Travel Photographer Annapurna Melllor Shares Her Best Tips on Traveling Light with Bulky Camera Gear

Photographer Annapurna Mellor
In Iceland

Hi there! My name is Annapurna Mellor and I am a 25-year old freelance travel photographer, writer and co-founder of ROAM Magazine. I live in Manchester in the UK, which is where I am now. Although I’m often off travelling the world, photographing for brands or magazines. When I’m home, I’m often editing, working on writing and creating content for some of the wonderful brands I work with.

As well as photography work, I also run ROAM Magazine, alongside my sister Athena Mellor. We focus on cultural and creative travel, telling the stories behind photographs. ROAM began last year and we’ve already published so many beautiful stories from creatives around the world.

Photographer Annapurna Mellor
Marrakesh, Morocco

How and why did you get into traveling?

I’ve been travelling my whole life, and I was actually conceived in the Himalayas, and spent my childhood in the Middle East, Australia and travelling with my parents to places like South East Asia, New Zealand and around Europe. It’s been in my blood and my bones forever, which is why it still feels like the most natural state for me to be in.

I started travelling independently when I was 21, and had just graduated from university and felt very lost in the big London smoke where I was living at the time. I took off on a one year odyssey around Asia – starting back in the Himalayas, followed by solo travelling in India, Myanmar, South East Asia, Mongolia and finishing up with journeying the length of Russia by train. It was this trip when I really discovered who I was as a traveller, and the type of travel I liked to do. It was also the first time I picked up a camera, and by the end of the year I was selling photographs to brands like Lonely Planet. So it was a very transformative time for me, and has led me to being the person I am today and having the job that I do.

Nowadays, I travel mostly for work – with brands and publications. This year I’ve been to places like Chile, Morocco and Italy on photography jobs. I feel very lucky to be able to travel like this, and especially when I get to work for companies I really love and who really understand my work.

While I love travelling for work, I also still travel independently on a few big trips a year, as well as smaller weekend breaks. With independent travel, I can travel exactly the way I like, and it’s easier for me to get the photographs I really want to shoot – which is usual human and cultural stories. When independent, I still travel like a backpacker. I find not only is it the cheapest way to travel, but it allows me to get closer to a culture and the people of a place. When I go to a new place, I want to absorb myself in a country, meet the people, eat local food and stay in home stays or family run guesthouses. When I travel for work, my itinerary is often set and shot lists can be rigid, so when I’m independent, I like to plan as little as possible, leaving myself open to new experiences and stories which might come my way. Of course, my camera determines a lot of my travels, and I’m likely to always be up at sunrise finding some beautiful light to photograph in. Sometimes though, I do like to chill out and relax into a place, miss the sunrise and grab a lazy breakfast at a beach side bar. It’s all about balance!

Photographer Annapurna Mellor
Varanasi, India

How do you finance your travels?

My first trip around the world was financed from inheritance I got from my grandad. I am always infinitely grateful for the opportunity I had to travel straight out of university, and the time I had to learn and grow and become the photographer I am today. After that, I worked as an English teacher in Mandalay in Myanmar and in Taiwan. I had a horrible job pulling pints in an Aussie outback pub and I worked in service jobs back in England too when I first moved home. Nowadays, I am a full time freelance photographer and writer, so I am lucky enough to finance my travels from photography work. Most of the trips I do are also fully covered by the company I work for and I am also able to work remotely. Freelancing can be difficult, so I like to have a more steady income from stock photography and regular writing work for those times when photography assignments are a little quieter.

When I travel independently, I like to travel as cheaply as possible. One of my favourite places in the world to travel in is India, where you can easily get a room in a guesthouse for 300 rupees (£3), a Thali plate for 50 rupees (50p) and a chai for 10 rupees (10p). This enables me to be on the road for much longer, and I can see much more of a place as the only big expense I have is my flight ticket out there.

Photographer Annapurna Mellor
Pushkar, India

Why is traveling important for you?

Travelling is so important to me, it gives me a sense of who I am and it teaches me so many things about the world and the people who occupy it. I feel so at home when I am on the road, catching trains between mountains and dusty desert towns, and absorbing myself in a culture so different to the place I come from.

Travel has opened my mind to people, cultures and religions around the world, and it’s taught me to respect and appreciate different cultures. It’s also made me more open and less afraid of the world. I’ve travelled solo to India, Egypt, Morocco and through Russia. I’ve been in situations where I can’t find a single English speaker, where my blonde hair has attracted the attention of crowds of people, and where I’ve been sick and alone in a country thousands of miles from any family or friends. It’s taught me that life is what you make of it, and often a positive mind will get you through any situation. It’s also taught me that I’m incredibly lucky, to have been born in the country I was and to have the opportunities I have.

Photographer Annapurna Mellor
Gokarna, India

How do you bring your things with you?

When travelling independently, I like to be as light as I can. I use two backpacks, a LoweAlpine Annapurna bag (of course I had to get the one with my name on it!), and a LowePro PhotoHatch in blue. I’ve had both these bags for a while now, and they are looking pretty tatty with lots of holes from being dragged around 30+ countries over the last few years, but I love them for their lightness and practicality.

Of course, I carry heavy camera equipment – a minimum of a DSLR camera body, two lenses, a laptop and hard drives. I carry all of this in my hand luggage, which is my Lower backpack. I often also add in a third lens, second camera body and tripod which will go in my big Lowe Alpine backpack. I’d really recommend LowePro bags to all photographers, I’ve tried out a few different brands but these are the most practical for me – they actually feel like they were designed by photographers for professional photographers to use. I like the LowePro PhotoHatch is because the camera compartment opens from the back of the bag, which makes it theft proof and more protected. I also think it doesn’t look like a professional camera bag, which makes me feel safer when travelling, and it’s also super light.

When I travel on assignment, I will generally bring more equipment and so I might bring a suitcase with me instead of a backpack. I also have a LowePro Fastpack which fits more gear in and is a little better protected. However, it’s a really heavy bag for me so it’s not ideal for situations like hiking or walking around a city for a long time. I also have a Millican Camera Pack. It’s even bigger but really good for outdoor adventures closer to home as it can fit an overnight change of clothes in it as well as my camera gear.

Photographer Annapurna Mellor
Kathmandu, Nepal

How do you organize things in your bags?

My LoweAlpine backpack has two main compartments. In the bottom of the bag, I’ll put bulky stuff like a sleeping bag, my tripod, hiking shoes and specialist clothing like hiking gear which I might not wear that much. In the main compartment, I’ll mostly have clothes, maybe a few books and I keep my electronic wires in the top and my shower/wash stuff in the side pockets.

In my camera bag, the LowePro PhotoHatch, I put my Canon 5D Mark III, which is the main DSLR I carry. It goes perfectly in the padded camera compartment, which when I wear the camera on my back is hidden near to my body. I keep it attached to my main lens, the Canon 24-70 2.8. I usually also slip in a 50mm lens in that compartment, as well as my memory cards and cleaning kit. In the top compartment I’ll have things like my wallet, Lonely Planet Guide Book, passport, and snacks. In front, I slip my laptop and perhaps a magazine and in the side fits my reusable water bottle. I can also fit my tripod in the side pocket when I’m going out to shoot.

I’m naturally not the most organised person, but I’ve travelled so much now that I know the most practical way to carry my kit and where to find everything. The set up I have works really well for me when I’m on the road.

Photographer Annapurna Mellor
Sahara Desert, Morocco (Intrepid Travel)

How do your bags and gear hold up?

I’ve had both my main bags – the LoweAlpine Annapurna and the LowePro PhotoHatch for around four years now, and to say how much I’ve dragged them on and off trains in India, across beaches in The Philippines and around the medina’s of Morocco – they’ve done a very good job. Both are showing very obvious signs of wear now – with holes in places and they’ve slightly discoloured from sun and months spent in dusty India. But I think, in general, they are great and very durable bags. One thing that is really important to me with a camera bag is lightness, as the gear I am carrying is so heavy anyway, I really don’t need a heavy bag to accompany it! This is why my LowePro Fastpack and Millican Camera Pack are not used as often as the very light LowePro PhotoHatch.

I’m in need of replacing both of my main bags, but for the moment they’re still functioning and I’d rather spend that money on another plane ticket – so I’ll be getting a bit more use out of them for the moment!

Photographer Annapurna Mellor
Chefchaouen, Morocco

Any gear you wish you had brought with you from the beginning?

I have at times traveled with too much gear and my back has suffered. Now it’s very important for me to be agile and be able to more around a lot. I also like to shoot on the streets and in markets, so I can’t be carrying a super bulky bag. I know now that if I ever really need something on the road, most likely I will be able to buy it somewhere, so I back as little as I can and stock up as I go.

There are a few things I always like to travel with – of course my camera, and a guidebook (usually Lonely Planet) which are both really essential for me. In places like India, I really like to travel with a sleeping bag, which keeps me warm on the night trains and in guesthouses where you sometimes don’t get sheets. I also have a pair of thick leggings, which I love. I can sleep in them, do yoga in them, and if I go to a chilly place, wear them underneath a long dress. I also like to carry a big scarf with me, which I use sometimes as a curtain to add a little more privacy in dorms or night trains, and also as a headscarf when going into temples or mosques. I picked mine up in Egypt but you can get them almost everywhere in the world in beautiful designs.

What has been your best travel-related purchase below $100?

I would say that a big, versatile scarf is a really essential purchase. As a woman who often travels in countries with conservative dress codes, it’s really important to have the option to cover up.

My other favourite gear is, of course, my cameras – I use a Canon set up and love their system and the colours they produce. I also think it’s really nice to bring a few things to perk you up after a hard day on the road. Nice soaps, incense sticks and a few pieces of jewellery to put on often do the trick for me.

Photographer Annapurna Mellor
in Diwali, Pushkar, India

What kind of photos do you prefer to shoot?

I love shooting people and stories relating to cultures. My favourite place to shoot is India, the culture is so rich and alive and people are generally very comfortable being photographed. I also love Nepal, Morocco, Myanmar, Vietnam and Egypt.

Light is incredibly important to me, and I get up at sunrise as often as I can when travelling. I love golden light and soft misty mornings. That kind of light, combined with a vibrant culture is my absolute favourite!

My favourite set of photos are from the Pushkar Camel Fair in India, where I spent about three weeks shooting camel herders and their families. It was a wonderful experience for me and the first time I had approached photography as storytelling.

Photographer Annapurna Mellor
Hampi, India

What is your best advice for other travelers?

My best advice is to go out and do it! Find a place which fascinates you, do some research, book your plane ticket and just go. If you have the opportunity to go and travel, I really believe you should because the world is so big and so full of wonderful places and people. Trust me, no amount of trendy clothing or electronic gear can make up for the feeling of watching sunrise over the Himalayas or being invited into a Mongolian yurt for tea, or volunteering with Tibetan refugees in India. These experiences will shape you and help you grow as a person, they will change your perspective on the world and teach you so much about people, cultures and religions. If you don’t have anyone to go with, travel solo. There are so many brilliant blogs and articles online, which can help you make the first step. I promise you, the world is not as scary as you think!

Photographer Annapurna Mellor
Pushkar, India

What will the future bring?

I’m currently planning seven weeks in India this December/January, and I can’t wait to get back there for an extended trip. The rough plan is to explore the North East – Kolkata, Darjeeling, Assam and Nagaland, then finishing the trip with some relaxation time in Goa and Tamil Nadu. I’m hoping to work on some personal stories while I’m there and of course, shoot as much as possible!

We hope to continue publishing beautiful stories on ROAM Magazine from creatives all around the world, we also hope to be able to collaborate with more brands and tourism boards on trips and unique destinations around the world. We’d also love to take ROAM into print, so who knows if 2018 will be the year that happens!

Visit Annapurna Mellor on her portfolio website, follow her on Facebook and Instagram. Visit ROAM Magazine, Facebook and Instagram

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