Eat, pray, shoot: Our favorite gear and apps for travel photography

Some photos turn out great, but most are merely okay. As anyone who has picked up a camera will tell you, everyone shoots both kinds. But let’s be honest: the majority of the photos we capture on vacation fall into the just-okay category. Thumbs make their way into shots. People and objects show up that we failed to notice when composing the shot. The sun can wash your photos out or cast harsh shadows. Not enough sun can turn what should be a beautiful moment into a grainy mess.

The good news is that, with the right hardware and software, most of these issues can either be improved upon or avoided altogether. To help you up your photographic game before your next adventure, I present a two-part travel photography special. In this first installment, I’ll cover the best hardware and software to use, and next time, I’ll focus on putting those tools to use.

These photos are from my recent trip to Montana, which I can say without hesitation is one of the most stark, beautiful places in the United States that I’ve ever had the privilege of visiting. Over the course of five days, my partner and I traveled to Bozeman, Pray, Yellowstone National Park, Three Forks, Butte, Bannock National Park, and Belgrade, with a ton of amazing stops along the way. Along with giving the state my best photographic efforts, I also took some intentionally terrible photos to show you that some of the worst pictures of your next vacation could well turn out to be a few of the best you’ve ever taken.

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Sony’s compact RX1R II is a whole lotta camera, but it might not be the camera for you

For most people, an iPhone is all the camera you’ll need—it’s in your pocket wherever you roam, ready to capture (or ruin, depending on who you talk to) the special moments of your life. And with the announcement of every new iPhone, its photographic credentials creep a little closer to rendering a lot of compact cameras obsolete.

However, not everyone is content with the photos their smartphone is capable of grabbing, with their wee-image sensors and software trickery. I’m one of them. As much as I rely on my iPhone SE for photos while I blunder through my daily life, I prefer to use Sony’s RX100 Mark III when I need to take my photos to a higher level—like when I’m doing product shots, a review, or I want to capture a spectacular view while I’m on the road. It offers me the opportunity to take more-detailed, life-like photos in a larger, more edit-friendly file format than my iPhone can afford.

As much as I love that my smartphone can do it all, sometimes, when you want a job done right, turning to a mission-specific tool is the best way to ensure your best work. Sony’s Cyber-shot DSC RX1R II camera is one such tool, and even though it costs (gulp) $3,900, I jumped at the chance to take it for a spin.

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Travelers: Keep your data secure by using a virtual private network

Even when your goal is to get away from it all, sometimes necessity requires that you stay in touch with the outside world. This can take a lot of forms: chatting with your loved ones on FaceTime, shuttling project files between your iPad Pro or MacBook and an employer’s private server on the other side of the globe, or simply taking in the latest episode of Game of Thrones so that you can blather about it later over iMessage with your friends.

Most people can conduct this kind of communication and file sharing over a cellular connection in their own home or while couch surfing at a friend’s place without fear that any of their sensitive personal information will fall into the hands of someone who isn’t supposed to have it. Streaming? Same deal—so long as you’re in the ‘States, you should be able to watch your Hulu, Netflix or HBO GO shows without a hitch, anywhere you go.

But once you connect to a wireless access point at an airport lounge or café near the hotel where you’re staying, or slip a SIM card into your MiFi device in a country where the citizenry is routinely surveilled (some would argue that happens here too, but meh,) your confidential information could quickly become less confidential. And if you’re roving outside of your home country, you may be disappointed to find that, despite paying for access, many streaming service providers will refuse to provide you with access to the latest video and music due to licensing issues. I think we can agree that this sucks.

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The Suunto Traverse is not a great GPS watch, but it’s a good one

Welcome to another edition of Have Gear, Will Travel—this time, coming to you from beautiful British Columbia, Canada. While my partner’s finishing her degree for the next eight months in Vancouver, you and I will be roaming the countryside and mountains testing hardware and apps all over this rugged, gorgeous province—sound good? Good—let’s do this!

kamloops

Kamloops, British Columbia: A beautiful area with a goofy name. Whaddaya gonna do?

This week, we were supposed to talk about hardware-friendly carry-on bags and backpacks, but we’re not going to do that. The why of it is that the folks at Tom Bihn got in touch with me to say that they have a new travel bag in the works that they’re on the cusp of releasing. Given how much use I’ve gotten out of their products over the years, I feel that I wouldn’t be doing you a service if I didn’t hold up for long enough to take it for a spin and tell you what I think. Give me a few more weeks to sort it all out—I promise to have some backpack and carry-on suggestions ready to go in time for the holiday travel season.

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Mosquito-repelling apps don't work—but these gadgets do

West Nile virus, malaria, Dengue fever and, our latest bug-borne boogie man, Zika virus: They can all be transmitted by a single mosquito bite. Recent reports of more cases popping up can be concerning enough that you might reach for technology—and in the iTunes App Store, you’ll find a gazillion apps that promise to repel the little disease-carrying beggars with high-frequency sound. Unfortunately, they don’t work.

Based on my experience on three continents attempting to use a number of these apps to keep myself bite-free, I can tell you that there is no such thing as a brown note for mosquitos. Relying on nothing but apps like Tone Generator, Mosquito Expeler and Anti Mosquito – Sonic Repeller has left me, repeatedly, eaten alive by bugs and itching for days. The BBC will back me up on this: mosquito-repellant apps aren’t worth your time.

Fortunately, better solutions exist. And some of them are even pretty high tech.

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Language apps for iOS: Rosetta Stone beats Duolingo and Babbel

Two months ago, I promised to give you the lowdown on my favorite iOS language learning app. But there was a catch: at the time, I didn’t know which one to pick. So, I spent hours researching iOS language apps, both free and paid, before deciding on three to take for a spin: Duolingo, which is free to use, plus Babbel and Rosetta Stone, both of which come with a brief trial period, but require a monthly subscription thereafter. I dedicated myself to using each app for 20 minutes a day, on my iPhone or iPad, for two months, with the intention of uncovering which one I liked the most… or at the very least, which one ticked me off the least.

And here we are.

Honorable Mention: Babbel

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iOS

LaCie Rugged RAID and SanDisk Connect Wireless Stick keep you backed up on the go

As great as Apple’s tablets, smartphones and computers are, nothing’s perfect. All hardware eventually fails. Your iPhone or MacBook can get lost or stolen. Files can be corrupted. If any of these things happen at a time when backing your data up to the cloud isn’t an option, you’re gonna have a bad day. For a guy like me, who travels as he works, one bad day’s worth of lost data can add up to a ton of lost revenue.

That’s why I always pack some additional hardware to make sure that I can back up my files, no matter where I roam. And if the external drives I rely on also allow me to bring a long a whack of music and movies to keep me occupied while I’m on a plane or train? All the better! Depending on whether I bring my 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display or my 9.7-inch iPad Pro with me, you’ll find one of two backup solutions jammed into my backpack: LaCie’s Rugged RAID 4TB for my laptop, or SanDisk’s 200GB Connect Wireless Stick to use with my iPad and iPhone.

For macOS

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