Gear Packing Tips
Packing Photo Gear for Travel
I’ve traveled around the world with photo gear and feel very fortunate to have done so with few incidents. I attribute that to choosing the right bags and packing carefully. Following a few simple tips can help you arrive at your destination with your gear safe and ready to shoot as you walk off the plane.
Possibly the most important piece of advice I can give you is to do your homework. Get as much information as you can about the area and environment you will be shooting in. Wind and sand can be much more challenging than wind and rain. Severe cold will have a completely different impact on your shooting than stifling heat and humidity. Know your conditions. Find out as much as you can about your modes of travel, especially air travel. Know the weight and size restrictions before you depart home to avoid surprises at far away airports. Finally stay flexible. Travel isn’t an adventure until you hit your first travel delay or encounter your first weather event. Staying calm, cool and collected will allow those events to develop into great stories as opposed to wrecking your day.
Bags are a personal choice. We each carry a wide variety of gear and we are lucky there are a number of great manufacturers who make great bags. Some of my favorite brands are: F-Stop Gear, Think Tank Photo, Mountainsmith, PacSafe and Lowepro.
Find a bag with the capacity to hold all your gear. Leaving something behind because it doesn’t fit in my bag is a non start for me. I “have” to get the shot. Getting the shot requires having the right gear at the ready.
Carry on or checked bags
This is another simple decision for me. I don’t check photo gear . . . ever. Now I don’t travel with huge teams of people and am capable of shooting most of my assignments myself. When I do travel with a larger team we always make sure the photo gear is in carry on bags and our personal items are checked. Its much easier to pop in to a local shop on arrival and replace clothing, toiletries etc than it is to replace camera equipment. Maybe I’ve been lucky but its worked for me.
Adequate padding and the ability to adjust that padding is key to protecting your gear. There are things you can do when packing to enhance protection but a bag must have solid padding and adjustability to begin with.
I typically travel with two camera bodies, 3 lenses, 2 flashes, pocket wizards, 1 tripod and an assortment of accessories. If I am traveling to a location that requires shooting WildLife I’ll swap one of the lens for a larger telephoto. Traveling with a 500mm or 600mm telephoto lens provides a bit of a challenge. Generally I carry that in a separate case. My current bags for carrying all this is a Lowepro Pro Tactic 450 AW.
You may travel with a different assortment than I do. I have a friend who is an advanced enthusiast photographer and typically carries one 18-105 lens, a short prime lens, a tripod or gorilla pod for low light situations and of course, extra batteries, and cards. In this case a smaller pack like the (Therese your bag here) from __________ will suffice.
If all you carry is your camera body with lens attached, an extra battery and a couple extra cards then the Zoom Medium from Mountainsmith is a good choice. I use these top load two bags a lot as I can shove the entire bag in a larger backpack. This allows me to keep one camera over my shoulder and my second body and lens at the ready in my backpack.
The continued improvement in the quality of smartphone cameras means you generally always have a “second body” with you. Strobes and other lighting obviously aren’t necessary if you only shoot in available light or are not intimately familiar with using them.
I do believe that a tripod of some sort is a “must have” of gear. Even for your smartphone. You just can’t hand hold your camera steady enough in low light. Joby makes some terrific small, compact lightweight tripods for traditional cameras and smartphones. Their Gorilla Pod SLR-Zoom will even hold an SLR up to 6 lbs! Be sure and checkout the cool smartphone gear from Iographer for shooting video.
A couple of other items that I think are “must haves” are extra batteries and memory cards. Frankly I find it easier to carry extra batteries as opposed to some type of battery charger. Camera batteries aren’t that expensive and 2-3 extra batteries take up less space than a cell phone.
You may be able to find memory cards at your destination but I suggest buying them at home. I use 32GB SanDisk Extreme Pro cards. They go on sale regularly at Amazon, B&H etc. I like the 32GB size. I carry more smaller cards to avoid potentially losing a bunch of images if a card goes bad. If a 128GB card with all your images goes bad you may lose every shot from your trip. If one 32GB card goes bad you may only lose one days images. Carrying more smaller cards gives me peace of mind while I’m traveling.
This is a good time to mention that I watch my gear like a hawk at all times. Fortunately I’m frequently traveling with a companion and we always make sure one of is on “gear watch” at all times.
I believe packing is the key to safely traveling with your gear. Whether your packing your clothes or camera gear, taking time to “purposefully arrange and organize” everything enables you to maximize space and protection.
I put the large items in my bag first then carefully pack the smaller items in and around the larger pieces. Every nook and cranny is filled to reduce shifting and movement. Many of the accessories are in separate small padded pouch which adds to overall protection. Once I’m done and everything is packed I do weigh the bag. Weight restrictions are a moving target and I strongly suggest you do some research before you leave home. I’ve only had one incident with weight restrictions and that was flying on small bush planes in the Arctic. Fortunately I made arrangements with a couple traveling companions and was able to give them a few items to carry for me.
Travel safe, capture great images and have fun!