this range allows the lens to be a lot more portable. Second, it gives you quite a bit of range.

An old car in Havana, Cuba - shot with the Tamron lens at 28mm

This is the image of the car that I saw when I was walking around. Three different things worked to my advantage when using a lens like this:

• Having a long range opens creativity to see smaller portions of a bigger scene for a picture. Instead of trying to think about how to fit the overall environment into the picture, I can get in closer to the thing that caught my attention.

• The amount of perceived lens compression at that range will make the background appear a lot closer. If I made this same shot at 28mm, the columns and the back of the wall would appear further away from the car than they really are. By shooting it with a zoom, all of those elements are perceived as closer to the subject.

• The range freed me up to compose a lot faster. If this car had been at a red light, I would have had to walk into the street, watch for traffic, run closer to try to find the frame, compose and shoot. Sure, it seems like seconds – but those seconds could be the difference between making the shot and not getting it at all.

See in Black and White

Picture of an Old Building in Havana, Shot in Black and White on a NIkon D750

Color is the primary motivator for any of the images that I make. But I feel like there is a great amount of timelessness that comes out of being able to shoot in black and white. I believe it’s a good idea to see the scene you are working on in black and white. Make exposure and contrast adjustments in-camera to get the shot.

Most Nikons have the option to set the picture mode to a variety of different moods. I like to go into the camera and switch it from a color mode to Monochrome. Further, you can go into the menu and adjust color filtration, contrast, and sharpness to really get the best out of the picture.

This information is not passed along to Lightroom for you to work on when shooting in RAW. But it gives you a good feeling of the picture when you are composing the shot. If I really want to make sure that I capture the mood of the scene, I just shoot in RAW+JPG. That ensures that the color, contrast, and sharpening information gets baked into the JPG. The file can be finished with that one shot or can serve as a basis for working on the RAW file later.

Be Open for Opportunities

Using the Live View Mode on the Nikon D750 in Havana

When traveling, I talk to the locals around me. I ask questions about the area to see if I can offer any help. While out there, I met a man who was in the process of trying to make a video of his small band. Nothing too fancy – just a couple of video clips showing what they can do.

Portrait of a Young Singer in a Cuban Band.

With the D750 being pretty handy for video, it was just a matter of switching over to video, setting up some audio on their board, and we were good to go. As a thank you, the band manager allowed me to take a portrait using some window light in the restaurant.

Sometimes, you will go out and come back with either just a picture or a whole story. This wouldn’t be something that I’d add to a portfolio but it’s a great reminder of a time when I was able to help. For that, I’m grateful.

Be Open, Be Helpful, Experiment

Portrait of a Young Woman doing Laundry in Havana - 300mm

Overall, traveling with the D750, the 70-200mm, and the Tamron 28-300mm yielded me some pretty good memories of a place that I am quickly falling in love with.

The versatility that I had shooting with something that is really light let me open up and try different things. That presence, as well as a desire to not let adverse weather bother me, allowed me a very productive trip.

I’ve kept a lot of the pixel-peeping and measure geek-outs to the absolute minimum. I believe tone of the best ways for you to judge what gear you want is to have it in your own hands. The Tamron 28-300mm lens, and similar all-in-one zooms, are great for this kind of work. I would encourage you to rent before you buy, however.

If you want to learn more about how I post-process images and work inside of Photoshop and Lightroom, make sure to check out some of the classes I have on my training site – First Shot School.

RC is the founder of First Shot School, an award winning photographer and author of the best selling books Get Your Photography On the Web , The HDR Book, and The Enthusiast's Guide to Lightroom. He worked as Director of Content and Education for Kelby Media Group and host of the popular podcasts Photography Tips and Tricks and The Grid. A sought after public speaker, he has held training seminars around the world and has served as guest instructor for the Digital Landscape Workshop Series with Moose Peterson, Advanced Flash Photography at Jade Mountain with Joe McNally, and His Light workshops with famed landscape photographer Bill Fortney.


  • Alexandria Huff

    I would stick with the zoom. I often think I am not going to need the reach on trips but then end up regretting not having it. I used the EM-1 and a zoom in Peru and loved it.

  • Amb1dextr

    Just bought the new OMD EM1Mark 2 with 12-100 lens for my trip to Cuba next week. Half the weight compared to my bulky Canon 5DIII with 24-105 mm. I was tempted to just get a new Oly lens 17 mm F1.8 for this trip but I don’t want to miss close ups. Do you think it’s wise to carry camera with longer lens all around? Im just an enthusiast but I’d like to make a photo slide in B&W for our Camera club this year with a little punch on my shots

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