Photography on two wheels (Part 2) – The right gear

The nuts and bolts

So now you decided to cycle the world but also intend to produce professional quality imagery, what to do then? I could go on for hours about how to choose a bicycle and the related gear: bike components, racks, panniers, camping gear, etc but I will leave that for another article. In this occasion, I will limit myself to comment on what affects the photographer directly.

Here are the most important things I have learned:

1. You want to be able to easily reach your camera. This is critical. Most photographic opportunities arise and develop right around you at any time while you are riding. You want to be able to quickly access your camera, and get it ready to shoot in no time. Many times, you might not even need to get off your bicycle to shoot. The more you separate yourself from your camera, the less likely you are to stop and take the necessary time it takes to pull it out from wherever you dug it. The whole process of photographing will slow you down so much that it will become a hassle and as a consequence you will end up missing plenty of opportunities. Remember, cycling itself takes away most of your energy already.

2. You want to keep the weight you carry as low as possible. The average long-hauler carries an average of 45-55kg (99-120lb) and that is not including food and water. Your photography gear goes on top of all that, adding the extra weight others save. While this is fine for a flat road made of smooth tarmac, it exponentially increases the challenge when you are cycling a remote, moon-like dirt road up a 5000+mts (16.400ft) pass on the Tibetan plateau, and chances are, a flat dreamy road will only account for a tiny fraction of your whole trip. Choose your gear carefully. Every GRAM counts.

3. Don’t cut corners on panniers. Get the best: Ortlieb, Vaude, MSX, they all offer top-of-the-line waterproof, dust proof, tear-resistant panniers (I choose Ortlieb). They are essential to keep your gear safe and dry and greatly reduce the risk of damaging your equipment.


Whether you want to cycle the world or not, the choice of gear should always be the result of a thorough and honest assessment of one's own artistic needs and photographic aspirations. This choice is, or should be personal. Nobody can tell you what's best for you and what works for me may not work for you. That being said, as photographers, we live in very auspicious times. The vast array of gear available to us to perform our work is simply overwhelming. From the incredibly powerful cameras on our mobile phones today, to the state-of-the-art engineering in top-of-the-line DSLR's, from a technology standpoint, we have pretty much no excuses at all to produce bad photos anymore. Your problem will not be to find good, competent gear, but something that truly fits and adjusts to you. So, given this privileged situation, generally speaking these are the things that I think everyone should ask oneself first, at the time of choosing gear (mind you, these considerations apply to anyone and are not cycle-traveling specific):

How much time and effort are you willing to put into photography and becoming a photographer?

  • How truly serious I am about becoming a photographer that produces serious results?
  • How important is photography in your life (and in your trip)? Is it a hobby and you want it to stay that way? or, is it something I will actively work on to take to the next level?
  • What do I want to use my photos for? What will their final use be most of the time? Are they mostly for sharing on social networks or do you expect to print them poster size to hang on a football stadium?
  • What will the main output of your images be? Print (small, medium, big, huge), put on sale on Stock agencies, wall-projector, 4K tv, mobile phones?

An honest answer to all of these, will get you closer to the right choice. Once you go through them, you could fall within three main groups:

  • Chill-out: You want as great quality photos as possible but leave most of the responsibility to the camera. Your main output is Social Media, FB, IG, Blogger, etc.
  • I care: You are determined to take beautiful photos and actively work on improving your results along your way. It is a goal in itself but your life will not revolve around it. Aside from Social Media, you want to print your beautiful photos back home or show them large on your TV.
  • Photographer: You are aiming for serious professional results at the highest quality possible. You are committed to it and it is a big part of your journey. You want and expect to sell your work through all Media outlets like newspapers, magazines, stock, tv, etc.

Now let's get specific!

Camera body (cycle-traveling specific)

Regardless of what group you fall in. These are the most important considerations:

  • Professional-grade cameras are extremely well-built and weather sealed. They are designed to resist all sorts of weather conditions, high impact and vibrations. They also offer, far and beyond, the best image quality you can get and the body ergonomics and direct control to settings are invaluable. On the flip side, they are very expensive, heavy and clunky.
  • Mid-level grade cameras, including mirrorless options, still fare pretty well as far as resistance go but a lot more attention to their care and protection has to be payed. Camera operation is not as comfortable, having to access a lot of their settings via long complicated menus. This is very uncomfortable in the wild.
  • Compacts and mobiles are very fragile and break easily. If you go with them, make sure you obsess about keeping them safe, away from dust, water and humidity, not to mention not to drop them while you are cycling.

Photographer group: When it comes to me, after years of serious dedication to explore photography, I have been able to identify and answer each of the questions above. I clearly fall within the last group. As such, I want no compromises. I focus primarily on environmental portraiture and secondarily on landscapes. From experience and understanding of my artistic direction, I know I find myself shooting very often in situations where low-light performance is critical. I am also a hardcore traveler exploring extremely remote regions in very rough conditions so I need strong gear to resist it all. My body of choice is the Nikon D800 and previous to that, the D700, which I think strikes the right balance between exceptional image quality, size and weight. I can vouch for these, as I have put them through incredible challenges and they both delivered under the worst circumstances imaginable and still work. My galleries are a testament to them.

Aside from this, I carry a GoPro Hero camera. Now I'm on the Hero 4 Silver model, which is an extraordinary almost indestructible little camera for recording your adventure.

I care group: I would definitely skip all the consumer and mid-range DSLR options and go straight for the fantastic mirrorless options we've got these days. These are incredibly powerful cameras with excellent image quality and the top of the line models are all professionally built. If you are willing to compromise a bit of comfort in operability and give up a bit of low-light performance, this is the way to go. In return, you will be rewarded with a much lighter traveling kit while still dwelling in DSLR quality. Fine examples are: Fuji XT and X-Pro, Panasonic GX8 / 85, Olympus O-MD and Sony A6300. Bear in mind that while much lighter, these are NOT pocket cameras. You've got the best advice and reviews of all these and many more at Thom Hogan's Sans Mirror .

NOTE: As of now, technology has evolved so much, that I am myself considering changing my pro DSLR gear for these mirrorless alternatives.

Chill-out group: I would ignore all pocket camera options straight away, that range is dead for good. I would either go for a mirrorless option choosing the smaller versions of the examples above or I'd go with a high-end mobile phone. If you want to fork out the ridiculous amount of money for an Iphone or a Google Pixel, go for it. After all, their cameras are indeed incredible and they are water resistant. If you are not a fan of paying an absurd mark-up just mostly for a brand's name, I highly recommend One Plus, which in my opinion is the best bang for the buck out there. I shoot a lot with it myself when I don't feel like carrying my awfully heavy DSLR. Make sure you have a very good case for either of them and protect them obsessively from falling.


The lens choice also comes down to personal choice and should vary according to your artistic vision, how much flexibility you want to have and how much weight you are willing to cope with when cycling. Zoom lenses are the obvious choice when it comes to flexibility but they add significant size and weight to your kit. Primes are a great top-quality, lighter and smaller alternative. However, they force you to move a lot more and most importantly, switch lenses frequently. This is something you don't always want to do e.g under heavy rain in the tropics, a sandstorm in the Sahara just to name a couple. Whether you choose one, or many, it's up to you. Bear in mind that the widest the focal length range a zoom covers, the poorer its optical quality and the slower (high f stop) it is.

As I opted for no compromises, and I confidently know that I grow very strong both physically and mentally while cycling, weight is not much of an issue for me. So, I bite the bullet and carry with me a full set of professional lenses to cover me from the widest wide angle to the longest telephoto within what's reasonable. My lens kit includes:

  • Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8
  • Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8
  • Nikkor 70-200 mm f4
  • Nikkor 50 mm f1.4

I am aware that carrying this massive chunk of glass isn't for everyone so if you think I am insane (and I am) then you can easily do well with a mid-range zoom that covers the 24-70 range. It doesn't even have to be an f2.8 lens if you want to go lighter. There are great alternatives on variable aperture lenses f3.5-4-5, especially on crop factor cameras.

If you go for mirrorless, since everything is smaller and lighter, I would definitely try to replicate the focal length equivalents to the ones stated above. Choose as much as you are willing to take with you and afford.


The good news is that with any of the combinations above you have no excuse not to become a Pulitzer prize photographer, at least from a gear standpoint. The bad news is that camera and lens are only the tip of the iceberg. Here comes all the shit that comes with them. You want to be able to protect all your gear, to recharge it, to have enough spares, to have good support, to edit your work on the road and to keep your images safe.

Charging in the wild

Spares: Knowing your gear is essential. I carry 3 spare batteries for my camera. In extremely remote areas and with minimal LCD use and little night photography, that amount allows me to go for a week without having to charge. Even though most people don't go very remote as to spend several days without access to electricity I would still recommend you, even for the sake of comfort, to carry a minimum of 2 spares.

As I go, I make sure to recharge every chance I've got to keep all my batteries full. If I stop for a break at any sort of place with electricity, even if it's only for 15-20 minutes, I would charge. If it is necessary, in extreme situations, I would actually stop in a place for charging if I find electricity and my batteries are running low.

Portable: I was recently given a solar panel. I find it very handy for recharging the phone, but pretty useless for everything else. What's more, it is isn't neither that small nor that light. Some people use a Dynamo hub in the front wheel, which allows them to recharge while cycling. I never tried it, but seems like a good option for anything chargeable through a USB.

Editing in the wild

Fortunately, the days of heavy laptops are long gone. These days, laptops are so thin, light and powerful that you can carry your office with you everywhere. As with phones, I ain't an Apple cult acolyte either. Without going into full rant mode against Apple's philosophy and commercial practices, I will limit myself to say that I am not willing to pay three times more than their PC equivalents, which, mind you, sometimes have way better specs.

My brand of choice is Asus, another company I can trust blindly. Their laptops are simply superb and more than reasonably priced. I have put my Asus Ultrabook through the most extreme environments, extreme weather, extreme temperatures on both ends of the mercury, full day vibrations on rough corrugated roads for months, falls, you name it. After 62.000 km (38.500 miles) in 4 years it has survived it all and is still going. The model is Asus UX32VD from 2012. Now I have moved to the most recent Asus Zenbook UX430UQ, which is really incredible.
With any of these I can fully operate all the graphic intensive applications: Photoshop, Lightroom, Premiere, and use many others running in parallel. At 1.25kg (2.75 lb) it's a no brainer.


Even though I do not consider myself a landscape photographer, I do love night photography and time-lapses a lot. What's more, since I travel alone, I am the only one that can take photos of myself. For all this, a tripod becomes essential, but carrying a good sturdy tripod + ballhead is out of the question. On the other hand, carrying a very light tripod will many times prove to be useless. With all this in mind I settled for a Manfrotto 732CY + 484RC2 ballhead, which after several years taking every imaginable beating, it broke. I now replaced it with an Oben 3500 series kit, which is fantastic. Both are light and relatively sturdy and are worth taking.

For my GoPro, I have a DIY selfie stick that does wonders. It is a 1 meter long (3ft) bamboo cane to which I attached the GoPro's mounts to one end of it.


I also carry a Nikon SB-600 flash that I always use off-camera, and at some stage I carried a small softbox. After a couple of months of traveling I got rid of the latter and only kept the former because I wasn't going to throw it away. Every once in a while, I did find it useful, but all in all, it is not worth it at all to carry one, unless your kind of photography requires it.

Back up in the wild

So you carry all of these things to produce your fine images, but where do you keep all of them?

I carry 100 GB of storage, split in several Compact Flash and SD cards. I Prefer not to use cards larger than 32GB and my personal favorites are 16GB. In smaller sizes I keep a smaller amount of images, therefore, in the case of a tragedy, i.e. losing or breaking one, the loss will not be as tragic.

Backing up is a tricky thing. On the one hand, SSD external drives are still very expensive, on the other, hard disc drives are cheap and small but are traditionally very fragile and particularly susceptible to vibrations, which you can guess, happens a lot when cycling. For this reason, and also for security in case of theft, I carry two drives for back-ups. My brand of choice is Western Digital, I have an excellent experience with them over many years.

Here is my strategy: I have 2 x 2TB WD Passport, one being an identical copy of the other. Having only one single back-up drive is way too risky and I highly recommend you not to even consider it as an option. I back up my images to one, then copy all the contents to the other one right away. And here's a critical thing: I carry both drives in different locations. If I get robbed or something gets stolen, I have more chances to preserve one. If vibrations, or an accidental fall kill one I still have the other. Keeping them in separate places is as important as making two identical copies.

I carry one extra 1TB drive for entertainment and utilities: movies, series, music, e-books, bicycle repair videos, etc.

The junk

Finally, comes all the real junk. If you ask me, this is what I hate the most of it all. Chargers, cases, plug adapters, card readers, cables, this crap is as essential as the rest and it also breaks, so keep it safe and treat it with care. There is nothing more frustrating than not being able to photograph because your charger broke in the middle of nowhere and your camera batteries use chargers specifically designed for them that require a specialty shop or ordering from abroad!

Carrying and protection

So you've got all this stuff to go cycling as a photographer. How do you put it all together and carry it?

As I said before, in order to make the most out of the photo opportunities that will arise on the way, it is very important to have quick access to your camera and lenses. For this reason, I always carry the camera with me, hanging across my chest. It allows me to act and react quickly when action happens, no need to unbury it from dark places. Besides, so many times you are off your bicycle visiting someone's house or strolling around a village, if your camera is with you, you don't need to go back and look for it. It is always there with you, ready to shoot. One of the zoom lenses, generally the one I use most frequently, is attached to the camera.

Except for very specific circumstances, the camera is always inside its bag. Make no mistake and do not fall for the comfort trap. While you can cycle carrying the camera hanging across your chest outside its bag, falls do happen, and by that I mean, you falling off the bicycle. When you fall, the first thing that hits the ground, followed by you on top of it with all your weight, is your camera!

I went through a few camera bags. The Lowe Pro top loaders are very good, however Kata bags built like a real piece of shit and I would not recommend them to anyone going on an adventure riskier than cycling two blocks to the nearest supermarket. All that said, I consider my current camera bag, the ultimate camera bag, provided by Ortlieb. It's the V-Shot camera bag and it is spectacular. It fits a big DSLR body with a 70-200 lens. It's 100% waterproof, you can submerge it for up to 30 min and water won't go through

For the lenses, I have made a DIY (Do it yourself) modification of the inside of the handlebar pannier. I pulled out all the pads of my old mini-trekker camera bag and arranged them in a way that will fit two pro zoom lenses and the flash, protecting them for shock and reducing the vibrations of dirt roads. Bear in mind that the pannier specs say it can hold up to 3kg. It can, but even if you reach 3kg, it’s a bit too much, so what I do is to place something on top of the front rack in a way that allows the handlebar pannier to rest on it. Having everything in there allows me to swap lenses super fast and not even having to get off my bike either.

The laptop with its charger and one of the back-up drives goes inside the Elements case by Burk Bags, a fully waterproof, dustproof, padded case. The case is pricey but indestructible and it goes within one of the front Ortlieb Backroller Classic panniers, which are 100% waterproof, too. This way I have enough protection.

All the rest of the junk, chargers, cables, etc, go into a small dry bag that I carry in one of the rear Ortlieb Backroller Classic PRO panniers.

The tripod sits outside where it is easy to reach, and I tie it with the same elastic ties that I use to tie the big drybag that goes on the rear rack.


Traveling the world by bicycle is possibly one of the most intense ways of traveling the world, for anyone looking to go deeper in the knowledge of a foreign land and dig deep below the surface of a new culture. It allows you to travel independently and at your own pace, without the hassles and huge costs of motored vehicles, while allowing yourself to fully immerse in the culture you are visiting. The very nature of traveling this way puts you in a very unique and intimate situation with the world around you, both the natural and the cultural one. You are exposed and vulnerable but it is this vulnerability what pushes you to connect with everything and everyone around you. This is priceless as a photographer, for you will find yourself in a plethora of truly unique situations that wouldn't be possible any other way. The people you photograph will not be simply subjects anymore but the people who will most likely be your family and friends away from your loved ones. Most important, the greatest reward of all this will hopefully be, becoming a better human being before becoming a better photographer. This is where both activities converge to complement each other to make it the ultimate travel photography experience.


Originally from Argentina, the architect and photographer travels the most remote regions of the world by bicycle. The portraiture of people in their environment and the dignified portrayal of human existence is one of his photographic focuses.

Take a look at the complete portfolio of Nicolas Marino.


ns · 09.11.2020