Photographers and packing for travelling has long since been a love-hate relationship. Some photographers find packing to be an irritating necessary evil while others find it fun and challenging.
Personally I find packing to similar to playing a game of Tetris. Every trip is different; each journey has its own needs and wants. First and foremost, ahead of everything else, is the safety of my equipment as I pack my equipment properly.
For me, I can get on a plane with a Mountainsmith Borealis AT backpack and a camera on each shoulder to fly halfway around the world with nothing else; or I can pack a fully loaded Mountainsmith Parallax with two bodies, 8 lenses, and macro tubes. ETTL cords along with a fully loaded LowePro Pro Roller II case loaded with a mobile location lighting kit to fly just a few hundred miles away for the afternoon. Whether I am travelling light or travelling heavy the fundamentals are the same.
As this is the first installment of Flying With Fish on PhotographyBLOG.com I'd like to start with the basics of packing. I can write about packing equipment all day and all night, but one issue comes before all others for me, how to protect your cameras and lenses from impact damage while travelling.
For some reason photographers like to pack their lenses for travelling attached to their camera bodies. For some even stranger reason photographers seem to pack their longer, heavier, lenses attached to their camera bodies. Why do photographers pack this way? I have no idea.
When you pack your equipment you should think of Sir Isaac Newton and his theory that an object in motion will remain in motion until something stops the motion. Another way to look at this is that that a force of impact on your camera will need to dissipate that force.
Newton’s theory looks something like this:
So what does this mean for photographers when they pack their 70-200f2.8 attached to their Nikon D700 body? It means that if your bag should sustain an impact the force through your camera, or through your lens, will transfer from one object to the next, often damaging the weakest link. What is usually the weakest link between a camera and a lens? The mount!
If your bag is dropped, knocked, hit, or otherwise ‘whacked’ your camera body can be spun one way while your lens is spun another way. The result of this impact is you torquing the two mounts significantly damaging both your camera and your lens.
If you pack your body and your lens separately the twisting motion of the camera body and the lens are only felt by the body and the lens individually. The impact dissipates into the padding of the bag. Since neither your camera body nor your lens is attached to the bag there is no damage to either the camera or the lens.
I have heard many photographers say, “If my camera is attached to my lens then I can act faster to capture the photo.” I have news for you, if you need to put your backpack down, open the flap and remove your camera and lens kit……….you’ve already ‘missed the moment.’
I have spent years covering news and fast paced situations and I can’t think of a single moment where I thought, “if only my camera and lens were attached in the backpack I am wearing on my back I might have captured that image.”
Fleeting moments happen non-stop. You’ll see photos all day long if you’re looking, and if that is your intention you need to travel with your cameras out, on your shoulders, ready to shoot.
When you pack your equipment you need to pack it securely. Pack your gear relatively snug so it does not bounce. You need to maximize your space in small area of a bag, backpack or rolling case.
Not only does traveling with your lens attached to your camera significantly increase the chances of damaging your camera equipment while traveling, but it also decreases your packing flexibility. When you pack your camera body and your lenses detached from each other you increase the space in your bag to pack more effectively. By having each item separate you are no longer packing ‘around a camera-lens combo,’ you are free to stand lenses up, stack lenses, lay lenses down, adjust the location of our camera body within the bag.
All of these elements make for a safer and more practical way to pack your equipment.
…and besides, Murphy’s Law dictates that whatever lens you have attached to your camera will be the wrong lens for the moment.
In future columns for PhotographyBLOG.com I will address a wide range of packing issues for photographers, as well as equipment, logistics and pretty much any other topic that comes to mind.
If you have any topics you’d like to see me write about drop me an e-mail at email@example.com
Steven Frischling is professional photographer turned international travel strategist whose goal is to help photographers travel easier, travel smarter and travel with less stress.
As a photographer Steven's assignments have spanned the globe, and racked up more than 1,000,000 miles flown since 2005 (when he started keeping track of his miles). Through Steven's travel he developed an innate sense of travel planning, logistics and simply how to get himself and his equipment where they needed to be.
Some of Steven's more 'fun' assignments have included shooting four assignments, in four countries, on three continents, completely flying around the world in 3.5 days ; circling the globe one-and-a-half times while shooting a project for an airline in 4.5 days; flying from New York to Basrah, Iraq, for six hours; travelling to Kuwait City for two hours for a shoot; and flying from New York to Frankfurt for the morning for a shoot (yes, just the morning) before flying home.
Throughout Steven's professional career as a photographer he has worked as a contract newspaper photographer, contract wire service photographer, contract photo agency photographer, newspaper staff photographer, newspaper photo editor, newspaper chief photographer and director of photography for a multi-national magazine publisher overseeing five international magazines.
Along the way Steven's photography clients have included Life Magazine, Time Magazine, The New York Times Travel Section, The Kuwaiti Government, The International Olympic Committee, Sunoco Oil, Southwest Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Delta Airlines, Oasis Hong Kong Airlines, Harvard University, Home & Garden Television and The Discovery Channel.
When not shooting photos or consulting with corporate travellers, airlines and those related to photography and airline travel, Steven lives with his wife and three kids 102 yards from the ocean directly between New York City & Boston.