Erin Sullivan shares real, honest stories and advice from her travels and experiences in the outdoors. She aims to empower you to make purposeful choices in your life, and to show you that an adventurous life is completely within your reach.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge fan of credit cards, especially when using them means racking up points to use on flights, hotels and more. But over the past decade of my own credit card use and frequent travel, I have come across a theme: people are scared of credit cards!
I have lost track of the number of conversations I’ve had with fellow travelers (including close friends) who want to get in on the miles/points game, but are totally confused about how credit cards can help them. I’ve talked with friends who reluctantly admitted that they don’t have a credit card to begin with… because they’re intimidated. I get it! I can hear my old internal dialogue now: What if I mess up and miss a payment? Won’t applying for a new card hurt my credit score? What even is my credit score? I’m too embarrassed to confront it. What if I spend money I don’t have? What if I overdraw? What if I don’t understand how to set things up? Ugh… it’s not even worth trying to understand…
But once I started learning about the benefits that come with using credit cards, I became a huge advocate for using them (responsibly, of course).
As a result of my credit cards, I have stayed in 5 star hotels in Europe and booked spontaneous flights using my points, plus I pretty much always have lounge access in airports, and I don’t have to worry about purchasing that extra car rental insurance. And those are just some of the benefits. Pull up a chair–– if you are not currently taking advantage of credit card benefits, it’s time.
FIRST THINGS FIRST: WHAT’S A CREDIT CARD?
Think of a credit card as a short-term loan. When you make a purchase with a debit card, money comes out of your bank account directly. By contrast, with a credit card, money comes out of your credit card institution’s account. You then need to pay that amount to them at the end of the billing cycle, which is typically 30 days. If you pay the entire balance on time, you will not pay any interest.
I hear that the main reason people don’t want a credit card is that they feel they can’t trust themselves to not overspend. In my opinion, you need to make a deal with yourself that you will be responsible and aware of how much money you are spending, and that you will not spend money you don’t have. Decide that you are going to pay your full balance on time every month.
WHY SHOULD YOU HAVE A CREDIT CARD?
You need to start building your credit. When you eventually want to buy something that requires a loan (maybe a house or a car), your credit score (FICO score) matters, and will give you a more favorable rate if your score is good. Your FICO score is determined by a combination of things including the length of your credit history, your payment history, and the amount you currently owe. The best time to start building your score is NOW!
Points, airline miles and cash-back rewards come in super handy for frequent travelers. Many cards have excellent introductory bonuses that give you a solid amount of points right away (provided you meet the requirements).
Many cards offer great insurance for things like rental cars, travel cancellations, delays, and other emergencies that might occur on a trip.
Perks don’t end at points and miles, but can extend to things like lounge access and reimbursed Global Entry fees.
Improved security compared to a debit card. Credit card companies monitor your accounts closely for fraud, and inauthentic charges can be disputed easily. By contrast, if your bank account or debit card gets hacked and money is stolen, it is much more difficult to recover the stolen funds.
Emergencies. It’s just smart to carry a credit card for an emergency. There are bound to be situations that are out of your control, and knowing you have a credit card to use can help.
If you are spending the money anyway, you might as well use a credit card and get all these benefits. You’re leaving money on the table by not using one!
WHAT CREDIT CARD IS RIGHT FOR YOU?
Note: This list doesn’t contain a comprehensive list of credit cards or their offers, but is a selection of handpicked cards that stand out to me as smart choices for travelers and people looking to maximize credit card perks.
BEST FOR PAYING DOWN DEBT
This is for folks who currently have credit card debt. If you are currently in credit card debt and have average or better credit and have not applied for a new credit card in the past three months, you should consider transferring your balance to a card that is offering an intro 0% APR period on balance transfers. THIS CAN SAVE YOU A TON OF MONEY! Check to see if you are eligible for a balance transfer on one of these cards. Then, divvy up the amount of debt you have over the 0% APR period into installments that you will pay automatically. I don’t recommend using this card for any other purpose than paying down your debt, unless you can be 100% sure to pay off whatever you are spending in that month on time and in full. None of these cards have an annual fee.
Bank Americard This card is offering a 0% intro APR for 18 months, and a 0% fee on balance transfers made in the first 60 days. After the intro offer, there isn’t a whole lot else happening with this card, but in my opinion, this is the best credit card currently available for paying down debt.
Discover it Balance Transfer
This card is offering a 0% APR on balance transfers for 18 months. There is a 3% fee to transfer your balance, so be sure this is less than what you’re currently paying in interest. There are other rewards if you’d like to continue having a reason to use this card once you’ve paid off your debt–– 5% cash back on rotating categories and 1% cash back on everything else. There is also no foreign transaction fee, good if you travel.
Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card
This card offers a 0% APR on balance transfers for 15 months, but charges a 3% balance transfer fee, so again, make sure this amounts to less than what you’re currently paying in interest. There’s a one-time cash bonus if you’d like to also use this card beyond paying down debt–– spend $500 in the first 3 months of opening and get $150 back. This card doesn’t do rotating cash back offers. Instead, you get 1.5% cash back on every purchase you make. No foreign transaction fee either.
BEST FOR NO ANNUAL FEE
Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card
It appears again! I’m including this one in this category too because it’s just a good all around card, especially if you’re still getting familiar with using credit cards, since the rewards are easy to understand. Intro offer: Spend $500 in the first 3 months of opening and get $150 back Best features: No foreign transaction fee, 1.5% cash back on every purchase.
Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card This is the card I recommend to my friends as their first credit card. The rewards are super easy to understand. Intro offer: 20,000 miles when you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months Best features: No foreign transaction fee, 1.25 miles per dollar on every purchase, miles don’t expire, use miles on a variety of travel partners, and get 10x miles on Hotels.com purchases (!!!)
Chase Freedom This is a great free card that has rotating categories that earn you 5% cash back/5 points per dollar on up to $1,500 per category. Some of the purchase categories include gas stations, grocery stores, and internet/phone bills. Note that this card does charge a 3% foreign transaction fee, so don’t use it abroad. Intro offer: 15,000 points when you spend $500 in the first three months (that said, the intro offer isn’t the best feature on this card) Best features: Rotating bonus categories for 5% cash back.
BEST FOR FREQUENT TRAVELERS
Chase Sapphire Reserve
This is my top pick and my favorite card for personal use. Although the $450 annual fee may sound steep, you get a $300 travel credit, so I think of it more like $150/year. My favorite perks on this card are the 3x points on travel and dining and Priority Pass membership–– how I get lounge access (a value of $429 annually). I would venture to guess that this card is in the wallets of many savvy travelers you follow online, and for good reason. Intro offer: 50,000 points after you spend $4,000 within the first 3 months of account opening Best features: $300 travel credit and 3x points on travel purchases afterward, 3x points on dining, Priority Pass membership, get 50% more value from your points when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards, application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓, no foreign transaction fee. Annual fee: $450
The Platinum Card from American Express A worthwhile competitor to the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the AMEX Platinum card has some excellent benefits for frequent travelers. The card offers an intro bonus of 60,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 within the first three months. Though it has a high annual fee of $550, its $200 airline credit and $200 Uber credit make the fee more reasonable.
Intro offer: 60,000 points when you spend $5,000 within the first 3 months Best Features: $200 airline credit, $200 Uber credit, superior purchase protection, Priority Pass and access to Delta Sky Clubs and AMEX Centurion Lounges, credit for Global Entry and TSA Pre✓ fees every 4 years, no foreign transaction fee, points transfer to 21 hotel and airline partners, complimentary Gold & Gold Elite status in the Hilton and Marriott programs. Annual fee: $550
BEST FOR A GOOD ALL-AROUND CARD
Chase Sapphire Preferred
If you like the sound of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, but are nervous about the big annual fee, this is a good pick for you. You get 2x points on travel and dining, and your points are worth 25% more when you redeem them with Chase Ultimate Rewards. There are also ton of options when it comes to redeeming your points. If you are wanting to travel on points a lot in the future, this is an excellent choice for your first (or next) credit card. Here’s a great article by The Points Guy that breaks down the benefits of this card further. Intro offer: 50,000 points when you spend $4,000 within the first 3 months Best Features: 2x points on travel and dining, points worth 25% when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards, no foreign transaction fee, good insurance coverage. Annual fee: $95, waived the first year
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card This is another good card for starting your points strategy. Not to be confused with the VentureOne card, the Capital One Venture card is a solid card with simple rewards. The 50,000 mile intro bonus is a good offer, and you will earn 2 miles per dollar on every purchase after that. Like the VentureOne, you can use their “purchase eraser” to simply “erase” any travel-related purchase using your points. Intro offer: 50,000 miles after you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months Best features: No foreign transaction fees, 2 miles per dollar on every purchase, 10x miles on Hotels.com, miles are easy to redeem, ability to transfer miles to 14 airline partners, Global Entry or TSA Pre✓ rebate. Annual fee: $95, waived the first year
BEST FOR SMALL BUSINESSES
Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card
This card currently has a great intro bonus, plus 3x points on broad categories like travel, dining, internet/phone, and advertising on social media sites, up to $150,000. This card also offers some great purchase protection including primary car rental insurance, travel accident insurance (up to $500,000), baggage insurance and trip delay/cancellation insurance. If you have another Chase credit card, you can pool your Ultimate Rewards points to enhance their value–– a feature I love that keeps me loyal to Chase. To me, this is the best first business credit card you can get right now (unless you can spend $50,000 the first year, then check out the Capital One Spark Miles for Business). Intro offer: 80,000 points when you spend $5,000 in the first three months. Best features: 3x points on travel, dining, internet, phone, cable, and advertising on social media sites, great insurance for car rentals and travel, points worth 25% more when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards Annual fee: $95
There are lots of other great small business credit cards out there, but this topic deserves more options than I’ll be providing here. Once again, The Points Guy delivers–– see their post here ranking the best business credit cards of 2019. If you are a freelancer, getting incorporated and separating your finances can help you feel much more organized about your expenses. I would recommend making a list of your biggest business expenses, and picking a credit card that has rewards related to those categories.
BEST AIRLINE & SERVICE SPECIFIC
If you fly one particular airline a lot, it might benefit you to get a credit card that is specific to them. Look up the options for the airline you fly. If you know that you would like to start a long-term relationship with an airline (oOOoOoh getting serious!), it might be beneficial for you to have their credit card. Note that Uber also has its own credit card now if you are a frequent Uber user. I wrote a post about it a while back–– you can see it here.
DO’S & DONT’S
DO select credit cards that are a good fit for you, and have a good understanding of the benefits and fees (if applicable).
DO pay your balance on time every month. I recommend setting up AutoPay immediately so that you don’t have to remember when it’s time to pay your bill.
DO pay attention to special bonus categories and offers so you can take advantage of them!
DO use your points, you earned them! Don’t be a hoarder.
DO keep an eye out for good intro bonuses on cards you don’t have yet.
DO make yourself aware of Chase’s 5/24 rule for future reference, especially if you are applying for a Chase card.
DON’T spend money you don’t have. C’mon. You are better than that!
DON’T apply for lots of cards in a short time window, or it can affect your credit score. The general rule of thumb is to wait three months in between applications.
DON’T pay interest fees. See my tips above on getting a card with a 0% APR intro period and transferring your balance to that.
HOW TO GET STARTED
It’s pretty easy to apply for a credit card, and if your score is above 600, you can sometimes be approved immediately.
Get your annual credit report for free here. Your official credit score (FICO score), and/or other estimates, can be accessed for free from certain credit card issuers as part of your card benefits. There..
I always wanted a job that would allow me to go on adventures.
I knew I wanted a job that would take me to the places I only saw in movies and magazines, to meet people from different cultures and backgrounds. To be fully transparent, I had no idea where to start. But if I wanted an adventure, well, I got one, and I’m still on it.
As real as I try to be online, most of the time what you’re seeing is just a version of a final product–– not the journey itself. If you had seen the process alone without the result, I don’t think you would be very impressed. It would’ve looked like me juggling part-time jobs and relationships. Attempting to find my place in the world in what felt like the messiest ways. This path has been as complicated as it has been beautiful. If you looked at my journey alone, I’m not sure it would make sense.
Though I wanted to be a photographer from the time I was in high school, I buried my dream in favor of being “realistic”. I still wanted to be outside. I still wanted to travel. So I looked at my skill set and my work experience, and went from there. It turned out to be one of the most roundabout ways I could have come up with to ultimately become the thing I avoided: a travel photographer.
I worked at a small coffee shop in my hometown from the time I was 16, and decided to do something else after my freshman year of college. I took a job as a camp counselor, and in a way, that was the start of my outdoor career.
A year later, on my first major wilderness trip (Wyoming with NOLS), I learned just how powerful nature is. That trip was far more challenging than I had bargained for, and not just because of the physical aspect, but because it tested me as a leader and as a member of a team. It was like all my shortcomings, which is just to say, the things I needed to work on, were put under a microscope. I left the trip not knowing if I should hate being outdoors or love it.
The big picture of my career so far has been one foot in front of the other. Like putting a puzzle together, but only a few pieces at a time. I knew I wanted to be outside. I knew I wanted fresh mountain air and to swim in glacial rivers, and to feel the sun on my face in the desert and marvel at the sight of a truly dark and starry sky. Ironically, following those things is what brought me back to what I wanted to do in the first place. Following those things was not comfortable, nor do I expect it ever will be, but it’s the journey that showed me what matters.
I chose to pursue a career that would take me outside my house and outside my comfort zone, because I know what I learn there. It’s not the most easy or simple or comfortable, but it has showed me that I am capable of far more than I think I am. Travel and the outdoors made me feel alive and connected to this world and the people in it. It’s no wonder I followed that feeling.
To anyone wanting to build a career on something they love, here is my advice:
Identify the thing that makes you feel most excited. The thing you keep coming back to. It doesn’t have to be just one thing. Do that thing a lot, even if it means you have to self-fund it. Especially if it means you have to self-fund it, because that will show you what you are capable of, and more. Don’t sell the farm or quit your day job just yet… see if you can make money from this thing. List all the ways. Work on them during your free time, and keep some back-up plans. Jump when the time is right.
When you do what you love, you will work a lot. You’ll probably work way more than you would have if you stuck with a job you felt neutral about, or even one you didn’t really care for. And when you love what you do or where you do it, it still feels like work, trust me. But there’s meaning behind the work, and that meaning makes all the difference.
I hope that you find the articles on my blog to be helpful. But it’s these types of pieces–– the ones where I spill my guts on something I care about–– that I think are most special, not the listicles I write about packing your camera, or how to start a blog, or what I did in Hawaii.
When I was living in Australia at 23, my mom told me that living in a tent might eventually get old. If you want my honest response to that comment six years later, well, it has. I no longer want to live in a tent. But the feeling of waking up in one somewhere beautiful is pure joy to me. And that is a feeling that has no age.
Ever since I started out working in the outdoor industry, I have trusted Backcountry.com as a great source for quality, well-priced outdoor gear. Below are some of my favorite pieces for fall, or anywhere you go that you might need layers.
I have been wearing this jacket everywhere since I got it! I am often going to multiple countries with the same bag/suitcase, so I am always looking for versatile layering pieces that work in a variety of circumstances. This jacket is great for outdoor pursuits, but is nice enough to wear in the city. The lining is super soft fleece and it has a water repellant coating.
These Sorel boots have replaced my Blundstones this season! They are comfortable for walking around cities all day, totally fine for hiking, and waterproof, which is awesome. I wear these with leggings, jeans, or dresses. They are a great all-in-one boot for travel.
Perhaps this one is an obvious pick for me, but it continues to be my favorite camera backpack. I like that you can customize the dividers, and that the bag itself is water resistant.
More fall favorites:
Big thanks to Backcountry for sponsoring this blog post, and prompting me to write about a topic that is so close to my heart. For 15% off your first order, you can use code ERIN15 at checkout. Code expires 12/31/18.
This post includes affiliate links, which means I may earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. That means that if you click through and make a purchase, I may make a commission at no cost to you. Thanks for reading.
Travel is a big part of my life (and my career), but I didn’t always travel with a camera or lenses. Packing has always been something I enjoy trying to optimize, but adding camera gear into the mix can add some more challenge. How do you pack your camera for travel? How do you know if it’s safe, or if it’s accessible enough? What do you have to worry about when it comes to security?
In this post, I’m sharing my most practical tips for packing your camera for travel. There are many ways to do it. Let’s jump in!
CHOOSING WHAT TO BRING
There are so many great lightweight cameras on the market now, it can be hard to know what to choose! I shoot on exclusively Sony cameras, so that is what I am most familiar with and will be recommending here.
First, you need to consider what kind of trip you are going on. Are you heading on a trip to a resort and staying there for a few weeks? Going on safari? Are you backpacking around Europe for a few weeks, or even months? Or maybe you’re headed into the wilderness? There are so many factors that will help you decide what kind of camera (and what lenses!) will be best for you on your trip.
Weight and size need to be considered, especially if you know you will be carrying your gear on your back (it adds up!). I started shooting with Sony because mirrorless cameras are smaller and weigh less than a traditional DSLR. Sony has been in the mirrorless game longer than other camera manufacturers, and I trust them for the best gear.
When it comes to lenses, consider what you will be shooting. Since weight is a factor, I would recommend bringing zoom lenses, unless you know you are wanting to bring a prime (I sometimes do). For many people, a 16-35mm or 24-70mm lens is all you need. These lenses are wide enough to shoot city scenes and sweeping mountain vistas, are great for the *classic* self-timer You-Looking-At-A-Thing photo. Additionally, they offer a bit of zoom in case you want to get closer to your subject.
This is the starter camera that I recommend. It’s excellent as a first “real” camera for those wanting to experiment and gain a better understanding on just what all those numbers DO, exactly. This lens is equivalent to a 24-70mm, which is a great range to start out with. This combination weighs a pound. As in, one pound. So… you can definitely fit this in your bag!
This combination is a step up–– with the a6500, you get updates like built-in image stabilization, a touch screen, more focus points, a microphone port and better viewfinder resolution. The lens gives you more range, so you will have the opportunity for more zoomed-in shots. This camera + lens weighs 1.94lbs, still great for traveling light.
Best all-around full-frame combo for travel: Sony a7III with 18-105mm Lens
$3,296 • SHOP ON AMAZON (CAMERA / LENS) • SHOP AT B&H
I love this combination for travel! The Sony a7III is one of my favorite pieces of gear right now. It is a powerful camera at an excellent price, and paired with the 24-105mm f4 G-master lens, you have a seriously incredible combination. I can’t recommend a better combo for travelers looking to step up their photo game. The total weight here is 2.89lbs, about half of what a DSLR with a comparable lens would weigh.
If you are planning to take more than one lens, think about what you will be shooting most of the time. I often travel with a 24-70mm f2.8 and a 70-200mm f2.8 because this gives me a wide range of options for focal length. If I know I am going into the backcountry, or if I am wanting to shoot big city scenes or mountains, I will swap out the 24-70mm for something wider, usually my 16-35mm f2.8. And if I know I will be shooting portraits, I will bring a prime lens, my favorite being the Sony 85mm f1.4. Overall, this comes down to your personal preference and the subject matter you will be photographing.
Note for safari: A safari (or any trip where photographing wildlife is a priority) requires some unique lenses, and I’ll do a separate blog post on that. You need to be looking at telephoto lenses starting at 200mm, but preferably more like 400-600mm.
HOW TO PACK
Now that you’ve chosen what you are going to bring, you have to figure out how to pack it safely and efficiently. Here are some options…
USE AN INTERNAL CAMERA UNIT OR CAMERA CASE
An Internal Camera Unit is essentially a padded case for your camera/lens. It allows you to protect your camera gear without having to get an entirely different bag or backpack. These come in different sizes from different manufacturers.
This is how I carry my camera gear when I go wilderness backpacking. I keep my camera and lenses accessible at the top of my pack, unless I am wanting to shoot while walking.
The downside of using an ICU or case is that this creates one more layer you have to unzip to get to your camera, which can be annoying for some. However, it also creates a barrier against pick-pockets (unless they steal the whole thing… in which case… insurance, my friends). It’s up to you if you think it’d be annoying to have another layer of protection to get to your camera or not.
I have also traveled with photographers who literally store their cameras and lenses in a sock or a beanie at the top of their daypack. I am personally way too clumsy for that, but hey, if it works for some, it’s probably worth mentioning!
Overall, using an ICU or a camera case allows you to stash your camera in whatever bag you are currently comfortable using, whether that is a backpack, an expedition pack, or a purse. It’s a convenient way to make sure your camera is protected and safe.
USE A CAMERA BACKPACK
This is what I do on most of my adventure travel style trips. Since I know I will be bringing my camera (and multiple lenses) with me on most days during my trips, I choose to invest in camera backpacks that I love. I like to have a backpack that also fits a layer, my laptop, and a book or journal.
Traveling with a camera backpack allows you to prioritize your camera gear and makes it super accessible to you, since most of these bags have accessibility in mind. When I travel with a camera bag, I know that my gear is safe because the product is made specifically for it.
USE A SHOULDER BAG OR MESSENGER BAG
There are some really great shoulder & messenger bags out there made specifically for camera gear. This option works especially well if you only plan to travel with one camera/lens and would like something a bit lighter or just more discreet.
These bags are great for easy access, as you’re carrying them on your side instead of your back. They’re easier to keep an eye on if you happen to be on a busy train or out sightseeing, anywhere pickpockets are likely to target tourists. Lastly, you can usually use a bag this size as a “personal item” on flights and they easily fit under the seat in front of you (be sure to check the airline, especially low-cost carriers!).
TRAVEL WITH A PELICAN CASE
If you are traveling with a significant amount of gear, it can be worth it to travel with a pelican case as your carry-on. This means you don’t have to carry all that heavy camera gear on your back, and ensures the gear’s safety, as these cases are very padded and you can lock them. I bring a Pelican 1510 case with me when I know I will need multiple camera bodies and lenses.
The standard case typically comes with foam that you can remove according to the size and shape of the items you would like to carry. Alternatively, you can purchase a set of dividers to maximize the space in your case.
Though this is arguably the most secure way to travel with camera gear, it is not the most practical for international trips, unless you are specifically on a photography trip! That said, I like using these cases on road trips to keep my gear secure and free of the dust/debris that might sneak in if they were in my backpack all the time.
CAMERA STRAPS & ACCESSORIES
Traveling with the right camera accessories can make a difference! I am a fan of Peak Design’s camera straps because their anchor system makes it easy to detach the straps from my camera bodies for storage or flights. Here is a list of the accessories I bring with me for most trips:
If you are wanting to take photos of yourself while traveling solo, or if you intend on taking photos at night, it’s a good idea to travel with a small tripod. I would look into something that weighs 4 pounds or less. Personally I prefer to shoot hand-held, and will only pack a tripod if I know I’m going on a trip where I will use it!
A couple of weeks ago, I joined the Adobe team and a handful of other photographers in the Caribbean to experience and document the US Virgin Islands. It was a wonderful experience, and I am grateful that the Adobe team chose the USVI for this trip. The Virgin Islands are stunning, with gorgeous nature and vibrant culture. The hurricanes last year devastated much of the area, and many are still rebuilding. It was a privilege to visit and to see the resiliency and strength of the people here first-hand.
For this blog post, I wanted to look at the parts of my workflow and the ways that I edit in Lightroom that are pretty consistent across images. Below you will find my basic workflow and editing tips, broken down in simple terms, using my images from this trip to illustrate my points.
I have been to the Virgin Islands before–– I went to Saint Thomas on a few family vacations growing up. But I had never visited any of the islands with a purposeful interest in culture and the outdoors. Having the opportunity to visit with a lens on these things was something I wanted to make the most of.
Lightroom is my most-used application for photo editing, and I used it to process all of my images from this trip. I get a lot of questions about how I edit, and I want to start this off by saying that there is often not a “right” way to create. I know how intimidating the technical side of photography (or any craft) can feel. I have only been using Lightroom for a few years myself, but the more I use it, the more comfortable I get with it, and the more confident I feel using it.
There are two versions of Lightroom currently available–– Lightroom CC and Lightroom Classic CC. I mostly use Lightroom Classic CC, which is the desktop-only product previously known as Lightroom. Lightroom CC, on the other hand, is a cloud-based software that works across desktop, mobile and web. I use Lightroom CC for mobile (available for download as an app) on my iPhone X to edit photos on the go if I don’t have access to my desktop, or if I simply want to do a quick mobile edit.
To start, here is what my Develop module in Lightroom Classic CC looks like after I edited the feature photo in this post:
The Develop module is where I spend most of my time in Lightroom. You can see what some of my edits were on the right. Before I jump into editing tips, let’s talk about organization. It helps if you open up Lightroom so you can follow along throughout the post.
I shoot in RAW on a Sony a7Riii. RAW is a file format that allows you to capture the maximum amount of data from the sensor so you have more to work with in Lightroom. I import my photos from my memory cards by selecting “Copy” Lightroom’s Import dialog, designating my external hard drive as the import location. I will then manually copy a backup to a second hard drive. I carry two external HDD’s when I travel (I prefer these), and back up my photo/video from my cards daily. I make sure to have at least two copies of the RAW files at all times. Within my hard drives, I organize my images by date, and then by location or trip.
Once photos are imported to my Library, I will go through and pick my favorite images by flagging them with “p” (you can use “u” to remove a flag), or marking them with stars by using numbers 0-5. Once I’ve done that, I’ll go back to the Library and view only the Flagged images by using the Library Filter.
This is what my Library looks like when I select only the flagged images. Most of these image have been edited.
I’ll pick the image I want to edit and double-click it to head into the Develop module, where I spend most of my time in Lightroom.
CROP & PROFILE CORRECTION
The first thing I do is usually hit “r” to crop, or click the square grid icon directly below the histogram. You can rotate the image using your cursor, or click the Straighten Tool (looks like ruler next to where it says “Angle”) to draw a horizon line and make sure your image is exactly straight. If I am cropping for Instagram, I crop 1×1 (square) or 4×5 (vertical).
I am cropping this photo for Instagram, though I will probably also save a version at its initial ratio.
Profile correction is used to correct distortion and vignetting, specific to the lens used. To use it, scroll down until you see the Lens Corrections panel on the right, check “Enable Profile Corrections”, and select your camera and lens from the dropdown.
The histogram is found in the upper-right corner of your Develop module. It is a tool that acts as a second pair of eyes–– the histogram is a graphical representation of the tones in your images. By reading the histogram, you can see what is going on with the blacks, whites, shadows and highlights of your image without you having to even look at the photo. This is valuable because sometimes we can’t trust our eyes to tell us exactly when the highlights are blown out, or when the shadows are too dark.
Here’s an image from Sapphire Bay with the corresponding histogram.
Dark tones are on the left side of the graph, while light tones are on the right. A “perfectly exposed” image will have a perfect bell curve that just barely touches the left and right side. That being said, not all images will look good just because the histogram indicates that they are “perfectly exposed”… sometimes you want to purposefully under or over-expose an image. There is no such thing as a “good” or “bad” histogram. It’s simply a tool for you to use when you make your creative decisions.
According to the histogram above, you can see that this image is mostly made up of midtones, because you can see a lot of action in the middle of the graph. By hitting “j”, you can see if any areas are “clipping” which means either your lights are TOO light, or if your darks are TOO dark. You can also see if clipping is occurring if part of the histogram is touching the right or left side. In the histogram above, you can see that no clipping is occurring, but that the histogram is just barely touching the left and right sides.
I want to note that I enable the histogram starting from when I’m shooting. On a Sony camera, this is one of your display options. With the exception of photos that are intended to be very dark or very bright, I pay attention to the histogram when I am shooting to try to center the midtones in my frame.
BASICS: WHITE BALANCE & TONE
Lightroom gives you two sliders for adjusting White Balance: Temperature and Tint. The Temperature slider makes your image warmer or cooler, while the Tint slider balances out the magenta and green in your image.
I use the white balance selector (looks like a temperature dropper) to select the most neutral (i.e., grey) part of my image. Sometimes our eyes deceive us and tell us that an area is neutral, when it really has color in it. You can tell if an area is really neutral if the R (red), G (green) and B (blue) values are similar. Once you select a target neutral, Lightroom will adjust the image accordingly based on the grey you selected. I find the white balance selector to be an easy way to get a good base for further adjustments.
Check out the RGB values here. They get pretty close to equal, so this is very close to neutral.
White balance is subjective. Sometimes I change it really dramatically on purpose, and other times I want to get as close to true colors as possible.
If manually adjusting the tones feels overwhelming or too complicated, I would recommend just hitting the Auto button in your Basic panel to see what Adobe thinks your image’s tones should look like. Then you can work from there.
Another way you can adjust your tones is by using the tone curve. The tone curve: what the heck is it and why should you care? The tone curve is a tool that represents all the tones in your image. The shadows, midtones, and highlights are along the bottom axis.Moving any point along the curve up or down will make it brighter or darker, respectively. For example, to create contrast, create an S curve, which darkens the shadows and lifts the brights. Again, use “j” to check that you’re not overdoing it.
Here’s the before and after of an image where I adjusted the Tone Curve. You can see that I brought up the shadows a bit to create a slight fade, then increased the contrast by pulling down the darks and increasing the lights.
Whether or not you use the Tone Curve is up to you. Do you need to use it? No. Personally, I find that I mostly use the Basic panel, and then fine tune using the Tone Curve.
HSL & COLOR MANIPULATION
The HSL Panel (Hue, Saturation & Luminance) is a fun place to be in Lightroom. By adjusting the tones in your image, you are also affecting the appearance of the colors. The HSL panel is the place where you can precisely manipulate and adjust all the colors in your image.
You can choose which colors to adjust by specific hue, or use the targeted adjustment tool for more precision. This tool is something I use on almost every photo! To use it, click on the circle in the upper left-hand corner of the HSL menu. Then find the color you want to adjust in your image, click and drag your cursor while holding down. This is a great way to adjust specific colors without having to guess how much of each hue is in the selection.
The targeted adjustment tool is that circle icon with the two arrows.
Some of my images are more altered than others with regard to specific colors. Here’s the before & after of an image where I adjusted almost every single slider. Hopefully you can see why I chose to edit this one so heavily!
Here is the final image next to the HSL panel so you can see the adjustments I made:
How much or how little you use the HSL panel is up to you. I find it to be extremely helpful, and this is probably the place I spend most of my time.
I typically do some selective adjustments on every image–– by that I mean spot removal, or adding a gradient or radial filter, or applying adjustments to a specific area with a brush. Spot removal is great for any minor imperfections, or if I want to clean up an area of the image a bit. If you aren’t sure what each of the tools does, hover over it for a moment until the name of the tool pops up.
I use often gradient and radial filters to adjust for any over or under exposed areas. I also use a radial filter on wildlife photography, specifically on eyes and faces, to bring out the detail. The brush tool is great if you have an area that isn’t a uniform shape, so that you can be more specific with the area you’d like to adjust. There is a point at which I will bring an image into Photoshop for more precision with these types of adjustments.
Here’s an example of using a Radial Filter to bring up the exposure in a specific area:
As you can see from the Mask panel on the right, I brought up the Exposure and the Whites, and brought the Blacks slightly down to create some contrast. Check out the final result in the image gallery at the bottom of this post.
COPYING, PASTING AND SAVING YOUR EDITS (CREATING PRESETS)
If I am editing photos from a set, I copy/paste the edit from the first image to the rest of the set. You can see the “Copy…” option in your Develop Module on the lower left, just above the film strip that runs along the bottom of your screen. Here is what I usually copy from an edit I like:
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In my late teens and early 20’s, I worked at a few outdoor gear shops. At work, I would outfit people for all kinds of adventures–– from birdwatching trips in Costa Rica, to wilderness backpacking trips, to luxury safaris in Tanzania. As a result, I became very familiar with outdoor brands and gear, and started accumulating it myself as I experimented with different outdoor activities, eventually training to become an outdoor guide.
My gear kit has shifted over the years, and I still have a lot of the stuff I acquired throughout my time as a guide. But as I started working as a photographer, some of my gear stood out from the rest. I also invested in certain photography-specific stuff that made my life a lot easier.
You might not know that behind every shot like this:
Hot air ballooning over the Australian Outback.
A cruise at dawn on Yellow Water Billabong in Kakadu National Park, Australia.
Is a temporary home like this:
The motel life, where my hopes can be found in outlets and strong wifi.
Or a morning that starts like this:
Goooood morning! Getting organized before heading out.
On this list, you’ll find my most-used and most-valued gear for spontaneous and adventurous travel and outdoor photography, all available on Backcountry.com. Just add your camera.
Psst… If you’re looking for camera gear, you won’t find it here! Head over here after you’re done.
MID-SIZE DUFFEL BAG
Patagonia Black Hole 90L Duffel
I have had my 90L Black Hole Duffel for years, ever since my first summer as an adventure trip leader for teenagers. I have lost track of how many trips this bag has accompanied me on. I have lived out of it on many summer road trips, trade show weekends, and adventures abroad. It’s great for throwing in the back of your car or as a checked bag. The 60L size is probably the maximum size if you are looking for a carry-on size duffel.
Peak Design Everyday 20L Camera Backpack
I have a few go-to camera backpacks, and this is one of them, especially for travel. I love the streamlined look of it, and the customizable inside sections are great to accommodate for different lenses, chargers, or an extra layer. If 20L is a bit small for your needs, this bag also comes in a 30L size. It’s water resistant, but plan on getting a rain cover if you’re going somewhere wet. For organizing cords, chargers, batteries and memory cards, the Peak Design Field Pouch is nice to have.
This is how I generally carry one camera body + 2 lenses for the day. In the upper part, I will stash a sweatshirt or layer. My tripod then gets attached to the outside if I need it.
Peak Design SlideLITE Camera Strap
I honestly didn’t try too many camera straps before coming across Peak Design’s system of interchangeable ones. These straps come with a removeable connection point that makes it extremely easy to attach or detach it. I usually travel with two camera bodies, and have both outfitted with these attachment points to make things quick and easy. I personally use the Leash as well. Honestly I am just totally sold on the design and how all of these products work together. You can see more Peak Design products here.
Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow
A travel pillow is a luxury I have come to appreciate. It is so helpful to have on planes or when camping, and doesn’t take up too much space. For me, it’s one of those things that is just worth it.
Eagle Creek USB Universal Travel Adapter Pro
Travel adapters are necessary for charging your stuff abroad. For trips that have you going to multiple countries with different types of outlets, a universal one like this is great. I also bring a power strip from home if I know I will need to charge lots of things. If you’re traveling with friends, they’ll thank you for this!
COMFORTABLE & DURABLE BOOTS
I wear these everywhere, on nearly every trip, and get questions about them constantly! They are a super versatile and comfortable everyday boot that can also be worn on short hikes (for backpacking, I personally prefer hiking boots like these instead).
Just one of the many situations you can wear these boots!
COZY CAMP SHOES OR SANDALS
I used to be much more of a minimalist when it came to travel and car camping, but I now really value things that make me feel comfortable! A pair of Birks is so good for the end of the day or sitting fireside. If these aren’t your look, I’d encourage you to find a comfortable pair of shoes that you love. Your feet will thank you after a long day of shooting outdoors.
Ray-Ban or Costa
I prefer to invest in quality products, and sunglasses are one of those things. I like my Ray-Bans for travel and exploring cities, but if I need something that will reliably stay on my face for adventurous pursuits, Costa makes great products. As a brand, they also value putting Earth first, and make choices as a company to reflect conservation and reducing waste.
Petzl Tikkina Headlamp / Black Diamond Storm
A headlamp is crucial as a photographer. We’re frequently awake before sunrise or after dark, and we need to be able to see what we are doing with both of our hands free. The Tikkina is a great (and cheap) one that will do the job, but the Storm is more water-resistant and has a hold lock. Either way, I take my batteries out of my headlamp when they are in transit or in my checked bag. Otherwise, they can turn on in your bag and then you get a nice surprise of a dead battery when you need it.
Goal Zero Flip 20
Though sometimes I do disconnect on purpose, most of the time, I can’t be out there with a dead phone or camera. I mainly use these to keep my phone charged, but my cameras are able to be charged via micro-USB, so in a pinch, I can use these for that too.