Named as the resident overpacker amongst his friends, Ben Leo Davis doesn’t leave a photo op to chance. Discover what he packed to shoot Iceland’s Northern Lights, Australia’s highest sand dunes and everything in between.
Words and Photography by Ben Leo Davis
Urth ambassador and seasoned outdoor lifestyle photographer Ben Leo Davis is known for dreamy travel shots that could inspire nearly anyone to pack their life into a duffle bag and book a flight. Here he shares with us his ultimate packing list, as well as some helpful tips on planning road trips in foreign countries and shooting on the road.
I have been using Sony for some time. I changed from Nikon because a mirrorless system made so much more sense for the type of travel I do. The lightweight body is a great fit if you want to reduce the weight of your carry-on bag and for when you’re hiking – it has been a super reliable camera over the past two years. It has a 42-megapixel sensor, 399 focal points, 5-axis image stabilisation and 4K video mode. In other words, it has everything I need. It has captured my trips through the vast landscapes of Australia, New Zealand, Iceland, Asia, Canada and America.
As an outdoor lifestyle and landscape photographer, I think this lens is a must have in your kit. Shooting with a wide-angle lens can change your perspective and help you tap into new inspiration and ideas when you’re shooting. With an aperture of f/2.8 it also allows for great night photography without needing to raise your ISO too high. I use this lens on a daily basis.
Since I picked up my first camera eight years ago, this lens has been a constant companion. It is my go-to for commission work because its so versatile. For photographers that don’t like shooting too wide or too close, this lens allows you to adjust your frame and capture a wide range of subjects. Again, having an aperture of f2.8 it is incredible for lowlight scenes.
I purchased this lens before I went to Canada in 2017. Even though I knew it wouldn’t be on my camera all the time, I consider it a must have for your kit because in certain moments you’ll wish you had a longer lens. I use this lens for capturing long dreamy roads with picturesque mountains in the backdrop and for shooting wildlife at distance.
I have been using DJI drones for years. It was difficult travelling and hiking with the Phantom models, which are big and bulky. I was so stoked when the Mavic Pro finally came out, I pre-ordered it months before it launched. Flying in the harsh, freezing conditions of Canada and Iceland to the vast dry landscapes of Death Valley USA, the Mavic Pro has never let me down. Its compact size and the quality of the images are incredible.
In the last four years, I’ve had two MacBook pros – one 15” and now a 13”. I really struggled with the 15” because of its size and weight. It’s not the perfect travel companion. On the other hand, the 13” MacBook Pro works a dream – its lighter weight and smaller size make a big difference. I think upgrading your laptop every few years is a good idea, as we live in a world where technology is constantly improving. Apple’s retina display allows me to focus on all the fine details in my work, which makes editing heaps easier.
I picked this up just before I went to Canada. I needed something to charge my gear on the go. This power bank can keep my phone and camera batteries charged and allow me to charge my laptop from a USB-C cable.
I have a whole array of ND filters for all my lenses too. They’re a must have for your kit because it helps reduce the amount of light reaching the camera’s sensor. This is useful when a sufficiently long exposure time is not otherwise attainable within a given range of possible apertures (at the lowest ISO setting).
I have CPL filters for all my lenses too. I think CPL filters are the most important filter for landscape photography. They work by reducing the amount of reflected light that passes to your camera’s sensor. Similar to polarizing sunglasses, CPLs will make skies appear deeper blue, will reduce glare and reflections off water and other surfaces, and will reduce the contrast between land and sky.
I have UV filters on all my lenses because they block some UV light from entering the camera lens. In outdoor photographs UV light increase the effect of atmospheric haze making distant subjects, such as mountains, in scenic photos less sharp. By removing some of the UV light it reduces some atmospheric haze yielding clearer scenic photos. Most people also use UV filters to protect their lens. Lenses can be expensive and so can repairing them if they get damaged. UV filters provide an excellent first line of protection for the front element of the lens. These filters can remain on the lens at all times as they have hardly any effect on photos and do not reduce the amount of visible light entering the lens.
I have been using Urth SD for the past two years. For those that use them or know about them I use both the Magic and Explore cards. They are the most reliable SD I have ever used and they have never skipped a beat. Sadly, they have been discontinued but luckily the team sent me a few more before they all sold out.
I purchased the Pro Master XC525 with ball head five years ago. I have taken this tripod absolutely everywhere and it’s copped a beating but it is still in one piece and has never let me down.
LaCie Hard Drive, extra camera batteries (8 batteries), lens pens, lens blower, cleaning cloths & a shammy towel for those moments when your camera gets wet.
WHAT IS THE ITEM YOU’RE MOST LIKELY TO LOSE?
I have really bad OCD when it comes to my gear. I’m always feeling for my phone, wallet and keys because I’ve lost them so many times before. Camera batteries tend to go missing the most when I’m on the road. They must fall out of my bag or something. I usually take about 8 batteries with me and when I come home I’m usually missing 1-2 batteries.
WHAT IS A NEW ITEM THAT YOU’RE MOST LIKELY TO FIND AND BRING BACK HOME WITH YOU?
I love collecting small things that are easy to get home like fridge magnets, iron on patches, and things that I can use for future travels and adventure like enamel cups, socks and shirts. All these things take me back to the place I purchased them and it’s a great way to reflect on that particular trip and inspire more adventures.
Another thing I love to bring home with me is hand made souvenirs from small communities. You can see the effort and expertise that has been put into them. One time I was travelling along the Forrest Gump road in Monument Valley and I drove past a roadside stall in the middle of the desert. I couldn’t see what he was selling but when I drove back a few hours later and he was still there, I had to stop and purchase some of the amazing hand-crafted items he was creating.
Another thing that I love to bring back with me is random things I find when hiking. If I see a nice rock or a shell, I’ll stash it and bring it back with me. One time I was hiking on the east coast of New Zealand and I came across some bones on the trail, they looked really cool and obviously the bones have been there for some time. I collected them and asked a local what kind of bones they were – they were seal bones that had been weathered and sun bleached. I held on to them and brought them home with me. (If this is something you already do or are thinking of doing, make sure you declare them at customs.)
ANY OTHER TIPS FOR PACKING, SHOOTING ON THE ROAD, PREPPING AND PLANNING FOR AN ADVENTURE TRIP?
• Packing tips
When packing for a big adventure you want to take all gear you think you will need. If you think you can get away without that one particular item, you will regret it when you get to your destination.
I really hate checking in camera equipment, so even when I know I’m limited to 7kg carry-on luggage, I just pray they don’t weigh my bag and most of the time they don’t. When they do check, I work something out with them – 9 times out of 10 they will let you off “just this one time”. Nothing’s worse than putting equipment in your check in bag and it gets damaged, delayed or getting lost in transit. Better to risk having to pay an excess baggage fee than losing your gear.
• Shooting on the road
Always have your camera within reach, you never know when you’ll quickly need to take a snap. I’ve learnt from past experiences to always have my camera next to me. Seeing a great snap right in front of you but having to pull over and run to the boot to get it is not ideal. Light can change in an instant, and animals can change positions in an instant.
I recommend taking a car inverter too. You can plug it into the cigarette lighter socket in the car and charge your laptop, camera batteries and your phone on the go.
For overseas trips I take a brand-new hard drive with me. I leave behind half full ones for smaller trips and adventures around home. You could be in the middle of nowhere for days on end and if that hard drive fills up you’re just left with SD cards. Minimise that risk with a fresh new, large hard drive.
Make sure you have more than one SD card. You could lose it, drop it off a cliff, it can get an internal error. Always have a back-up plan. Trust me on this one.
• Prepping and planning
Planning long road trips in foreign countries is difficult and takes a lot of time, but what you invest in planning, you reap in the rewards of a stress-less trip. What I like to do is to find all the destinations in each state I want to visit. From there, I get a sketchbook and outline each state. Then I begin to draw in all the main roads, because there could be 2-3 different routes that lead you from east and west of each state. After you have completed that, I start to dot point in all the locations, this will give you an idea on which ways to travel and it will allow you to properly plan your trip rather than spending half your trip in the car backtracking. There are probably better ways to plan your trip, but I think this makes it more exciting, especially when travelling with your partner, because it allows you to bring out your creativeness together.
WHY DO YOU PACK FILTERS ON YOUR TRAVELS AND ADVENTURES?
Filters help minimise glare and reflections, enhance colours, and reduce light coming into the lens. Each lens filter serves a specific purpose, as each one is built to deliver a specific effect that can help enhance the final look of an image. If you’re like me and not a fan of shooting in the middle of the day when everything is just blown out, filters can help you manage the light and shoot during this time. Filters are a must have item in your kit.
WHY DO YOU TAKE THE ITEMS YOU PACK ON THIS TRIP?
Why do I take all these items on my travels? People have always told me “Man you over pack every time” and I always tell them “but what if this, what if that?” What if I didn’t bring this lens to shoot that amazing landscape or that animal in the distance? What if I didn’t bring those filters that allow me to shoot all day long? So, if you’re like me – always in a pickle when packing – go with your gut feeling and really think about that particular item. Trust me, you will regret not packing that item with you. Each item in my bag has its own purpose.
Thanks for taking a peek into Ben’s suitcase. You can enjoy the rest of the stories in this series here.